Will Stanhope still gets the shivers thinking about one lead.
Liebacking up exfoliating granite high on Poincenot, unable to stop to place protection in an offwidth, Stanhope knew he had stepped over the line.
“I was really close to falling,” he says, a fall that could have ripped the belay anchor. He only calls the situation “stupid.”
For Stanhope, boldness arising from circumstance is acceptable, even desirable. Stupidity arising from boldness, however, is not. On Poincenot, a spire in the Fitz Roy range of Patagonia, he went too far and he regrets it, even with a success on the climb.
“More than realizing what is acceptable risk,” he says, “it was an abrupt lesson in what is unacceptable and how I need to respect that.”
Stanhope, age 22 and from Squamish, B.C., has emerged as one of today’s hardest trad and alpine rock climbers. “He is one of the finest granite climbers I’ve seen in the last five years,” says Sonnie Trotter, another leading Canadian trad climber. “He’s strong-minded and he has the spirit.”
In the past year alone, Stanhope has repeated the East Face of Monkey Face (5.13d R), and Cobra Crack (5.14c), for its fifth ascent. To these impressive trad accomplishments he has added his own routes such as The Magical Dog (5.13) and Cannabis Wall (5.13- R), both in Squamish; and the first free ascents of Chocolate Fudge Brownie (5.12+) on the Central Howser and Sendero Norte (5.12+) on Snowpatch Spire, the Bugaboos. In the alpine testing grounds of Patagonia, he and Jason Kruk pushed first free ascents of The Sound and the Fury (V 5.12b) on Desmochada, and Blood on the Tracks (5.12b) on Raphael Juarez, as well as establishing their 5,600-foot DNV Direct (VI 5.11 X A1)
Says Trotter, humorously, “Will Stanhope is like the Leo Houlding of the next generation, but without the Audi sponsorship.”
YOU STARTED CLIMBING AT AGE 7 OR 8. WAS IT LOVE RIGHT AWAY?
It was the only thing I was good at as a kid. No joke! I tried basketball and once scored on my own net. I remember wondering why the coach of the other team was cheering me on.
HOW DO YOUR PARENTS FEEL ABOUT YOU CLIMBING AND GUIDING FULLTIME NOW?
My parents wish I had stayed
YOU HAVE A LOT OF NICKNAMES. WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE AND LEAST FAVORITE?
Favorite: Open Bivy Willy. Trotter gave it to me after our horrible night out with only fleece jackets on the Steinbok.
Least favorite: White Pages Willy. A long time ago I looked up a girl’s number in the phone book, and she called me a stalker. Very sad day.
HOW DO YOU TRAIN?
When I’m stuck in Vancouver in the wintertime I train hard at the gym. Bouldering, strength training, whatever. For big alpine trips, I train by getting aerobically fit and eating as much as humanly possible. I am a lanky kid and get really cold. If you don’t have a bit of fat to burn, you’re going to burn muscle. I can’t afford to lose any of my muscles, because I don’t have any to begin with.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR FIRST BIG ALPINE TRIP TO PATAGONIA, WITH JASON KRUK.
It was rad! We rolled into Chalten after a 50-hour bus ride. The weather was splitter. Pretty much the best trip of my life. By the end of the trip, I was completely drained. That style of climbing is the most demanding I’ve ever come across. I love it.
WHAT DOES GOOD STYLE MEAN TO YOU?
Be honest. Don’t leave garbage. Criticism only breeds resentment and animosity.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF BIG ALPINE ROCK?
Free, fast, in-a-push alpine climbing is the most inspiring type of climbing in the world. People have only scratched the surface of what’s possible. Jon Walsh and Chris Brazeau’s one-day free ascent of the North Face of Alberta was a big inspiration to me, bringing it all together on a route like that.
WHAT WAS COBRA CRACK LIKE?
When I first looked up at it I was in high school, and it was this supposedly impossibly futuristic project. I made it a goal back then, but more like a wild dream. This spring I put life on hold to climb it. I avoided parties, slept a lot, smothered my fingers in Polysporin for healing and generally hung out by myself. Sending it was a weird feeling. I never imagined I would send the Cobra Crack, so life feels a little odd right now. I’m trying to figure out where to take things next. I operate best with a project. Now I feel a little unhinged.
WHAT ARE YOUR NEXT BIG AMBITIONS FOR THE ALPINE?
Patagonia, Bugaboos, Pakistan. A good crew with dope lines.
WORDS TO LIVE BY?
My good friend Colin Moorhead likes to say, “Climbing is the truth.” After pondering that for a year, I agree. I tend to have my head in the clouds most of the time, but climbing is grounding.
Up in the alpine you find out where you stand, in a hurry. I like feeling small and insignificant. Trade shows aren’t the truth. Climbing is the truth.