Professional rock climber Sasha DiGiulian made history recently by becoming the first female ever to free-climb Mora Mora in Madagascar, considered one of the most difficult multi-pitch ascents in the world.
As a free-climber, she used ropes and a belay mechanism only to catch a potential fall rather than to aid progress up the rock.
“Climbing Mora Mora proved to me that I need to challenge myself in the unknown,” DiGiulian tells GrindTV. “When I took off to Madagascar, I had no idea whether or not I could do the climb. This is the only way to progress in all aspects of life — to put yourself on the line and go for what may be uncertain, but that excites you and motivates you.”
Since it was first established in 1999, Mora Mora, a 12-pitch route rated extremely difficult at 5.14b (8c), had seen only a single ascent. Setting records, though, is part of what DiGiulian does. She was the first American woman to climb a route graded 5.14d in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, and was the first woman (and first American) to climb Magic Mushroom on the Eiger in 2015.
“Mora Mora is hard because it follows a relatively blank vertical face up a 700-meter [2,300-foot] cliff,” DiGiulian says. “Each pitch of the climb is very technical and there are just tiny rock pebbles to latch onto [with] your fingertips and to scale the surface with.”
In July, DiGiulian spent three days on the wall with Spanish climber Edu Marin. Finishing the Mora Mora free-climb route, DiGiulian claimed the second ascent ever and became the first female to do it.
But the accomplishment was not without mental challenges. “When we arrived, I was really nervous and felt quite gripped. I was scared to fall and was not trusting my grip on the rock,” DiGiulian says. “When I became more used to reading the rock surface and feeling connected with the rock, I could start making advances upwards, piecing together challenging sequences and letting go of my fear of falling.”
DiGuilian didn’t reach the toughest part of the climb — known as the “crux” — until she was already about 1,400 feet off the ground.
“In this section of the wall, the rock is the most sheer but also the steepest,” says the young climber, who graduated from Columbia University last year. “The cliff required balletic-like movements and very precise technical maneuvers.”
But just when the climbing world is happy to give her a moment to rest on her laurels, DiGiulian is at it again.
She says, “I’m currently going through a two-month training cycle to prepare for a first-female-ascent objective I have in Spain.”
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