Sasha Digiulian has nothing to prove. With several championship crowns (one world and three national) under her chalk-bag belt, the no. 1-ranked female climber is already on top of the world. Last December, Rock and Ice magazine called the 22-year-old, who hails from Washington, D.C., “America’s best female climber (of all time).” So why is she so determined to continue to elevate her game—literally?
Shape recently caught up with the rock star to find out more about her record-setting mission to become the first female ever to take on northern Spain's Orbayu, a 1,640-foot route on the limestone Naranjo de Bulnes. This wall is considered to be one of the hardest climbs on the planet, and Digiulian's first attempt this August will mark her most challenging climb to date.
Shape: You already bagged some gravity-defying first ascents in South Africa last year. Why set your sights on another sky-high goal?
Sasha Digiulian (SD): You constantly need to be performing well to maintain your status in the sport. Getting to Spain will be my big project this year. With Orbayu, on a grade scale, I'm looking at a 5.14d (9a). This is the hardest grade a female has ever completed. I've done it twice now. And because this wall is a multi-pitch, meaning I'll need to set several anchors to get to the top, it could take days to finish. It's likely I'll have to eat (energy bars) and sleep on the wall. My longest climb so far is 13 hours straight.
Shape: Are you doing this alone?
SD: No, I climb it with a partner. His name is Edu Marin, and he's a professional climber on the Spanish national climbing team. He's one of the best climbers in the world. We actually climbed together last year, and we had really good team dynamics, which is important. Not only do you have to be able to trust each other, but you also have to get along well and share positive energy. The way it works on the wall is, he climbs while I belay him, and then vice versa.
Shape: Just Googled him. He's hot!
SD: Yeah, he is really cute. But the thing is, you spend so much time with someone on the wall that you become like siblings. It's 24/7 for weeks on end together. You might even have to go to the bathroom on the wall. It's not in front of each other, but still, there's no way to bounce back from that.
Shape: How are you preparing for Spain?
SD: Before I head out there, I'm going to work on some first female ascents out West. I'm starting with Wyoming's Wild Iris and Wolf's Point, which have large limestone caves with some of the world's hardest routes. Then I'll head to the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City in early August before making my way to northern Spain, August 10 to 28, to climb Orbayu and other walls in the region.
Shape: Outside of climbing, how do you train for something like this?
SD: I'm in the gym working on my cardio four days a week for an hour at a time. I'll bike, run, or be on the elliptical. Then I'll do a series of strength-training exercises, like abs workouts, pull-ups, pushups, and TRX moves.
Shape: If you accomplish all that you set out to do this summer, what will it mean for you?
SD: There's this immense unparalleled feeling of satisfaction when you get to the top because it's something that you've really worked hard toward, physically and mentally. It's a huge sense of joy. That's probably what drives me to keep climbing. I'm constantly chasing that high.