Are First Female Ascents Irrelevant?
Debate is healthy and really there are valid points to both sides. One side of the debate argues that the inclusion of "female" as a qualifier for why an ascent may be significant has negative implications on women in that it deems women as inferior to men. This side argues for "first female ascents" to be eradicated and for all ascents to be the same. The other side of the debate argues that men and women are biologically different and that there is no reason to eradicate gender in sports. Female and Male climbers have the potential to achieve equally, but there is no reason to eliminate the celebration of female firsts in climbing in that women are historically the minority in climbing and reinforcement of progression is a powerful tool in encouraging female achievements. What is important to recognize is that as climbing fills a more macro level space, we consider the role that it can have on issues like gender politics and the need for women's empowerment still at hand today.
While I recognize and fully engage with the fact that women and men are capable of climbing equal difficulty, it is important to still reiterate the first ascents done by women. In my opinion, the actual flagging of Female highlights this notion of empowerment. While yes, the name of a female achieving something could theoretically be a sign enough, the fact is that the world is not yet at that point to not still need extra reinforcement of female achievement.
I receive letters from young girls often thanking me for inspiring them. This is something that fuels my motivation. I want to serve as an example that anyone no matter what gender, size, or demographic you represent can pursue his or her dreams.
Following my initial blog I spoke with Lynn Hill about this topic. She read my blog and texted me,
"I agree that women should support women and that it's important to have female role models. Back in the early days, women were left out of books such as, "The Vertical World of Yosemite" by Galen Rowell. In his intro to the 90's, he didn't put a single photo of a woman climber in the book because he said that there were no significant first ascents done by a women during the formative years of climbing in Yosemite. I felt that it was important to show what women WERE doing rather than ignore them because of what they weren't doing!"
Additionally, As Lipovetsky states in his book on "Hypermodern Times," "I can assure you that the age of equality does not lead to a confluence of genders to an androgynous erasure of the distinction between masculine and feminine roles." While it is a romantic idea to say that we are at a point that "Female" does not need to be reinforced, the fact is that we are not. Women have been routinely underrepresented in sports, politics, and business throughout history. Despite our hyper modern world, we are still at a point that "female" achievements should be acknowledged and highlighted.
I am motivated to establish First Ascents. I have accomplished many First Female Ascents thus far in my career and I am proud of them and I will continue to flag the "Female" in the ascent to encourage the women out there who would otherwise be timid in the shadows of the boys to go out and try things despite only men having succeeded on them before.
As women progress and expand their climbing horizons we hope to shrink the achievement gap. The women who do this will be breaking ground with every climb. This should be recognized to empower and to urge on the efforts of women in our sport.
First female ascents are significant because they flag the progress of women's achievements in climbing. The relevancy of labeling something as a "First Female Ascent" can be arbitrary, depending the difficulty, may be somewhat insignificant.
My hero is Lynn Hill for setting the precedent for men and women. Her achievements and highlighting that she is a woman narrow the gender gap.
I think that there is something to be said about women putting themselves out there and going after their dreams regardless of past ascentionists.
This encourages me to push myself as well.
Perhaps people who are not in favor of emphasizing "female firsts" find organizations like the Women's Sports Foundation and UN Women irrelevant as well.
Perhaps they are also against Title IX, thinking that all women should just buck up and try out for the men's hockey team..., maybe cut Olympic competition in half by eliminated the women's medals, .... and while we're at it, scuttle the WNBA and women's soccer as well?
Reinforcement of female achievements are necessary to encourage progression.
I am inspired by female leaders in a multitude of fields including but not exclusively sports, politics, human rights, and entertainment.
Passion is an important foundation for every individual to possess, though also significant is a fearless ability to pursue whatever that passion may be. It is important for women to recognize that the opinions of others are irrelevant to this task. Self confidence and drive surpass any oppositional negativity. I would love to see women join together in this effort to empower each other and to show the world that yes, She Can.
From Rock to Ice: Activate Winter
Prior to venturing into the realm of ice climbing, the only thing I knew about Ouray, Colorado, was that it was the setting for Anne Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged. Apart from that, the small Victorian mountain town may be most known to climbers for the annual Ouray Ice Festival. This year marked the 20th anniversary. Ouray is hemmed by mountains with charming old buildings and restaurants that date back its mining days. When the festival is not in session, Ouray is a quiet town.
This year, I competed in the International Elite Mixed Climbing Competition. Granted, I’m not exactly the typical, seasoned mixed-climbing veteran to be competing. I actually began learning just over a week ago.
I was intrigued to learn how to ice and mixed climb because it was a whole new, completely unfamiliar dimension to climbing. Diversification in a sport is an important part of progression. In order to keep a healthy routine, maximize psyche, and remain non-injured, it is really important to have rest periods, also known as, an off-season.
I was interested to learn how to ice and mixed climb for a few reasons. First of all, ice/mixed climbing are new dimensions to the sport that I am completely unfamiliar with. I think that differentiation in a sport is healthy and a great way to break through plateaus. Also, it’s hard to expand my comfort zone without removing myself from what I am familiar with and having new experiences outside of this known. Ice climbing was a mental challenge. I have notoriously terrible circulation in my extremities, and I also get cold really easily, and I would opt for hot climbing conditions over cold the majority of times. I wanted to challenge myself to adapt to a new environment and to learn how to handle the cold better. Also, it just looked really fun!
The idea of climbing with ice tools was pretty intimidating. Mainly, I feared the pointed axe coming back to splice me in the face. Thankfully, this hasn’t happened yet. I was also concerned about the cold. I do not particularly like the cold. In general, I am the sport climber that is perfectly fine with summer temperatures because I have dry skin (my hands don’t get sweaty), and I feel cold below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Even though my family is from Canada. I opted for rock climbing instead of the family’s typical snow and skate sports. Though, what I have learned is that if I dress appropriately for the cold and establish a good layering system then the cold isn’t so bad. The most important pieces of apparel for ice climbing are: a warm base layer, a sweater and/or a fleece, and an insulated jacket. Also, while ice climbing, I am moving and being active, so before I know it I am actually shedding some of those layers.
I first went to Vail, Colorado, with Will Mayo and Maury Birdwell. Will Mayo is a well accomplished ice and mixed climber, and he took charge of my “boot camp,” an intensive, “learn to ice climb in a week” program that involved putting me on an m8, King Cobra, for my first mixed climb, and then the next day having me climb “Designator,” a water ice five line. Of course, I had no idea what these grades meant…
Learning to ice and mixed climb has opened my eyes to such a wonderful new frontier. I have also experienced a new side of the climbing community, and I have had exposure to such beautiful natural formations, like a steep, three dimensional, 80-meter ice waterfall. Learning to use tools on rock and ice enables me to have a whole new ability to climb what before would have been seemingly impossible. For mixed climbing, I can place the edges of the tools on miniscule little crevices and holes in the rock and position my body so that the tool stays firmly while I adjust my full body weight from that point. Parts of the rock that I could never have imagined holding on to with my bare hands, I can now climb using my tools.
Additionally, after learning how to place my tools into ice, I was ascending Bridal Veil Falls, the iconic 365-foot waterfall overlooking Telluride, Colorado, where I was training. Climbing this frozen water formation was an experience unlike any I had ever had before. The climb is up a 3-D, slightly overhanging ice structure. It is a natural wonder. Ice to me is beautiful. There is this delicate yet simultaneously ominous characteristic to ice. Ice formations are such natural pieces of art. And the feeling of climbing this is incredibly exposing and liberating. While climbing, I can see the different protrusions in the ice and feel the smooth, frozen texture. Climbing frozen water is terrifying yet thrilling.
Now, returning to Ouray and the Ice Festival, I was excited to venture into a realm of competition that was so new to me. It is fun to be a beginner again in a sport that I love. I
competed in the Ouray Ice Festival Competition in the Elite Women’s Category. My expectation was to have fun and to do my personal best. I felt like I achieved both of these expectations and therefore, I was happy with how my first competition went. Each competitor had twelve minutes of allotted time to climb. While difficulty is the deciding factor for the competition placements – who gets highest on the wall – time is used as a tiebreaker. Each year, the competition route begins on an M8 called “Mighty Aphrodite.” This being my first year competing, I had never been on the route before, so I needed to spend extra time reading the route and figuring out my tool placements. I climbed slowly, trying to meticulously place my tools into the right crevices. Though, I was a bit too slow, because as I was approaching the transition from rock onto the ice and the artificial structure, I was called to stop climbing. My time was up!
I look forward to expanding my ice and mixed climbing experience and to taking these skills that I now have to both the mountains and to more competitions during my career as a climber!
An Active Off Season: Differentiation through Ice
Climbing has the potential of being a year-round sport. There is always good weather to find during the year. Though, I cannot think of a sport in which athletes are expected to Peak Perform at all times during the year. In order to keep a healthy routine, maximize psyche, and remain non-injured, I think that it is really important to have rest periods; also known as, an Off Season.
Due to my school schedule, I have the most consecutive free time to travel and to climb during the summer. Essentially, from mid May until the beginning of September, I have a break from University. This time off from school is my time to really maximize my climbing trip schedule and to chase after my goals that I set for my season. For this plan to work, from February into May, I am training for my upcoming objectives. Therefore, I always hope to be in my best shape by early summer and into early fall. Then, during the Fall, I wind my training down and focus on Sport Specific Training, including Strength Training and High Intensity Intervals.
That said, December and into January, I am kind of in hibernation. I have been skiing since I was three and in the past, I have spent December skiing in Mont Tremblant, Quebec with my family. This was always my Dad’s tradition. Mont Tremblant was his favorite place in the World. Growing up I spent almost every summer, winter, and spring there with my family. The last time I was in Mont Tremblant was when I road tripped up with my Dad from New York at the end of May. This was just a few weeks before he passed away unexpectedly, and this is one of my last memories that I have with him. I have felt a little timid to return to that sacred place knowing that I won’t be able to share it with him again. This space still feels emotionally raw to me. I have been reluctant to face this emptiness. I do look forward to returning, though, Christmas wasn’t the time yet.
Instead, my family and I celebrated my Grandma’s 90th birthday and Christmas in Toronto where my Grandma, cousins, and Aunts/Uncles live. Instead of skiing this winter, though, I actually will be learning a new sport… Ice Climbing!
I am thankful to have been invited to compete in the Invitational Elite Division in Ouray, Colorado July 10-12 despite my absolutely negligible experience ever trying Mixed, nor Ice climbing. Though, ice climbing intrigues me for a few reasons. First of all, ice climbing is another dimension to Climbing that I am completely unfamiliar with. I think that differentiation in a sport is healthy and a great way to break through plateaus. Diversification is important in training, and this is an indirect way to get back into my Sport Climbing training for the New Year. Secondly, it’s hard to expand my comfort zone without removing myself from what I am familiar with and having new experiences outside of this known. Ice Climbing, to me, is a mental challenge. Thirdly, I have notoriously terrible circulation in my extremities, ie Reynauds. I also get cold really easily, and I would opt for hot climbing conditions over cold the majority of times. Though, ice climbing will also be an exciting new challenge!
So, from the end of December until January 8th I will be learning how to Ice Climb, and then having my first competition, with zero expectations and hopefully less fear than what I feel now, in Ouray, on the 10th of January!
Will Mayo (My Sensai), Gord Macarthur, and Maury Birdwell have generously offered to be my ice climbing coach. We will start in Vail, then head to Ouray. Time to leave hibernation…
My Current Top 3 Fears:
1. The ice breaking or melting
2. The numbing cold
3. Whacking myself with the ice axe
Here we go!!!
Returning to the Project: Red River Gorge, Kentucky
The moment when everything clicks and I trust my body to take over:
The boundary between what I can and cannot do becomes blurred.
During my Fall Break from school I went to the Red River Gorge, Kentucky with my mom. Last March, I went to the Red River Gorge for my Spring Break. I began working on a climb called “Thanatopsis.” This climb is located at a sector of the ‘Red’ called the “Motherlode.” which is known for having the highest concentration of steep, hard climbs at the Red.
I have been going to the Red since I was nine years old, and I distinctly remember my first day at this crag. When I first hiked up through the forest path to the area I knew that I had never seen anything quite so steep, nor quite so tall before. There are few easy climbs at the Motherlode – the area is dense with climbs fit for elite climbers to work on. The climbs on the far right side and far left side of the cliff are less steep than the ones in the dead center of the cave. I tiptoed around the heart of the cave, acclimating to the steep climbing terrain and genuinely intimidated by how almost horizontal the climbs were.
Each year I have gone to the Red at some point. Fall is the season when the temperatures are best due to the crisp, forty to sixty degree temperatures and moderate rain. Spring is a good season to go as well, but there can be more humidity in the air and it tends to rain more often. During the winter months it is generally too cold to climb there unless you have really great circulation, (unlike me!). Contrarily, during the summer months it is too warm and humid to really expect great performance results beyond lots of sweat from grappling to stick on to sweaty rock. My first trip to the Red River Gorge was in June and I had no idea that there were seasons to this area and that I was visiting during one of the toughest times to climb. There were just so many options of potential lines to try that less than perfect temperatures did not bother me in the least.
Each year I have made a visit to the “Motherlode.” I have distinct memories from each climb that I have tried over the years between being nine years old and now 22 years old. After hiking in to the sector and standing in front of this massive bank? of cliff, I feel a strong sense of nostalgia. With each climb that I see, I recall a distinguishable memory of climbing that particular route. The struggles that I may have had, the frustration from falling, and the joy of reaching the top are individual memories to each climb. At the Motherlode I onsighted my first 5.13 and I also onsighted my first 5.14. Both of these achievements, separated by years, feel like close, distinctive moments.
When I arrived this trip, I could stand in front of all but one climb and remember the moment that I completed that particular route: All but Thanatopsis. For some reason, this climb felt really hard for me and I hadn’t even tried it. I had never seen anyone on it, and without any chalk on it, it just appears like a blank, steep rock face with few protrusions. Instead of checking out the moves, each trip I chose a different climb to try to complete. Finally in March, I decided that I needed to just put on my climbing gear and try it.
Though, that time I just had one week at the Red and, it being March, the weather was inconsistent. While I managed to have some days with good weather, I consistently fell on the climb. I felt like I had found my beta (solution) to the different moves, but I could not piece them together from the bottom to the top without falling. Climbing and failure happen to go together quite seamlessly: I fall way more often than I succeed. This trip, I had to leave without having succeeded.
Having Thursday through the following Tuesday off from school, I chose to spend this time trying Thanatopsis again. While driving to Kentucky, I was a little pessimistic about the weather forecast because a cold front was coming through and there was an 80% rain prediction for Friday and Saturday. According to my weather app, Friday was really cold and raining. However, with my mom being an optimistic trooper, we still hiked up to the Motherlode with our down jackets and hats on, through the mud, and to the cave. Due to the rock’s steep angle over the ground, the climbs were actually protected from the pouring sky. I warmed up and then went straight on to Thanatopsis to refresh the moves in my mind.
At first, the climbing felt unfamiliar and strenuous on my finger tendons. The holds were all so much smaller than I remembered and I couldn’t recall on what little pebbles I had placed my feet in order to be in the right body positioning to do each individual move. Thanatopsis is challenging because the “holds” for your finger tips and feet are barely bigger than the protrusion of two credit cards against a flat wall. For some of the harder moves, only with precise body positioning could I stay on the wall. Having to do powerful sections on the climb consecutively wears me down and my precision for the latter moves lessens. As I worked out the sections of the climb, though, I started reconnecting with the movement.
I tried the route again and again afterwards, falling at different points on the wall, and lowering down to the ground to rest and recuperate my muscles and tendons to try again.
By the end of the day, I was substantially more tired but convincingly more determined. I did some jumping jacks to warm up from the near freezing temperature and put back on my harness, chalk bag, and shoes, tied in to my rope, and started the climb.
I feel the connection with the natural elements. I feel the texture of the rock. The rock face is my opponent, yet I am working with it at the same time. I am just moving. I am just moving through the sequences and visualizing myself succeeding. My mind is free from everything else. My thoughts are in a zone of their own. This zone is full of thought yet simultaneously blank. My motions execute the thoughts that I have. I think about the piece of rock that I am on, I fixate on the feel of it underneath my chalked hands.
I reach the top.
First Female Ascent: Thanatopsis, 8c
The Craziest Journey - a blog by Andrew Bisharat
In which Sasha DiGiulian overcomes loss and finds unexpected reward on a big-wall climbing adventure in Sardinia
You can learn a lot about a person by looking at the room in which she was raised. Sasha DiGiulian’s room belongs to a narrow seven-story house in the old part of Alexandria, Virginia. Its walls are pink—the most “optimistic” color, according to Sasha—and adorned with rock-climbing pictures torn from magazines.
On one wall hangs a white dry-erase board, where a teenage Sasha practiced a ritual of writing down her dream goals just before the New Year.
In the dwindling days of 2010, Sasha, then 17 and a junior in high school, recorded three objectives:
“Podium at an international comp. Climb 5.14c. Get into college.”
In 2011, Sasha surpassed all of her goals. She was accepted early decision to Columbia University. She won an overall gold medal at the World Championships in Arco, Italy. And she not only climbed multiple 5.14c routes but also surprised herself by quickly sending a 5.14d named “Pure Imagination”—an achievement that earned her the distinction of being the first North American female (and third female ever) to climb a route of that difficulty. 2011 really was Sasha’s breakout year. She established herself as one of the best female sport and competition climbers in the world—clearly a result of drive and talent. When something goes up on the white board, Sasha expects herself to execute that goal.
Fast forward to this year. Sasha is on summer break from Columbia, and has her eyes set on one of her main white-board dream goals: “Climb a hard big-wall route.”
She reached out to one of her most trusted climbing partners, Edu Marin, a very talented competition and sport climber from Spain. The two made plans to rendezvous in Switzerland and try to climb one of the toughest big-wall routes in the Alps: Zahir Plus. This route’s particular style of climbing—on really small holds with technical movement between them—appealed to Sasha because it matched her style so well.
The plans were all laid out. Zahir Plus would be a tough climb, for sure—but it also seemed doable. Something she could tick off just before returning to Columbia to begin her junior year. In her mind, sending Zahir Plus was going to be a great way to end the summer.
But Zahir Plus did not go according to plan. Life, in fact, did not go according to plan.
“My dad went from being perfectly healthy to passed away within two weeks.”
John DiGiulian became suddenly sick and died on June 29, leaving behind Sasha, his wife, Andrea, and son, Charlie.
“My dad was a dreamer,” Sasha said. “He dreamt about achieving things bigger than himself. He taught me to follow my heart, and to live for my passion.”
In the wake of her father’s death, and the space created by his sudden absence, Sasha determined to fill that space with a fearlessness to pursue her dreams. Zahir Plus would become a way to honor the memory of her dad, who had always inspired her to achieve her goals.
Sasha had allocated three weeks to climb Zahir Plus—not a ton of time, but enough to overcome jetlag, become familiar with the route and its moves and hopefully send each of its hard (up to 5.14a) pitches. But when Sasha and Edu arrived in Switzerland, they found the entire country socked in with relentless rain. The route itself was soaking wet, running with waterfalls. Climbing would be impossible.
“On a big-wall project, you’re bound to face some speed bumps,” Sasha admitted.
Sasha could’ve thrown in the towel, and resign herself to sitting around waiting for the rain to go away and the route to miraculously become dry enough to climb. But part of being a successful person is recognizing when you’re beat, and being proactive enough to shift gears. With one week wasted in Switzerland, and no sign of the rain clearing up, Sasha and Edu began researching other objectives anywhere in Europe.
“Edu and I talked and we realized that if we stay here, we’ll hardly climb and we won’t have any project. We called Dani Andrada.”
They reached out to one of the most prolific route developers and rock climbers in the world, Dani Andrada, to see if he had any suggestions. Dani mentioned a line he had climbed on the island of Sardinia. It was about 1,000 feet tall, with many hard pitches stacked on top of each other. And it hadn’t been climbed since 2002.
And the route’s name?
“Viaje de los Locos,” Dani said, chuckling. The Mad Men’s Journey.
“It was an appropriate name for what came next,” Sasha said. She and Edu booked tickets the next day for Sardinia.
The only problem was that Viaje de los Locos was not Zahir Plus. It was bigger, harder, more powerful, and more reach-dependent moves. And it was scarier.
Sending would not be a given.
“Multi-pitch” or “big-wall” climbing describes the means by which one ascends a tall cliff. A “pitch” is the length of a rope. It takes multiple rope-lengths to get up a cliff that’s, say, 1,000 feet tall. Climbers stop at ledges and/or anchors to belay, then continue inching their way up the wall, one rope length at a time.
Some big-wall routes may have only one or two really hard pitches, while the rest are relatively easy. The hardest multi-pitch routes, however, are the ones that are “sustained,” where each and every pitch is very difficult.
Big-wall climbing is really exacting. You’re up on a cliff all day. You’re dehydrated and tired and uncomfortable. And to actually send a hard big-wall route demands strength, stamina, perfect execution and the cool-headedness to perform your best with 1,000 feet of air beneath your feet. Imagine you’re a runner who is asked to sprint a 400-meter dash 10 times in a row, logging fast times with each lap—and if you don’t achieve a fast-enough time (i.e., you fall), then you have to start over and try again. That analogy only just begins to capture the difficulty and high-pressure stakes involved in climbing a sustained multi-pitch route.
With one week already wasted in Switzerland, and now having finally settled into Sardinia, the pressure was on for Sasha and Edu.
Viaje de los Locos takes the central line up an overhanging wall of beautiful blue and yellow limestone. “Tufas,” which are sort of like stalactites protruding from the wall, offered pinch holds and unique three-dimensional climbing features.
Sure enough, Sasha’s suspicions were correct that this route did not fit her style. She discovered she’d need to be strong and powerful in both her body and mind. This route required a high degree of boldness. One of the pitches, for example, had only two protection bolts in its entire 90 feet. In other words, to lead this pitch (no gimme at 5.12c) the climber would risk taking a fall of over 80 feet.
Sasha didn’t believe she had a lead like that in her. Still, she and Edu kept plugging away.
With a pressing deadline to return home to begin her junior year, Sasha still wasn’t sure she’d be able to do Viaje de los Locos. But when she came really close to sending the crux 5.14 pitch, it was a breakthrough that gave her the confidence she needed.
“Viaje de los Locos is hand’s down one of the most beautiful climbs I’ve ever been on,” Sasha says.
So inspired by the beauty and difficulty of the route, she decided to skip the first week of school, and extend her trip in order to give herself every opportunity to send. Still, the pressure was on with a return date looming.
Having practiced all of the pitches, Edu and Sasha felt ready to finally give the route a shot. They planned to go for it the day before Sasha’s flight home to New York. It would be now or never.
“That pitch with only 2 bolts in 90 feet was my pitch to lead,” says Sasha. “Up until that final day, I couldn’t bring myself to lead it. But then it was like, ‘OK, I’m going to go for it.’
“I experienced a moment of clarity that I’m not going to fall. I was climbing with my heart in my throat. I was petrified. But when I was able to let go of those feelings, it was like, ‘Wow, I can rock climb again.’”
During their trip, Sasha often thought about her dad. She felt his presence and brought his strength with her. She realized that he wouldn’t have wanted her to be anywhere else then right here, achieving one of her dreams.
“Sardinia ended up being some kind of destiny," says Sasha. “I was coming off all these insecurities—about this climb, and if I was capable of doing it. When I got there, I didn't personally know if I could do this route. And now it’s done.
“Because of how the trip played out. Because I didn’t think I could do it. And because my dad was with me on this climb … I would say that this was the most rewarding climbing experience of my life.”
Edu and Sasha successfully climbed Viaje de los Locos in the nick of time. The next day, Sasha was on a plane back to New York, to attend classes and dream big about what to put on her white board next.
Life is Beautiful
The last few weeks I was climbing in Wyoming with friends in Wyoming. Life was very mellow – the days that we climbed (generally a cycle of two days on, and one day off) we hiked out to the massive new cave that Kevin and Alli have been developing, climbed – with some success and some failures—and then we went back home, made food, and watched TV, or played Video Games. During our rest days, we went swimming, out to the Saloon, and played more Video Games.
The Easy Life. The Good life. The Beautiful Life.
I need space to just be with friends and to relax. Though, it has been an active relaxation. Wyoming has been my training to prepare for a greater goal of mine that I am now preparing for in the coming week. While in Wyoming I focused solely on climbing and elevating my fitness on rock – by challenging myself on hard lines and having fitness days at the crag. I accomplished some new First Ascents, felt the Flow for climbing, and laughed a lot. Wyoming was perfect.
In a few days I am traveling to Switzerland to start work on a new project – a big wall project called Zahir Plus. I am excited, intimidated, and anxious about the climb. The route is one of the hardest routes in the world and I am curious to see how it feels and if it is possible this month. There are multiple difficult pitches stacked on top of each other, long run outs, and there is also a two hour trek in to the base.
I will be climbing with Edu Marin. He was my partner on my project last year in The Dolomites – Bellavista – and we are motivated to embark on another challenging journey!
Over the past weeks, I have been reflecting a lot on memories with my Dad who passed away just a month ago. Writing has always been an outlet for me to express my thoughts and to find my quiet space even amidst crowded spaces. Below is something that I have written about him.
“Every time someone dies it leaves space inside you. That space signifies the effect that person had on your life and the amount of love between you.
The larger this space, the greater the love.”
My dad taught me to dream. He was a dreamer.
He dreamt dreams bigger than him and he aspired ruthlessly towards achieving them. He taught me to follow my heart, and to live for my passions.
He had a heart of gold, and I am so thankful for having been brought up with his love. I know that my dad wants my family to love each other and to stay strong. Through this we can come together and fill the void of his physical space with our closeness. While he may not be here now, he is still watching over me with love.
Whenever I drove home from training and pulled the car in to park in the space behind our house, I would look up. Peering out of our kitchen window was my dad watching me. I would get so frustrated! In my mind, he was watching me to make sure I wasn’t going to scratch the car as I parked. While that may be true, I also like to look back and believe that like all other times, he was just watching me. Wherever I was in the world, he would be watching.
When he could make it to my competitions, he would, and he would proudly stand there with my mom, putting his thumbs up. If he couldn’t be there, he would be up watching me from home, whatever the time zone difference. Generally I was adamant to show my dad that I could do it all on my own. But, whenever I gave him an opportunity to do something for me, he went above and beyond the task to show that he was there.
Last June I was leaving to Spain from New York. I went straight from an event in New York to the airport, and I needed to be in Spain for an event the next day. I was going to be gone for the rest of the summer. While I was in the taxi to the airport, I realized that I didn’t have my passport. I called my Dad, who was at his marina in Baltimore, and I told him that I had an emergency. My passport was on my desk in Virginia. He was in the middle of work, and he told me that he would get in the car and drive to the house right away to get it.
An hour later, after he drove in the opposite direction of New York, from Baltimore to our house, he had retrieved my passport, and was calling to tell me that he was on his way to New York. I told the lady at the airport check in that my dad was on his way from Virginia. I got the last flight out that night and I waited anxiously for him. He had just over four hours to make it there for me to make my flight. The airport staff and I were cheering as he ran in to the airport, minutes before my flight departure, with the passport in his hand. He handed it off to me, and told me what he always said:
Do your best!
We high fived, and he pulled me in for a quick hug, and then I made out on a sprint to the plane.
While his physical presence may not have been with me around the world, he was always there. He may have a different angle now, but I know that he is still watching my family and me. This space that I feel is what I mourn.
But the space is a gift from his departure. He has left space for something new, a space for something beautiful. My dad would like me to fill this space with passionate dreams, and with the fearless ability to go after those dreams.
Thank you Dad, for teaching me to live my dreams. You will always be with me in my pursuit of them.
Finding the Flow
I wrote this just before my mom called me about my Dad having a stroke, and it is motivating me through these hard moments. I hope it can motivate you to find your flow in whatever you are passionate about, too.
How I find my "Flow"
For me, it is the moment that everything clicks. All of my senses feel completely aware of and in tune to what I am doing. I grab the rock and my fingers fall perfectly into place around the best parts of the hold. My body twists naturally into the moves. When I place my feet, I know that they are going to stay. I don’t doubt my rhythm – the pace feels regulated. I can breathe easily. The abrasive bite of the rock helps me; the pain in my hands feels like a connection between the wall and me. Gravity is weakened. Falling is out of my mind. I am only thinking about the next moves in front of me. I am concentrated on controlling my breathing.
When I find my flow, I feel limitless.
That said, I found my flow yesterday and I completed another first female ascent that I am proud of! I went to Wolf Point again with Blake, Erynn, Matt, Kyle, Vance, and Travis. I had the intention of sending “Remis.” Remis is a beautiful, clean line up the steep limestone cave. The line cuts left at the cliff bulge, where the crux of the route is. There are some powerful moves at the beginning, but the main difficult section involves doing a “slam-dunk” move to a good hueco hold off of two smaller pockets and a right hand small intermediate. I sent Remis my first try of the day, and decided to carry the momentum past the first set of chains to check out the moves on “Remed Out,” the extension that is 120 feet long and 200 times more exposed. All of the moves came to me with ease, but I knew that I would be much more tired piecing them together in a solid burn. After the initial set of anchors, there is a bouldery crux, followed by exposed, technical climbing up a vertical face, then cutting left to an arête. I came down from the top, thankful to have used an 80 meter rope because when I arrived back at the ground, the rope was about to go through my belayer’s end. After taking a break and hanging out with the crew on the ground of the cave, I went up again thinking that I would do a beta burn – to find the most efficient methods through some of the harder moves. I climbed through Remis and still felt fresh, so I figured I should keep climbing through the entry moves of the extension without stopping. Climbing through the bouldery crux just after the first set of anchors felt oddly easier. My hands were falling perfectly into place in the pockets, and I was gaining confidence in the fact that I had complete control of my breath.
I find that often when I have sent harder climbs I leave the ground with little expectations. The times that I am not thinking about the top, but rather I am thinking about executing isolated sequences smoothly are the times that I then find myself at the anchors. Stressing out about trying to send a project feels inevitable, but when I can find that balance between trying hard, and also letting myself go; trusting myself, and not being afraid to fall because this thought doesn’t even cross my mind is when I do best climbing.
I am ready for a harder project, now =]
Wind and Rattle
Today marks the end of the first week of my trip in Wyoming.
Upon arriving, I met Mandy Pohja and Brian Fabel in Jackson Hole and we drove to their house in Lander. Mandy and Brian are the most welcoming, down to earth, friendly people I have ever met. They had a BBQ at their house the first night and I met a handful of local Lander climbers.
The next days, I went to Wolf Point with a group of them, including Kyle Elmquist, BJ Tilden, Kyle Vasso, Tom Rangitsch, and Inge Perkins. Also a part of the crew are Blake and Erynn Cash from Tennessee! Although I had never met anyone from the Wyoming climbing community prior to this trip, I feel so at home here. The energy is really positive and encouraging, and the psyche is high. Not to mention, the bar is high; everyone is pushing hard climbing and working out the new lines.
The place that we have been climbing is called Wolf Point. This area is very new, and the rock is Dolomite Limestone. The cave is actually a little daunting – it is tall and steep, without many obvious holds. To get to the cliff, you need a high clearance truck with four-wheel drive. After an hour of driving, there is an hour trek in. First, 1500 feet down the valley, then after crossing the rapid river, there is a 1000 foot vertical trek.
I find the climbing very physical. Long, powerful moves are typically my weakness, and I get to climb a lot of them here. While the climbing is hard, I know that this is good for my improvement and I can feel my shape improving.
Because the rock is so fresh, too, the skin is certainly a fighting factor.
So far, I have had some success, and some failure. I have also had a lot of fun, made some amazingly genuine new friends, and experienced the wildest outback.
Animal sightings thus far: Bison, a Grizzly Bear, Antelope, lamas, and … NO rattle snakes. Yet. But, they do say Wind and Rattle Snakes. So… every day that we don’t see one, I feel like our odds are more and more against us.
We are at a junction with pure projecting and new media culture circling around climbing...
Climbing is growing exponentially. Similar to more people starting climbing, there is also more attention being driven to climbing. In general, I think that this is great. More publicity for the sport doesn’t just mean more people to share the passion of climbing with, but it also means more funds are available to enable accessibility, gear, training, equipment improvements, rapid progression, and also the possibility of professional climbers making enough of an income to be true professional athletes.
With the progression of climbing and with more people getting involved with climbing, First Ascents and First Female Ascents become more rare at popular areas. So, how do we manage who has access to these routes? Sure, new development is crucial, yet when there is a standing project bolted and the person that has equipped this route opens it up to the climbing community to try, and then everyone should have equal opportunity to try it, right?
This is a controversy that may be occurring more often than before.
Production companies need to film climbers in order to produce climbing videos. Furthermore, story lines are important for the success of the videos.
When professional climbers decide on a project to film, this, at least for me, is a unique experience of finding what is aesthetically inspiring, physically challenging, and has that extraordinary special factor to it in my eyes. This extraordinary factor includes the line being undone before, or for women, undone by other females. First ascents and First Female ascents are proud because essentially they open the flood gates to everyone else – they prove that a stream of movements all link together and that the climbing is possible.
Someone asked me a good question about the climbing and filming process during my Reddit AMA
I have been contemplating this topic more heavily recently, and a current controversy sparked my interest to convey my thoughts.
I have told several media outlets and friends about my plans to try Iker Pou’s route, Orbayu in Northern Spain with Edu Marin, my climbing partner from Bellavista. Iker Pou established the route a few years ago, and since, the route has seen few ascents, and no women. We had arranged media and aligned our sponsors with the project proposal, yet this morning I received a message from a friend of mine from Switzerland, Nina Caprez, informing me that this has been her dream project and that her and her boyfriend, Cedric Lachat, have plans to rig the route with static lines and equipment for the film crew in June, and then they will be on the wall and try to complete it by August.
I have tremendous respect for both Nina and Cedric as professional climbers. Due to this respect for them, I have decided that I am not going to intertwine myself with doing this route this summer because their film agenda already seems prebaked; but, perhaps if you’re making a film about a piece, then have designated times to be filming and not be filming and climbing at the same time. Multipitch projects are difficult because people cannot exactly climb the route at the same time, but there could be windows of opportunity as a solution, perhaps. Then, maybe projects like this are real duels… who does the ascent first does the first (female) ascent.
No one should have the right to claim the first ascent if it’s an open project; but at what point has a claim been developed enough to a point that as one professional climber to another, you respect that person’s film project and go elsewhere to try a different route?
That said, I have the utmost respect for the initial bolter. I believe that if he or she would like to take ownership or flag the line that he or she bolts and cleans for a designated amount of time, this is completely valid. Though, when the lines get blurred is when someone else has bolted the route and left it open to anyone to try.
A prime example of me having the privilege to climb an Open Project was in South Africa. There were two routes that I did that were Open Projects. One of which, the film that I produced with 3StringsMedia, RedBull, and Adidas was on a climb that was bolted by Andrew Pedley and left standing open to anyone to try. I felt so lucky to have come across this precious gem, and to have had the opportunity to go for the first ascent. Sure, other people were working on the climb and trying to do the first ascent as well. Though, it was not clearly in my domain to say – Hey, don’t try the route –my film crew and sponsors have already invested in this project. Maybe were I to have freshly bolted the line and wanted to have the first opportunity to try it after cleaning it and finding it, then I would think that I deserve a designated window to work on doing it first. But, if I were not to be able to in that window, in my opinion I would open the route then to share it with the community and to cheer for the people who may be able to climb stronger than me on it.
Really, it is hard to rule out media from climbing. In my opinion, ruling it out is not a good idea at all – climbs should be documented, and also I love to watch climbing at its cutting edge. Though, there needs to be a more inclusive way to deal with multiple people trying the same project - even if it comes down to failure within videos. Trying a new project may be time consuming and take years. One of my inspirations, Chris Sharma, admitted this himself with several of his achievements. What was really unique to me about the Reel Rock Tour 7 was that both Adam and Chris were vying for the first ascent together. This was a great way to capture this notion of projecting and to shine light on both athletes performing at their best for themselves in order to complete the climb.
Going to Reno, I had a small scale Vegas in mind. When I thought of Reno, I thought casinos, smoke, neon lights, and legal prostitution. When I was in Reno, I didn’t experience even a hint of any of this. I know, I didn’t go to any sort of Emperor’s Club… I am sorry if you’re surprised!
What I did experience was climbing a multi pitch up the side of a building, an enthusiastic community of climbers, white water kayaking, and rock climbing. The initiative of the trip was to do an appearance at the Base Camp Climbing Gym’s reopening with Kevin Jorgeson. I climbed the outdoor multipitch wall, participated in the “Pro’s vs Joe’s” Competition, in which my team won – Go Senderellas! – And gave a slide show Saturday night. Sunday, Kevin and I taught a clinic at the gym and did a little bit of climbing ourselves, and then we went kayaking in downtown Reno!
Running straight through Reno is the Truckee river, which then dumps into a white water park in the center of the downtown area. We started 2-3 miles north and kayaked down the river. Jason Craig, one of the World’s best freestyle kayakers took Kevin and me down the river and gave us a clinic on white water kayaking. It was truly inspirational to see him in his element, showing us some of his tricks like front flips and backflips in the kayak. Being a complete beginner at a new sport was also a rewarding experience. The water is like the antithesis of me – I get internally petrified when I am stuck under water more than a few seconds, and I am concerned with creatures I can’t see lurking in the waters. But, I was having so much fun that these fears didn’t really faze me. It helps to have such an expert along, no doubt!
To top the day off, we visited Jason’s farm, had a BBQ outside, and sat outside under the lit up night sky.
The next day Brian Sweeney took us to Donner’s Summit to climb at the Star Wall. I felt so rejuvenated to be back on real rock. With school and weekend events it is really difficult to get to go climbing outside often, so now it feels like a real treat. It had been since my Spring Break in March when I was last climbing outside. I am so thankful that it is SUMMER! We did some sending on the Star Wall, then drove back the short 40 minutes distance to Reno and got back in the water with Jason!
Unfortunately, the trip came to a close the next day and it was back to the airport. Though, I fell in love with the scene in Reno and I have full confidence that this town has a promising outdoors future. I will definitely be returning shortly, and I envision great potential events for the venue that BaseCamp and the Whitney Hotel have.
Live with Al Roker and Steph Abrams!
A Weekend Trip to Seoul
An nyung haseyo? I am now leaving Seoul, Korea, after a wonderful weekend. This was a very short trip – I flew in on Saturday and flew out on Monday. Though, I had a great time for the little time I had!
The purpose of my trip to Korea was for the Adidas Rockstars Event in Korea. I had a packed media tour during the event where I did interviews and met with the Adidas crew in Korea. Also along on the trip was Alex Nehls from Global. I love meeting with everyone from the company and having the chance to work together from an athlete-business perspective.
Each time I have been to Asia I have been so impressed by the kind hospitality and warm welcomes. Everyone in Seoul was so genuine and I truly appreciated getting to experience a new country and culture. While the trip was short, we got to see some of the city attractions, including having lunch at the top of N-Tower, I put a lock in the love chains, and we had traditional Korean food, including Korean BBQ which was delicious.
Now I am headed to NYC for a 2-day media tour with my agent and publicist. Then, I am going to Montreal for my brother’s graduation from McGill University, and then to Reno, NV for a gym opening!
Stay tuned for more later =] I am currently reading Agassi’s book, Open. Now that school is done for the summer, I get to do some pleasure reading!
I Believe in the Power of Summer
This week I finished my final exams at Columbia University, packed up all of my stuff from where I lived uptown, moved it to my new apartment downtown, and then I drove down from NYC to Richmond, VA for the annual Dominion Riverrock Festival. I was really excited to be back and climbing. I injured my knee and took time off to heal, so this was my first opportunity back and in the competition arena.
Supposedly one of, if not the, largest outdoor sports and music festivals in the nation, Dominion Riverrock is always packed with palpable energy, positive vibes, and awesome people. I love it! For the past three years, there has been an innovative “Boulder Bash” competition, in which climbers from around the country come to compete on an unordinary wall: two 25 foot roofs held together by scaffolding and pieced with separate hanging volume structures, which are decorated by climbing holds.
I went to the first Dominion Riverrock Boulder Bash, in 2011, and have come every consecutive year since. The past three years I also had the fortunate experience of winning the competition.
The best part is that when you get to the top of the wall, there is a platform to stand on and to look out at the amazing crowd.
This year I didn’t have the performance that I wanted to have in the final round, which landed me out of the winner’s circle. The route was challenging: it was very powerful and gymnastic on sloped SoIll holds, reffered to (as they appear) as the “dead baby heads.” Meagan Martin, one of my best friends who currently lives in Boulder, CO, proved total mastery of these heads. She was the only competitor in finals to top the route, and I want to extend a big congrats to her on her finals performance. She earned the W!
While I was not very happy with my climbing at Dominion, I still had a lot of fun seeing all of my friends, getting to meet a lot of wonderful people, and being outside in the warm summer sun.
With Exams freshly finished and a healthy, recovered body, I am so motivated for this summer! While being in NYC, I love the city, but I really miss having the opportunity to go outside as often as I’d like to go, given schoolwork. My schedule can get pretty packed between school work, training, events, media, and speaking engagements that time falls into this vault. There is rarely a point during my school year during which I feel like I have complete free time. There is always something that I could be doing that is more productive…
But this is probably not something that fades. During the summer time, though, it feels like most of my stress does evaporate, though, when I get back into a routine of living my life outside. Therefore, I have structured my schedule this summer to focus around climbing trips in a fewer places this year than last, but all in areas that I have either been longing to go to, or love to frequent. I will be doing scattered competitions and appearances, climbing outside, and following whatever adventure seems most appealing!
So, stay tuned for my summer adventures =]
First stop: Korea!!!
I am headed to Seoul for the Adidas Rockstars Event. Yahoooooo!
April 20, 2014 First Post!
Happy Easter! Welcome to my first blog post on my new website! I'm currently working on bringing my old blog back from the cyberspace graveyard, but for now, please enjoy these posts about my adventures!