The Canvas

by Sonnie Trotter
Late Summer 2008

“Who’s that?” I asked, pointing to a poster on the closet wall while sinking back into the sofa. “C’mon dude,” Chris moaned with a heap of disappointment. “That’s Lynn Hill. She free-climbed The Nose in a single day.” I sat while he looked straight through me and said, “She’s the greatest free climber in the world.”

It was a hot sticky morning the summer of ’97. Chris and I were getting ready for some pocket-pulling at Baldy Rock. I sat on his couch while he packed his bag. “You wanna beer?” he asked. “Sure,” I replied, assuming it was for a summit celebration later that day. He cracked two bottles and handed me an icy-cold Moosehead. It was 9 a.m., and I was barely 17.

We went out and had a fun day, as good as any on record, but for the life of me I couldn’t erase that picture from my mind. Lynn Hill, the poster girl, with movie star hair and athletic legs stretched-out above 2,000 feet of vertical granite. The image was powerful, and
the line was strong. Indirectly, Lynn showed me what good climbing was, and I couldn’t get enough. I jumped headfirst into books, magazines and catalogs – anything I could find about the vertical world, new and old. For the first time in my life, I had real heroes. Sure, Chris was a hero, my mom and dad were heroes, but Ron Kauk, Peter Croft and Henry Barber (to name just a few) were climbers who embodied a spirit beyond strong muscles; they also represented a strong mind. They always picked the best-looking lines – lines that demanded physical endurance and mental tenacity.

Although I started out crimping on plastic and sport routes, I remember well the 30-foot horizontal roof crack that became my first “hard” traditional climb. Located at Lion’s Head, Ontario, the line that changed my life was appropriately named The Monument. Peter Croft nabbed the first free ascent over 10 years before
I even tied in.

The Monument started a chain reaction for me – the climbing was brilliant and the line extraordinary – but the fact that I climbed it on my gear made me feel as though I was having an adventure all my own, the same way Peter himself may have had.

After that, I toured Yosemite, Indian Creek and Eldorado Canyon, looking for clean lines and hard trad. It didn’t take long before I became intrigued with new ideas, visions and possible first ascents of my own. I traveled almost exclusively in search of unclimbed, unbolted lines, but more often than not, they were already drilled.
It seemed I arrived a few years too late.

We create our own adventure: On some lines I thought were bolted unnecessarily, I ignored the bolts and continued on my way. Searching for my own experience on a climb lets me look at something that’s been done and find a new way to do it.

In trad climbing there is little or no fixed gear and there are no fixed rules. The climber becomes an artist and the climb itself, a canvas. At the end of each day the slate is swept clean leaving nothing behind. A blank page and a new adventure awaits the next climber. A clean line is forever classic; the experience is timeless.

About the Author

One foot in the past, one foot in the future, Sonnie Trotter blends respect for the rock with modern-day skills. Sonnie’s background in sport climbing – a genre he appreciates for places where natural protection is impossible – saw him redpoint up to 5.14d before he succumbed to the all-encompassing appeal of challenging climbing with natural protection. His world-class trad testpieces include Cobra Crack (5.14b/c) and The Path (5.14R), both in Canada, his home country – although the gregarious bohemian rarely spends more than three or four months there, instead viewing the world as an open book with knowledge waiting on every page.