Jasmin Caton pulled the haul bag the final feet up onto Heart Ledge, El Capitan, and Amelia Patterson tied it off. Sweating from the heat and from hauling up the slabs on the Salathe, they took off their helmets and sank onto the ledge. Then, from 1,000 feet up on the Shield headwall, a cam fell and, crack, nailed Caton on the head. She screamed and grabbed her forehead, which was flowing with blood.
Expecting major trauma, Patterson held her shirt to Caton’s forehead. After a minute, Patterson looked under the shirt, and found a relatively small cut. Caton reached over, picked up the cam and smiled. “Booty!” she said, shaking, but with both her skull and her sense of humor still intact.
Caton, a 28-year-old Canadian based in New Denver, British Columbia, is a rock guide who from age 13 lived in a ski lodge in the Selkirks owned by her parents—and who this spring completed both a Masters in hydrogeology and the trad route Fallen Arches (5.13a) in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah. She worked the route with friends, but had to find entirely different beta.
“Most people do a long stretch to the upper crack, but I couldn’t consistently pull that,” she says. “Out to the left I got a good pinky-down finger lock and did a long move. At first there were little foot chips, but that wall is exfoliating and they broke. I put tick marks where they had been and convinced myself my feet would stay.”
Caton is a regular in Indian Creek, Yosemite and Squamish, and has redpointed The Great Arch (5.12+), Flight of the Challenger (5.12c) and Big Daddy Overhang (5.12b) in Squamish, while trad onsights include Way Rambo (5.12a) in Indian Creek. In 2003, with help from the Alpine Club of Canada Jen Higgins Memorial Grant, she and Patterson climbed in the Northwest Territories’ Vampire Spires, 18 rugged miles from the Cirque of the Unclimbables. The two spent four days on the Phoenix, beginning on an unfinished route and then climbing original pitches that included a “gaping offwidth dihedral and some serious chossineering”—gardening out every gear placement in the rain.
The two were bivied in a portaledge when they woke to the “gut-wrenching” sound of rock and ice basketballs pouring off the summit and falling just outside their ledge.
The next day, at a ledge where many of the features and routes converge, they joined another route for several pitches, and reached an icy chimney a few hundred feet from the summit. Without ice gear to continue, they rappelled in a thunderstorm, and called their line Wildflowers (VI 5.7 C2).
“Call it a new route or not, whatever you think appropriate,” she says.
In the next year Caton hopes to climb in either the Trango Valley or the Charakusa region of Pakistan. This summer, she and her husband, Evan Stevens, moved to Squamish where she will guide and climb.
What can you do with a hydrogeology degree?
Most people carry on to a Ph.D. I could get a consulting job for an environmental company; consult for mining, logging, or development; or get a job with the USGS. There are more jobs than people with advanced degrees to fill them.
But you’re going climbing?
I’ll be guiding in Squamish all summer, and luckily that doesn’t interfere with my ability to be a climber. I have a trip planned to the Adamants [British Columbia] in July, and then this fall to Yosemite and maybe Spain. This winter I want to get certified as a ski guide.
Then why did you spend two years on the degree?
I was really into my undergrad thesis and wanted to do a master’s. After a year off, I applied to both grad school and the Canadian ski guide program. I found out I had the fellowship and funding months before I knew about the guides courses.
Will you continue with that work?
I’m interested in groundwater pollution, protection and resource management. Groundwater is an important source of freshwater as climate change and human population growth stress surface-water resources. I could see getting a job in five or 10 years when I’m tired of guiding. If that ever happens.
What’s one thing you miss about Canada when you’re here?
A few days ago I slipped scrambling across boulders in the Gunks. I got four stitches in my leg, and $350 later I was really missing Canada’s health care.
What did Fallen Arches mean to you?
A huge milestone. It took dedication and stubbornness, and I’m proud of sticking to it. I enjoy the process of trad redpointing: figuring out the gear, the moves, getting stronger and more confident, and finally that feeling of flowing through moves that felt impossible at first.
Are you still drawn to expeditions with women?
Absolutely. However, I am more drawn to do expeditions with whoever is a solid, compatible partner.
What are Canadian girls like?
The ones I hang out with are all pretty loud and obnoxious.
And Canadian men?
That’s a tough one. I’m married to an American.