Wall Dancing & Puzzle Solving

Ashima

THE CLIMBER’S LIFE. Ashima Shiraishi on why she climbs.

Just when we thought we had shared the most awesome recent story from the world of climbing, now this profile, which helps us see dancing and puzzle-solving where we once saw expeditions:

…Ungrudgingly admired by seasoned dirtbags and muscular young rock rats, she is, even though still young, perhaps the first female climber whose accomplishments may transcend gender, and the first rock climber who could become a household name. There have been articles and photo spreads in newspapers and sports magazines, films and countless YouTube clips, an appearance on Time s list of America’s most influential teen-agers, and, of course, a TEDtalk. (She’s no Tony Robbins, but she held her own.) Amid all this, she still lives with her parents in a rent-controlled loft on West Twenty-sixth Street and trains five days a week, under the eye of her father, who, many years ago, gave up Butoh to coach and guide her.

Every ascent combines, to varying degrees, elements of technical skill, physical strength, imagination, concentration, and tolerance for risk. Climbers are stronger in some elements than in others and so favor certain disciplines. The various approaches depend in large part on the extent and the manner of “protection”—the cams, nuts, bolts, and pitons that support the rope, and the climber attached to it. Sport climbing takes place on routes, either in gyms or outdoors, that have fixed protection; you hook your rope into existing bolts. “Trad” (traditional) involves climbing outdoors and putting in your own protection as you go. Free soloing is climbing without protection. You fall, you die.
Bouldering consists of short routes, or “problems,” of no higher than twenty feet or so, on freestanding boulders and accessible overhangs or in climbing gyms. Boulderers eschew protection—you fall, you ache. Bouldering, the Patagonia founder and rock-climbing pioneer Yvon Chouinard once said, is “instant suffering.”

Bouldering was for years just a way to goof off or train between big ascents. Starting in the fifties, John Gill, a mathematician and gymnast from Georgia, made bouldering a discipline unto itself. There was little glory to be found in standing atop a twenty-foot rock, so it was all about how you got there: means over end. This is where the idea arose of boulders as problems. Gill advocated style, power, and grace, and considered bouldering to be a variation on gymnastics, as well as a form both of personal expression and of moving meditation. He was the first to use gymnastics chalk (now commonplace) to keep the hands dry.

Ashima excels at sport climbing and bouldering. She is a gym-era child who nevertheless climbs outside whenever she can. That’s where you make a name for yourself. Still, she claims to have no interest in the big walls of Yosemite, to say nothing of serious mountaineering. “I’m not really into Alpine,” she told me. “I don’t like the cold. I don’t like ice or snow.” She prefers the pocked syenite humps of the Hueco Tanks, near El Paso—a bouldering Mecca. (She spent the Thanksgiving weekend there, with her father and some older climbing friends.) For her, a climb is a puzzle, not an expedition…

Read the whole profile here.

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