Leslie Timms: the journey of one of Canada’s top climbers

READ OUR interview with Canadian climber and rock climbing guide Leslie Timms.

Leslie Timms

Leslie Timms is one of Canada’s most successful female climbers.



LESLIE TIMMS had always been an incredibly sporty person. Volleyball was her first passion but she soon went on to become heavily involved in whitewater canoeing and even attended a college specifically for outdoor pursuits. It was here that she caught the climbing bug and she hasn’t looked back as she has made her love for the sport has gone on to become her career and almost everything she lives and breathes for. 


In this exclusive interview Leslie talks about what it is about climbing that makes her tick and tells us about some of her biggest climbing accomplishment. Read on to find out more about her work as a guide and her mission to help and nurture climbers of all ages and abilities.


To find out more about Leslie and to follow her blog visit www.leslietimms.ca and for more on her work as a guide go to www.ontherocksclimbing.com.


Tell us about life before climbing and how you used to spend most of your time?


I’ve never been able to sit still and when I was young I was either climbing trees or playing five sports in a school year. Volleyball was my first passion, and I eventually developed a deep love for outdoor adventure and spent half of my high school years in co-operative outdoor leadership programmes during the school year and summer months. I really took a liking to whitewater canoeing and long canoe expeditions and eventually went on to get certified through ORCA and guide canoe trips for tripping programmes and outposts. I went to a college for outdoor adventure at Algonquin with dreams of guiding canoe expeditions in amazingly remote places for a living. 


(See Leslie’s feature on the college’s website here.)


Leslie Timms

Leslie is passionate about living on the road and is always looking for the next climbing challenge.

When did you start climbing and who were any strong influences in your progression in the sport?


In college, a group of guys that were really into climbing took me out to a big boulder to try it. I fell in love and bought all of my climbing gear that same week. We became a close knit crew and for two years, we drove two hours once a week to go to Vertical Reality, a climbing gym in Ottawa. We also built a small gym in a storage facility and an attic. These guys really pushed me in the sport, as did the owner of Vertical Reality, Peter Slivka and his son in law Ken Flagg. Ken encouraged me to start lead climbing after just three months of climbing and Pete coached me privately for free for six months. These guys really believed in me, it gave me a lot of confidence and inspiration to improve. Since then and 12 years of climbing, there have been so many folks that have inspired me along the way, too many to name. My friends Chris Pegelo and Dave Zieleniewski really sparked my love for traditional climbing and route developing and I have always admired their mental approach. My climbing hero is Sonnie Trotter, and my biggest fan and support is my husband Kyle Thomas, who was one of the guys who introduced me to climbing in college.


Leslie Timms

To find out more about Leslie’s work as a guide visit www.ontherocksclimbing.com.


What was it like living on the road travelling from one climbing challenge to the next?


Living the dream! I love the simplicity of it all. You pack your whole life into a car, and chase rocks, sunshine and inspiration. It has its dark times, mainly when weather sucks but after years of canoe tripping in the back country, car camping is kind of an upgrade! We lived in the back of a Subaru Outback for almost two years and over the years we have saved up enough to buy a truck and a small fiberglass trailer. We are living the high life nowadays!



Leslie is as passionate about developing routes as she is climbing them.


What are your biggest achievements in climbing?


Getting the first ascent of ‘Above the Clouds‘ a 5.13 trad/mixed route at Lion’s Head was a dream come true. This is a spectacular 40m dauntingly steep crack that summits the famous Lion’s Head lookout above Georgian Bay. The entire experience was surreal, it sat there untouched for so many years and I always stared at it with awe, wondering if it went free. I put it up with one of my best friends, Dave Zieleniewski, and the entire process was just as amazing as the actual send. I knew when I topped out the lookout for the FA that it was the best day of my life, it was kind of depressing actually, I didn’t want it to be over.


I really enjoy developing routes, each climb I have put up has been incredibly rewarding. Number wise though, my biggest accomplishments have been sending Magnum Opus 5.13d and onsighting Honeycomb 5.13a (sport), redpointing Sacred Geometry 5.13c (trad), and sending Loaded with Power V10 (boulder). Though in all honesty, there is a 5.10 in Joshua Tree that may be the hardest climb I ever did in my life.


Leslie Timms

Leslie believes a 5.10 in Joshua Tree has been her most challenging climb ever.



What is it about climbing and being in the mountains that makes you tick?


It is the most incredible connection with nature and self that I have and will discover. Climbing can take you to some of the most amazing places on earth, and you learn so much about yourself through the entire process of climbing and growing as a climber. There is something about that feeling of rock under my hands, and scaling improbable looking cliff faces while fighting gravity, self, and fears. It is the best high in the world, I think I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie. The climbing community is another huge plus, it seems to draw in a lot of free spirits and fun characters. I have also loved that I can eat pretty much whatever I want when I am climbing hard and I still grow awesome muscles!


Leslie Timms

You can find Leslie’s blog at www.leslietimms.ca where she chronicles her rock climbing advnetures around the world.


When did the idea for On the Rocks Climbing Guides come and could you tell us more about the services you offer?


I worked as a guide at a tour company for two years and they started to send me a lot of their more advanced climbers to develop their skills. I realised that I loved the work and that there was definitely a market for advanced climbing courses in the area. I also realised while researching that there weren’t really any certified guides in Ontario at the time. I got my accreditation through PCGI (Professional Climbing Guides Institute www.climbingguidesinstiute.org), and I lived in Joshua Tree National Park for five weeks with my friend Chris Pegelo while we took our courses and trained for the big exam. We started up On the Rocks Climbing Guides after that, it was great to have a partner to get it off the ground though Chris eventually moved on to another career path.


The On the Rocks Climbing Guides mission is help climbers of all ages and abilities learn the necessary skills to safely climb outdoors while having an awesome time. We can work with all ages, levels and abilities from first time climbers or those looking to make a transition from gym to real rock or even coaching competitive climbers and certifying aspiring guides. We teach a lot of guided climbing adventures, anchor building and rappelling courses, sport lead climbing, traditional climbing, multi-pitch courses and technique coaching. I’m also an approved PCGI mentor and can certify guides through PCGI as well as guide climbing across the US. I guess you can say we do it all! I love the diversity of work we get and climbers I get to work with.


Leslie Timms

An example of the confidence Leslie has in herself when climbing.

What message do you try to instil in those who come to you for climbing courses?


Climbing safety is our #1 priority. This sport can be so safe if you take the time to learn the necessary technical skills and safety checks, from a trained professional. We also hope to give our students an appreciation and respect for the beautiful places that we are so fortunate to climb at. I want to create a safe and encouraging environment so that people feel comfortable pushing their personal limits and learning new skills. I’m a ‘mentor for life’ for all folks that have taken courses with me, I want people to feel safe and confident out there.

How do you most spend your time when you’re not climbing?


I love to write! I keep a blog about our travels (www.leslietimms.ca) and I am also a regular contributor to Gripped Magazine (www.gripped.ca). I really enjoy yoga, gluten free baking, lifting weights, running, biking around town, and enjoying beautiful Georgian Bay that we live by. I also go through phases of painting with acrylics and reading.



As well as climbing Leslie is also extremely passionate about yoga and biking.


Do you have any exciting challenges or projects you’re be working towards in 2016 and beyond?


We are on the road from the end of January until May and have plans to climb around the south western states: trad climbing, sport climbing and bouldering. I really want to try the Great Red Roof, a 5.13 trad line in the Red Rocks Nevada that I have dreamed of since seeing a video of Sonnie Trotter on it a year ago (see video below). We’re also going to stock up some bouldering points in Bishop, California.




I don’t want to get too fixed on goals though this trip, and just focus on having fun, and continuing to learn and grow as a climber. I also want to start training this summer. I hope to do a three-month training cycle with Power Company Climbing  and Active Life Conditioning, I have come to realise that this is going to be the key to reaching the next level… get physically stronger.


I have some big trad dream in Australia and if we save up enough money then that will be my reward for a few months of hard work in the gym.


I think it’ll be good to mentally to step back from outdoor climbing and prepare my mind and body for a goal.

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