Sonnie Trotter working the U.K.'s hardest trad climb, Rhapsody (E11 7a, or 5.14c R).
SONNIE TROTTER HAS made a mission of climbing the world’s hardest naturally protected routes, and last year he set his sights on repeating Dave MacLeod’s route Rhapsody (E11 7a or 5.14c R) at Scotland’s Dumbarton Rock. This climb was immortalized in the film E11, which shows “Dumby” Dave repeatedly logging 50-foot falls, spraining ankles, bruising hips, banging his noggin and bleeding in the shower before finally sending after 70 days on the route.
Trotter’s attempts to repeat Rhapsody last year were foiled by wet conditions at the notoriously smarmy crag where rain fell 263 days in 2007.
This year Trotter had better weather and even managed to add a first ascent, a 5.14a R direct finish to Requiem (5.13c) that he dubbed Direquiem. Both Rhapsody and Direquiem begin by climbing Requiem—freed in 1983 by Dave Cuthbertson—but Trotter says Direquiem takes a direct, natural line of “easier” holds to the top, while Rhapsody, though harder, is an “eliminate” because you must avoid grabbing the juggy arete just to the left of the sequence to get the 5.14c points.
By June 6, after already canceling his return flight once, he thought he might have to admit defeat again. “Tonight is our last night,” Trotter wrote on his blog, sonnietrotter.com
. “Changing our tickets would mean dishing out another $300. Leaving would mean going home empty-handed losers.”
Comments poured into the blog, starting with Will Gadd’s post: “I got a $100 straight into your airline fund if you stay to send the rig.” Over a dozen climbers posted up offers of cash, and though Trotter ultimately declined the money, he did stay.
On June 9, after over a month in Scotland, Trotter made the second ascent of Rhapsody.
After establishing Direquiem, why stay to send Rhapsody?
I simply wanted to finish what I set out to do. Just because I did an easier variation doesn’t mean I didn’t want to feel the full value. I wanted to know if I had what it took to climb it. It was a perfect challenge for me, a great stepping-stone.
How long did it take? Why the commitment to this climb?
We came over last year to climb on the Gritstone in England and to investigate Rhapsody. While we managed to do both, we ended up in Mallorca for eight days of deep-water soloing because it just rained too hard. On this trip, Rhapsody took me roughly 15 climbing days. I would have done it faster with better weather. I had so many halfhearted attempts: I’d go up to check it out and then drop off at the crux when I knew it felt like shit. It was hot and slippery this spring, the wind never even hit the wall. The weather was just too good [to send]. On Monday, the weather sucked: gale-force winds, perfect and sticky. I sent.
You suggested that Rhapsody was an eliminate. Why?
Because it is. It’s not a matter of opinion. It’s a fact. But it’s a worthy and logical eliminate, and one of the best-quality rock climbs I have ever done.
It’s interesting to deconstruct why this route caught the attention of the climbing community. Is it cool?
It’s fucking rad, dude! It’s beautiful, very hard and a little risky. To be able to climb such hard, interesting moves above a small rack of traditional gear is just the coolest thing. The fall is fun. I never wore a helmet. I never felt in danger. The gear is bomber, the fall is clean and the line makes perfect sense.
MacLeod took several bad falls and was injured. What did you do differently?
We used the whole length of the rope, belaying from the ground, not from the ledge as Dave did. This made us able to jump when the leader fell and, with way more rope stretch, the catch was softer. I thought it was a lot of fun to fall.
What’s the allure of extremely difficult routes?
It’s not extreme; anyone can do these routes if they try hard enough. What I did is not that special, and in 10 years, Rhapsody will be a trade route. A classic. I think it’s getting harder to find truly challenging climbs that aren’t chipped.
It’s interesting that Sharma’s dyno on Es Pontas was also recently revealed to be an eliminate. Could the hype of big moves, or big falls, have something to do with gaining media and sponsor attention?
Pure sponsorship dollars. Crap, man, I don’t have an answer for Es Pontas. I never tried it. But Sharma is solid and so are his motives. Dave, too. Ideally, I wish that dyno was the only way up the arch, but it’s not. Rhapsody is a logical line—yes, there is an escape (cop out) out left, and yes, there is a more direct version straight up (Direquiem), but the climbing on Rhapsody is a combination between the two. I suppose it does get confusing when a line is supposed to be the “hardest” and “purest,” but who cares? I say, to those who want an answer, come over and give it a glance in person. If you agree with the line, climb it, smile and have a nice day. If you don’t, go home and climb something else.
Now that you’ve done the hardest trad climbs in the world, what’s next?
Honestly, I was a tad bit disappointed. I should have done Rhapsody faster. Truthfully, I have not been training. I think I am going to take the summer off, work as a rock guide in Squamish, and boulder for the next few months to build my power up. I want to feel really strong again, like Wolfgang strong.