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Interview with Evan Hau, Canada’s Top Sport Climber

Alberta climber Evan Hau discusses his journey from the Queen's University Climbing Club to being Canada's first 5.15 climber

Evan Hau is unique in climbing. Perhaps that is obvious. He is the first Canadian to climb 5.15. Though this accomplishment is impressive, perhaps the most impressive thing about Hau is his continued love for the sport.

Hau grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a city famously known for its flatness. Without much rock to speak of, Hau focused on school. He did not start climbing as a child. He never joined the local youth team. Instead, Hau would not find climbing until his first year of university at Queen’s. Hau would fall in love with the sport as an adult.

Like many climbers that began climbing in Kingston, Hau found himself in the Boiler Room Climbing Gym. He joined the facility when he joined the university climbing club. A couple of months into climbing, reading week gave Hau the opportunity to climb outside for the very first time. Hau said, “That was a trip to the Red River Gorge. That is when I really fell in love with climbing.”

In 2008, Hau finished school and moved to Calgary, Alberta. He wanted a place to pursue a career in Engineering while also having access to good climbing. He first visited Canmore in 2007 and fell in love with the area, specifically Acéphale.

Hau said, “The theme of Acéphale was projecting. It is really hard there. We go there to ‘climb’ but most days you sit there and just look at the wall. If there are ten people, there are maybe four on the wall, and three of them are hanging. One person is maybe doing a move haha. I think just hanging out at Acéphale got me into projecting. Just trying routes over and over until you finally feel like you can do it. It’s really bouldery, so you have to be able to do hard moves, but it’s pumpy as well and also really technical. It feels like it prepared me. Now, when I travel, I usually don’t find too much trouble adapting to other areas. I think it gave me a lot of skills for being a good all-around climber. I hit all of my grade milestones at Acéphale, or in the Bow Valley, starting from 12c all the way up to Sacrifice.”

Though Hau has now accomplished the hardest sport route ever climbed by a Canadian, he said “I think climbing originally was something to do while in university. I was raised to be really career focused, but after I moved to Alberta it started becoming more of a life-style. I had an engineering job that was going well, but I realized that I wasn’t happy doing it and I wanted to take more time to climb. Then it happened pretty quick.”

In 2011, Hau would get lose his engineering job as a function of the financial crisis. He felt ready for a change. Hau said, “I wanted to take some time off and pursue climbing and travel. I took three months to travel around Canada and the States. I spent about a month in Skaha, another month in the Red River Gorge. We went through a bunch of places in the States like Hueco and Red Rocks.

In 2012, He would travel to Kalymnos, Greece for a three-month solo trip. He said, “After that, it really started becoming more of a lifestyle for me. I started to think about whether I actually wanted to go back and pursue a career in engineering or maybe look at something else.”

Instead of returning to engineering, Hau began to work for himself. He returned to Alberta and began tutoring math and science. The flexible schedule allowed him to climb during the day and work at night, maximizing his weekly climbing. He would go on to meet his wife and climbing partner, Sheena Stares, and bolt some of the most radical lines in Canada.

In 2013, Hau would complete Bunda de Fora 5.14d which was likely the hardest line in the Bow Valley. “At that time I wanted to push myself,’ Hau said, “but there wasn’t a route available. That is part of what got me running around checking out projects and trying to bolt stuff.”

Since then, Hau’s been busy. In 2016, Hau would bolt Honour and Glory 5.14d as well as Sacrifice 5.15a. These two routes are in an area called the Coliseum. Hau said, “I had climbed at the Coliseum before, and there was always this section of wall that looked pretty blank from the ground. It almost didn’t seem possible to climb on and people would jokingly refer to it as the 5.15 wall. One year I got this idea. Maybe I should take a look.”

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A side effect of lockdown is that I've never been so motivated to train by doing things other than just climbing. As restrictions started to get lifted in Alberta, @sheenastares and I got a chance to test our training. The early verdict is good. After a few tries on last year's project, Sacrifice, I was able to one hang it a few times. I didn't quite make it to my highpoint from last fall but overall I feel stronger on the route. Unfortunately now, the whole crag is soaked and heading up there seems like a futile effort to try to dry out the crux holds and practice 3 bolts of dry climbing. Frustratingly, it seems like it will get wetter before it starts drying out. Time for some patience and perhaps a few more hangboard sessions. Photo from last year by Sheena. @lasportivana @petzl_official @onwardup_campus #bowvalleyclimbing

A post shared by Evan Hau (@hauonearth) on

“I started hiking all of my bolting stuff up to the wall, a few things at a time. It took a few days to just hike all of my stuff up there. I finished bolting all of Honour and Glory first. I would work on it in the morning, then the sun would come out, and, to make use of the day, I would go up on a rope on Sacrifice and start putting some more bolts in. It was quite a long process. The roof section I bolted on lead, so that was fun.”

Hau laughed at the memory. He and Sheena would wake up many mornings and go up there during the bolting process. He said “She was happy to belay me, and I definitely could not have done it without her support. I am happy she was the one that was able to belay me when I actually sent the route.”

The route itself is brutal. First you have to hike for an hour-and-a-half before you actually get to the wall. The hike includes 650 metres of elevation gain and the sun hits the wall around noon in the summer. Once the sun is out, it becomes too hot to climb the route. Hau and Sheena would have to get up at 5:30 am in the summer to get to the route for 9:00.

After all of those considerations were met, he still had to climb one of the hardest routes in Canada. “It starts with one bolt of relatively easy intro climbing,’ said Hau, “around 5.11, then you go straight into the crux. It revolves around two moves that are pretty much the hardest moves on the climb. First one is a big reach up to this really bad left-hand pinch. Adam Ondra used an under-cling to reach up. Elan and I were using a crimp, and there is a knee scum that helps. The left-hand pinch is almost always wet, so all last year I was struggling with it wet. This year I had dreams of at least getting close before it started seeping.”

Unfortunately, as a result of COVID-19, Hau missed the dry/spring season, and only got two days on the climb before the pinch began to seep. After attaining the left-hand pinch, Hau said the next moves revolved around a “heel hook and then a big move out right to a fairly decent hold.” Then there are four tight compression moves to finish the boulder. For Hau, the first boulder problem weighed in around V12 or V13.

After the crux, you get a decent rest, and begin the second crux. This boulder problem is around V10. Hau said, “My sequence involved a pretty bad right-hand pinch that was always wet. After the second crux there is no rest. You go into this 17-move power-endurance section, and I think that is the real test of whether you can do the route or not. I spent a lot of time falling there.”

To help with the process, Hau began working the route with Elan Jonas McRae. Hau said, “I think the two of us trying together got us both really inspired to try and put it together. It was working with him actually that I was able to stick all the moves.”

This was essential as they needed a way to get through the cruxes and to clip seventh bolt. Hau said, “I wasn’t there when Adam Ondra did it, but, apparently, he went straight through and skipped bolts six, seven and eight. I can definitely see the appeal of doing that, but Elan and I found a way to clip bolt seven.”

Even still, they couldn’t send the route and walked away with knee injuries from overuse and the second-crux heel. After the 17-move section there is a pretty good rest and then you have to fire 25-metres of 5.13c.

So what changed? How was Hau able to do it this year? He climbed hard on the power-endurance section, wiring it into his head. He hangboarded over quarantine, and, though uncertain as to whether the hangboard was the reason, felt stronger on the route coming out of isolation. Ultimately, however, Hau puts his success down to commitment. He said, “People train in different ways. The best training plan is the one you’re actually psyched on. The way I historically trained was just by climbing. On Sacrifice, even when I couldn’t do the moves, I would go up there and try over and over and over again.”

Today, Hau is supporting his wife on her project and beginning to think about what is next for him. He is still bolting but preparing to potentially work the Alex Megos route Fight Club 5.15b. If Hau does accomplish this route, it will, once again, be the hardest thing ever climbed by a Canadian. He continues to bolt some of the hardest lines in the Bow Valley. Hau said, “I think there is enormous potential. There is so much here. I think there is probably stuff that no one knows about.”

Featured photo by Niall Hamill

If you are looking for photos of Evan Hau on Sacrifice, contact Adam Gearing