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Tommy Caldwell and Sonnie Trotter at MEC Vancouver in 2023

Stories from an evening with Tommy Caldwell and Sonnie Trotter

May 12, 2023

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You know it’s going to be a great night when the event sells out in a record-breaking 1.5 hours – huge!

MEC and Edelrid were pumped to welcome Tommy Caldwell back to Vancouver to meet the climbing community – and this time, he brought company. Canadian climbing legend Sonnie Trotter joined Tommy onstage for stories of climbing adventures and misadventures, and MEC Ambassadors Emma Contaoe and Sean McColl hosted the evening.

Check out the highlights from Tommy and Sonnie’s slideshow below, including tales of choss, a high-elevation lawn chair and lots more.

All event proceeds went to the Climbers’ Access Society of British Columbia – $6,552 in total.

Major thanks

It was great to welcome the climbing and outdoor community to our store, including Van Queer Climbers, Squamish Access Society, Vancouver Climbers Association and Protect Our Winters Canada. A big thank you to our event sponsors too: Edelrid, Athletic Brewing, Humblebee Meadery, Strait & Narrow Cocktails, and Brewhall.

Two people at the Vancouver Climbers' Association table

The story of choss: Mount Louis, 2011

Tommy’s first trip to the Canadian Rockies was to Mount Louis with Sonnie in 2011. “I know the Rockies well, it’s just like Switzerland!” Sonnie told him. Their plan? Bolt a new route in early season. The reality? Dodging rockfall, choss, being showered with debris, more choss, and leading snowy pitches in July for the full Rockies experience.

Rock climber hanging from a lawn chair

Photo: “Our $35 portaledge for Mount Louis: a lawn chair and umbrella from the hardware store,” said Tommy.

After a couple days of putting the up the route – including shivering through an all-night bolting mission – Tommy and Sonnie rolled back home at 4am. The overall result was The Shining 5.13+, a magnificent 15-pitch bolted route that’s been climbed every summer since. “We’re pretty psyched we made it happen,” said Tommy, “but it was definitely not like Switzerland.”

Climber going down a Mount Louis at night

Photo: Mount Louis ended with a long night after a full Rockies experience.

Petrified peanut butter: Malta, 2012

“Our goal with Malta was some real adventure limestone climbing,” said Sonnie. He and Tommy headed to Gozo with visions of boat-access trad missions on cliffs with dramatic coastal scenery. Dreaming of epic photos, they lined up photographers to capture their limestone quests for a Black Diamond catalogue. The only problem? “The rock was totally rotten,” said Sonnie, “like petrified peanut butter.”

Rock climber at an abandoned rock quarry

Photo: All that soft rock meant getting creative. In this abandoned rock quarry, “The cracks were the perfect size for fingerlocks and handjams,” said Sonnie.

After failed anchor attempts in garbage rock and a quarry ascent, they kept hunting on the north side of the island. Success: an absolutely splitter roof crack they could access by rapping through a tight Tommy-sized chimney. Deafening waves and winds crashed into the wall as they bolted anchors in “the softest rock known to humankind – not recommended.” Bundled up in toques and puffers, it seemed a bit surreal that off in the distance, people were sunbathing on the shore.

Rock climbing on seaspray rocks by the ocean

Photo: “We found some bolted sport routes at one point and must’ve been 50ft. above the ocean when a huge wall of seaspray shot up,” said Tommy.

The climb that got away: Mount Stephen, 2013

The first sign that this plan might go a little sideways? The heat. Tommy and Sonnie set out on a 3-hour slog up a moraine on their attempt to Mount Stephen, which happened to be the first day of a 4-day heatwave.

Rock climber wearing body armour and climbing gear

Photo: Anticipating choss on Mount Stephen, Sonnie deployed a high-tech belayer protection system. “The hockey pads were not discussed beforehand,” said Tommy.

With the rising temps, waterfalls roared, rockfall was everywhere and the mountain came alive. On their approach to the main wall, a massive rockfall came down from 1500ft. above. Huge pieces and shrapnel whizzed so close they could feel wind rushing by. “Rock was reverberating everywhere,” said Sonnie. “My wife was 6 months pregnant at the time and I thought – I’m done with this climb. Game over.”

Rock climber eating snacks on a mountain

Photo: A break in the shade before the rockfall.

Back at the safety of the parking lot, they felt a sense of truce… along with the feeling of wondering what all the fuss was about now that the danger was way behind them. “Maybe there’s a way to do it safely,” Tommy pondered aloud onstage. Sonnie laughed and looked at him, “Well, what are you doing this summer?”

Best Q&A of the night

As always, the MEC crowd didn’t disappoint. A few of our favourites that Tommy, Sonnie, Emma and Sean answered:

What does greatness mean to you?

Phew, a heavy-hitter early on. “I think greatness is something that’s perceived by others, not by yourself,” said Tommy. “I mean, even I have imposter syndrome and I somehow became an unintentional movie star.”

How do you achieve success in the adventure film industry?

“I lived in a truck for 10 years eating peanut butter sandwiches for dinner before I ever made a dollar,” said Sonnie. “My plan was to live like that until I was 30 – I was committed to that life, then met people in the industry along the way.”

What’s your mantra?

“Trust the process,” said Sean.

Most memorable climbing meals?

“For ages, it was canned peaches and GORP. I didn’t even bring a stove,” said Tommy. “When I was working on Dawn Wall, I realized I had to fuel my body. Since it was cold like a fridge, I could bring basically anything – bagged kale, hard-boiled eggs, canned salmon.”

What would you tell your 21-year old self?

“You are already enough,” said Emma (followed by a big round of applause from the crowd on this one).

Most importantly… where is the lawn chair now?

Reports are hazy, but the running theory is “somewhere in Colorado.” If anyone has leads, let us know – maybe it’ll make an appearance at a future Tommy and Sonnie slideshow near you.

Thanks again to everyone who made this night such a blast. Stay tuned for more climbing events coming your way.

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