Grad­u­ate early from DePaul Uni­ver­sity with a de­gree in bio-science, coach a youth climb­ing team 20 hours a week, drive 14 hours round-trip to the Red River Gorge each week­end to send 5.14c—most peo­ple would be crushed. But not Michaela Kiersch, 23, of Chicago, who in Jan­uary 2018 made the first fe­male as­cent of the fiendishly thin Nec­es­sary Evil (5.14c) in the Vir­gin River Gorge, Ari­zona.

Kiersch grew up in Bridge­port, a work­ing-class com­mu­nity in Chicago, sur­rounded by her nu­clear fam­ily in a two-flat house: her mother, Joanne, who over 15 years tran­si­tioned from re­cep­tion­ist to CFO at a non­profit; her fa­ther, Bil, a for­mer Chicago el­e­men­tary-school science teacher and now credit man­ager; and her twin sis­ter, Kristina. Mean­while, her grand­mother, Dorothy, a truck­ing-com­pany sec­re­tary who’d been a sin­gle mom in the 1960s, lived on the ground-floor unit.

Kiersch was drawn to the ver­ti­cal from an early age, re­call­ing, “I was the type of kid who climbed up any­thing I could get my hands on”—whether it was trees, play­ground equip­ment, or build­ings. (Kristina, mean­while, pur­sued her own pas­sion for horses.) In 2002, her par­ents found an out­let for Kiersch at the Climb On gym in Home­wood, in the Chicago sub­urbs. At 9, Kiersch en­tered her first com­pe­ti­tion and placed sec­ond, just be­hind the only other girl who en­tered. At 10, she moved to Hid­den Peak Climb­ing Gym to work with Dave Hud­son’s youth team, climb­ing with other strong Chicago kids like Is­abelle Faus and Michael O’Rourke. At 12, she be­gan coach­ing other youth climbers in re­cre­ational classes and slow-

ly tran­si­tioned this into a paid po­si­tion. She stayed with coach­ing un­til she grad­u­ated from col­lege, re­in­forc­ing the skills she’d learned by teach­ing oth­ers.

In 2010, when Kiersch was 15, her mother died from lung can­cer. Though Kiersch com­peted in the world cham­pi­onships only two weeks later, her climb­ing slumped. She soon found sup­port in the tight-knit Chicago climb­ing com­mu­nity—work­ers and “real peo­ple with real jobs,” who of­fered her rides to the gym, lent her chalk, and pro­vided a sta­ble en­vi­ron­ment af­ter school. As time passed and Kiersch pro­cessed her grief, she re­sumed climb­ing with vigor.

As a comp climber, Kiersch has en­tered 30 na­tional cham­pi­onships, mak­ing the US team in all three dis­ci­plines (lead, boul­der­ing, and speed) and plac­ing fourth at boul­der­ing na­tion­als in 2016 and 2017 as well as third at the USAC Sport Open Na­tional Cham­pi­onship in 2012 and 2016. Her out­door achieve­ments speak well of her abil­ity to trans­late plas­tic to rock, from her first 5.13 in 2009— Hell in Amer­i­can Fork, Utah—to 2017, when she sent three 5.14c’s at the Red: Fifty Words for Pump,

South­ern Smoke, and 24 Karats. She’s also pur­sued hard boul­der­ing. In De­cem­ber 2017 at Hueco Tanks, Texas, she sent Crown of Aragorn (V13) and flashed Di­apha

nous Sea (V11). In Fe­bru­ary 2018 in Bishop, Cal­i­for­nia, she met her friend Nina Wil­liams and dis­patched Maze of Death (V12) in five tries and com­pleted the long Haroun

and the Sea of Sto­ries (V11). With so many big ticks al­ready and her su­per­hu­man en­ergy and drive, Kiersch, it seems, is just warm­ing up.


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