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Sonnie Trotter Sends New Free Route on El Cap at 5.13b

Sonnie Trotter has made the first free ascent of a variation to El Nino on El Capitan at 5.13b, in a day. Trotter’s new route is the only completely freed route between Dawn Wall 5.14d and Zodiac 5.13d.

Trotter is the first Canadian to open a new free route on El Cap. In 2012, Trotter made the second ascent of The Prophet 5.13d on El Cap, followed by Will Stanhope the following year.

El Nino is a 5.13c A0 30-pitch variation to North America Wall first climbed in 1998 by Alex and Thomas Huber. It was 95 per cent free with one short rappel. It was repeated that year by Leo Houlding and Patrick Hammond.

As the first few flakes of snow prepare to fall down over the Sierra Nevada today, I am beginning to reflect on our 14 day whirlwind trip to Yosemite Valley. In a nutshell, it was our favourite two weeks of the trip so far and my most productive visit to the park EVER!!! Highlights include taking my son on his first multi-pitch climb in Tuolumne Meadows, celebrating my birthday with a solid crew of rad van dwellers, watching Lydia send some of her classic bouldering projects, Pete’s Coffee, and of course sending my personal dream project on the North America Wall of El Cap, all free in 13 hours with none other than @tommycaldwell at the belay and @austin_siadak behind the lens. I still really can’t believe I did it. I hope to have time to share these highlights in better detail very soon, but for now, it’s breakfast time for the family and a dad’s duty never ends😜 #scamplife365 @patagonia @patagonia_climb @blackdiamond_climb @fiveten_official @sloperclimbing @sterlingrope so much gratitude!

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The first ascent of North America Wall was from Oct. 22 to 31 in 1964 by Yvon Chouinard, Tom Frost, Chuck Pratt and Royal Robbins. Many sections of the route had been freed, but the final crux pitch include near-blank bolt ladder that Trotter had attempted to free.

Trotter, like the first ascent team of North America Wall, was racing against an incoming storm on his Nov. 20 ground-up push. Robbins wrote after their first ascent of North America Wall, “The new forecast was encouraging. The storm, instead of continuing eastward through California, had taken a northeastern tack and spared us several days of rain or snow. We climbed on through light showers that day, flabbergasted at the continuing challenges. A climb with such unrelenting difficulties was a new experience to us.”

In 2014, Trotter freed the first five pitches up to 5.14, pitch-six shut him down at 5.12c/d A0. Trotter said in 2014, “Yesterday, I said goodbye to El Capitan for another year. My dream of freeing the original North America Wall sadly ended six-feet shy from being a possibility. As it turns out, bolt ladders can’t always be free climbed, no matter how optimistic you are.” Trotter graded the pitches 5.11+, 5.13-, 5.14, 5.12+, 5.11+, 5.12+ A0, which takes you to the Continental Shelf.

With a short weather window this year, Trotter teamed up with Tommy Caldwell to open a free variation to El Nino, to avoid the rappel between pitches 13 and 14.

In the end, Trotter sent the route with Tommy Caldwell jugging behind in 13 hours. Trotter had attempted the route with Alex Honnold earlier this month. Austin Siadak jugged ropes and took photos. The new free route has three 5.13b pitches, three 5.13a pitches and seven 5.12 pitches.

Trotter’s three-pitch variation makes the only continuous free route between Dawn Wall and Zodiac, he’s yet to name the variation. See a topo to El Nino here. Be sure to follow Trotter’s social channels for more information.

Trotter was the first climber Gripped magazine covered in the very first issue back in October/November 1999, see here. Twenty years later and he’s still on top. Congrats, Sonnie!

El Capitan Free Climbs

West Face 5.11b 20 pitches
Lurking Fear 5.13b 18 pitches
West Buttress 5.13c 20 pitches
Dihedral Wall 5.14a 25 pitches
Heart Route 5.13b 34 pitches
The Shaft 5.13c 33 pitches
PreMuir 5.13c 33 pitches
Magic Mushroom 5.14a 31 pitches
Salathe Wall 5.13b 35 pitches
Freerider 5.13a 37 pitches
Golden Gate 5.13b 41 pitches
El Corazon 5.13b 35 pitches
The Nose 5.14a 34 pitches
The Direct Line 5.13+ 39 pitches
Dawn Wall 5.14d 31 pitches
El Nino 5.13c A0 30 pitches
(Trotter’s unnamed variation) 5.13b 25 pitches
Zodiac 5.13d 21 pitches
The Prophet 5.13d 13 pitches
Secret Passage 5.13c 15 pitches
Lost in Translation 5.12c 10 pitches
Golden Years 5.12a 10 pitches

Sonnie Trotter projecting in 2014. Photo Sean Villanueva