Brew-ha-ha on the valley floor. Yosemite National Park, California. JEFF JOHNSON

First Comes Love

Sonnie Trotter
Climb 2015

I was a teenager when I started rock climbing. Sixteen years old with bony shoulders and a precious, brand-new pair of Boreal Aces, I threw myself into climbing blindly, like the teenage romance it was. I swam in it, soaked it up, absorbed it—and blew it. When I was about 17, I was climbing in Ontario with some friends, scrubbing moss off a boulder—an accepted practice in Western Canada and places like Squamish—when a park ranger came by. He was absolutely outraged and charged us with vandalism, which led to the area being closed to climbing for some time.

I’ll never forget my feelings. Even today, it hurts deeply to think that something I’d done innocently enough had played a part in negatively affecting a climbing area I loved so much. But I learned right then how much climbing, and the places I climb, meant to me.

Decades later, after traveling and climbing all over the world, something in me has shifted. That Ontario experience was surely a small but important part of my own evolution, because somewhere along the line, my once-blind passion for climbing grew to become equal parts physical act and desire to protect. Where would any climber be had he or she uncovered this fulfilling new love but had none of the wild places to express it? I know now what I didn’t as a love-struck teenager: that it’s not enough to take from these places that give so much joy and fulfillment—I must also work hard to give back and protect them from any threats that come their way.

I don’t think any individual life of climbing is worth much if the next wide-eyed kid who happens along with a pair of new climbing shoes in his or her pack can’t aspire to climb the walls of their dreams—or any walls in any wild place, for that matter. First comes love, as the playground rhyme says, but then comes commitment, responsibility and a willingness to stand up for that love, no matter what.