Yamnuska is one of the most iconic peaks in Canada and Sonnie Trotter has established the mountain’s hardest route to date.

In 2001, Shep Steiner and Todd Guyn made the first free ascent of the first three pitches of Verstiegenheit on the west end of Yamnuska (Yam). Three years later, Scott Milton and Steiner freed pitches four trough eight and the cruxes of the route went at 5.12cR. It was the mountain’s most difficult route, which says a lot for one of Canada’s few famous walls.

The route failed to set a standard in run-out and dangerous free climbing and was only repeated a few times. More dangerous routes were established on the south-facing wall, but none broke the 5.13 barrier. To do that would take a keener and a lot of patience.

Sonnie Trotter working up the lower part of Blue Jeans with Tom Anderson belaying.  Photo John Price
Sonnie Trotter working up the lower part of Blue Jeans with Tom Anderson belaying. Photo John Price

In 2006, Gadd sent Yamabushi and graded it 5.13a. The steep route has been sent by a number of climbers since. It was the first route on the wall graded 5.13 but the grade has settled at around 5.12d. Hayden Kennedy onsighted it this summer and was belayed by Simon Mies.

A few years later, Trotter sent The Mistress at 5.13a/b. The esthetic line climbs an obvious orange streak above the Calgary Route and was likely the hardest multi-pitch in the Rockies, but received little attention. It was sent by Derek Galloway on top rope as he seconded and has not been fully repeated since.

In the late 2000s, Nick Rochacewich bolted Blue Jeans on Yam’s east end. He was helped by Pete Thurlow, Brandon Pullan, Katie Brown and other climbers willing to lend a hand. The 200-metre route climbs near the classic East End Boys. Rochacewich first tried to establish it ground up, but fell while aiding through a roof and pulled a number of pieces of gear. The fall landed him on the ground and he rolled into the trees, luckily unharmed. He then decided to bolt top down.

Sonnie Trotter working up Blue Jeans on Yamnuska.  Photo John Pric
Sonnie Trotter working up Blue Jeans on Yamnuska. Photo John Price

Rochacewich avoided the steepest bulge in the centre of the wall in favour of less steep pitches out left. He left it as an open project and it caught the attention of a number of strong Canadian climbers.

In 2010, Derek Galloway freed Blue Jeans at a solid 5.13b and it took him a week of effort. The second ascent came a few years later by Vikki Weldon. A few years later, in 2015, Americans Hayden Kennedy and Josh Wharton both made free ascents.

This summer, Australian Doug McConnell made the fifth ascent of Blue Jeans. At the same time, Trotter was busy establishing a direct route through the central bulge, hoping it would add a few grades to the route. It was the line Rochacewich avoided for more manageable terrain.

Trotter spent weeks working on his route and on Oct. 22, he sent his summer project. Blue Jeans Direct is Yam’s first 5.14, a historic effort.

“I just sent one of my summer projects on Yamnuska during the final hours of daylight and on my last day of the season,” said Trotter. “Tomorrow, it is supposed to snow and Friday we’re off to California. What a day.

“Thank you Gery Unterasinger, who is one of the strongest and most inspiring climbers/skiers/overall mountain crushers I’ve ever met, for partnering up with me. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Yam’s first 5.14 is another feather in Trotter’s cap of impressive Rockies first ascents. At Lake Louise he sent The Path 5.14R, on Castle Mountain, he made the first ascent of Castles in the Sky 5.14a. On Mount Louis, he made the first ascent, with Tommy Caldwell, of The Shinning 5.13c. And, on Yam, he has sent the unthinkable and set a new standard for Canadian climbing. Only one of his mentioned routes has been repeated.

Sonnie Trotter having a great time on Blue Jeans on Yamnuska during a project session of his soon-to-be 5.14.  Photo John Price
Sonnie Trotter having a great time on Blue Jeans on Yamnuska during a project session of his soon-to-be 5.14. Photo John Price

In 1952, the first route on Yam was established by Hans Gmoser, Leo Grillmair and Isabel Spreat. It was the hardest technical rock climb in the range. It is no surprise that 63 years later, Yam is still the scene of cutting edge Canadian climbs and once again, Sonnie Trotter is leading the way.

– Be sure to follow Trotter on Instagram @sonnietrotter.

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