On November 16, Canadians Sonnie Trotter and Will Stanhope repeated Leo Houlding’s famed route The Prophet (5.13dR, 600m) on El Cap. Trotter and Stanhope spent five weeks in Yosemite Valley working the route, before completing a ground-up free ascent in a three-day push that fell on both of their birthdays.
Sonnie Trotter right after he sent the crux pitch, A1 Beauty. Trotter and Will Stanhope recently made the second ascent of Leo Houlding’s “The Prophet” (5.13dR, 600m). [Photo] Ben Moon
Leo Houlding and Jason Pickles dedicated nine years to the creation of The Prophet, a thirteen pitch monster. They began their attempt in October 2001, and on their first attempted ascent, Pickles fell and fractured his pelvis. Over the course of the next nine seasons, Houlding attempted the route with different partners, rappelled down the top pitches (the famous A1 Beauty pitch of Eagle’s Way), and prepared himself for the first ground-up free ascent. In October 2010, Pickles and Houlding finally completed their quest over the course of six days (including a four-day storm and eighty hours of waiting on a port-a-ledge), which Houlding described as “a dream come true.”
Trotter, inspired by Houlding’s words and photos of his mission to free The Prophet, arrived with Stanhope in Yosemite Valley in the beginning of October, 2011. Over the next five weeks, they attempted The Prophet’s first pitches from the ground five times–each time passing their previous high point. They rappelled from the top of the route to practice the route’s crux pitch, A1 Beauty, a thin, left-leaning finger crack. Their climbing was spaced out with rest days in Tahoe and Santa Cruz, forced upon them by storms that rendered the Valley wet, and snowy.
The climbing was “often loose,” and while working the route the pair broke off several footholds–including off a section of the intimidating Devil’s Dyno pitch, a traverse that requires a 2.5-meter sideways jump.
Stymied by snowstorms, Trotter and Stanhope had almost given up on their dream of completing The Prophet this season. But on November 14, the weather cleared. The pair were the only climbers on El Cap as they began their final attempt at The Prophet. It took them three days to complete the route. Trotter redpointed the tricky A1 Beauty pitch on his second try and was “overwhelmed by euphoria.” Stanhope did not complete the A1 Beauty Pitch. After falling on the pitch as the pair finished their climbing on November 15, Stanhope attempted the finger crack four times at dawn on November 16. Though he did not complete the pitch, he swore to come back next season to finish it, and the pair continued to the route’s two final pitches.
Sonnie and Will Stanhope on their portaledge. [Photo] Sonnie Trotter
Trotter says that it is the “little things” that will stick with him most from the experience: friends rappelling chocolate cupcakes to Stanhope and himself on their birthdays, hearing people cheer as the pair ticked off another pitch and the camaraderie of the climbing community in the Valley. Those moments have a longer lasting impact “than the quick rush of sending,” says Trotter.
This was Trotter’s first route on El Cap, but he knows that he will be back. “I have fallen in love with El Cap,” he says.