May 12, 2012
With a concentrated squint, Ashima Shiraishi silently sized up her first rock of the day, a menacing slab of jagged beige boulder 20 feet high, scuffed by white chalk left behind from bigger, older, more experienced climbers.
The ability to clear the mind and focus is what sets Ashima Shiraishi apart from climbers her age.
A black crash pad as thick as a mattress was placed on the ground, and without a rope or harness for protection, Ashima shrugged off her purple windbreaker, hoisted herself onto the boulder and began to shimmy up, her calf muscles bulging gently as she grabbed one nearly invisible ledge of rock after another. With a final stretch, she reached the top, her glossy black ponytail disappearing first, then one limb at a time, until she was out of sight.
A tiny voice floated over the top of the boulder. “How do you get down?” she said.
Ashima had just begun a two-week climbing expedition this spring at Hueco Tanks, a state park that is a mecca for bouldering enthusiasts, 860 acres of rock masses surrounded by endless desert and sky 30 miles northeast of El Paso.
Three days after she arrived, she stunned the bouldering world by climbing Crown of Aragorn, a exceedingly difficult route that requires climbers to contort their bodies and hang practically upside down by their fingers as they navigate a rock that juts out from the ground at a 45-degree angle.
On the scale of V0 to V16 that governs bouldering, Crown of Aragorn is a V13, a level that only a handful of female climbers had reached before.
None was 10 years old.
Ashima, a petite girl with pale skin, a toothy smile and a thick fringe of bangs cut in a perfect line across her forehead, is not only the best climber her age in the United States, or maybe anywhere, but her accomplishments have already placed her among the elites in the sport.
In 2008, when she was only 7, she began sending problems — bouldering lingo for ascending routes — that some adult climbers could not handle.
On a trip to Hueco in 2010, she climbed a V10 called Power of Silence. The next year, she ascended a V11/12 called Chablanke.
At the American Bouldering Series Youth National Championship in Colorado Springs in March, the top competition in the sport, she easily came in first place, all 4 feet 5 inches and 63 pounds of her.
Before finishing fifth grade, Ashima is redefining what physical tools are required to be an elite climber and showing how a child can hold her own against professional adults.
This summer, she will accompany a group of American climbers for an expedition in South Africa, where she will be the only child climber in the bunch.
“She’s this adorable little girl who climbs hard and cries when she doesn’t send,” said Andrew Tower, the editor in chief of Urban Climber magazine. “Her climbing I.Q. is so high, you show her how to do something and she soaks it up really quickly. She understands innately how to move.”
It did not take a pro to see that there was something unusual going on at the time Ashima started climbing in 2007, when she was 6.
Her parents, Tsuya and Hisatoshi Shiraishi, had immigrated from Japan in 1978 and settled in a loft in Chelsea. When Ashima, their only child, was 2, they began taking her to Central Park in search of amusement.
One afternoon when Ashima was in kindergarten, they wandered over to Rat Rock, a boulder 15 feet high and 40 feet wide at the south end of the park that is a favorite spot for amateur climbers.
Ashima joined the other climbers and began to scurry up the rock without help, so focused on her climbing that she begged to stay at Rat Rock through the dinner hour. Finally, when it became so dark that Ashima could not see the rock anymore, they went home.
The Shiraishis were mystified. “We didn’t even know that climbing was a sport,” her father, Hisatoshi Shiraishi, said later.
But he knew his little girl was good.
The Shiraishis went to Rat Rock almost every day, visits that stretched throughout the summer and into the fall. Ashima kept improving, climbing higher and faster, often attracting a crowd.
By November, it was becoming too cold to climb outside, and the Shiraishis started to worry. What were they going to do with her all winter?
Some bystanders in the park encouraged Hisatoshi Shiraishi, known as Poppo, to take Ashima to a proper climbing gym.
using the number/letter grid:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M N O P Q R
S T U V W X Y Z
A = 1 J = 1 S = 1
B = 2 K = 2 T = 2
C = 3 L = 3 U = 3
D = 4 M = 4 V = 4
E = 5 N = 5 W = 5
F = 6 O = 6 X = 6
G = 7 P = 7 Y = 7
H = 8 Q = 8 Z = 8
I = 9 R = 9
118941 189919189 79
her path of destiny = 79 = Transfixed. Coming down from the mountain.
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