First Ascents Can Be Easy

Dec 7, 2010
Outside Magazine
Rock Climbing

An easy first ascent    Photo: Peter Arkle

AT ITS CORE, climbing is a sport of one-upmanship, especially at the elite level. You get into the record books by climbing higher, faster, lighter, or otherwise better. So why, then, did Canadian Sonnie Trotter and climbing partner Ben Moon spend almost a week this past July pioneering the easiest route up the 1,300-foot granite face of British Columbia's Squamish Chief?

"I knew nobody else was going to do it—it just takes so much work," Trotter explains. It was "one of those deals when you say, 'Someday, someone should clean this up. People would love it.' That someone was us."

Trotter, 31, is arguably the world's best trad climber—i.e., he places his own temporary protection—having made hundreds of first ascents around the globe. Recently, he's committed himself to mostly "equipping new routes" rather than repeating the breakthrough climbs of his peers. Putting up a new route is exactly what he and Moon, a 35-year-old Oregon-based climber-photographer, set out to do on the Chief, where the easiest line was hidden by debris and plants. The pair labored siege style in their harnesses for five days, using shovels, hoes, and rakes to remove moss, muck, and rocks from a dike and series of ledges to set the 12-pitch 5.9-route they dubbed the Squamish Buttress North Face Variation. Previously, the easiest route up the Chief contained a brutal 50-foot section of 5.10c finger crack that, as Moon puts it, "bottlenecked all the climbing parties and wasn't fun for anyone."

The North Face has already seen hundreds of ascents. Meanwhile, Trotter went back to the Chief in September to set another line, this time a 5.13c. "I put up two routes this summer," says Trotter. "The easiest and the hardest."

Filed To: Rock Climbing