Wait, Who Just Sent Squamish’s Most Elusive Boulder Problem?

Lucas Uchida, a 24-year-old Canadian comp climber-turned outdoor crusher, just sent “Singularity,” one Squamish’s most iconic hard lines. Check out the story and interview.

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1. The Climb

On May 21, 2007, eight days before his 40th birthday, Tim Clifford made the long-awaited first ascent of Squamish’s infamous “Room Project,” named for its location within the narrow amphitheater that also contains Chris Sharma’s Dreamcatcher. For more than a decade, the problem, which involves extremely subtle body positions and condition-dependent crimps, had withstood attempts by some of the world’s strongest climbers—including, according to Rock and Ice, a flurry of attempts during the 2005 Petzl Roc Trip. Clifford graded the problem V14, with the caveat that it might be harder, and named it Singularity

“From my understanding,” he explained to Rock and Ice in 2007, “the singularity is the theory that, at the center of a black hole, the gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape. I suppose that’s what we’re trying to do every time we climb—escape from gravity.”

In the decade that followed, as V14 went from cutting edge to quotidian, Singularity repelled yet more attempts by some of the world’s most pedigreed boulderers, and Clifford’s caveat seemed to gather more and more authority. Then, on September 17, 2017, Nalle Hukkataival made the second ascent, starting one move lower than Clifford because it felt more logical to him. 

What an amazing boulder!” he wrote on Instagram. “So straight-forward looking, yet so intricate. Climbing something you’ve been hearing about for years always make[s] it more special. … Really extra tough to comment on the difficulty. The fact that it’s fended off the efforts of a list of V15 climbers for over a decade must mean something. Does that suggest V15? Or make it a V14 that’s just really hard to do? Is there a difference between those two?” 

(Some thought so. Sonnie Trotter, in response, wroteThe lower start adds some subtle fierceness to the line. Fantastic climbing Nalle. Sounds like V15 to me.” And in a January, 2022, Gripped article,  Noah Walker offhandedly describes the line as Canada’s first V15, though he doesn’t give much basis for that claim.) 

Sometime within the intervening five years, Singularity apparently (we have not verified this) saw a third ascent by an undercover crusher who wants to remain anonymous. Then, on Friday, August 2, Lucas Uchida, a Canadian comp climber taking a break from comps, claimed the 4th ascent of the line.

Uchida on the send. Photo: Ethan Salvo

2. The Climber

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Uchida started climbing recreationally when he was 7 or 8. “I was just trying a bunch of different sports,” he told me via Zoom, “just trying to see what stuck. But I kept coming back to climbing and eventually decided to commit and see how far I could go with it.”

He was 10 or 11 at that point, and he was soon interested in climbing’s more competitive and athletic disciplines. “I really wanted to train. I really wanted to improve and get better. So I joined the local climbing team. And since then have been pretty involved—very involved—in the climbing competition world.” 

Eventually he made his way onto the Canadian Youth National team, and when he finished high school, he decided to make “a full commitment” to his competitive career. Since 2018, when he joined the open circuit, he’s participated in some two dozen World Cups.

Though he’s had success within Canada (he placed third in Lead Nationals this year), international competitions have never quite come together for Uchida. At the Boulder World Cup in Meiringen this last April, after nearly—but not quite—topping three of the five qualification problems, Uchida wrote on Instagram, “I won’t lie, I am pretty disappointed with my result, but I feel as though I am on the edge of some sort of breakthrough. My climbing has improved so much over the last couple years, but this time the pieces just didn’t fall into place.”  

Uchida flashing "Shelter," V13, in Squamish in 2021. At the time, he'd still never done a V14. Photo: Jacob Scharfman

Recognizing his burnout, Uchida has decided to take a hiatus from comps and instead continue a trend that started during the gym closures of 2020: the pursuit of outdoor goals. “Climbing outside allows me to explore my head a little bit,” he told me. “For me there’s almost this mindfulness component to it.” Once outside, he was able to translate a decade of hard training and comp experience into a string of startling flashes, including Squamish classics like Shelter, V13, and Room Service, V12. Now, with Singularity, Uchida has cemented his place as one Canada’s most promising young outdoor boulderers. 

I caught up with Uchida to chat about his climbing, Singularity, and why, as Hukkataival noted, it’s just really hard to put together. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

3. The Interview

Climbing: Congrats on the send! How many days did it take you?

Uchida: Oh man. I’m honestly not sure. Probably something around like 10 sessions over the course a year? I started trying midway through last summer. I didn’t try it during the winter—I was living in Calgary—but I moved to Vancouver in January, and I’ve been trying it off and on since mid-spring.

Climbing: Singularity has a reputation for looking simple but being the exact opposite. Was that your experience?

Uchida: It’s pretty finicky all around. The holds are bad, and the cross move is hard, but on top of that, the footwork is very subtle. There’s a heel-toe-cam that’s pretty slopey; you have to catch the crystals just right. And then there’s a toehook underneath that is also very finicky. The moves look really simple but because of the shapes and because of how condition-dependent the rock is they’re actually very hard to link together. It was definitely a grind to learn the movements and learn how to move my body in the right way.

Climbing: Conditions in Squamish are notoriously fickle. What was it like last week when you sent?

Uchida: I got very lucky with the conditions. We’ve been having a really hot summer; it’s been like 30-35 degrees Celsius in the Squamish-Vancouver area. But I sent the day before we got a bunch of rain, and for whatever reason it had cooled off and a wind had picked up, so Singularity was getting good dry conditions. It was pretty unusual for this time of year.

Climbing: What was your progression on the problem like? What was day one? What was day five? Was there a point where you were like, Oh, Gosh, I can do this, and then it got mental?

Uchida: Yeah. On my first day I learned the first move—from the shelf to the pinch—and the second move—which is from a pinch to a golf ball hold. But all the sessions after that involved learning the next move, which is this weird extended cross where it’s really hard to keep the right tension on the feet. I spent a lot of sessions on that move, sometimes firing off the golf ball and smashing my knuckles, sometimes hitting the hold and having my feet blow, sometimes just totally missing the hold. Eventually, after many sessions trying the cross move while conditions went up and down, I started to lose motivation. It can get really frustrating to be stuck on a single move that you only feel close to doing when conditions are good.

Climbing: How did you deal with that?

Uchida: Eventually I was just like, Okay, I just need a break from this problem. There were days where I was intending to try it because I had this weird pressure from myself. I’d be like, It’d be really cool if you did this, and you really want to do it, so you have to go up there and try it. But then I’d be like, Well, is that what you really want to do right now? And when the answer was no, I’d go climb other stuff, try easier things, cruise moderates, try the classic problems. There’s so much here, and it’s so close together, and I’m still pretty new to Squamish. When I was trying Singularity people kept asking me, “Oh, have you tried this? Have you done this?” And I was just like, “No, I haven’t done that. No, I haven’t done that one either.” And they’d always give me weird looks. But I was locked in the room, so to speak. So eventually, as conditions got really bad and I got frustrated, I started branching out. The day that I actually did Singularity, I returned to it because of conditions—and because it just felt like a good day to try.

Climbing: Singularity has long been the source of arm-chair upgrades. Even when Nalle did it and refused to unequivocally weigh in, there was a lot of speculation that it was V15. Do you feel like you can comment on that?

Uchida: Not really, to be honest. V14, V15—either way this is my first of the grade. So I don’t really have much to compare it to. I haven’t really put much work into V14s or V15s yet. Before this year, I was mainly focused on competing and training for comps. It’s only recently that I’ve made a stronger commitment to climbing outside and exploring what I can do out there. 

Uchida flashing Shelter, V13. Photo: Jacob Scharfman

Climbing: Do you see yourself doing more World Cups in the future?

Uchida: I’ve decided I need to take a break. I’m just not feeling very motivated to compete right now, and rather than force it, I want to just follow where my motivation is.

Climbing: So you’d never climbed V14 before this, but you’ve flashed V13, and multiple V12s. Have you always been really good at flashing? Or is that just something that comes from the comp background? 

Uchida: It might come from comps, but I’m not totally sure. Sometimes a problem just suits me. But also, climbing outside you learn all these like tricks and small techniques and body positions—and you can learn them on one problem but use the same trick on another. During the hard flashes I’ve had, success has felt a combination of those things. Shelter, for example, suited me really well. I’ve definitely struggled on 12s and 11s and 10s more than I did on that one. But I think that’s just climbing. There’s a V7 here called Black Slabbath—a slab test piece —that took me some time to piece together. But on Shelter it just worked out. I had already learned what I needed to in order to put it together.

Climbing: What does your training look like now that you’re taking a break from World Cups?

Uchida: To be honest, I’m still running off the training I’d been doing for World Cups. I’ve put in a lot of consistent training over the years, and at the end of my World Cup season, I decided I needed a break from the training regimen, too. So I’ve just been climbing in the gym when I want to, doing some hangs when I feel like I need to, stretching when I feel like I need to, but besides that just climbing outside. Training can be a bit of a grind, and climbing outside is a very good way to get away from that. For me there’s almost this mindfulness component to it. Climbing outside allows me to explore my head a little bit. I can be more mindful of how I’m climbing. You’re focusing on what your body’s feeling, focusing on your breathing, your movement over the rock. 

Climbing: And you get to focus like that over a much different sort of time period, right? You’re not limited to five minutes to try a problem like you would be in a competition. 

Uchida: Yeah, I think maybe that kind of mindfulness is something you have to train outside of competitions for it to work in competitions. Because you’re right. There is a time limit. And you can’t return to the same problem when it’s over. Outside, when you leave a problem, you can do some reflection and then come back to it again with a different approach. Also you can climb on your own terms. When you’re competing, you’re restricted to certain problems, certain times, certain styles. That’s something that I’ve had to re-learn every time I’ve gone outside after a long period focused on the comps: I have to allow myself to do what I want, to be attuned to questions like “How am I feeling? Where’s my motivation? Which direction do I want to go today?”

Climbing: And sometimes that means trying hard, but sometimes it doesn’t.

Uchida: I have always wanted to push hard and train and get better—and I really have pushed myself. But sometimes I need to do something else. I need to build other experiences, climb other things, and remember what it feels like to actually finish problems. As much as people talk about success and the projecting process and learning and progressing, sometimes it just feels good to actually climb something, to stand on top of it, to clip the chains, to feel what it’s like to move over rock. I mean, I’ve put all this work in so I can climb this difficulty—but that also means I’ve put the work in to be able to climb a lot of things below that grade level. My possibility for trying boulders is very open now because of all the work I’ve put in. It feels good to walk into the boulder field and be like, “All right, why don’t we try this? Why don’t we try that?” and not be restricted by not being able to do things. It’s nice to see those rewards and enjoy them.

Climbing: What’s next for you?

Uchida: Unfortunately my answer is pretty lackluster. [Laughs.] I’m not really sure. I’m thinking of trying Dreamcatcher. But there are some other lesser-known boulders in Squamish that I’ve been looking at and thinking about. I’m probably just going to try stuff until I find something I’m psyched on. But training too. If there’s one thing that this Singularity experience has done, it’s made me psyched to train again. I’m like, All right, you can climb some hard stuff, so let’s keep that going.

Mike Foley on the First Ascent of Spirit Quest (5.14d)—One of Squamish’s hardest