How Palmela Handerson brought our rock-climbing correspondent to new heights.
What do Rocci Siffredi and a girl like me have in common?
We are but two of many to grace the walls of 677 Bloor Street West. Siffredi, of course, as an acclaimed porn actor on film, and me as Torontoist’s first porn-theatre-turned-rock-climbing-venue correspondent.
Housed at the former Metro Theatre in the heart of Koreatown, Basecamp is a short, three-minute walk from Christie Station, according to the liars at Google Maps. I arrive at the venue in what feels like approximately 30 seconds and am early. Because I am not drunk, I feel a social anxiety that can only be quelled chain smoking cigarettes for the next 10 minutes. This rock climbing thing will definitely go well.
The venue is packed, drawing sidewalk spectators, though when I step in, Basecamp is smaller than I anticipate and I am a bit underwhelmed. (This feeling later dissipates when I realize I lack both the skill and physique to successfully maneuver most walls.) Over at the front desk, a cheery employee tells me to sign the electronic waiver. In doing so, I agree to their terms under an assumption of risk that any damage to my person—including death, even by negligence—is my own responsibility. Even though I’m hesitant, I say “screw it” and sign anyway because what is life if there’s nothing to die for? #YOLO
Lessons are done for the night so Ash, Brandon, and I opt for the $37 auto-belayer trails. Donning climbing shoes and a bondage-like harness, I admire my small but shapely butt in the handicap washroom. Soon, an employee leads us to a section with five auto-belayers—devices that eliminate the need for a human belayer—before showing us a quick tutorial on how to clip and unclip the carabiners. The man says before leaving, “If you have any questions, please let me know!” I look at him, dumbfounded by the simplicity.
The sections, I notice, are punnily named to commemorate Metro Theatre pornographic glory, and I wonder how many workers it takes to clean a place like this. I try to recall every CSI: Miami episode ever and what stories black light could tell us about this place.
Ash, Brandon, and I approach the easiest walls; each trail has two different-coloured paths and we opt for the easiest of the two. Climbing, I imagine I look like some sort of crappy, myopic ninja, while Brandon—who is tall, skinny, and model-esque, resembles one of those daddy long legs insects with his flailing, gargantuan limbs. I try to envision myself as a main character in The Descent fighting prehistoric, humanoid killers, but all I can muster is an overwhelming anxiety of losing one of my fingernails in the rock. When I come down, I do that “jump off the wall” thing that makes me feel like a poseur.
I am a shitty Lara Croft.
Brandon and I eventually take to the opposite wall, named Palmela Handerson. Here, I watch a man climb sideways—almost as if crabbing-walking up a staircase—and when he leaves, I mimic him to some degree of success. About 15 feet high, I suddenly become scared of my “right-half-of-body-on-wall” position and jump off in a panic, smashing the right side of my face on the way down. This is okay, though, because jaws and eating are overrated.
Half an hour later, we give up, and charge our phones by the front desk. Before we go, I reflect on my previous rock-climbing excursion—a class field trip in grade eight—rendered unsuccessful by my crippling fear of heights. Twelve years later, lying apathetically spread-starfish on the floor of the former sex cinema, my only pre-occupations are whether the harness makes my belly look bloated, and what substances might lie beneath.
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