Black Diamond athlete Sonnie Trotter reports on his send of The Prophet (5.13d R) on El Cap
Black Diamond athlete Sonnie Trotter made an extended trip to Yosemite Valley this fall, where he was able to make the second ascent of Leo Houlding's route The Prophet (VI 5.13d R) on the southeast face of El Cap. Not bad for his first time on the Big Stone! Below is an email Sonnie sent us last week detailing his successful ascent and his subsequent R&R in Bishop, with photos from Sonnie and ace photog Paul Bride.
Years ago, before I ever considered free climbing El Cap, my hero Tommy Caldwell told me this would happen. He told me to drink plenty of water and to take time off. He told me it may take up to 2 weeks, depending on the experience. Today, I can barely use a pen or a keyboard. It's not that I'm in pain, or that my skin hurts, but I am feeling a deep level of fatigue that I have never known before. It's as though I'm sick, but I'm not. I'm perfectly fine, once I get out of bed that is. Seriously though, my arms are heavy, hands won't close tightly, I seem to have lost all strength, like I'll never get it back again. I know I will, but that's how it feels right now. It's just time I suppose.
For the past 6 weeks, I have been high as a kite, working hard, climbing, hiking, hauling and slogging myself around the Big Stone trying to free climb a new route, which was put up last year by the bold and talented Leo Houlding, called The Prophet. It would be my first El Cap route ever. After 5 weeks, we nearly called it quits—tired, sore and defeated by snow storms. And then suddenly one morning, the weather opened up and we got our tiny window.
With only one rest day, we had to re-motivate and give it everything we had. Our final bid with my partner Will Stanhope was a great success for me, a personal best I think, and the push lasted for 3 days. My personal mission was to climb perfectly, and not to concern myself with the big picture. One move at a time.
After 10 R-rated pitches (5 of which are 5.13), the third day brought us to pitch 11, the 5.13d crux, and luckily I hadn't yet taken a single fall. I felt good. Athletes call it being 'in the zone,' climbers call it coffee. I went for it in the heat of mid-day sun, the rock was hot and sweaty, but I felt strong. I made it to the crux feeling good, I thought I had it, but the rubber on my boots wasn't feeling the same optimism and I suddenly slipped off a crucial foothold. I was in the air even before I knew I had fallen. I took a safe 30-footer, but my confidence in my footwork took a beating. I had to rest, and the realization set in that I had to give it everything I had in the evening, (when the temps would be cooler). There would be no second chance, we had to leave the next day.
When I booted up 5 hours later, I felt nervous, and my feet were a tad swollen and hurt. When I started climbing, I thankfully felt stronger than on my first try, and before I could even think I was breathing heavily through the cruxes, climbing so quickly I had no time to be scared. All I could think about was my breath and trying to climb perfectly, one tiny pin scar and dime edge at a time. When I got to the anchor, I was more fulfilled than I have ever been on any climb. I might have put in more work on this route than any other, and the reward reminded me about my golden rule, "you get out what you put in." While pulling up the rope to belay Will and untying my shoes, I shook with adrenaline. That night, I didn't sleep a single wink. I just watched the stars cross the sky, and then it was light again.
Unfortunately, it wasn't a perfect ending. Willy fell just after the crux, not because he didn't climb well, he climbed exceptionally well, but because he ran out of steam. He climbed until he had nothing left, and honestly, that's all we can ask for sometimes. When we started the mission, he could barely do the moves, in the end, he nearly sent the entire wall. He gets most improved player award and I was extremely proud of him. He switched gears quickly, and we climbed to the summit by headlamp.
We carried everything down by noon on the 4th day, with only enough time to shower, grab a beer, a bag of chips and hit the road. Willy had a flight to China to catch and my wife Lydia was flying in the San Fran that same night. No time for celebrating.
We're now in Bishop, California. We took the long way around because of a storm, about 15 hours from Yosemite to San Fransisco, up to Tahoe and back down to Bishop. I've been cooked ever since, about 8 days, and it's only getting worse. I'm trying to boulder but can't muster the strength. I've got motivation, my mind is sharp as a tack, I know I want to get up there, but my body just won't give me what I want or need. But like I said, Tommy told me this would happen.
And yet, I struggle to force it. Friends say chill out, sit back, enjoy the time off, but I get bored too quickly, and soon I have my shoes on again and my hands digging for a good chunk of chalk deep in the bottom of the bag. I pull on the wall thinking it will be different this time, and again, I feel heavy, lethargic, and I plummet into the pads. Despite it all, and all my whining, I'm very grateful to be here in the Sierras, playing among the beautiful blocks. I am reminded just how nice it is to feel the sun on my face, to dry out like a lizard on a granite slab. I just have to practice patience and let the force come back when it's ready and that's part of the game of being on the road, so I've learned, you sometimes have to wait out periods that we'd rather not. When I'm home, most of me wants to be out climbing everyday, no matter what, and when I'm on the road, sometimes I wish I were home chilling, cooking, working, watching TV or hanging with friends. But this too shall pass, and I know from experience that I'll be back at it again, with big wide eyes and the full fire inside ready to tear the roof off of something rad. I think I'll have another glass of water.