Comin’ Up: Annabelle McDonald Is On Her Way

Annabelle on Mucho Pumpito 5.10d, Cuba. Father Trevor McDonald belaying calls it “the best multi-pitch in Cuba.” Photo :: Sandra Samman

Fifteen-year-old Squamish phenom on climbing, camping, and Cuba

words :: Feet Banks

The stamps in Annabelle McDonald’s passport read like a rock climber’s bucket list. She learned in Australia and Thailand (at 5 years old!), led her first pitch in Whistler (age 8), bouldered and hung out in Yosemite’s Camp 4 in Yosemite, flashed routes in Moab, Joshua Tree, Red Rocks, Skaha, and the view from her home is the iconic Squamish Chief. But given the choice, Annabelle says for her the real action is climbing competitively in indoor gyms

“It’s more dynamic and abstract, it’s almost like parkour,” she says. “Competition holds are strange shapes and knobs and stuff, you have to figure out these cool moves, it’s more fun than a tiny crystal seam on a flat wall. Plus, I like the pressure, and being there climbing with my friends. It’s just really fun.”

With a drawer full of medals and an overall Youth C National sport climbing title in 2018, McDonald has been able to find that sweet spot of having fun and performing well. But when the COVID-19 pandemic put an early end to the 2019-2020 competition season, McDonald was forced to go back to her roots—outdoor climbing with her dad and his friends. She has the second ascent of a route beside the Mamquam falls, is putting up new line at a new crag near Furry Creek, and at press time was working on The Clamp Down a local 5.13b. [Editor’s note for non-climbers: North American rock climbs are generally graded from 5.0 (terrain steep or technical enough that you want a rope) to 5.15 (Spider Man-style), with a, b, c and d subgrades for each number. So 5.13b is super elite.)

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“I’m getting into outdoor more because I don’t have a choice—the gyms are closed! I started getting into outdoor in Cuba in January. The rock is 3D limestone and interesting, more like a gym, and I did my first multi-pitch.”

Cranking the second ascent of Magic Carpet Ride 5.11d, Squamish, BC. Photo :: Jimmy Martinello

She also, according to Trevor McDonald—Annabelle’s father and self-proclaimed “unsuccessful micromanager”—climbed a host of impressive routes, including “Rum Diaries, a 5.12d. She got it on her second go. There was one bolt she couldn’t reach so she had to go around it and run it out. She hung on for 20 minutes, all the adults—hard, strong climbers—had eyes like saucers. They couldn’t believe it.”

Those climbing vacations around the globe, often camping trips or voyages pulled together on a shoestring budget, seem to have given Annabelle, who is also a talented visual artist, a huge sense of perspective and maturity.

Annabelle wants to send a shout out to her coaches, Christian Core and Judge Hirsch, as well as everyone at The Hive and Group Up. Photo :: Kevin Bogetti-Smith

“We’ve done so much road tripping through BC and the States,” she says. “I love arriving somewhere at night and waking up to a new spot. That’s how we usually camp. And I don’t know how many countries we’ve been to but being able to see the culture and stay with local people is interesting. I don’t want to go to Thailand and ride an elephant outside a five-star hotel.”

“Annabelle’s family and I have always loved climbing and felt just being outside was a healthy environment for her to be a kid in,” Trevor reflects. “Sometimes she’d just make a stick fort in the woods, it wasn’t all climbing. I always told her, and her sister, you don’t have to climb but you have to come out.”

With two more years of junior competitive climbing ahead of her (pandemic pending), Annabelle says she intends to continue comp climbing, even as her love for outdoor grows. “I want to keep going. Comp climbing is fun—it can be emotional when you fall and there is always pressure. I get bummed if I have a bad comp—I’m not entering competitions not to win—but I love how it shows if the training is paying off, it shows improvement. It’s awesome to know that you are getting stronger and being the best you can be.”

Deep water soloing Majestic V6, Dawg Rock, Howe Sound. Photo: Christian Core

This summer, Annabelle will continue bringing that drive to be better onto the outdoor crags, but on bolted routes and boulder problems only. “I’ve led trad once,” she says, “and placed gear for a photo shoot. I think it would be difficult to trust it on a more difficult route. I like when the climbing is the puzzle not the gear you are trusting your life on. I can get into trad when I’m old and crusty, like my dad.”

Spoken like a true (15-year-old) champ. —ML