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Lucas Uchida’s Incredible Squamish Season

We interviewed Uchida to learn more about his tear through Squamish's hardest test-pieces

Lucas Uchida, 24, had quite the climbing season in Squamish last year. In a period of a few months, he threw down some of the hardest boulder problems in Canada, as well as the country’s most iconic line Dreamcatcher 5.14d. We recently sat down with him to talk about his big Squamish sends in the summer and fall of 2022.

Who is Lucas Uchida?

Originally from Toronto, Uchida began climbing as a young child. He was well established in the national and international competition climbing scenes as both a youth and adult, regularly competing in World Cups and World Championships. In 2020 and 2021, he climbed many of the hardest problems at the Niagara Glen in Ontario. On a trip to Squamish in Summer 2021, he flashed Shelter V13 and began working the infamous The Singularity—a notorious V14 sandbag—which would become his biggest project in 2022.

After competing in two World Cups in the first half of 2022, Uchida transitioned his focus to outdoor climbing. He moved to North Vancouver and began making regular trips up to Squamish to work on hard projects.

Room Service V12

During a session working The Singularity in late June, Uchida decided to give Room Service V12 a flash attempt. “There had been a few problems [in Squamish] that I had thought were flashable,” he explained. “Last summer I flashed Shelter, so I thought it would be cool to save some of the notable V12’s for a good flash burn. It just felt right that day for some reason. The conditions were pretty good. I was tired from trying Singularity but I still felt like I had energy.”

First sent by Sean McColl in 2022, Room Service features a series of very powerful moves up an overhanging prow. “That style felt pretty comfortable for whatever reason at that time,” he continued. “So I just tried. I had to be pretty focused. It was sort of one of those situations where I kind of felt maybe lucky and the moves just clicked and it was like, ‘Ok, well it’s done now.'”

“I also had people there with lots of beta,” he added, laughing.

The Singularity V15?

On Aug. 2, Uchida achieved what might just be his greatest climbing accomplishment to date—a rare repeat of The Singularity V14. The problem sits to the right of Room Service and was first sent by Tim Clifford in 2007. The climb went unrepeated for over 10 years, leading to much speculation that it could possibly actually be Canada’s first V15.

Nalle Hukkataival finally made the second ascent in 2017. “Really extra tough to comment on the difficulty,” he said via Instagram. “The fact that it’s fended off the efforts of a list of V15 climbers for over a decade must mean something. Does that suggest V15? Or make it a V14 that’s just really hard to do? Is there a difference between those two?” Hukkataival started one move lower than Clifford, matched on a large shelf, adding complexity to the problem.

In the summer of 2021, Uchida spent around three sessions working the problem. In 2022, he spent approximately 10 long, hard sessions projecting before his eventual send. “The hardest part was probably the cross off the famous golf ball hold,” he said. “It’s just a really finnicky, finnicky move. There’s a big hand strength requirement but there’s also a big technical component too. From the ground it looks simple, in videos it looks simple, but it’s deceptively hard for sure.”

From the beginning of the projecting process, Uchida had been working the problem from Hukkataival’s low-shelf start. On the day he sent, he said that in a moment of weakness, he began trying the boulder from the original Clifford start. Friend and fellow crusher Ethan Salvo showed up shortly afterward and chastised him for not going for it from the low shelf. “It’s like 10 sessions in, 100 or so tries from the stupid ramp and you get so tired of the first move,” he said, remembering his frustration. “But in the end, it was part of the difficulty. Keeping it together and accepting that I was going to have to do that move over and over and over again. And then luckily later that day, it just all fell into place and worked out.”

When asked about the grade, Uchida responded, “I mean if it is V14 it’s definitely the hardest of all the ones I tried, by far. So I don’t know. People can interpret that however they want. There’s still other ones [for me] to do [in Squamish], so I’ll tell you when they’re all done.”

Dreamcatcher 5.14d

A week or two after sending The Singularity Uchida thought, “What’s the next logical thing to try?” That next logical thing happened to be the legendary Dreamcatcher 5.14d.

Dreamcatcher doesn’t need much introduction. If you’re a Canadian climber, then you’re almost certainly familiar with this world-famous route. Located on the intimidating wall hanging above the Room Service/Singularity boulder, Chris Sharma’s Dreamcatcher follows a slopey rail traverse to a nails-hard sequence rounding an arete.

Uchida had never climbed a 5.14d sport route outside before. Impressively, he sent the line within a week during his third session. He said the most difficult aspect of the route was mental. “I think always with making grade breakthroughs, as much as I try to avoid thinking about the number, it’s still in the back of my head,” he explained. “I guess it was just getting over that and accepting it as just another route and something that was within my ability to do.”

“A lot of people don’t realize that before August I had been training my ass off for the World Cups. So in terms of physical fitness, I was really fit going into August, September, and October. Yeah, it’s my first of the grade, and yeah I skipped a lot of grades, but I didn’t really because I had been training hard enough and I had probably already climbed stuff in the gym that was around that hard.”

In the end, the difficultly didn’t really matter to Uchida. “For years, it’s been maybe the most famous route in Canada. It has so much notoriety. So to be able to do it was a pretty happy moment for me.”

Room Service Low V14

A couple weeks after Dreamcatcher, in mid-September, Uchida was busy working on his next project, Room Service Low V14. After a battle with his first V14, The Singularity, this one went down with relative ease, after only three or four proper sessions.

He had scoped out in the problem in the past though. “A number of times I had gone up and felt the holds and thought ‘Well…maybe’.  And then once or twice I just tried to pull off the ground from the wide compression and thought ‘Ah…maybe not,'” he recalled, laughing. “But once I started working it, it eventually came together.”

The problem was first ascended by Hukkataival in 2018. It took him two trips to Squamish to complete the problem. Starting off a low undercling and a poor sidepull, the problem works into the higher stand start of Room Service from a lower standing position.

For 2023, Uchida has eyes on an unclimbed sit-start version of the problem that begins down and left of The Singularity. “It’s on the radar,” he said. “It’s one of the options.”

Deadlift V14

In late September, Uchida bagged his third V14 of the season with a repeat of Deadlift V14. Located on the giant Octagon boulder, the Tim Doyle problem is powerful and exhausting, with a very high slab exit. Ethan Salvo convinced Uchida to give the problem a try, and he made a lot of progress in his first session. After a few more sessions it was complete.

His confidence was growing with V14 classics. “I mean I was definitely feeling more comfortable climbing the grade. Singularity was so hard in comparison that everything else felt a little more chill,” he said. “I hit the high benchmark probably so I thought, ‘Ok, let’s go through and do more.’”

North-North Ridge V14

Less than two weeks later and Uchida had sent another Squamish hard test-piece. He switched up the style with this problem, choosing the very pumpy North-North Ridge V14. Around 25 moves long, the Ben Harnden problem is kind of like a short route.

“The first day on it went pretty well,” Uchida said, recalling his projecting process. “I was in pretty good lead shape and bouldering shape. I did all the moves, made a pretty big link, and then from there I think took a few more sessions to do.”

His send was very unexpected. He thought he was just going to try the main roof sequence and see how the rest felt after that. “No one was paying any attention,” he said, “A couple people were quietly watching. I just felt good so I kept going and it worked out. It was pretty funny.”

“[North-North Ridge] is pretty different than a lot of the other stuff [I climbed]. That’s the fun thing. Doing all these problems—they were all so different and so unique. So I really enjoyed experiencing them. Feeling different styles. It just felt cool.”

Offenders of the Faith V13 FA

Around the same time, Uchida made a first ascent of a low start variation of the classic Defender of the Faith V9. Located on a boulder near Gibbs’ Cave, the problem was originally sent by Vince Chung in 2002. The low start had been a well-known open project in Squamish for years but Uchida was the first to link the hard moves into the V9, believing the full problem to be upper-end V13.

The low opening sequence zaps a lot of power. “The move into the V9 is from a much wider position, so it’s a little bit trickier to control,” he said, describing the problem. “You add a hard bump move at the start to a pretty sharp and finnicky crimp. And then you do a big horizontal throw to another edge. Myself and others have punted this section. We’ve also fallen off the V9.”

When asked about the name, he laughed. “I thought the name was funny, that’s all. Nothing more complicated than that. The moves are big and thuggy and you’re crimping very hard. It just felt like a really appropriate name. I mean, it sounds better than Defenders Low.”

The Pool Low V13

Uchida ended his 2022 tear through the Squamish boulders with a send of The Pool Low V13 on October 23. The problem is a heinously difficult yet beautiful V13 lowball located in the Easy Chair section of the Grand Wall Boulders. “That was my perfect way of ending off the season because I had been trying it for so long,” he said, with a smile on his face. “Every year I’ve been in Squamish I’ve come back to that problem and tried it a little bit. It was pretty awesome to finally finish it.”

The Pool Low was established by Squamish legend Tim Doyle in 2008. Uchida’s send was quite possibly the second ascent of the problem. “That’s the rumour, but I don’t know,” he said. “Who knows if some random traveler came and did it.”

A more popular version of the climb, The Pool V10, was also put up by Doyle in 2008. It starts higher up but is still wildly technical and sees very few ascents. Uchida never completed the stand. After unlocking the low opening sequence, he focused his efforts on the low version of the problem.

2023

Uchida said his 2023 season will once again focus on Squamish climbing. He wants to project both boulders and routes. Many have joked, somewhat seriously, that there’s not much left for him in Squamish now that he’s ticked many of the very hard classics. Some ungraded problems await second ascents, however, and if there’s anyone up to the task of putting up more hard first ascents in town, it’s Uchida.