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On October 18th, in the Red River Gorge, Logan Zhang, age 11, onsighted 40 Ounces of Justice, Skinboat, and Convicted—all 5.13a—and then redpointed Hoofmaker, which is 5.12d or 5.13a, depending on who you ask. The next day, the sixth grader also put down his long(ish)-term project, Swingline (5.13d).
When asked which accomplishment he was most proud of—onsighting three 5.13s in a day or redpointing his hardest route—Zhang said, “I think my best experience was sending Swingline. I spent a long time—too long—on that one.”
He first started trying Swingline in July, spending a week on the route but walking away without a send. This trip, however, he sent on his fifth try of his first day.
“I cried when I clipped the anchors,” he said. “When I onsighted the 5.13s, I wasn’t as happy, even though, looking back, [the 5.13s] might have been more of an accomplishment. I think it’s just because I spent so much time on Swingline. But I think it would be easier to send Swingline again than to onsight three 5.13s again.”
During the same week-and-a-half trip, he also sent Kaleidoscope (5.13c) on his second attempt (after having to dyno through the technical section at the bottom), redpointed Snooker (5.13a), and onsighted or flashed nearly a dozen 5.12s.
Zhang, who started climbing at age seven and recently moved to Chattanooga with his family, has already notched a number of high-level athletic achievements. In 2017, he set the world record for the standing long jump for six-year-olds with 1.85 meters (6’ ½”)—a record that he still holds.
After a growth plate injury sidelined his long jumping, he began both climbing and competing in American Ninja Warrior competitions. Since the family lived nearly three hours from the closest Ninja Warrior gym, Zhang’s father built a training setup in the basement of their home and invited other local athletes to play and practice there. The setup worked for Zhang: he placed second at the Ninja Warrior Youth World Championships when he was eight and won the next year. But climbing soon became his priority. In February 2020, at age 10, Logan won the Bouldering Youth National Championship in his age group.
Zhang’s parents are keenly aware that burnout is a real threat for child athletes—so they put a lot of emphasis on keeping it fun.
“There’s a lot of external pressure from parents on kids to either go to the gym all the time or perform at whatever level the parents expect,” Zhang’s father, Ocean Zhang, told Climbing. “And that can take a lot of fun out of climbing—or any sport—for kids. We try to make sure that the drive comes entirely from him. We never argue with him about climbing. If he wants to do it, then he does it. If not, then we move on and do something else.”
For training, Zhang mostly just climbs. He tries to hangboard for injury prevention and finger strength, but it’s less of a priority. He also campuses on jugs but not on a campus board, which is considered too stressful for the still-forming tendons and joints of younger climbers.
Zhang’s family has moved a number of times recently, so he’s competed with four climbing teams in five years. “But for every team he’s been with,” said Ocean Zhang, “we only have him go to two practices per week. He doesn’t go to the full assortment of practices. That gives him the flexibility to not climb on some days, or to do his own thing and be more creative.”
Ocean Zhang also noted that his son’s emphasis on outdoor climbing over the last 18 months was in part the result of USA Climbing’s decision to eliminate Divisionals and Nationals for the U12 (Youth D) age group, which is composed of climbers 11 and younger. The decision was intended to minimize excess pressure on young athletes, but it provided a new set of challenges to climbers like Zhang, who thrive on competition.
To make sure he didn’t lose his passion for the sport in the absence of these competitions, Zhang’s parents introduced him to lead climbing in the gym and then started taking him outside.
“It was a difficult transition from the gym to rock at first,” Ocean Zhang said. His skin hurt; there were spiders on the cliffs; there were long wait times between climbs; and grades that felt easy in the gym felt difficult outside. “But he soon grew to love the rock more than plastic. I [recently] asked Logan if he’d rather win a sport climbing national championship or send his next Red River Gorge project: he chose the outdoor project.”
When asked what was next for him, Zhang said, “I really want to climb in Chattanooga. There’s so much climbing here.” He’s especially excited for bouldering in the Chattanooga area, since the only bouldering trip he’s been on so far was one week in Hueco. “I also want to do some 5.14s in the Red,” he said. “I really want to get on Southern Smoke. That’s a 5.14c.”
Still, he wants to keep it fun. When asked what advice he’d give other young climbers, Zhang said, “Do whatever you want. You don’t have to project if you don’t want to. I normally don’t project.”
Uncut footage of Logan Zhang’s ascents can be found on his father’s Youtube page.