Will Stanhope

Will Stanhope

Renowned for his proficiency on cracks and calm focus above gear, Will is one of North America’s leading trad climbers. From bold free solos and single-pitch trad test pieces to world-class alpine link ups and iconic big wall routes, his accomplishments on rock are varied and impressive, earning him a reputation as one of the best adventure trad climbers of his generation.

Growing up in Vancouver, Will discovered climbing as a young boy.

“I started climbing at age 9 in the climbing gym,” says Will, via email. “My Dad and his best buddy, Brad, were looking for ways for guys over 40 to stay in shape. They took a trad climbing course in Squamish shortly after and we all started going up there and doing road trips to places like Skaha and Smith Rock.”

Taking to the sport quickly, Will joined the Youth Team at the local gym, the Edge Climbing Centre near his family home in North Vancouver. The plastic didn't hold his attention however, and as he entered his teens he became a regular fixture in Squamish, cutting his teeth on the technical granite lines and gaining a solid foundation for his climbing. It was during these early years that Will started to develop a good head for free soling and bold climbing, pushing on above gear — or without it all together. By the time he finished school he had soloed routes up to 5.11 and climbed many of the classic multipitcs around Squamish, including the six-pitch 12a Northern Lights and the nine-pitch 5.11a Grand Wall, often considered prerequisites to longer, harder climbs. It was unsurprising then that at 18, Will headed out to California on his first big road trip, seeking the majestic big walls of Yosemite Valley.

“Along with Craig McGee and Jeremy Blumel we did a 27-hour ascent of the Nose,” says Will, again in his email. “Jason took a monster whipper in the middle of the night down the Changing Corners pitch.  Later in the trip we climbed the Northwest face of Half Dome in a day and almost got smacked by an autumn storm near the top. First all-nighter, first scary storm experience… indelible memories!”

Will soloing the Beckey-Mather (5.12-) on the East Face of Snowpatch Spire in the Bugaboos, British Columbia © Kieran Brownie
Will soloing the Beckey-Mather (5.12-) on the East Face of Snowpatch Spire in the Bugaboos, British Columbia © Kieran Brownie

This formative road trip to Yosemite was the first of many, with Will going on to make ascents of some of the Valley’s most notable climbs and to make a name for himself as a climber with a head for hard, bold routes. In 2010 freed his first route on El Capitan: the 41-pitch 5.13 Golden Gate, with childhood friend Jason Kruk. That same year he made the third ascent of Southern Belle on the south face of Half Dome with Alex Honnold. Described by SuperTopo  as “probably the most feared and difficult multi-pitch free climb in Yosemite (and maybe the country)”, the route involves 14 pitches of extremely run out climbing up to 5.12d R with several pitches of 5.11 X.

Two years later, over a three-day push in October 2012, Will made the fourth ascent of The Prophet (5.13+/14- R/X, 19 pitches). This severely run out quest on the right side of El Capitan was originally an aid line before it was freed in 2010 by Leo Holding and Patch Hammond.

“I filmed Leo Houlding do the first ascent of the crux pitch,” says Will. “The A1 Beauty, which was a sight to behold.”

After his ascent of The Prophet, Will went on to make a one-day ascent of Freerider (5.12, 37 pitches) in 2014, and to tick the 31-pitch 5.13b Huber Brother’s test piece El Corazan in 2017.

Of Will’s many accomplishments in climbing, perhaps his most celebrated was the first free ascent of the 13-pitch Tom Eagan Memorial Route on the East Face of Snowpatch Spire in British Columbia’s Bugaboos Provincial Park. Going free at 5.14, the route was not only the hardest alpine trad climb in Canada but among hardest in the world. Originally an A3 aid line established by Daryl Hatten and John Simpson in 1978, the meat of the route involved a crux pitch of 5.14 face climbing, a 5.14- hairline finger crack and two 5.13 pitches, all stacked one atop the other. Will and climbing partner Matt Segal worked the route over multiple seasons, spending an estimated 150 days on the wall in total, with Will pulling off the send during a four-day push in August 2015.

“This was a four-year quest to free the most beautiful alpine crack line I’d ever come across with Matt Segal,” says Will. “We battled extremely hard and I barely pulled it off.”

Will on the infamous 5.14- finger crack crux pitch of the Tom Eagan Memorial Route © Kyle Berkompas
Will on the infamous 5.14- finger crack crux pitch of the Tom Eagan Memorial Route in the Bugaboos © Kyle Berkompas

Sadly, the Tom Eagan Memorial Route was lost, along with around a dozen other routes, to a serious rockfall event in December 2022 when a huge pillar of rock collapsed on the east face of Snowpatch Spire. Will’s free ascent therefore remains — in perpetuity — the first any only free ascent of the Tom Eagan Memorial Route.

In August 2017, Will completed another dream project in the Bugaboos. This time an endurance link-up of the iconic Howser Towers with Leo Houlding. Covering over 2000m of climbing — 58 rope lengths — and difficulties up to 5.12+, this was a project Will had held in the back of his mind for nearly eight years. 

It took the duo 23.5 hours to complete the feat, which not only involved sustained and difficult climbing, but also descent logistics, glacial travel and considerable approaches. Setting off at 7am, they first tackled the Central Tower via Chocolate Fudge Brownie (5.12+, ED1), then the North Tower via Spicy Red Beans and Rice into All Along the Watch Tower (5.12, ED2) before finally blasting up the classic Beckey-Chouinard (5.10, TD+) and reaching the summit of the South Howser at 6.30am, with just 30 minutes to spare.

“It was a joy to cover so much ground in a day with such a fun, competent partner,” says Will.

Will climbing a boulder above a lake. The boulder is Majestic (V6), Squamish, British Columbia © Sonnie Trotter
Will close to home on Majestic (V6), Squamish, British Columbia © Sonnie Trotter

Will has also had several successful seasons in Patagonia. In 2008 he and Kruk made the first free ascent of Aguja Desmochada via The Sound and the Fury (5.12, V), and the first ascents of DNV Direct (VI 5.11 X A1) on Aguja Poincenotthen and Blood on the Tracks (5.12) on Aguja Innominata. The following year he made the first ascent of Todos los Caballos Lindos (5.11) with Paul Mc Sorley and Andrew Querner. In 2019 Will and Jesse Huey attempted to free a line on Paine’s Central Tower, in part by following the old aid line, Via De La Mamme, but were thwarted by poor weather and bold moves that Will couldn't justify.

Closer to home, Will has ticked off most of what Squamish has to offer, inlcuding top end trad routes like Gunslinger (5.13d) and the notoriously vicious 5.14 Cobra Crack, which he nabbed the fourth ascent of. He also made the first free ascent of Heavy Fuel in 2021, a bold 5.13+ R two-pitch route on Squamish’s Stawamus Chief. A longstanding project for Will, the crux pitch—an overhanging fridge-like feature demanding wild slapping, insecure heel hooks and space microcams—was originally part of the old aid route Stellar System.

“It was a physical and mental journey,” says Will, “and I’m proud to have climbed such a unique route on my home cliff.”

As a qualified ACMG Rock Guide, Will guides climbers out on real rock. He also picks up rigging and safety work in the TV realm. When he’s not working or climbing, he enjoys writing and reading.

“I love climbing for a lot of reasons,” says Will, when asked about his motivations for climbing. “Sometimes it’s a meditative, gentle activity.  Other times it’s an aggressive battle […] I can’t really imagine life without it.”