Women's Sport: Professional climber Sasha DiGiulian on her new film, climate change and the Olympics

Sasha DiGiulian is one of the world’s most accomplished professional climbers. A former World Champion, most of her projects now are outdoors on rock and sometimes even ice.

The 27-year-old has multiple first ascents and 28 first female ascents to her name including the first female ascent of the notoriously difficult north face of the Eiger in Switzerland.  

Now she is bringing a taste of her life on the wall to the UK with a tour showing her film documenting her latest feats. The Trilogy tells the story of how DiGiulian became the first female and only the second-ever person to climb the three Rocky Mountain big walls in one season.

DiGiulian says she was inspired to take on the challenge after reading an article by Sonnie Trotter, the first person to complete the three climbs in a season: “The pictures drew me in. That’s when I decided that I’d love to go for the second ascent.”

Working as a film producer has been a new experience for DiGiulian. One that, she says, made the process of watching the film premiere all the more emotional: “Watching the film after all of this project was really moving.

“It was the first film that I’ve ever produced, so I had seen many renditions of the film before the final product. Though, after that process of working on something that I felt so passionate about, and sharing it with the world, that was a moving experience.”

The film premiered in Banff in the Canadian Rockies, the same place where DiGiulian completed the three climbs. Watching it there was special, she reflects, and it “warmed my heart because I got to see the reactions of my friends that I made along the way that were a part of it. It made the whole experience even more special.”

DiGiulian has been climbing since she was six years old but over twenty years of the sport hasn’t dulled her love for it: “I am motivated to explore, to learn what I am capable of, and to just have more experiences outside with friends. I enjoy the process.”

Away from promoting her film, DiGiulian is still training hard for her next goal. It’s “a 29-pitch climb that I would like to do the First Female Ascent of,” she says, “stay tuned!”

For challenges of this scale – many of DiGiulian’s big wall climbs involve sleeping on the wall in a hanging tent called a portaledge and climbing for multiple days in a row – training is essential. 

DiGiulian says that when she’s at home – the climber is based in Boulder, Colorado – she is “typically training about six hours a day – from climbing to gym workouts”. 

When she isn’t training DiGiulian says: “Then, I am in between sessions working on emails or upcoming projects, and recovering. I like to lay low when I’m home – see the people that are close friends of mine, and relax. I enjoy cooking healthy meals and I don’t really like to go out much.”

With the nature of DiGiulian’s career, however, she is often travelling. When this is the case, she says: “My days are a lot less ‘routine’. If I’m on a climbing trip, normally I am climbing all day, and then basically repeating that through the trip. Eat sleep climb is more the mentality when I’m outdoors climbing.”

DiGiulian is a prime example of a sportsperson using their platform to speak out on social causes and her proximity to the outdoors means she has become a vocal spokesperson on climate change.

This has included going, alongside other prominent climbers, to Washington D.C. to lobby for environmental protection.

She explains: “Climate change has direct effects on climbing, and that is why I think it is very important as outdoor enthusiasts that we are spokespeople for climate action. 

“Climbing creates this intimate connection with the outdoors; it’s your playground and inevitably, you care about protecting it. Climate protection needs to happen on a governmental level, but we can also all take steps towards living more sustainable lives in our daily existence.” 

She is candid about the “catch 22” situation she finds herself in whereby she travels to climb, increasing her carbon footprint.

DiGiulian takes the steps she can to counteract this: “While it’s not a solution, I try to offset this as much as possible in the form of carbon offsets, but also because I am actively promoting a more sustainable lifestyle and ecotourism in areas often that are threatened by privatization and corporate manufacturing.”

Climbing looks set to be big in a whole new way this year with its Olympic debut, but we won’t be seeing DiGiulian in Tokyo.

She has many competition successes to her name including becoming 2011 Overall World Champion, six Pan-American gold medals and winning three US National golds for sport climbing. But she chose not to try out for Tokyo 2020 citing in previous interviews the format as not being the right fit.

That doesn’t mean she isn’t excited for this year’s event: “I absolutely plan to watch and be involved in some way with climbing’s inaugural year in the Olympics. I am very excited about it.”

If people follow DiGiulian’s exploits or watch the Olympics and are inspired to take up climbing outside of a gym, her advice is simple: “I recommend going outside climbing for your first time with either a certified guide service or a friend that knows a lot about climbing outdoor safety.”

For women in climbing, following in DiGiulian’s footsteps the future looks exciting. As DiGiulian reflects: “Climbing is a traditionally male-dominated sport, but in today’s landscape, women’s participation is on the rise. I hope to see that continue!”

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