The Path (5.14 R, 130′), at the Back of the Lake area, Lake Louise, Alberta, another of the world’s hardest crack climbs, was established by Sonnie Trotter on August 20. The project was bolted twenty years ago and, in recent years, abandoned. Trotter discovered the line would go without the bolts, chopped them, and redpointed it free on his own gear. [Photo] Cory Richards
An abandoned 5.14 bolted seam located at the Back of the Lake area of Lake Louise, Alberta, received its first free ascent on August 20 by Sonnie Trotter, renowned Canadian crack hardman. After inspecting the route on rappel and toproping it with cams as directionals, Trotter deemed that the route “should be climbed entirely on natural gear.” In mid July he chopped every bolt on the longstanding project (it was bolted about twenty years ago). He worked the line for ten days, spread out over five weeks, before redpointing it “in the best style I could imagine,” Trotter said. He placed all gear on lead and avoided all other fixed pieces.
The Path (5.14 R, 130′) follows a steep obvious crack peppered with crimps, and has five distinct cruxes: four 5.13 sections divided by positive rests, and a V10 boulder problem over scary gear (a micro cam and some thin nuts) to end the difficulties. The last hard move Trotter describes as an enormous iron cross requiring a “sideways lunge to an edge the size of a broken pencil” that tweaks your shoulders. That last move marks the end of any potential gear placements until the anchor thirty feet above. Although the unprotected section involves easier 5.12 climbing and has a clean fall, the sheer distance and thin gear at the crux compelled Trotter to give the climb an R rating.
Chopping the bolts “was a hard decision to make at first because the climb is now rated R,” Trotter admitted. Having redpointed The Path cleanly, and having received positive feedback from the local community, Trotter continues to stand by his action; “it was ultimately the best choice to make,” he said.
Trotter has climbed some of the hardest cracks in the world; his most famous may be the first ascent of Cobra Crack (5.14) in Squamish, which he completed last summer. In May, Trotter attempted Rhapsody (E11 7a or 5.14 X), the world’s other hardest trad climb, and made quick progress but was unable to send due to poor weather. “It’s safe to say that [The Path] ranks among the world’s most difficult,” Trotter said. “I can’t compare [Cobra Crack, Rhapsody and The Path], as they all climb so differently, but I feel that [The Path] is solid 5.14 trad, and I am stoked that climbs of this nature are becoming more and more feasible. I have done more than sixty 5.14s; this one is tougher than most.”
The route, adorned with bolts for twenty years yet still unclimbed, was a rare find, Trotter said. One example he gave of a tarnished climb was the East Face (5.13d) of Monkey Face at Smith Rock, Oregon, which was free climbed in 1985 with the aid of bolts and fixed gear, but redpointed on trad-only gear by Trotter in 2004. The difficulty of The Path, coupled with its unclimbed history despite the bolts, made the climb ideal for him: “I consider it one of finest climbs, and biggest challenges, of my climbing life.”