Two weeks ago, Calgary-based climber Evan Hau became the first Canadian to climb 5.15a after completing the first ascent of his route Honour and Glory (5.15a) at the Colliseum in Echo Canyon, Canmore, AB. Not only was this event a great step forward for Canadian climbing, it also highlighted the hard work and dedication of a low profile climber in the Bow Valley.
Evan Hau has long been a active member of the Bow Valley climbing community, with a focus on projecting hard routes, first at Acephale’s upper wall and then spreading to various walls across the Canadian Rockies. With multiple 5.14 ascents under his belt, including Bunda De Fora (5.14d), Kinder Surprise (5.14c), and Prime Time (5.14c), as well as La Esencia de la Resistencia (5.14c) and Seleccio Natural (5.14d) in Spain, Evan has dedicated himself to his craft with hard work and perseverance. Over the past few years, Evan has made changes to his work life to make room for his climbing lifestyle and maximizing his time outdoors. Although he would argue that he does not train specifically, he will often climb multiple days in a row and gain strength by dedicating himself to projects at his maximum ability. In a sentence, Evan tries hard, He tries often, and he enjoys it every time.
We had a chance to catch up with Evan last week and here is what he had to say.
First off, thanks for taking the time to chat with us and congratulations on Honour and Glory! Let’s talk a little about the route and its location the Coliseum. How did you first stumble on the cliff and the line?
The Coliseum is one of the best walls in The Bow Valley, amazing sustained climbing in an incredible setting, primarily developed by the team of Matt Pieterson, Simon Meis, and Ross Suchy. I’d been climbing there for a number of years trying the existing climbs, getting a few first ascents, but never bolting anything of my own. There was always one blank section of the cliff some people lovingly dubbed “The 5.15 wall”. I honestly never paid much attention to it as it looks completely blank from the ground. I was on the look out for 5.15 though and this wall seemed like a candidate so I figured I would at least rappel the line for a closer look.
What was going through your head when you were first bolting and determining whether or not the route was possible?
One thing I had always wanted to do was try to scale these huge roofs that sit 40m up on the Coliseum wall. All of the existing routes end just below this height. Initially I climbed an existing route and traversed my way across to take a look up at the roof of Honour and Glory. The roof looked sick and I saw a way through it so that was enough for me to drill an anchor and drop a rope down. Actually I saw 2 lines so I ended up bolting 2 routes, more on this later. Working my way down, I found a lot of hard sections but there always seemed to be just enough holds that it would go. Actually there were more holds when I was bolting it as I ripped quite a few off my first day climbing the route but had those holds not been there I may not have had the vision to finish bolting the line.
The route itself is 45+ meters. How was the process around working the route and at any time did you change your approach to this route in comparison to your approach to other routes in the past.
Similar to most of my hardest ascents, I wasn’t able to do any of the hard moves on Honour and Glory at first. The difference is that Honour and Glory has a lot more hard moves than usual. As a result, I wasn’t able to work the entire route at first and instead I would focus on specific sections to try each day out. Even though I would only try small sections at a time at first, I always focused on progression and not the overall end result so it was never all that daunting that I would one day try to put it all together. Once I figured out all the moves and I started going for links, I found I was only really able to get one solid burn a day on it. I’ve never projected a route where a single burn would take so much out of me so I started focusing on warming up properly and timing conditions to really get the best out of that one burn, an approach I’ve started applying to other projects as well.
I have to ask, how do you handle the pressure of putting all your efforts in to a single go?
I try to focus on just having fun and doing my best. I can still have a fun day out regardless of if I do well or not and ultimately every try is a learning experience whether I set a new highpoint or not. I always reminded myself that if I fell off somewhere low or unexpected, it was just an opportunity to try to link through to the top from a lower position.
Another day on the project. I don’t typically count my tries on long term projects; I don’t see much of a point as the count will easily be in the hundreds. I’ve already lost track of how many times I’ve fallen on the same move oh so close to the finish. I only know that my feeling of reaching that point and falling has changed from happiness to frustration. I’ve learned to enjoy these moments of frustration that come with hard projecting however. In the long run they usually end up being more rewarding than post send bliss. Life’s better with a project. #coliseum515project @lasportivana @petzl_official
So what would a typical day working the route look like?
This summer, once I had the route pretty much worked out, I would try to find someone to wake up at the crack of dawn with me (usually my fiance Sheena Stares!) to make the 1.5hour 600m elevation gain approach to climb in the shade before the wall gets the sun around 1:30pm. I would start with an 11b warm-up climb, followed by a warm-up go on Honour and Glory which consisted mostly of grabbing draws, brushing holds, and doing a move or two here and there. Then I would rest up, give it my all from the ground, fall off somewhere (hopefully high up but not always) and then try to one or two hang it to the top. I’d lower down and be wrecked, the sun would hit the wall and we would hike out.
The day of the send! Can you give us some details on how you were feeling and how it all went down?
I’d taken a rest day the day before and for some reason I made an effort to go to bed at 9:30 that night which is much earlier than my usual. After an incredibly hot summer, the morning of felt abnormally cold. It was 4 degrees C when we got to the parking lot! Conditions were perfect for me, but I actually felt quite tired on my warm-up climbs so I had already given up and was feeling a bit disappointed that the good conditions would go to waste. As I was tying in, my belayer Simon Parsons asked me if I felt pressure and we had a short chat. My response was that I feel more pressure on easier routes I feel that I should send and that I usually don’t feel so much pressure for bigger projects like these. It’ll just happen when the moment is right. I was also used to the pressure of having only one redpoint try a day as this is how I was working it all along. All of this I think helped to ease my mind off sending and focus on climbing.
I climbed the opening 14d part very efficiently and made it to the rest feeling the best of any go. There is one section I usually have to make a blood curling scream to stick the move but that go I felt like I could stick it without screaming (I screamed anyway). From the rest, since I felt so good, I tried to trick myself into thinking that I was on the one-hang not the send, that it wouldn’t really matter if I fell off somewhere. I made it to the upper roof feeling about the same as all the other goes that I made it there previously (exhausted) but for some reason I stuck the move I’d fallen on repeatedly and set a new highpoint. After that comes probably the hardest move from the ground on the climb. It’s a move I’ve fallen on countless times while going for a one-hang, a move I’ve feared in my dreams and envisioned myself falling on many many times before sending, at least once for sure. In a split second, in my mind I let it all hit me. “OK. This is it. Give it everything you’ve got!” With a blood curling scream I stuck it. Two more moves and I was clipping the anchor. Unbelievable. Surreal.
Sounds so awesome! After sending, did it feel like the difference between sending and not sending was very small or did it feel bigger, like other times you were not close at all?
Very small. I knew I was close and any burn could be it. I had already made all my breakthrough big moments much earlier in the process.
I want to shift gears here to give some insight into your climbing career. How did you first get into climbing?
I grew up in Winnipeg and never really thought of climbing as an activity that people do. (I’ve since learned there is actually a vibrant climbing community in Winnipeg and outdoor climbing is accessible there if you know where to look/are willing to drive.) I went to university at Queen’s in Kingston, Ontario where as a freshman I proceeded to sign up for every club on Club Night. I found I enjoyed climbing the most and one by one I dropped them all to make more time for climbing. Climbing was fun, but I found the community to be the best as well. I started out 100% indoors at the local gym The Boiler Room. It wasn’t until 6 months after I started that I went on my first outdoor trip to the Red River Gorge and that’s where I truly became hooked and knew climbing was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Your approach to climbing hard routes is to try them a lot. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Growing up as a climber, I always idolized Chris Sharma and that was his approach for awhile too. I think that I’ve modeled my own climbing after his in a lot of ways. I’ve often told people that I don’t train. The truth is that while I don’t do what many would call traditional forms of training, making a regular effort to try my hard project is its own form of training. I think the best form of training is whatever motivates you to make the extra effort, to train even when you don’t feel like it, to work your body to exhaustion, and then try one more time. For me, that’s getting on my hard project as much as possible.
There’s a lot that can be learned on every go on a project whether it’s a good go or a bad go. I love seeing the progression of not being able to do any moves, to doing all the moves, to getting little links, to eventually sending. I try to set little goals and focus on small moments of success and progression instead of focusing on the eventual redpoint so the whole process is usually quite fun! Also, once I get close on a project, I tend to get paranoid that if I climb anything else, I will start to lose my valuable muscle memory. So if I’ve ever refused to climb with you somewhere else because I’m close on my project, I’m sorry!
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you have tried a project too many times?
Yep, quite a bit actually. I think it’s really important to stay psyched and if I ever lose interest in a route, it’s time to step back and try some different climbs. Soon enough, I usually regain my psych and go back to it.
When preparing for a send, do you focus on clipping the chains or do you break the route down into its parts?
I visualize myself doing the moves before every redpoint try. For all my projects prior to Honour and Glory, I would visualize every move up to and including clipping the chains. For Honour and Glory, I actually found it to be too mentally taxing and daunting to visualize sending the entire route. At first, I would only visualize the opening 14d section and then just see what happened after that. Eventually, I was confident enough to just assume I would make it through the bottom and I would only visualize the top and clipping the chains.
Do you put the same emphasis on on-sighting routes and trying to be good in other disciplines like bouldering or trad climbing?
I enjoy onsighting and try to do some every time I go on a trip. Unfortunately, climbing as much as I do, onsighting at the home crag is not really possible. Bouldering is the same, I love bouldering and I’ve done a few pure bouldering trips in the past but until recently there wasn’t much high quality bouldering available in The Bow Valley. A few new areas have been cropping up though so maybe that will change! Same story with trad. Other than Lake Louise, Bow Valley gear seems questionable so I never really got into it.
A few years ago you made climbing a priority by changing jobs and making sure you had more time to climb. Can you tell us a bit about what led to the decision and how it has paid off?
I grew up with the traditional story drilled into me: Go to school, start a career, buy a home, start a family, etc. I quickly realized spending 40+ hours a week sitting in a cubicle was not for me. I just felt like I was wasting my life away. The decision was made primarily so that I could actually enjoy the summers in the Bow Valley and also travel freely in the winter. Pushing my grades wasn’t really a focal point but being able to climb (almost) whenever, wherever has certainly helped in that department! These days I run a Private Tutoring business for math and science and also do various jobs at the Calgary Climbing Centre which allows me to work flexible hours. The payoff is that regardless of how hard I’m climbing, I feel like I’m living my life to the fullest.
Was it hard to shift your mind to committing yourself to climbing, something that cannot be always seen as valuable in the ‘real world’ of the full time job?
Not really, haha. I am still doing something that is valuable to me so that is important.
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You have also been known to climb multiple days in a row with a rumour of climbing 29 days in a row! Has this changed as you grow older and how do you handle climbing days and rest days?
Actually the true count is 31 days! This has definitely changed a bit with age and I find I need a lot more rest days now, especially with trying to climb 5.15. Rest days aren’t a problem at home, I can usually work or find some errands to do. The whole climbing every day thing started on trips. I just felt like it was a waste to travel all that way just to rest. My latest trip to Spain I tried to climb everyday which resulted in a minor injury towards the end of the trip which is what convinced me to take more rest days. I will try to take more rest days on future trips, but I have no idea how I will deal with that yet!
You spent some time in Spain this year. How was the experience and will you go back on a regular basis?
I love climbing in Spain. To me, Spain is the mecca of modern hard sport climbing. While it’s not my favorite area in the world, for the quantity of hard climbs and hard climbers, Spain is unbeatable. When in Spain, you almost feel obligated to try hard!
After doing Bunda de Fora, I was pushing for 5.15, but I knew sending one on a trip was pretty unrealistic so I needed to find and bolt one in The Bow Valley in order to get it done. I tried to use my Spain trips to try a lot of routes at this grade to get a feel of what to look for, and in Spain there is no shortage of 5.15 climbs to choose from! Most of my trips are pretty spontaneous, I have no plans to go back to Spain at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll be back before too long!
How do you structure your year around climbing objectives and training?
Every year I try to take an extended leave from climbing of 4-6 weeks. I find this helps to heal up any nagging injuries that just wouldn’t heal otherwise, and also helps recharge my mental batteries to keep me stoked on climbing. I try to do this right at the end of the Bow Valley season, or right after coming home from a trip. I try to plan around any big trips I have coming up: I want to be in shape when I go! This usually means at least a month of solid climbing either outside or in the gym prior to the trip. I tend to be less concerned about The Bow Valley season as it’s my home area, and the season can be quite long if you draw it out so there’s always enough time to get in shape if I’m not.
What do you do for six weeks!?
The first 2 weeks usually go quick. It’s a relaxing physical and mental break and there’s always a pile of neglected chores to do. I don’t really have a good answer but I usually try to work as much as possible to save up for the next trip which leads to planning the next trip and getting super psyched for when I let myself climb again!
The Bow Valley is a pretty special place and the climbing community is one of the best in the world. What do you like about the community that you may not get elsewhere?
I love going on trips, but I always love coming home to The Bow Valley too. The Bow Valley has a really active community when it comes to route maintenance, access issues, and new route development. Having an organization like TABVAR helps a lot, but it’s really the community that makes it all happen. With the growing popularity of climbing, a strong community like ours is needed for long term sustainability of our climbing areas.
There are a lot of activities other than climbing to do in The Bow Valley as well so that creates a lot of diversity. I find Bow Valley locals climb more too, The Bow Valley is the only place I’ve climbed where on a typical day, there are more locals at the crag than visiting climbers!
Alex Megos visitng the Bow Valley last year must have had a strong impact on your approach to climbing. Can you tell us what you learned from his visit and how it has influenced you as a climber?
Watching Alex Megos climb was a total eye opening and humbling experience. It made me realize how far away I am from the pinnacle of sport climbing, like not even close. Actually, he seemed so far beyond my level that I wasn’t able to really take too much away from watching him climb. There is one thing he said that influenced me which is that conditions don’t matter, it only matters if you are strong enough to do it that day. Although I will still take a good condition day over a bad one, I’ve tried to worry less about conditions and other factors which are outside of my control and just make the best out of each day out.
I just saw you heading back to Acephale! What’s next for you this fall?
Speaking of Alex Megos, he sent an old project of mine I had bolted a few years back at Acephale: Full Nelson, which he graded 14d. Watching him send it really unlocked the sequence for me and I was finally able to do the crux sequence shortly after. I was trying Full Nelson a bit, then put it on the back-burner when I started getting closer on Honour and Glory. There’s also all the other routes Alex Megos put up last year on his sending spree. Fight Club and Iron Butterfly are definitely on my radar.
As I mentioned earlier, I bolted another route on “The 5.15 Wall” just beside Honour and Glory at the Coliseum. I only tried it once but it seemed like it would be just as hard as Honour and Glory. I also have another project I bolted earlier this spring at The Apocalypse Cave which is a newer area I helped develop. I never had a chance to really climb it much but it will be 5.14. I just finished bolting a line at a sort of forgotten wall which I’m really psyched about with tufas and really cool flow stone, again 5.14 range.
So yeah! I’ve got tons of projects still, I’ve come to realize there really is limitless rock in The Bow Valley!
Well, Thanks again for chatting with us Evan and congratulations on the send and many more to come!
Evan Hau is sponsored by La Sportiva.