Sasha DiGiulian / The state of the art of women's climbing
Top American climber Sasha DiGiulian talks to planetmountain.com about the current state of female sport climbing, starting from the latest great ascents carried out Margo Hayes and Anak Verhoeven.
Recent times will be remembered as a turning point for women’s sport climbing, with an increasing number of cuttings-edge climbs being carried out across the entire vertical spectrum, from bouldering to big wall climbing, mountain routes, sport and trad climbing. Stand out moments in sport climbing this year include the first female 9a+, carried out by America’s Margo Hayes who last February redpointed La Rambla at Siurana in Spain to finally raise the bar set by Basque powerhouse Josune Bereziartu back in 2005 with her ascent of the 9a/9a+ Bimbaluna at Saint Loup in Switzerland. In sending this 9a+ reference route Hayes became the first woman in the world to master this level of difficulty (international recognition of this outstanding performance came in the form of the prestigious Wild Country Rock Award at the Arco Rock Legends), while in September Hayes confirmed her immense class by clinching the first female ascent of one of the most famous sport climbs of all, Biographie at Céüse, France. September witnessed another standout moment, namely the first ascent of Sweet Neuf at Pierrot Beach in France at the hands of Belgium’s Anak Verhoeven who in doing so - should the grade be confirmed - became the second woman in the world to climb 9a+ and the first to free a route of these difficulties. In order to place this extraordinary feats into context, we reached out to top American climber Sasha DiGiulian. After years of competitions, numerous sports climbs up to 9a and a flurry of multi-pitches up to 8c, DiGiulian can certainly provide absolutely unique insight onto the current state of play of female climbing. Also because she is an ambassador for Women's Sports Foundation, the educational nonprofit charity focused on female involvement in sports founded in 1974 by Billie Jean King, considered one of the greatest tennis players of all times.
Straight off Sasha: is climbing a question of sexes? I.e., do we need need to make a distinction between male and female ascents?
I believe that men and women are equally capable in climbing. Physiologically, there are differences. Though, climbing offers a multitude of style and potential that enables women to achieve as hard, maybe even harder, climbs as men.
After having climbed Bain de Sang, the world's first female 9a, Josune Bereziartu told us "I never wanted to compete against the boys. Sometimes, maybe when I climbed strong, I like to say that maybe I inspired some men to climb harder." What do you think about this?
I totally agree with this statement. Climbing means different things to different people. We are each creating our own path and following our individual passion. This is what is important: to follow your heart, push yourself, and have gratitude for the opportunities that we each individually live day to day.
There's been much talk about first female ascents. How important are these and what do they show?
I believe, and always have, that First Female Ascents are significant, when the climb is significant. First ascents and first female ascents are historical benchmarks in our sport and both should be highlighted. Clearly, if women can do more first ascents, in general, this is ideal.
Earlier this year Margo Hayes successfully climbed the world’s first female 9a+. What was your reaction when you heard this news?
Incredibly inspiring. As our sport evolves, each generation will continue to push the standard, and to expand our knowledge of what is possible. Both Margo Hayes and Ashima Shiraishi, to just name two, have done this. I have known Margo for many years, now. I knew when I met her that she was a girl that had a fire of a passion for climbing and that she would excel. It is beautiful to see her career blossom and I find inspiration in what she has achieved. I am excited to see what more she is capable of!
And what did you think when you heard about the first ascent of the 9a+ Sweet Neuf in France, carried out by Anak Verhoeven?
The fact that Anak has arrived to the 9a+ level as well speaks volumes to how much women have continued to grow as far as climbing achievements. From what I understand, this was a fair grade to assign to the climb. The fact that she had the vision and confidence to define something that had never been done before as possible is notable!
In late September Hayes confirmed her 9a+ form by making the first female ascent of one of the most coveted sport climbs of all. What sprung to mind when you heard about her redpoint of Biographie at Ceuse?
I thought: GO MARGO! I hope that we as not just women, but the collectiveness of our community, can all support each other’s achievements. Self esteem is the pre requisite to equality and success.
Who in the past has inspired you for your climbing?
Sport climbing also took another giant step forward when Adam Ondra freed Silence at Flatanger in Norway, the world's first 9c
In my opinion Adam Ondra is the best all around climber in the world. There are few people in our sport that can dominante so many categories at the highest level. I find his achievement of 9c to be another emblematic benchmark that he has contributed to our sport.
You've recently returned from a difficult multi-pitch in Madagascar. Before that you freed a big wall in Yosemite, while in the past you've climbed hard in the Dolomites, on the Eiger, in Sardinia, not to mention the plethora of hard sport climbs and your studies. So what are your objectives now Sasha?
I am passionate about exploring new places, using my platform that I have created through climbing to make the world a more positive, healthy, and respectful place, and to push my limits in my own athletic ability on new adventures. Following my heart and recognizing the gratitude that I have for where my journey has brought me and all that is in the future is exciting. ;-)
Link: FB Sasha DiGiulian, www.sasha-digiulian.com, Petzl, La Sportiva, www.womenssportsfoundation.org