10 Questions with Shawn Diamond

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Photo by J.M. Casanova

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Q: Shawn, give me the short Auto-biografíe.

A: Born Shawn Diamond in March 1983 – 23 years old now and always a LA resident. My official first climb was a ride up Mount Whitney in the womb of my mother. I came from a pretty tough family of Diamonds. A marathon-running mother, spinning and backpacking father and sister, as well as a chocolate lab, Lucy, (like in the sky with)! My parents took me into the gym when I was a tiny 4-foot-something teenager with stinky feet. I’ve been climbing nearly eight years, with experience in world competition and a love for mountains, cliffs, boulders, blocs, and choss.

Q: What are you doing in Europe right now?

A: At the moment, I’m on a six-week road trip through europe. I’ve lucked out to have been born into a family of climbers and outdoors people and even luckier that they find joy expensing my European adventures – YES! Its my fifth trip in Europe, and my first with a girlfriend, Kali. So far, I have been in Ceüse alone and with a friend from UCLA, Mike Nash, a little over a week and staying a little longer. Then I’m going to pick up Kali in Paris and head off on an extravagant trip consisting of adventures in French Patisseries, Vin Rouge, countryside mountains and cliffs – this time funded by my work as a Laboratory Technician at UCLA in the Department of Arts Ceramics Studio. On rest days, I’ve been spending the whole day crammed into Internet places, battling French keyboards and shoot’em-up game players, hoping to finish the rest of my heinous secondary applications for medical school (enrolling in fall 2007). I can’t even name the number of times I’ve had to explain the hows and whys – climbing has influenced my choice for medicine and will help in the future.

Q: I saw Dave Graham do Ba Ba Blacksheep in the climbing movie Autoroute. Is that where you became interested in it?

A: Actually, I showed up to Ceüse in 2002 only a day or so after Dave got the first ascent, when Rob Frost was out filming Autoroute with Tim Kemple, Joe Kinder, Luke Parady. It was the year after Chris sent Realization. Everyone could still feel that achievement heavy around the campground and in Dave’s consciousness. At the time, I rolled into the campground alone. I had escaped from a World Cup in Trento and traveled 14 hours to Gap and then to the Guerins campground.

Its funny how walls look less steep, maybe shorter, possibly the holds even appear bigger over the years. That’s been the case. I tried Blacksheep last year as a joint effort with Biografíe. I chose Biografíe last summer and had the best send – (or half-send)- of my life but had to leave Europe bummed that I couldnt finish Blacksheep. Well, I came back for it, and it worked. Now, its back to trying the REAL thing.

As far as grades, I feel like the type of climbing on Ba Ba Blacksheep is much more my style than Biografíe. It’s a lot more bouldery with moderate rests than it is a climb of resistance against the clock. I think both of those routes are pretty confirmed as SOLID 8c+s and at one time or another thought of as possible 9a’s. So, if anyone were to translate grades, one may say (being politically correct) that it is my opinion only that it’s hard 5.14 — that could mean 5.14c or 5.14c/d.

Q: What's next on the radar?

A: Well, this may be the last climbing trip for a little while. I currently have to finish all my medical school applications and undergo innumerrous interviews (way less fun than this one) around the country. I only picked schools near good climbing and gyms!

I will always have my eye on the top of Biografíe. That route has always manifested as a dream, and I don’t know whether it will ever be my time or place to bring it down to reality, to Realization.

However, I plan on bouldering a lot this winter, as I missed out on it due to a finger injury this past year. There are so many projects still waiting for first ascents and discovery up in my training grounds and home — the Buttermilks.

Q: You have Crohns Disease, right? What is Crohns?

A: Crohns is an auto-immune disorder of the intestines. In English that means my body’s immune cells attack normal tissue in my bowels resulting in ulcer like soars and inflammation. Symptoms for me have been extreme pain and cramping, anemia, and about anything that can go wrong with the stomach. My case required nearly 14 surgeries to take care of — the last in April of 2005 — only a few months before I did Biographie. Being sick for two years offers much time to reconsider what aspects of life outside the hospital are of value. I couldn’t keep my thoughts from climbing, the places where I climb, my partners and foreign foods. After surgery and sickness my body finally worked better than it had in years. I absorbed nutrients but remained light. I could withstand more pain than before, and I REALLY wanted to climb — harder than I ever did. So ... I went for it.

Q: And you recently had a pretty serious finger injury?

A: I ruptured my DFP tendon in December of this year, in Bishop. That’s the tendon that flexes the last digit of your fingers - the one hurt being my left middle. As with anything I do — this my first climbing injury ever — I had to go all out! Repairing the injury required one immediate surgery a few days after the accident. Knowing I wouldn’t climb for months, I drove back to Bishop for a day climbing in the Happies with a friend. I did a few V9s with the broken finger, before driving home to LA to be put under. In April, after studying for and taking the MCAT for medical school, I underwent a follow-up surgery to clean up adhesive tissue around the A2 pulley to extend mobility to the last joint. A month after that surgery and much physical therapy later, I started to climb. It was like coming back for a 15th time after surgery — except now my butt and body were filled with months worth of pastries instead of famished. In all honesty I had no idea what I or the finger would be capable of. Eventually my body started to work again. First I learned to connect to my feet - technique came back. Then I started to get the finger strong. I booked my plane ticket to go to europe with the intention of traveling with a girlfriend. But I pulled a sly move. I chose to climb in Ceüse for a little under three weeks, before her arrival and our trip of beaches, chocolate croissants, and plushy hotels. I pulled on Blackseep on the first day, and thought it may be possible. On the second day, on my second try, I fell at the crux. I had no expectations, because of the finger, and simply wanted to see how it would go. I climbed calm and excited to be in France. Everything including that last digit of my left finger pulled through in the end.

Q: Who inspires your climbing right now?

A: All the old Sierra climbers still impress me the most. Royal Robbins, Galen Rowell, and Lynn Hill. Some of the lines they did in the backcountry years ago are amazing, hard, and hardly ever seen anymore if not done. I’m most inspired by the people able and willing to hike, backpack, and find new climbs – alpine trad or bouldering WAY off the beaten path. Climbing a two-move V13 stepping off the road is much less impressive than a 2,000-foot granite 5.5 around Kings Canyon.

Q: How do you prepare for a hard redpoint?

A: At Ceüse it starts with DIET. A proper diet consists of a morning banana, yogurt with muesli, a vegetable salad with ham and cheese, and then a super-rad dinner. Usually an absolutely massive amount of meat, pizza or pasta followed by litres of wine, and tons of chocolate – this is not limited to pastries, crepes or the most ultimate of all – the Gaufre avec Nutella – a Belgian-style waffle homemade and piping hot with melted-butter Nutella!

Its all about staying REALLY psyched, that’s honestly how all hard climbers climb hard. It’s no accident that Joe and Dave are REALLY excited to climb. We feel extreme joy when crimping absolutely hard as hell!

Q: Do you train?

A: YES! With the "Crimp Club" in LA. But, our first rule isn’t to speak of it — our methods, our conclusions, and our academic measures.

Q: What music are you listening to right now?

A: On the Internet I like KCRWs Morning Becomes Eclectic, and Air is on right now to get me into the French mood. Ask Peter Mortimer though — the maker of Return2Sender and First Ascent — what’s bumpin’ on my iPod during a redpoint. He will say without hesitation Christina Aguilera, and she was beltin out "Ain’t No Other Man" during Blacksheep.

Thanks, Shawn.

Welcome — and I’m looking for partners interested in backcountry bouldering, too, if anyone’s game to get away from roads!