Shingo Ohkawa quietly gets things done. A buyer for IME Sports in Salt Lake City, the SCARPA athlete keeps his wits about him in his adopted Wasatch Range, opening new climbing routes and clucking around steep couloirs when the rock gets covered. When the times are right he heads for the great ranges to explore the vertical wilderness that has become the muse in his life. He’s established routes all over the world, and yet he still gets pleasure playing in his own backyard. He balances his thirst for travel with a commitment to community in his own way. We caught him behind the counter one afternoon to see how his exploits were playing out.
What came first, skiing or climbing? And how were you introduced to them?
I grew up alpine skiing and ski racing back East, but by the time I was in high school, I sort of fell out of love with serious competition. As far back as I can recall I was always re-reading the climbing and mountaineering articles in my father’s back issues of National Geographic, fascinated by the massive scale of places I had never been, but knew to be somewhere on this Earth. Long before I’d ever tied into a rope, I tried to find out all there was to know about climbing through books—devouring many of the classics of mountain literature—and I begged my mom for my first new pair of rock shoes; they were a pair of green, high top SCARPA Brios with purple laces, believe it or not.
What about international alpine climbing is so alluring to you? What are the challenges and what are the rewards?
I still maintain that climbing is the best excuse to travel and, for me, the challenge is the entire process, from start to finish; dreaming, researching the destination, securing a solid partner, purchasing tickets, training, getting all your gear together, then, finally, going. The reward is getting to share something with your partner much greater than anything you’ve ever undertaken alone, and the further away and the longer you’ve been gone, the more profound and lasting the experience.
Do you even try to talk to your parents about the risks of ice climbing?
I’m ashamed to say that my folks know little about what I do. We seem to have an understanding, however, that no news is (usually) good news, and that despite them not knowing where and what I’m up to from time to time, they understand that I’m always focused on what I love to do, which is to be in the mountains.
You’ve been involved in a community-minded climbing effort called “No Star Tuesday”. Can you speak to that?
Together with my good friends Andrew Burr and Zac Robinson, the three of us started this club called No Star Tuesday, after discovering a shared predilection for obscure and all but forgotten routes in Little Cottonwood Canyon. When guidebook authors award certain routes with qualitative stars, subsequent generations of climbers tend to ignore the ones without, assuming they are somehow inferior. We realized this is seldom the case, and that a great many routes in our beloved LCC merit repeating; ascents of these routes are, in a way, the initiation into becoming a true local. These days we typically announce the events ahead of time, and then finish the day off with a BBQ and beers with a growing group of like-minded climbers.
What SCARPA products are you keen on these days?
My go-to rock shoe is the Vapor. The majority of my routes tend to emphasize techy footwork on granite, and for my feet, there’s no fit more precise. I have sort of a reputation for being hard on approach shoes. Searching for new lines means lots of talus-hiking with a heavy pack, and yet I can’t seem to kill my Zens; I’ve never made it more than two seasons in anything else, and this will be my third!
For ice, it’s the Rebel Ultra; I’m pretty certain a climbing boot can’t get much better than this. My favorite AT boot is the Rush, and then our Alien; combine these with a pair of Ski Trab skis and it’s definitely cheating.
What are some of your favorite trips? And when was the last time you got a serious shut down in the mountains?
I spent a lot of time in Argentine Patagonia, during some of the least productive seasons in recent memory. This past summer in Pakistan, I contracted a gnarly intestinal parasite, which laid me out for several days on three separate occasions. Despite these sorts of setbacks, however, I’ve learned many important lessons from what some might consider a failed trip or expedition: that, ultimately, the mountains say when (time to call it a day), and one cannot force it. And that learning to be a good partner is a far loftier, more difficult and more rewarding goal than any single summit.
Climbers are fairly tight lipped when it comes to future plans. That said, what are some future goals for the coming year or two?
It seems increasingly unlikely I’ll be returning to Pakistan this July, perhaps next year. And though I’ll miss this opportunity to further build on my relationships with all the wonderful, Balti friends we made there last season, I look forward to spending this summer opening more routes in the Wasatch, exploring new route potential in other ranges throughout the American West, and working closely with the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance, our local, grassroots climber-advocacy organization, to help new climbers get involved in our community.