An Interview with Gabe Lawson on Canada’s First V16
Lawson talks about The Megg's history, moves, and grade, his climbing resume, and his plans for 2023Photo by: Jacob Hoffman
On January 23, Squamish local Gabe Lawson made Canadian climbing history. He sent his long-term project, The Megg, assigning it a grade V16—an unprecedented number in Canada. While the country has a few V15s, there has not been a V16 anywhere in Canada until now.
Lawson has been a quiet, low-key figure in the Squamish scene. Most of his previous big sends have gone unreported in the climbing media, and climbers outside of town are unlikely to be familiar with him. To learn more about The Megg and Lawson’s climbing, we sat down with him at Squamish’s Ground Up Climbing Centre for what turned out to be a lengthy interview. We talked in-depth about The Megg, its history, and its grade. We also discussed Lawson’s climbing resume and his plans for 2023.
Who is Gabe Lawson?
Lawson, 29, is originally from Victoria, BC. He lives in Squamish and works in web design. He’s not a pro climber and he doesn’t have any sponsors. He started climbing when he was 14, spending every summer of his teenage years living and climbing in Squamish. At 19, after graduating high school, he moved to Squamish but he injured both his knees shortly afterward. He ended up leaving the area and didn’t climb much from age 20 to 26. He moved back to Squamish two years ago and has been tearing it up on routes and boulders ever since.
The Megg V16
The Megg is located on the backside of the famous Space Monkey boulder in The Farm area of Squamish’s North Wall boulders. It is a quintessential Squamish problem, featuring bad feet, terrible slopers, crystal crimping, and highly technical movement. The problem is tall at 20–25 feet in height, requiring 16 moves before the mantle top-out.
Lawson’s journey with The Megg started while projecting The Singularity. Before The Megg, The Singularity was widely considered Squamish’s most difficult problem. Located in The Room in the Grand Wall Boulders, the line was first sent by Tim Clifford in 2007 and assigned a grade of V14. It went unrepeated for over 10 years until its second ascent by Nalle Hukkataival in 2017, who climbed it from a lower hold. Lawson made the third ascent in April 2022 when he sent the problem from Clifford’s original start, but did not publicly release this information until after sending The Megg.
After a successful day of working The Singularity in November 2021, Lawson thought “I’m going to do this boulder” and decided to start inquiring about other potential projects. “I was in The Room talking with Paul Nadler who climbs with Tim Doyle a lot,” Lawson explained. “I asked if they had any unfinished projects that they’d given up on or that they weren’t psyched on, and that was the first one he mentioned.
“And then later on I asked Tim Doyle and he said that him and his friends had tried it. They called it the White Castle Project because they thought it looked like the White Castle logo. I also ran into Tim Clifford and Georg [Joost], and they said they tried it back in the day too. They actually showed it to Nalle Hukkataival and he tried it as well. So, I don’t exactly know who claimed ownership over it first. It’s a bit tricky. But they did all say it was around 20 years ago.”
After talking with Nadler, Lawson went to scope out the problem. The main strip of the boulder was fairly clean but the outer edges were completely mossed over. “When you walk into Space Monkey, it actually faces you. I’ve walked past it for years but just never noticed that it was a climb,” he said.
“Hmm, I’m not totally convinced it’s possible,” he remembered thinking. “Where are the holds?”
The Projecting Process
Lawson got to scrubbing and began trying the problem in April 2022. “It’s really thin and desperate,” he said. “There was a time in the beginning where I wasn’t totally convinced it was possible because it’s hard, there’s no video or anything and nobody’s really tried it. When I would take people there, they couldn’t really do the first, second, or third move even if I [power] spotted them. So I just kind of had to figure it out. And I think that was part of the issue, figuring out the right sequence.
“I spent 16 days in total [working The Megg]. But that was spread out over 10 months. When I first tried it I could barely pull on and I couldn’t really do the first move. I started trying it from one move in, and I would just stack a bunch of pads. After about 10 sessions I could link from one move in to the top.
“When Fall came around, we finally had good conditions and I started trying it from the bottom. But then I kind of went through an up-and-down battle. I could do the first move and get into the crux but then I was falling at the top. I punted twice really badly [from the top]. The first time was because my hands were really cold. They were freezing—I didn’t warm up enough. And then the second time it was kind of wet. Both times I kind of jumped off. It was anti-climactic.”
Lawson sent the problem the evening of January 23 while on a solo session. He was not optimistic about the send at all. Humidity was at 85% and it had recently rained but luckily he had tarped the problem. He put his cellphone in his shoe to capture video footage, which he said will be released at a later date as part of a larger film.
On this session he really noticed the problem’s height. “It’s a bit taller than I thought it was,” he said. “I didn’t really view it as a highball until I was sending. I was like, ‘OK like if I fall here I’m actually going to get pretty hurt’. You’re rounding off the arete at 20 to 25 feet. And it’s not over. The landing is good but you’re in a compromised position. The way you’d fall is very bad. I think I would classify it as a highball even though it’s not super tall.”
You can watch a new cut of some of his attempts in the video below:
“[The Megg is made up] of two sections,” said Lawson. “One that’s very powerful and then one that’s very, very delicate. And the tricky thing is that you can’t de-contract at all—there’s just no stance [in between].”
The problem starts standing using two poor holds. “One’s a sloper and one’s a pinch but I just crimp both of them because I’m a bigger dude. I’m not really strong enough to open hand them—reliably anyway,” he explained. The first move off these holds to a desperate right sloper up high is one of the problem’s hardest.
Figuring out the footwork appeared to be the solution. “There are no footholds at the beginning—there’s nothing. There was a little flake but as I stuck the move for the first time, it broke,” he said, remembering his disappointment. “I eventually figured out a way where I could just barely reach a low, low foot and hit the sloper. At first I had to really believe I could actually reach it. I would stack pads to hit it and I would think ‘there’s no way I’m going to actually reach this just with strength.'”
A left heel hook helped unlock the move. “I figured out a start position with my left heel on,” he said. “That way, when I hit the sloper, I don’t have to put the heel up.” Others, including Hukkataival had not tried this beta.
The next move is to bring up the left hand to a fat, slopey pinch. While the first and second moves are hard, the sequence that follows—a series of left hand bumps off the wide pinch—is probably the line’s hardest. Lawson struggled with these moves until Keenan Takahashi made a discovery while visiting Squamish in the summer. “He found a little left hand intermediate that I never saw. It’s just so tiny that unless there’s chalk on it, you wouldn’t notice it. That’s actually what really unlocked it for me.
“I was trying previously to go from the [left] pinch and bump to a really bad sloper—that’s what all of us were trying. But it was just too hard. When [Takahashi] found the crimp I realized that I could just really awkwardly shift myself up and then bump out left. I think that bump is probably the hardest move I’ve ever done because I have to disengage both shoulders at the same time. I can barely reach it.”
As Lawson explains the movement he stretches his arms out wide, “And then instead of keeping my [right hand] in like a nice sloper I have to [open up] my fingers. And then when I hit [the final crux hold with my left], I’ve only hit it with the tip of one finger and I have to bump it in. So it’s really, really reachy.”
You can watch Lawson work this low crux in his Instagram video below:
While the first half is powerful, the top is deceptively tricky. “Originally, [after working it on a rope], I thought the top part was maybe V7 but that was just not accurate. I don’t know what happened. I think we were weighting the rope or something. As soon as I started trying it without a rope it felt more like that vert section might be V11 or V12.
“When you get into the vert section you’re standing on the start holds and you’re still really spanned out. You can’t let go of either hand to de-contract or shake out—you just can’t. You’re still in it. [The section] is very droppable until the very, very end. It’s just really desperate.”
“I think [The Megg] is probably 5 stars,” he says, with a smile on his face. “What I look for typically in lines is stand start, top-out finish, and tall—and it’s got all of it.”
Needless to say, the problem looks and sounds incredibly difficult. But why does it deserve a V16 grade? “I was originally thinking the boulder would probably be V15,” said Lawson. “I thought that was a pretty safe bet. On two days I felt like I had given it a V15 effort—I gave it everything—and still fell. And that’s why I reluctantly decided to give it a bigger number—I can see people climbing through that hard part and still falling, especially if they’re short. I think if that vert section was easier it would probably be V15.
“It’s also just really hard to grade because it’s extremely positional. The main things are technique, flexibility, skin—you can’t just pull on holds and be stronger. If I had to guess I would say the opening is V14 and then from there to the top is V11/12. That would be my guess.”
Lawson is 6’2″ with an even ape index. This height can make some hard boulders in town extra tough for him, but on The Megg it was likely an asset. However, Lawson still believes the problem is doable for shorter folks. “It is possible if you’re shorter but it’s going to be a different sequence. I don’t know if that sequence will be easier or harder but I know that the first move is definitely harder if you’re short because you have to jump. There could be some advantage to being short later on. It was rare to find something that reachy with a forced sequence because usually there would be another option.”
He noted that he did not take grading the problem V16 lightly. “For historical purposes I was very hesitant to give it such a big number. And I do think there’s a possibility that someone will come and downgrade it. But I kind of figured it would be more satisfying for someone to come and downgrade it than to do a really hard V15. My ego can take it if someone downgrades it. But at the same time I feel like to actually link the bottom to the top you’re going to have to climb that hard. I won’t be surprised if it’s downgraded but I also won’t be surprised if it just never gets done.
“I’ve thought a Font climber could come and just crush it because they’re very flexible and it’s very similar to Font style. So we’ll see. Time will tell. I’ve seen a lot of American boulderers on it but it’s not their style. I was very hesitant to give it that number but I figure if someone wants to come and do it, great.”
The new V16-graded problem will definitely once again turn the eyes of the national and international climbing community onto Squamish. Lawson appears excited at this prospect: “I think that Squamish is very underrated, especially for bouldering. So it’d be great to see more people come here. Because there’s lots of projects—there’s just maybe not the right people to do them yet. I think it will be good to bring some attention here.”
So why the name? “The reason I called it The Megg is because it’s really similar to [Squamish’s] The Egg [V11],” he explained. “You have two hands on the start hold, and then you go to a right sloper, left heel hook, you post up on the heel to a left intermediate—and that’s literally the exact same sequence as The Egg. Plus it kind of looks a little bit like an egg.”
The Egg is a Squamish classic. Located on the Superfly boulder, the problem was first sent by Chris Sharma in 1999. Lawson continues, “At the time, The Egg was kind of like the next step. It was the hardest boulder in town. There were a lot of people who tried it but they couldn’t put it together and I think [The Megg] was very similar. It’s been sitting there for 20 years. Most people that I would show it to, they would just dismiss it as not possible. So yeah, I think historically it’s quite similar.”
Lawson’s Climbing Resume
While The Megg is Lawson’s first widely publicized ascent, he has made some other big sends over the years. “My climbing resume is not super crazy,” he said. “I think I climbed 5.14a or 5.14b when I was 17, both sport and gear. I think as a teenager I didn’t do anything more than V12.”
In the summer of 2022, he made of first ascents of Tim’s Sloper Problem 5.14b on the Big Show in Chek and Young King Dave 5.14c in Paradise Valley. He also said he made the likely second ascent of Working Man 5.14b on the Cacodemon.
In terms of bouldering, prior to The Megg, Lawson’s greatest accomplishment was The Singularity. When asked about other V14’s in town, he replied: “I’ve basically tried all of them for one or two sessions to suss them out but some don’t fit me very well. I think I can do Reckoning and Deadlift but for others, it’s harder being a bigger dude. So I kind of put my energy where I thought I’d have the best chance of sending. But no, I haven’t done any V14s.”
Like many, Lawson believes The Singularity is V15. Lucas Uchida made the fourth ascent of the problem in Summer 2022 but he did not make a definite grade statement. “Lucas is just humble,” said Lawson, laughing. “It’s very hard. You get V16 bros on it and they can’t do it at all. The only way [to send] is to either be a local and siege it or I don’t know. I can see someone like Megos just firing it because he’s really flexible. I’ve tried that thing with like 10 professionals and none of them could do anything. So yeah, I think that one’s V15.”
When asked about other Canadian V15s, he responded: “I haven’t tried [Yves Gravelle’s] Low Miall’s or So What but those look good. I think they’re very, very different [than The Megg]. I think Yves probably wouldn’t be able to [The Megg] and I wouldn’t be able to do those.”
Lawson gained a little bit of local fame for climbing many of Squamish’s “Top 100” boulder problems while backpacking a crash pad, even managing a send of The Method V12 with a pad on his back.
Lawson also partakes in the rare art of hard free-soloing. “I started soloing not long after I started climbing, maybe when I was 16,” he said. “So it’s just kind of ingrained in me.” In Summer 2022, he said he free-soloed Man From Del Monte 5.12d at Quercus in Murrin. Anyone who’s been on the line will likely shudder at the thought on being on it without a rope. “Just to be fair, at the crux in the slippery section, there’s one way where you can go through an undercling—I didn’t go that way,” he explained. “I went a little bit left, there’s two crimps and you just lock off to a jug. I just found it a little more high percentage because that undercling is really slippery. There’s some kind of weird position there. It felt good. That was definitely the hardest solo I’ve done probably.”
Lawson has some big plans for 2023. “Because I’ve spent a lot of time in Squamish, I’ve kind of tried to dedicate myself this year to just finishing as much as I can. Because that way, when I leave and go somewhere else, I won’t be thinking about the projects back home.” He plans to work on both routes and boulders.
For boulders, he has a bunch of V13 and V14 problems that he’d like to send, several of which are committing highballs. He’s also working on an FA of an extremely difficult dyno problem, which he says will be one of the hardest dynos in the world if completed. For routes, he already started working on Ben Harden’s Dark Matter 5.15a in 2022, which he might pick up again in 2023. He’s also flirting with the idea of trying Jeremy Smith’s dangerous gear route in Murrin, The Bull 5.14b.
In terms of larger goals, Lawson seeks variety. “I’ve always done all disciplines. I don’t know if it’s necessarily number oriented but I think my main goal is to do something substantial in each discipline. In fact, I’d really like to do something in alpine and deep-water soloing as well, if I have time. I guess it’s semi-rare to have people who do ropes and boulders, but I just like it all.”