Ashima Shiraishi, now 20 years old, has been a climbing celebrity since elementary school and is no stranger to high-performing days. After picking up the sport at age six in New York City’s Central Park, she sent her first V10, Hueco’s Power of Silence, at age eight; her first V11s, Chablanke and Roger in the Shower, when she was nine; her first v13, Crown of Aragorn, when she was 10; and her first 5.14c, Southern Smoke, when she was 11. In the years since, she’s climbed 5.14d/5.15a, bouldered up to V15, won the 2917 Open U.S. Nationals in Sport Climbing, wrote the children’s book, How to Solve a Problem and was profiled by The New Yorker. On a trip to The Master Bedroom near New York City in the autumn of 2015, Shiraishi made the long-awaited second ascent of Matt Bosley’s Nuclear War (V14), then topped the day off by sending Wetness the Fatness (V12) and Reckless (V11).
“HOLY CRAP!!!!” She wrote on Instagram.
But this August, on a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, she had what she says might be her best climbing day so far: She sent the iconic crimp test-piece Jade (V14), a multi-year project of hers, plus Riddles in the Park (V12), Golden Rows of Flows (V11), and Blood Money Stand (V10), another nemesis.
Climbing caught up with Shiraishi when she got back to her home in New York City.
Let’s start with backstory. Jade was something of a multi-year process for you, right?
I first tried it eight years ago, when I was 12, but it felt totally impossible. That big move just felt way too far. I got back on it two years ago and managed to do the crux in isolation. I was using a different method. I took the spike crimp like everyone does, got a really high left foot, then went left hand into the right hand of the Green 45 Stand, using it as an intermediate, then bumped with my left hand to the slot crimp. [It’s the method Brooke Raboutou uses here.] I could do that move in isolation, but couldn’t make it happen from the start. I came back to Jade again last summer, but I didn’t invest as much energy or attention to my climbing last year, so I wasn’t prepared for it physically and it didn’t go particularly well.
What about this year?
I tried it three or four sessions. So I guess, cumulatively, I probably tried Jade for like 15 days. But since it was over a number of years, the problem kind of developed a nemesis feel, even though I never put all that much time into it in any given season.
Was Jade the goal of the trip?
Actually no. It was a pretty short trip—just a week and a half—and I didn’t anticipate it being so productive. I guess sending hard really wasn’t the point. I was there with friends trying to have fun in the mountains. Being able to do Jade and some other hard climbs was gratifying, but it wasn’t why I went there. The fact that my expectations were centered around having a good time rather than performing well—that was probably part of the reason I was able to have my best climbing day yet.
So what did the day look like?
It was supposed to be a rest day. Climbing in the park is physically grueling. You do a lot of hiking, a lot of walking on talus, and the climbing tends to be very physical. For most of the trip, I was on a schedule where I climbed one day and rested two days. I tried climbing one day on, one day off, but my body didn’t handle it well. So, yeah, the day I did Jade I had rested the day before, but I was still pretty wrecked. But most of my crew were visiting the park for the first time and were going for volume and I wanted to get out and support them. Luckily I brought my shoes.
Why did you end up climbing? Just get psyched?
More or less. My main goal was to support my friend on Riddles in the Park, but we made a pitstop at Blood Money and that was where my day started. The stand to Blood Money is only V10, but it’s one of the most anti-style climbs in the Park for me. There’s one move where you kind of lurch out to this gnarly left-hand Gaston, and it’s just really powerful for me. It really wrecks your shoulders. I tried it briefly last year and wrote it off as impossible. But after watching my friends try it, I got psyched on it again, and on my second try I surprised myself by sticking the move. After that it was a total battle because I didn’t want to have to do the move again. [Laughs.] It was sort of a surprise warmup. In hindsight, it really set the tone for the day.
So at that point you were like, “Might as well try Jade?”
Actually it didn’t seem like an option because it started raining. It rained a ton that day. But one of the miraculous things about the park is that things can go from utterly soaked to dry in 45 minutes. During a break in the rain we went over to Green 45 because my friend wanted to try the stand to Jade. Still, I wasn’t sure I’d try. On the one hand, I knew this was my second to last day of climbing in Colorado this trip. On the other hand, I’d been feeling really tired. I was still trying to decide whether to try when it started raining again. And this, actually, was the catalyst I needed. I knew that I had a limited amount of time before the water seeped down the wall onto the crucial holds. So I had to stop thinking about it and either try or not try. Having that commitment device was really important for me because I have a habit of overthinking things; I like to make sure everything is perfectly aligned with how I imagined the moment to be. But because it was raining, and because I was supposed to rest that day, and because the people around me weren’t just there to watch me climb, they were there to climb things themselves—this all cut down the pressure to perform. So I was really relaxed. And I think that made a difference. I didn’t even feel pressure to try my best. I just needed to get on the wall before the rain got to the holds.
Can you walk us through the send?
The start holds felt really humid and moist, but when I pulled on everything just clicked. I think people refer to it as the flow state, but the interesting thing about flow states, for me, is I never know when they’re going to happen. And every time one does happen it feels different. This time everything seemed to happen really fast. I stuck the crux on my first try and was totally shocked. In the video you can actually see me pause and blink a few times; I was so surprised to still be on the wall. After that I was just like, “Okay, now I have to keep going.” Heavy breathing. I was a little frazzled, mentally, but I did the next setup move and then the hard move on the stand, and it was over. The top was soaked, and it was actively raining, but it turned out to be fine.
You mentioned the high-foot lock off method. Is this different than original method used by Daniel Woods?
Yeah. You use a higher foot and it’s much more bunchy. The foot is up close to your hip and it gets you closer to the slot crimp. It’s how Katie Lamb and Duke Lettieri did it. I was using the same foot with my old beta—the beta bumping from the intermediate—but Katie and Duke showed me that the better way to do it was to commit to the lock off, just like the original beta, but using the high foot. The session before I sent, Duke, showed me some micro-beta that really helped: I had to just pull super hard with my right hand and end up with my cheek basically against the wall. That really unlocked the move for me.
And after you sent you just casually banged out a V12 and a V11 and called it a day?
Well, it was like 4:00, and it started raining really hard. Total downpour. But we went over to Riddles in the Park so my friend could try it. I had done the stand a few years ago but never tried the bottom. This year, once it was dry, I sussed the bottom pretty quickly and did the whole climb second go. It fits my style really well. Crimpy roof climbing with heel hooks and techy, bunched movements.
Let me guess: It started raining again?
Yep. And it was also getting pretty dark, but we went to check out Golden Rows of Flows on the way out. It’s a pretty atypical climb for the park, vertical or just off vertical, and it’s only two or three moves with bad feet and bad hands. Golden Rows of Flows actually gave me a good amount of trouble. The challenge comes down to accuracy and weird body positioning and this really bad smear foot that’s hard not to slip off. At this point I was pretty thrashed, but I was having a climbing high, just really happy, and after a bunch of attempts I managed to do the climb in the dark.
You’re going to college in the fall?
I start at UCLA, yeah. Classes start in this month. I think it’ll be nice to have some structure in my life, to have other things to focus on, to have non-climbing goals. But I’m still really excited about some more outdoor blocks. I also want to hit up Bishop, Yosemite, and Black Mountain. Competitions are a bit lower on my list of priorities. I’ll still do some, but I want to be selective about which ones. I’ll try to perform my best in those, of course, but I don’t want to put all of my eggs in one basket. I made that mistake a few years ago when I was following the World Cup circuit pretty diligently. I guess I burnt out a bit.
What’s your training like?
Up until recently I trained solely by climbing. I just love the movement and love pushing myself in that way. Training was never something I thought about as part of climbing and I never really saw a reason to work it in. But more recently, this last spring and early summer, I started to develop some more structured training methods and it seems to be working. The thing about training is that it’s super time efficient. So I think that having a plan will be really helpful while I’m at school.
Have you tried Blade Runner, the v15 next to Jade?
I saw a friend try it. But he’s taller than me, and he looks completely spanned. Maybe one day in the future.
Maybe it’s like the Jade situation: totally improbable right now, but in a year or two it’ll feel in reach.
[Laughs] That would be nice.