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What I've Learned: Sonnie Trotter


Sonnie Trotter bites down on an attempt at <em>Wild Youth</em> (5.14a), Redstone, Colorado. Photo by Tim Guffin.Sonnie Trotter

34, All-Around Bad-Ass, Canmore, Alberta, Canada

I was a climber from the very beginning.When I was 4 years old, my mom found me perched about 30 feet up in a giant cedar tree on our property. I don’t remember climbing up or down from there, or why I did it, but I’m sure the view was pretty awesome.

My biggest teachers were the staff at our local climbing gym. They were all quite a bit older than I was, climbed harder and had traveled a bit, so I followed their lead whenever they let me. They were my heroes because they defied what it meant to live normally. They were often unemployed and drove beater trucks, they taught me how to train, how to party, how to trad climb, and how to sign myself out of school early on Fridays so we could get up to Lions Head before dark. But in a broader sense, they simply taught me how to look at life a little differently.

Right now, I’m learning the most from Tommy Caldwell. We’ve been friends for over a decade, but we’ve been climbing together a lot more in the last two or three years, and I’m always learning from him. Not just rope tricks and big wall tactics (because after all, he is the master), but also about how important attitude is toward problem solving and dealing with fear.

I chose the dirtbag lifestyle. I worked as a carpenter until I saved enough money to live in the back of my pickup truck for a number of years. In some ways it was the simplest my life has ever been: wake up, eat, climb, and sleep. If I learned anything during that time, it’s that you have to live your own life and do exactly what makes you the most happy, because if you don’t you’ll never fully develop into the person you were meant to be.

As climbers, we sometimes get wrapped up in our micro worlds of importance. I don’t mean self-importance, I mean things like flappers, beta, ethics, tick marks, redpoints, onsights, all these small things that don’t really have any impact on the bigger scale stuff. It’s important to have perspective and appreciate that we need both the narrow and the broad in our lives.

After many years of sport climbing, I got bored with it and even contemplated going back to school. That’s when I realized I was craving a little more adventure in my climbing and my life. I took out a bank loan, drove straight to Yosemite and haven’t looked back since. However, reflecting on it now, I think hard sport climbing taught me how to keep my composure on difficult terrain for extended periods of time. When I finally learned to trust my gear, I had the confidence to really go for it and try the hardest routes I could find.

My spirit is always lifted when I feel myself being drawn to a beautiful route. It’s not enough for something to be hard. It has to be inspiring as well. Trad climbing opened a door to more of those types of lines.

Cobra Crack (5.14) taught me to fall in love with the process. I never really expected to do the route, so I just enjoyed climbing on it for climbing’s sake. Some of my favorite climbing days ever were just hiking up to put in a couple of hours of work on it. It was easy to do because it’s such a peaceful place back there, and the climb is one of the most alluring lines I’ve ever seen. One day it all clicked pretty easily, and I knew I was going to send it.

The most important thing I’ve learned by being a father is that climbing isn’t nearly as important as I used to think it was. The second most important thing I have learned is that if you want to get anything accomplished, you have to plan.

My greatest inspiration to climb has probably come from seeing photos in magazines of people climbing all around the world at the most beautiful areas and greatest mountain ranges. These images have likely had a greater affect on me than any one person.

I see myself climbing for as long as my body will allow. In fact, there are even some major classic routes that I’ve been saving for when I’m older, perhaps to climb with my wife or my son, Tatum, if he enjoys climbing, too. I’d be honored to go out and do some of those routes for the first time together.

This article was published in Rock and Ice No. 221

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