Ashima Shiraishi is, objectively, amazing. Just a few days ago, the 14 year old climber from New York became the youngest person ever to send a V15 boulder problem. If you’re not a climber, you might not have a good sense at just how remarkable an achievement V15 is, but it’s the kind of grade that most of us regular climbers would never even dare to dream of. I don’t know it totally captures the sheer difficulty of what a V15 boulder problem looks like, but note that the photo above is not a top-down shot.
I remember seeing the short film Obe and Ashima (trailer) at a Reel Rock film festival a few years back and loving its coverage of the then-nine-year-old Ashima and her coach Obe Carrion, once also a world-class climber.
There are several sports in which women do not seem to be given the same competitive opportunities as men (see Tracy’s post here) but in outdoor climbing, the rocks don’t get switched out for different climbers. When Ashima sends V15, she’s not sending a women’s V15, she’s sending a V15 boulder problem that anybody could try, but only a handful of people in the world (of any gender) could successfully complete.
Now, there is certainly still sexism in climbing and I’ve seen enough examples of it myself. But part of the beauty of climbing rocks is that it’s all about matching your body and its capabilities with the holds that are there for you. There are lots of problems in which a larger, more powerful climber, might make a big move that might not be possible for a smaller person. But a more compact person with smaller hands might see more potential handholds and use finger strength and balance instead of shoulder and arm strength.
There are not many big names in women’s climbing, with some exceptions, like the spectacular Lynn Hill. And certainly many more first ascents have been made by men. But there are also a lot of misconceptions about climbing that make it easy for people to think that it’s better suited to men. For instance, while a strong upper body is certainly a good thing, someone using good technique will use their core and legs as much, if not more, on many climbs. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more women and girls demonstrating the diversity of ways in which people with different kinds of physical strengths can solve problems. And I also can’t wait to see what Ashima does next.