Ben Hanna: Man, myth … or Hulk?
WITNESSING BEN HANNA, 19, from Santa Fe, New Mexico, on the rock is like going to a punk show. Everything starts out normally, with tickets, drinks, and a sound check, but then the atmosphere suddenly turns aggressive, intense, and unpredictable. When Hanna has a goal in his sights, a switch flips and he’ll smash his fingers into any trash hold that will move him toward the chains, jumping, deadpointing, going for it without hesitation. This “Hanna Smash” has led to flashes up to 5.14a, and redpoints as hard as Helsinki (5.14c/d) in the Bat Cave near Truth or Consequences, NM. ( See timeline below and Flash, p.10, for a rundown of Hanna’s recent 24-hour sending spree at the New River Gorge.)
If you met Hanna while he was patiently coaching youth climbers at the Santa Fe Climbing Center or Stone Age Climbing Gym in Albuquerque, you might not expect such intensity—or, say, if you saw him goofing off riding a shopping cart through the aisles of a grocery store, or parkouring across the monkey bars and slides in a city park. He seems like an unassuming young climber, with his thin frame, spiked hair, and plug earrings. But the “Hanna Smash” is a resting monster, waiting to be called upon as needed. Some of his feats, like sending Dope Fiend Low (V9) at Hueco Tanks in tennis shoes, most of Zulu (5.14a) at Rifle in a pair of Sanuks, and for his second-ever trad lead dispatching a spicy 5.13a pitch on Red Rock’s Dreefee, are the stuff of legends and speak to his natural talent and raw strength.
Hanna was born in New Mexico, a harsh desert state where everything is trying to to stick, stab, or bite you. Perhaps this explains his grit and drive, or it could be thanks to his parents, Cynthia and Ian, who got him into climbing at an early age. Cynthia, a self-employed hair stylist, grew up playing football and other rough games—most notably a free-for-all called “Kill the Carrier”—with her three brothers. She took that competitive spirit into track and field, swimming, and diving where she lettered in all sports. Ian, who makes his living as a dolly grip in the film industry, often took Ben climbing and skiing, teaching him how to lead outside at the age of 8 when the local gym said Ben wasn’t old enough.
At age 10, Hanna entered the comp scene, inspired by his friend Quincy Conway, a talented young climber and budding physicist who tragically perished in 2016 while conducting a science experiment at home. In his first season of youth competition, Hanna made Nationals. He climbed 5.11 at 10, 5.12 at 11, the 5.13a Goliath at New Mexico’s Enchanted Tower at 12, and then his first 5.14, Tweak
Fuck (FA) at Diablo Canyon near his home in Santa Fe, at age 15. His parents’ and the local community’s support have been big factors in his success. In particular, Santa Fe locals Andre Wiltenburg and Ed Strang played a huge role in Ben’s early years by mentoring and channeling his energy. At 14, Hanna started homeschooling and volunteering as a setter at the Santa Fe Climbing Center, where he was hired as a setter at age 16.
These days, he’s coaching youth climbers, setting two days a week at Stone Age, and working on kitting out his van for full-time climbing travel. As for his notorious a muerte Hanna Smash style? It’s a work in progress: “I think it’s possible it came from really bad technique as a kid,” he says. “When I really want something, which happens a lot, I slip into what my dad calls ‘rage mode’—hence where Hanna Smash comes from.”
BEN HANNA REDPOINTING COAL TRAIN (5.14A), NEW RIVER GORGE, WV.