Most college students spend their summers partying, but Sasha DiGiulian, a professional rock climber who is currently attending Columbia University, had her eyes set on climbing one of the hardest and longest routes in the Alps: a 1,000 foot section of cliff named Zahir Plus.
DiGiulian reached out to one of her most trusted climbing partners, Edu Marin, and the two made plans to go for Zahir Plus – a great way to end the summer.
But Zahir Plus did not go according to plan. Life, in fact, did not go according to plan.
"My dad went from being perfectly healthy to passing away within two weeks," DiGiulian says in the video above. John DiGiulian suddenly fell ill and died on June 29, leaving behind Sasha, his wife Andrea, and son Charlie.
"My dad was a dreamer," Sasha says. "He dreamt about achieving things bigger than himself. He taught me to follow my heart, and to live for my passion."
Zahir Plus would become a way to honor the memory of her dad, who had always inspired her to achieve her goals. When DiGiulian and Marin arrived in Switzerland, however, they found the entire country socked in with relentless rain. The route itself was soaking wet, running like a waterfall.
"Edu and I talked, and we realized that if we stay here, we'll hardly climb and we won't have any project," DiGiulian remembers.
They reached out to one of the most prolific route developers and rock climbers in the world, Dani Andrada, to see if he had any suggestions for them. Andrada mentioned a line he had climbed on the island of Sardinia several years ago. It was about 1,000 feet tall, really difficult, and really sustained. And it hadn't been climbed since 2002. The route's name?
"Viaje de los Locos," Andrada said, chuckling. The Madmen's Journey.
"It was an appropriate name for what came next," says Sasha. She and Marin booked tickets the next day for Sardinia. The only problem was that Viaje de los Locos was bigger, harder, and more powerful, with more reach-dependent moves. And it was scarier. Sending it would not be a given.
To send a hard big-wall route demands strength, stamina, perfect execution and the cool-headedness to perform your best with 1,000 feet of air beneath your feet. Having practiced all of the pitches, DiGiulian and Marin felt ready to finally give the route a shot, and climb it all in a single push from the ground.
"It was like, 'Okay, I'm going to go for it,'" says DiGiulian. "I experienced that moment of clarity [where] I'm not going to fall. I was climbing with my heart in my throat. I was petrified."
During their trip, DiGiulian often thought about her dad, whose background is Italian. She felt his presence and brought his strength with her. She realized that he wouldn't have wanted her to be anywhere else than right there, achieving one of her dreams.
"Sardinia ended up being some kind of destiny. I was coming off all these insecurities – about this climb, if I was capable of doing it. When I got there, I didn't personally know if I could do this route. And now it's done.
"Because of how the trip played out, because I didn't think I could do it, and because my dad was with me on this climb, I would say that this was the most rewarding climbing experience of my life."
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