Ben Hanna: Man, myth … or Hulk?

Climbing - - CONTENTS - By Brad Hil­bert

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.”


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