Shady Character!

A rant by me…

When I was a kid I wanted everything to be black and white.  I painted my room walls in tones of black and white, I had sort of a modern look going with a black Ikea book shelf, a white architects drawing table and a black bean bag chair tucked neatly in the corner.  I wanted everything to be clear and balanced.  Ansel Adams photography, Ruth Price paintings and track and field, are all examples of black and white. Light and shadows, good and evil, win or lose.  


I hated gymnastics when it got competitive because there was always a panel of judges staring you down and basing their score on how you looked.  Maybe it's just me, but I think we live in a very judgemental society as it is, career choice, what you wear, how much money you make, who your friends are, what coffee you drink, where you travel, what you read, who you listen to and what you climb. There is always someone who wants to judge you and speak out.  Life is never black and white.  It's grey.

So I quit gymnastics, I didn't want to get judged any more than I had to. The same thing occured to me with climbing grades, they're grey too, (or gray depending on how you choose to spell it) and grey is great.  Grey is any shade between black and white, a neutral color, a natural color. In the color wheel if you combine two complementary colors (ones directly opposite of each other) you get grey.

As a 16 year old kid I wanted to see how I was climbing, I wanted to judge myself. I wanted to know if I was climbing 5.10a or 5.10b and later 5.13a or 5.13b.  Slash grades bothered me.  "Well" I said in my high pitched crackly voice, "Am I climbing 5.13b or not?"  At the time, I wanted validation, I needed the credit for my crappy resume, how else would Arcteryx decide what chalk bag to give me that year, the TEAM bag or just a consumer bag?  If it was a slash, I would always cave and give it the highest number.  I mean if it was 5.12c, why does it say 5.12c/d in the guidebook?  Or why did I hear someone say around the campfire that so and so thought it felt a tad reachy?  It's obviously harder than that so me and my obssessive disorder shall take that big D and have myself a refreshing brew.  For those of you in the know, this is clearly a waste of time and energy.  Who gives a flying rats ass anyway?  I mean in the end, when the fat lady sings, will anyone care?  Anyone?  Anyone? 

Chris Sharma realized this years ago when he stopped grading things, it also upped his profile.  When he neglected to grade something, the media snatched it up for full value, they'd declare it the WORLDS HARDEST and so the marketing began.  Joe Kindner has also followed his heart, on his new 5.14c/d, saying that Sharma and those Spanish climbers would probably do it second try and call it 5.14b, but for him it was 5.14c/d.  So we all have our perspective and that is what matters, it takes strength to have a point of view and stick to it, even when your mates are all pointing and laughing after you stick clipped the fifth bolt on your project.  Climbing is all about how you feel inside.

So, in the last 6 years of my life I have felt a serious shift,  I not only accept slash grades, I prefer them.  I prefer calling something d/a – a/b – b/c – or c/d.  Or even better 5.13- or 5.13+.   This has done two very wonderful things for me, one, I stopped comparing my own efforts to others, (e.g. he's taller, lighter, stronger, and can really pull off those lycra shorts, and she's shorter, smarter, better looking, braver and smells wonderful) stuff like that and started enjoying my own personal experience, also it puts more focus on 'The LINE' rather than the grade.  If it looks good, climb it, if it feels good, climb it, if it moves well, climb it, if it's fun, climb it.  

And so we shall. 

But if you really, really, really need that 5.12 A tick, even though it's sharp, loose and total crap, but you are willing to wave that five star 5.11d anyway so that you can save your energy,  here is my advice, climb that brilliant 5.11d with a big smile on your face and call it 11d/12a.  Because for you, it felt pretty hard.  You know what they say –  Fake it until you make it. – This tactic will at least buy you time until you do actually climb a 5.12 A and you get to do the best line in the meantime.  Now that's grey. 

  • Morgan

    I had thought slash grades involved risk of serious injury! Thanks for enlightening me :p

  • pete

    sonnie, everyone knows illy coffee is the best, sheesh.

  • Suzanne

    No Pete, because Latte is..

  • Hey Sonnie,

    The word on the street is you’ve retuned home leaving Rhapsody unrepeated. I’m sorry your huge effort was ‘only’ rewarded with the fun of trying and not with the satisfaction of the tick. Best wishes for future projects and I hope to see you and Cory back at Dumby sometime soon.


  • zach

    So, what you’re saying is you failed to repeat Rhapsody?

    Sorry, that was blunt. Hey, I’m sympathetic to a process oriented approach, and I love the experience, and I celebrate grey areas. I really do.

    But success and failure still exist, and climbing is not just about how if feels on the inside (you it really is, you should give up your sponsorships). Climbing is only a meaningful thing because a lot of people do it. There’s a community and that community shares (not without contention) similar ideas about what climbing is, what’s valuable in climbing, etc. Chris Sharma knows this–he’s aware that his life is possible because a whole climbing community supports him. He said so.

    Props to all your sincere climbing efforts. I read about them and I am inspired.

  • Pat

    right on Sonnie!

    it’s all about the process, the summit/anchors is just one precious moment of the process. Too much emphasis is placed on the number you achieved when you clipped those chains or the summit you bagged when you finally made it to the top (summit is only 1/2 done of course). I rarely learn much about myself when I clip the chains or stand on top. As you have gathered perfection and the most meaning is found in the middle, the elusive most grey point of any endeavour. Black & white make for some breath taking photos/art but very few things in life are so defined

    thank goodness happy trails keep searching!

  • Emma


  • John

    It would seem I shouldn’t believe everything I hear about Sonnie Trotter because that looked very much like you climbing at Dumby this evening. May I say sorry to any of your blog readers I’ve mislead…

  • Charlie

    Climbing is not a sport, it is a lifestyle. Most of us choose or are forced, depending on your perspective, to only it do it part time due to other commitments or lack of talent. For those who do get to do t it full time as a vocation, are very fortunate indeed. It does not matter what your motivations are for doing either, part- or full time, but you must be honest towards your motivations and stay true to them. Sonnie, thank you for being a leader in out chosen ‘lifestyle’ and please keep inspiring us 🙂