Between a Rock and a High Place
It’s Wednesday afternoon and Sonnie Trotter has made his way to an Internet café in El Paso, Texas. Not that he was dodging the interview, but it took some effort to get the Canadian alpinist on the phone. Trotter is a professional adventure rock climber, and when your job is hunting down the world’s most challenging lines, it means immersing yourself in some fairly remote locations.
“It’s like a killer instinct. It’s a really raw, beautiful thing that comes out of you,” says Trotter, one of the most prolific climbers of the past decade, as he describes his body’s response to an especially challenging route. “I feel like I’m lighter, I’m strong, I’m sharper – all those kinds of things occur. It’s a very fleeting moment, but it’s a very addicting feeling. It’s almost drug-like.”
This craving for climbing is the foundation for Trotter’s ascension. Average, everyday climbers would tend to stick to sport climbing, where bolts are already in place to clip on gear. Trotter, however, prefers traditional (“trad”) climbing, where he must set his gear. It’s more dangerous, but essential for making difficult routes accessible to others; he’s no stranger to free climbing, where the safety of equipment is absent.
Continuously pushing his potential, Trotter has set numerous first ascents (being the first person to climb a specific route) on many daunting lines, such as the legendary Cobra Crack in Squamish, B.C., or a more recent 18-hour trek up Mount Louis’s The Shining in Banff National Park.
But his adventures aren’t limited to the Great White North. Captain Canada, as he’s known to the climbing community, spends upwards of eight months of the year journeying to more exotic locales, such as Australia, Malta and India, to test his mettle against some of the most demanding rock on the planet. “My most memorable climbs are by far and away the enduring experiences,” says the Newmarket, Ont. native, describing one particular journey from last summer where he and fellow Patagonia ambassador, Tommy Caldwell, spent a gruelling 20 hours fighting the intense cold of the Canadian Rockies just to finish bolting a new ascent. “It was snowing, it was raining, and it sounds miserable, but at the same time there is something about it that is just wild, and it’s a very deeply rooted experience.”
His pursuit for these unforgettable encounters with nature and his melding of various techniques from across genres continues to take Trotter to new summits. Like the intricate progression up a lengthy line, he has gradually built up his body to meet new demands of the previously uncharted. “It’s a very equal balance between technical, physical and mental,” he says, ironically admitting that in his youth he had a fear of heights. “It’s the most complete activity that I’ve found in my experience, and I’m sure other sports are arguably close, but I find climbing to be almost a perfect balance.”
“The one thing that just strikes me about him is that he’s willing to go and explore all the different little avenues of climbing,” says Bob Bergman, owner of Joe Rockhead’s Indoor Rock Climbing, Canada’s first gym of its kind, where Trotter’s love for the sport nurtured. “I think the best part about him is that he has such a positive attitude … it’s super inspiring to people.”
But while Trotter’s journeys have taken him across the globe, Ontario’s rocky regions still hold a special place in his heart. “Lion’s Head is one of the best places I’ve ever been to in the world of climbing,” he says of the renowned region on the Bruce Peninsula. There’s also bouldering in the Niagara Falls area, and other sport climbing around Milton, Collingwood and the Beaver Valley. Thanks to the welcoming communities of friendly climbers, local gyms are also great places to start.
For 2012, Trotter is still set on blazing new trails. He’ll attempt a free climb of the nose on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley (which only two others have scaled before) and a first ascent up Mount Slesse’s east face – an over 900-metre free climb that’s sent many retreating. “I think I’d like to leave new climbs for other people to aspire to and to enjoy,” he concludes. “I honestly believe climbing has given me so much and, you know, it’s such an amazing thing to be able to do it. So if I could inspire someone else … that would be really great.”