posted by dpm on 03/21/2012
Yesterday, in Hueco Tanks, Ashima Shiraishi sent Crown of Aragorn (V13) to become the youngest and cutest person to have climbed the grade. It’s interesting to look back at Ashima’s linear progression over the years. In 2006 she began climbing in Central Park, New York in her tennis shoes. Three years later, at the age of 8, she took her first trip to Hueco Tanks and sent Power of Silence (V10).
In March of last year, she visited Hueco again and came away with Chblanke and Rogered in the Shower (both V11) and Right Martini (V12). Then the following fall she visited the Red River Gorge of Kentucky where she onsighted The Return of Darth Moll (5.13b/c) and redpointed Swingline (5.13d). Six months later, she’s pulled off Crown of Aragorn (V13) to become the youngest person to climb the grade, probably by a few years. If Adam Ondra’s 8a scorecard is comprehensive, his first V13 was at the age of 15 and his first 5.13d was at the age of 11. This is not to say someone younger than 15 hasn’t climbed the grade of V13 but it is does provide perspective from another child prodigy.
A few days ago we posted a video of 12-year-old Drew Ruana climbing the 5.13d Vicious Fish at Smith Rock, Oregon. It was pretty impressive to see the young guy up there fully going for it and taking whippers from the extremely insecure upper crux. One of the comments we got on our Facebook page was, “What is the fascination with children in climbing these days? How about covering the 50-year-olds climbing V10?
So what is the fascination with kids climbing hard? Why does it matter? Kids are strong, they’re resilient, and they weigh 80 pounds. Their little fingers make all the holds feel like jugs, right? I mean, was it really V13 for Ashima? Can you really affix the same grade to a problem that is completely different for someone so little? Watching the video of Ashima on Power of Silence is the classic example. She used completely different beta than the normal ‘adult beta;’ so much so that it wasn’t even the same problem. That said, I feel that if an adult were to try Ashima’s beta on Power of Silence, it would probably be much harder than V10. So why is it impressive to see these youngsters climbing problems and routes that have grades that apply to adults, not kids?
What’s impressive to me has nothing to do with the strength required and everything to do with the accelerated level of motor skills. Watch a normal 10-year-old kid play in the park or ride a bike. They fall down and get hurt. They struggle to shoot a basketball through a hoop, not because they’re not strong enough, but because they haven’t developed the hand-eye coordination that we have as adults.
Climbing requires mastery of multiple body movements simultaneously. Think about the complexity of movement required to climb a hard boulder problem. First, there are the individual movements that require the body and mind to work in harmony. One difficult move may require the mind to control the tension on the toe hook, the subtle shift of the hips, the perfectly arced lunge for the hold out left and the timing to latch it perfectly with the middle finger in the exact right spot. Then you have to deal with memorizing the choreographed movements to link it all together. Climbing a difficult boulder problem is one of the most complex tasks one can ask an undeveloped and inexperienced brain to complete.
Roped climbing becomes even more complex when you add in the mental game of unwarranted fear. We all know sport climbing is generally safe but admit it, you still get scared sport climbing sometimes and it affects your performance. And you, as an adult, probably have a lot more experience than a 10-year-old. It takes most people many years to develop the control required for the complexity of climbing; to be able to sync the body and mind perfectly in the pursuit of execution. Don't forget to add in the mental capacity and development of engrams required for onsighting a difficult and perplexing crux like the one found on The Return of Darth Moll (5.13b/c).
So what’s the fascination with kids? Why not celebrate the hard ascents of old people? The definition of a prodigy is: A person, esp. a young one, endowed with exceptional abilities. Ashima certainly fits the bill. She possesses a natural ability that required very little experience to access and nurture into an elite level. It’s not as impressive to see 50-year-olds climb hard because they’ve mastered the mind-body connection and are limited only by strength. Ashima seems to be limited by nothing.
Ashima, doing what she was born to do, on Crown of Aragorn (V13). Photo: Jason Kehl