‘The Prow’ is one of the most visually and technically impressive pieces of sustained granite on the Stawamus Chief. First climbed 40 years ago, before bolts and sport-climbing arrived on the scene, the wall has seen rekindled interest and route development lately and in May 2016, Canadian climbing legend and ex-Squamish local, Sonnie Trotter spent six days free climbing a 200-metre route straight up the middle of the face. Sonnie christened the route “The Prow Wall” and Mountain Life sat down with him to get the story behind the ascent of Squamish’s first possible 5.14 multi-pitch.
Teams have been looking at this route for 20 years or so, what did it involve to be able to ‘free’ the climb without hanging on fixed ropes and ladders?
Well, “The Prow Wall” free climb is a lot different than The Prow itself. The original team who first visualized a free ascent did a fantastic job of finding the weakness through what is otherwise a fairly blank wall. The line goes straight up the middle of the wall and it wanders around back and forth following the path of least resistance for free climbing. Basically, it’s like a giant game of connect the dots. The climb required many new stainless steel protection bolts to protect the leader from any serious harm.
Multi-pitches are a lot of work. What did you have to do beforehand to be able to prepare the route in order to send it?
Some of the bolts were in the wrong places, or difficult to reach, so I went back and made sure that the climb flowed well, and was safe. I also did about four days of cleaning and prepping the wall before actually climbing it from the ground. The holds are pretty small at times, and any dirt or moss growing on the grips make them harder to see and to hold. It’s a labour of love really, but I hope others will go up there to enjoy it now that it’s been buffed out a bit.
“I was in a sort of flow state, where I just allowed my mind and body to work together to get the job done.”
What was going on in your mind at the moment this photo was made?
I really think I was in a sort of flow state, where I just allowed my mind and body to work together to get the job done. There’s about five or six moves where I felt like I could fall off any of them, and this shot was taken around move number three. Just before embarking on this sequence, I do remember thinking that this might be my last chance to succeed since we had plans to leave the following day, and the temperatures were already climbing upwards. It was important to climb this pitch before the sun hit the wall — good friction was absolutely mandatory for me to stick the holds.
This is a historical wall and Squamish climbing is decades old, but it has never quite gained the household name recognition of a place like California’s Yosemite Valley. Who would you consider to be the Stone Masters, and Stone Monkeys, of Squamish’s storied climbing history?
Oh, that’s a super tough question to answer because there are so many climbers and so many stories that a simple paragraph would never do. I will say that Squamish has always had a solid mix of everything from hard aid, to hard sport, bouldering, big walls, shady bars and shady characters. I think the story of Squamish climbing might need its own coffee table book one day, because a movie could never be long enough.
“I think the story of Squamish climbing might need its own coffee table book one day, because a movie could never be long enough.”
What’s your all-time favourite multi-pitch in Squamish?
Hmmm, I think I keep coming back to Freeway 5.11. It’s just pure joy all the way to the top.
If you could pick a crew of three others climbers, from any era, to go climb Freeway with tomorrow, who would you pick and why?
I think the first person I’d pick would be Will Stanhope because he’s just such a solid guy. He lives nearby, so that’s convenient, and he doesn’t take anything too seriously. Will knows when to crack a joke, which is basically always, and isn’t afraid to stash a few cold beers in his pack. The second person would be the late Wolfgang Gullich, who sadly passed away in 1992 from a car accident. He seemed like a very interesting person. Someone who was deeply passionate and committed to the simple act of climbing, someone who knew what it took to progress the game (and did so on many occasions) and someone who could inspire you to try a little harder. The third person I’d pick is my son Tatum. I know he’s only two now, but if I can pick someone from the past, I should be able to pick someone from the future, right? It would be neat to be up there with my son in 20 years, just to be up there and see who he’s become, hanging out, looking down on the forest and maybe having a couple of good laughs.
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