Sonnie Trotter has just completed his summer project, Castles in the Sky, on Castle Mountain in the Canadian Rockies. The bolted route, rated 5.14a, rises five pitches up a prow on a lower buttress of the mountain. While the route features moderate pitches of rock near the bottom, a dramatic overhanging arête guards access to the route’s final and easier pitches.
In an e-mail exchange with Rock and Ice
, Trotter describes the 55-meter (180 feet) crux as “lots of sidepulls and underclings … a power endurance climb.”
“I think if you were to break it into two pitches it would be like 5.12+ into a 5.13+, but there just is no place to build a proper belay station, so I just linked them together into one long, perfect pitch,” wrote Trotter.
Trotter explained that he had been eyeing the route for 10 years. “You can see it from the Trans Canada Highway if you look closely enough and are obsessed as much as I am,” he says.
From July until September, he attempted the route 10 times over two months and was unsure whether he would be able to send by the end of the season. The whole affair was exhausting, according to Trotter. “I was cleaning, bolting, hiking and hauling, basically working my ass off,” says Trotter. When things got tough, however, he would ask himself “what would Tommy Caldwell do?”
Eventually, determination bred success, and this past weekend Trotter was able to link all the moves on the “perfect dolomite rock” and establish Castles in the Sky
Many other climbers helped in the ascent. Sam Lambert, who also spent the entire summer sending routes in the Canadian Rockies, was Trotter’s partner for the route, belaying and hauling during the ascent. Ben Moon, a past climbing partner of Trotter’s, joined the team and photographed the climb. Sam Eastman, another Canadian up-and-coming hardman, offered a belay on initial attempts. Will Gadd, Nick Rochacewich, and Derek Galloway all lent gear and/or hardware.
This isn’t the first big wall first ascent for Trotter. In 2011, Trotter and Will Stanhope made the second ascent of Leo Houlding's incredible route, The Prophet (5.13d R) on El Capitan. Last year, he and Tommy Caldwell sent The Shining (5.13c) on Mt. Louis (see Rock and Ice 199 for Trotter’s feature article). Castles in the Sky is yet another addition in a string of big wall first ascents that is sure to continue.