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So Worth It: Shingo Ohkawa On The Ups And Downs Of A Lifetime Climbing

Author: Shingo Ohkawa

June 01, 2018

There are moments that we can all relate to as part of the outdoor community. Whether we identify as climbers, skiers, paddlers, and whether our preferred terrain is rock, snow, or water, these are the highlights of what we withstand that bring us together. No matter how challenging, at the end of the day we discover that each of these moments are #SoWorthIt.

Outdoor Research Ambassador Shingo Ohkawa finds it easy to stick to what he knows best: the Wasatch Range. We sat down with Shingo to hear how he finds the joy of discovery, of personal progression, and of camaraderie just beyond his comfort zone.

What is your So Worth It story about?

For a variety of reasons, in the past few years, I’ve been less and less PSYCHED to climb; in fact, the only time I’ve spent on a rope these last seasons have been focused, exclusively, on first ascents—tackling terrain that I’ve more-or-less mastered, and with the same handful of partners I’ve grown to trust and to depend on.  As great as these things all sound, however, I can’t deny that I’ve also gotten set in my ways a bit too much, justifying any means to avoid having to adapt to new experiences—to risk failure, rather than guarantee a welcome outcome. In short, I’ve become stagnant in a sense. Sticking to what I know, and to what I feel most comfortable on—and, in the process, distancing myself from some of the core values I seek when I venture into the vertical.

How does your climbing – or perspective – change when you climb with new people?

Over the years, my perspective has changed dramatically. I used to seek out only the strongest, most proficient climbers who could expand my own physical range, who would enable me to go further, higher and into more serious, difficult terrain. But climb long enough, and life—well—it “gets in the way” of even your most able partners. Whether it’s due to family, to career, to aging and changes in health, etc. The one thing that used to be everything may no longer, sustainably, be the only thing in one’s life. New partners remind me that if you’re into climbing, as I am, for the long game, then it’s a far more important a goal to become a great partner, and not merely a good climber!

Tell us about your strengths and weaknesses as a climber. Where do you climb at your best, or at your worst? Are these struggles more psychological or about your physical surroundings? 

For me, my best climbs are a bit of both—a struggle that’s about dealing with where I’m at, psychologically, as well as where I am, physically. I’m drawn to high, wild places; I revel in the chance to adapt to climbing situations with little room for error. The remote nature of many of these places belies a stress that’s omnipresent. Mitigating these two aspects, creatively—and, with the help of great partners—that’s my biggest strength. And, my biggest weakness?  Though it’s pretty basic, I could improve how I take care of myself—eating, drinking, resting—ahead of, whilst and after big adventures.

How does it feel to breach your comfort zone? 

What’s that saying about “humble pie?” They say it doesn’t always taste so great, but it sure is nutritious! Sometimes—and for some of us, more frequently than we’d like—it’s necessary to step outside one’s perceived limits and to reset one’s expectations. 

Tell us about one epic day, trip, or send that epitomized your So Worth It journey.

I was well due for this type of wake-up-call, or reality check:  When the “eureka!”moment happens, it hardly resembles what you expect it to. In the photo, it’s me, pleasantly surprised at how much fun I’ve been missing, lately. The last time I can say this happened was under far more serious consequences: it occurred during our self-rescue from a climb in Pakistan, after our partner, Hayden, blew up his ankle. In brief, my trip—up to that point—had been somewhat of a disappointment; my climbing wasn’t quite up to par when compared to past expeditions, and as a result I felt I was lacking in the solid-partner department. But what followed restored my faith my abilities: getting our partner down, then out, then home tested everything I’d ever learned from my mentors and drew on all that I’d experienced over many years of expedition climbing. Though Hayden, who suffered the open dislocation days away from medical care, and in a Third World country, might not agree it was “So Worth It”—it was, for me, just one of the many watershed moments in the life of a vertical explorer.

Shingo Ohkawa

Trad climber. Backcountry skier. Gear-shop guy. Dirtbag philosopher. Luddite.

Adventure is where you find it, and Shingo Ohkawa has spent the better part of his life searching. Whether he’s in his own backyard—Utah’s Wasatch Range—or more recently, in the Greater Ranges, the mountains are where he practices his craft: opening new rock routes in spring and summer, and cutting ruthlessly-steep skin-tracks in autumn and winter. When he’s not playing outside, you can find him behind the counter at IME, Salt Lake City’s local gear shop, corrupting the youth one carabiner at a time and hanging out with his venerable co-workers, all of whom are his personal climbing heroes.