The young female climber is familiar with breaking records (and brushing off haters along the way), and her latest feat is nothing short of fearless.

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
August 17, 2017
Photo: Francois Leabeau/Red Bull Content Pool

Mora Mora, a massive 2,300-foot granite dome in Madagascar, is ranked as one of the most difficult climbing routes in the world with only one man making it to the top since it was first established in 1999. That is, until last month when professional free-climber Sasha DiGiulian conquered it, setting the record for the first female ascent.

That heady moment (which she accomplished alongside her climbing partner Edu Marin), was the culmination of a three-year dream for the Red Bull athlete, the payoff for countless hours of training, traveling, practicing her route, and finally climbing for three days straight while balancing on "negligible little crystals smaller than shelled peanuts." Despite all that preparation and commitment, she admits that at times, she wasn't sure she would actually finish. (Climbing requires insane grip strength, which is really important for all fit girls.)

"I didn't know if I would be able to do this climb, and I figured traveling to Madagascar was the only way that I could actually find out!" she told Shape exclusively. "My first thought on reaching the top was 'I really hope I'm not dreaming this, that I won't wake up on the portaledge [the portable platform climbers sleep on during multi-day climbs] and still have to climb!"

Photo: Francois Leabeau/Red Bull Content Pool

But it wasn't a mountainside hallucination, it was very real. And while she may have been pleasantly surprised by her success, anyone who has followed her career probably knew she had it in the bag. After all, record-setting isn't exactly new to DiGiulian. At 19, the champion climber became the only North American woman to complete the hardest level of climbing ever achieved by a female, ascending Era Vella in Spain. Then at 22, she became the first woman to free climb "Murder Wall" in the Swiss Alps. And she hasn't slowed since, taking female climbing to new heights (sorry, had to go there).

Her success hasn't come easily, with some in the climbing community criticizing her "girliness" (whatever that means), speculating about her weight fluctuations and relationship status (who cares?!), and questioning her climbing creds. So-called "traditional" climbers are known for living a nomadic existence in vans while eating beans out of a can and never showering, but that has never been DiGiulian's cup of tea (er, beans). She quickly points out that this has nothing to do with actual climbing skills. (Wanna try the badass sport for yourself? Get started with these beginner rock climbing tips.)

Photo: Francois Leabeau/Red Bull Content Pool

"I've certainly grown thicker skin through being a woman in climbing," she says. "I like to paint my nails pink, I love high heels, dressing up, and sleeping in luxury. I also love sleeping 1,500 feet up on a little ledge in the middle of Madagascar, waking up, and climbing. The dirtbag lifestyle-that is not me. I am comfortable with who I am and what I am passionate about; this doesn't mean I'm any less of a climber than the guy who lives in a van." [Insert praise hands emoji.]

In the meantime, she's already planning her next big climb. "Climbing has provided me with this tremendous source of self-confidence that I did not always have," she says. "I feel comfortable in my own skin while I am climbing. It feels like where I belong."

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