Last week, American climber Mike Foley made the fifth ascent of Dreamcatcher (5.14d) at the Stawamus Chief in Squamish, BC.
First bolted by Sonnie Trotter and Chris Sharma in 2005 for the Petzl Rocktrip and then completed by Chris Sharma in the fall of 2005, Dreamcatcher (5.14d) has only seen five ascents over the 12 years despite being tried by many. The names of those who have repeated the route include Seam McColl, Ben Harnden, Alex Megos, and now, Mike Foley.
Mike Foley began climbing at the age of 11 in Massachusetts, looking up to the big names from the Northeast including Dave Graham, Joe Kinder, Luke Parady, and Vasya Vorotnikov. Making a name for himself in the Rumney area, Mike repeated a number of hard climbs including Jaw II (5.15a) and China Glide (5.14d). Mike also was the 2007 Junior National Champion in Bouldering and Junior National Champion in lead in 2008 and 2009. After graduating from Quest University and returning home to Boston, Mike now lives in Vancouver, making the Sea to Sky his playground once again. We had a chance to talk to Mike after his send of Dreamcatcher last week and here is what he had to say.
First off, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. So..Dreamcatcher….did you ever think it was every going to happen?
Haha yeah. I knew it would happen someday. I definitely felt physically capable of doing it a long time ago. I knew I just needed to be patient and wait for the right moment.
Can you tell us a bit about the day and how it was different than other days you have tried?
I drove up to Squamish from Vancouver after a full day of working landscape construction. I had gone up after work on Monday too and had a really good try in really humid conditions with four or five wet holds. Getting that close given the circumstances gave me a little extra confidence.
The day I sent it had been super windy all day so conditions seemed perfect. My girlfriend and I made it up got up Squamish around 6pm. My usual warm up routine involved climbing Permanent Waves. But that day I met up with some friends and decided to just climb some easier boulders I’d never done and enjoy the good weather and company of friends. I failed on the flash of Skin Graft (V4) but took it down second go! On my first try of the day on Dreamcatcher I fell slapping the finishing hold. On that go, I was super confident that I would do it that try. I made it through the crux feeling fresh and I think I just panicked and went for the finish hold a little out of control.
Full video of send shot in two parts (one camera stopped recording).
While I was resting for another go I was even planning in my head a training schedule for the rest of the week because I was feeling super tired after a long day physical work and had been up since 5:30am. I tied in for my last try at about 9pm. I took some deep breaths before I started and switched into focus mode. I thought I was actually climbing pretty poorly, especially compared to my previous attempt, but I just focused on rolling with the little mistakes and not letting them get in my head. Like all the climbs in Squamish, Dreamcatcher requires a lot of precision and grabbing any hold just a little off makes the difference between success and failure. So it’s super easy to tell yourself that you don’t have a hold just right and that compounds the fatigue and makes you fail. But I kept telling myself that things don’t have to be perfect to send. I made it to the final rest before the last crux still feeling pretty fresh and dropped the hammer, clamped down on the crux holds, and powered through to finish jug.
What happened at the top? Did you change you beta on the fly or ?
I had been making a lot of beta adjustments in the attempts leading up to the send, played with new resting positions and switched the shoes I had been using (switched from La Sportiva’s Otaki to the Skwama). I had always rehearsed the last move as a big cross over from last gaston in the seam to the finish hold. I had only tried the bump to the finish hold a couple times (same beta as Chris) and dismissed it as too wild/powerful. But in the moment, I acted on instinct, closed hand death crimped the left hand and kicked hard with the left foot and found myself latching the massive jug around the corner.
I have to ask what it felt like to grab that hold and keep holding it. What was going through your mind at that moment?
It was a crazy sensation of release and excitement. All I could do was scream. Once I clipped the draw around the corner I had to take a minute to calm down so I wouldn’t punt off the little V4 slab boulder at the top. When I came down I had a hard time believing that it even happened. Luckily there were witnesses! I had so many memories of falling off the last crux, it’s hard to register that one, brief moment of success amidst so much failure.
It has been a pretty big journey to send Dreamcatcher. What has it meant for you as a person and as a climber?
At a certain point the route became more of an idea of just accomplishing a goal that I set for myself. This whole process has taught me a lot about patience, focus, and the importance of self confidence.
I learned that everything doesn’t have to be perfect to send. If you are focused and try f****ing hard you can get away with a lot of mistakes and still send. I tried to find something positive to take out of every attempt. Even if it was the most minute detail, I think it helped to have at least a feeling of constant improvement.
I learned a lot about training as well. For me, being physically fit is a small part of the equation. Skill and confidence got me much further than just being super strong. Even though I’ve been climbing over 16 years, I still need a lot of time to maintain skill and technique. I’ve had other trips where I felt like I was in the best physical shape of my life, at least on paper, but I felt like all the time I spent not climbing and just training hurt my actual climbing performance.
Everyone asks what is next, but it is more like, where are you at now? Are you planning on just enjoying climbing with no project or has the experience left you with the notion that anything is possible?
Current project is getting rid of my farmer’s tan! I’m definitely pretty psyched on climbing right now. There are tons of boulders I want to put some time into. There are also tons of routes in the Sea to Sky corridor that I haven’t tried yet. Just got to wait for this heat wave to pass. I’m stoked to have the rest of the summer to play with no major projects in mind.
I want to give our readers bit of context about your climbing life etc. When did you start climbing and what / who influenced you the most in the early years?
I started climbing in Massachusetts when I was 11. I joined a competitive team in the Boston area pretty much right after I started. My coach at the time, Alexsey Shuruyev, put a huge emphasis on technique and skill over strength. As a young skinny climber, this had huge influence on my style. You can put muscle and get stronger when you are older, but having that base of skill was super helpful for me. When I was a kid I totally tried to emulate the style of local New Englanders like Dave Graham, Joe Kinder, Luke Parady, and Vasya Vorotnikov. They were the masters of my local crag, Rumney.
I have always thought you have a very smooth and powerful style. Is that on purpose or just comes naturally?
I actually used to have a much slower more controlled style. Over the years I found that it’s more efficient for me to move quickly and use momentum to help with powerful moves. It was definitely something I actively worked on.
Finally, you graduated Quest and then stayed in Canada. What does it mean for you to have the sea to sky as your stomping grounds living in Vancouver?
I actually just moved back here last August after living in Boston for a few years after university. I’m super happy to be living out here. I’m also an avid mountain biker and the sea to sky region is a total mecca for mountain bikers. Pretty amazing to have such good climbing and biking so close. I’m headed back to school in the fall for Technical Apparel Design and Vancouver is a huge hub for outdoor industry companies so I couldn’t be in a better place for work and play.
Well, again congratulations Mike. Well deserved and hope the summer treats you well! Huge shout out to Jamie Finlayson, who provided us with the amazing photos for this interview.
Full video of send shot in two parts (one camera stopped recording).