Ashima Shiraishi Climbs First V15

The 14-year-old New York crusher has set a new bouldering standard
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James Lucas
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The 14-year-old New York crusher has set a new bouldering standard

On March 22, 2016, Ashima Shiraishi made the second ascent of Horizon (V15) on Mt. Hiei, on the southern island of Kyushu, near Miyazaki, Japan. Shiraishi, who turned 15 on April 3, is the youngest person to ever climb V15 and also the first female to boulder the grade.

In 2014, Shiraishi climbed Golden Shadow in Rocklands South Africa making her one of only five women to climb V14. In December of 2015, she climbed Phenomena in Hinokage, Japan, a V14 that Dai Koyamada established. Koyamada and Shiraishi climbed extensively together over the years. Koyamada suggested Shiraishi try Horizon.

Last December, Shiraishi fell off the last move of the problem three times due to a wet hold. This trip, during spring break from her high school in New York City, Shiraishi completed the difficult line. "After a rough day yesterday, she got on today looking fierce, focused, and strong. She made history," wrote Brett Lowell on his Instagram account. Lowell in conjunction with BigUp Climbing is documenting Shiraishi and Koyamada's climbing for Reel Rock 11.

Dai Koyamada found the Horizon boulder in 2012 while exploring near the Buddhist enclave on Mt Hei. "I had never seen such a massive granite boulder with continuous holds. Ease of access is also great, and I got really excited that I met this fantastic project!" said Koyamada in his May 2015 blog. "It was nothing but the 'Super Project.'" The granite roof follows a line of cracks and small holds for thirty moves and for three years, Koyamada worked on the "Super Project."

The 39-year-old Koyamada has climbed 25 problems at V15 and harder, potentially more than anyone else. He also completed the first ascent of the massive Wheel of Life (V15) link-up in the Grampians of Australia, and in 2012 he added a low start to Dave Graham’s The Story of Two Worlds in Switzerland, creating a possible V16. In May of 2015, he completed the first ascent of Horizon, and suggested that the problem was likely hard V15 or V16.

"So I can say for sure the grade of this problem is at least V15, but I’m not sure where it exactly fits within the range of V15. Is it in the upper 15 region, or beyond 15 and in the realm of 16- I can’t tell,” wrote Koyamada on his blog. He believed the grade would be hard to accurately determine because there were so few problems of a similar length and difficulty to compare it to. Other repeats will confirm the grade but it seems unlikely to be down rated.

One year ago, Shiraishi climbed Open Your Mind Direct in Santa Linya, Spain. Originally graded 5.14d, a broken hold prompted some climbers to suggest a new grade of 5.15. Shiraishi was the first to repeat the route after the hold broke. In early April of 2016, Daniel Woods repeated the route and called it 5.14d on Instagram. Climbing writer Andrew Bisharat suggested in his blog, Setting and Revising the Climbing Record, that the original sequence remained intact despite the broken hold. 

It’s possible that the grade of Open Your Mind Direct is 5.14d. The debate continues as to whether Shirashi was the youngest person to climb 5.15a. Further ascents of Horizon need to be done to solidify her V15 ascent, though it will likely stand. As Koyamada wrote in his blog, “Grading in climbing has a negative aspect. Dry numbers sometimes spoil great climbing and great problems.”