Five Questions With Climber, Wasatch Wizard Shingo Ohkawa

Our athletes and ambassadors shred gnar and send hard lines, but there’s much more behind the scenes: other careers, balancing family life, creating art, giving back. To dig deeper into the adventure lifestyle, we’ve created Five Questions, an ongoing feature asking OR athletes the hard questions. And sometimes more than just five.

What keeps you climbing and skiing? 

After spending nearly two months among our venerable Balti cooks and base camp staff, I realized that my love of the high places of the world has less to do with the act of ascending or descending, and more with how that environment changes us, forces us to adapt. What I witnessed in the mountains of Pakistan was an entire culture that had, over centuries, learned to live in that environment by embracing self-reliance and resourcefulness—the very virtues we all hope to gain, either directly or indirectly, through these experiences we seek.

Any advice to young people getting started in your sport? 

When I first started, a big part of what it meant to be a climber was as much about understanding the rich history of its origins, as well as honing the crafts of ascent. Context, I believe, is an essential tool to interpret the evolution of our favorite mountain pastimes. After all, we stand on the shoulders of giants each time we repeat a route or visit a storied range to climb a chunk of rock. Pursuing the climbing life means one never stops learning.

Favorite place on the planet?

It’s got to be the belay cave atop the third pitch of a MEGA-classic route called Imaginate (6a+, D. Anker, M. Piola, late eighties), on the Campanile Ensloveno tower overlooking Refugio Frey. Essentially a giant granite hueco, this feature’s just big enough to accommodate three or four and it’s where an enormous Andean condor flew within a meter of me as I belayed my partner. To this amateur naturalist, the flyby was mind boggling.

If you could leave aspiring athletes with one important piece of life advice or words of wisdom, what would it be?

All of my personal heroes have made singular and significant contributions to climbing, but have also—coincidentally—mastered nearly anything they put their minds to. As we’ve seen, over the years, sending, say, 5.13 has been overshadowed by a succession of routes at much higher climbing standards. But becoming,for instance, a 5.12 dad, or a 5.11 husband, a 5.9+ partner—don’t forget to sandbag!—or indeed, a 5.10 human being is, in the grand scheme of things, a more important accomplishment.

What are you looking forward to this year?

If Pakistan isn’t in the cards for us this summer, I’m psyched to spend more time exploring the Black Canyon, the Wind Rivers and, perhaps, the Teton backcountry, as well as opening more new routes in the granitic nether regions of my home range, the Wasatch.

What’s your favorite piece of OR gear?

I used to have this reputation at OR for hoarding certain discontinued pieces, too stubborn to deviate from my own proven formula of what to wear. For the past few years, however, my teammates and I have had the unique opportunity to work closely with Jeannie Wall, our remarkable, uber-talented product developer, to create what in the very near future will, no doubt, become my all-new favorites!

Where do you live now and why?

I live in Salt Lake City, Utah, where my wife is a 5th grade public school teacher and I am the most junior member of the team here at IME, THE local’s gear shop. Access is the number one reason we love it here. In a half-day’s drive radius, we can be at nearly any of the West’s major climbing destinations, and in winter—despite the valley’s often-lingering inversion—the snow’s reputed to be alright, too!