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Michaela Kiersch Goes on Rampage in Magic Wood, Ticks 16 Double Digit Blocks

Kiersch just had the best bouldering trip of her life in Magic Wood, Switzerland. In total, she put down 16 double digit boulders, two of which were V14. 

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Last year, Michaela Kiersch sent Dreamcatcher (5.14d)—one of the hardest and most historic routes on this side of the ocean. In March, she managed her first V14 with Hailstorm in Ogden, Utah. In April, she graduated from Rush University Medical Center with a doctorate in occupational therapy. She’s been having a damn good year, to say the least.

The cherry on top came over the last few weeks, during which Kiersch had the best bouldering trip of her life, in Magic Wood, Switzerland. In total, she put down 16 double digit boulders, two of which were V14. 

“Apparently I need to start bouldering more,” she says. “Everyone still thinks of me as only a lead climber. Even myself, maybe, but it’s nice to expand.” The trip to Magic Wood was a first for Kiersch. 

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Kiersch has been climbing since she was 7. She joined a competitive team at age 10 and went on to compete internationally, placing as high as 5th in a Youth World Championships. Her last World Cup was in 2018, where she placed 18th in Bouldering. 

Kiersch has made steady progress to her ticklist over the years. She did her first 5.14b at age 21, and then her first 5.14c that same year. Prior to Dreamcatcher, she had sent no fewer than nine 5.14c’s. But she’s spent far less time bouldering and wasn’t sure what to expect heading into Magic Wood. After the three week stint with pro climbers Alex Puccio and Nina Williams, the 27-year-old drastically upped her resume.

 

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A post shared by Michaela Kiersch (@michaelakiersch)

“The trip left me wanting to go back,” she says. 

Climbing caught up with Kiersch to hear more about the trip, her balancing act between school and training, and future plans. Read the interview, edited for length and clarity, below. 

Trip Report:

  • New Base Line V14/8B+
  • Tigris Sit V14/8B+
  • Steppenwolf V13/8B
  • One Summer in Paradise V13/8B
  • Riverbed V13/8B
  • Electroboogie V12/8A+
  • Left Hand of Darkness V12/8A+
  • Body Count V12/8A+
  • Never Ending Story Pt 1 V12/8A+
  • Pura Vida V12/8A+
  • Muttertag V11/8A
  • Foxy Lady V11/8A
  • Stairway to Heaven V11/8A
  • Minisex Roof Low V11/8A
  • Rythmo V10/7C+
  • Piranha V10/7C+

***

Climbing: Can you start by sharing some trip highlights? 

Kiersch: I think definitely one of the biggest highlights of the trip is being able to go on an extended climbing trip with friends. Since the pandemic started, I feel like all of that was on hold. So it was really cool to be able to go back and climb in a bigger group, feel supported, and do some supporting. I really missed that community over the last couple of years. 

And then also of course, Swiss chocolate was a huge highlight. [laughs] We had chocolate every night. We had like this chocolate basket with a variety of options. 

And then as far as climbing goes, I would say the biggest highlight was sending New Base Line. It’s obviously beautiful, historical, and hard. 

 

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A post shared by Michaela Kiersch (@michaelakiersch)

Climbing: What was your favorite kind of chocolate? 

Kiersch: I like this milk chocolate with pistachios on the inside. I know it sounds a little bit eccentric, but it’s really good.

Climbing: How did you pick which boulders you wanted to get on? 

Kiersch: I had three main boulders that I wanted to try: New Base Line, Steppenwolf, and Riverbed. And those were dream goals. I chose them because they’re hard, so I thought it would be a good challenge. And they were all beautiful and very different from each other. I also felt like I didn’t want to have a huge list of goals for this trip having never been there and not really knowing what my level would be. But those three problems seemed to stand out as far as good challenges and beautiful climbs.

Climbing: You already talked a little bit about the New Base Line, but what made it so appealing and ultimately memorable for you?

Kiersch: I think it’s one of the most recognizable boulders in the world. And I think that’s really cool. It’s a climb that a lot of people can connect to whether they’ve tried it or not. V14 is not something that I’m sending all the time every day, you know, I’m new to this grade range. So I felt like it would be a good challenge for me. A few people had recommended it as well, so it was honestly not a hard choice. 

Climbing: And what was it like? 

Kiersch: It climbs up that really recognizable feature, this crimp crack. It’s a mix of technical climbing, but also powerful climbing. You have to have pretty strong fingers to hold on to those crimps, but the shoulder move in the middle was probably the biggest challenge for me, because it’s really dynamic and you have to hold this like double gaston position, and then the top was smaller moves, but more technical with the footwork. So it was kind of a combination of everything, which was cool. It felt like a good test for my climbing and—and my general life.

Michaela Kiersch thoroughly enjoying working out moves. Photo by Nina Williams

Climbing: Prior to the trip, you’d sent just one V14. Then you sent two in a three-week trip. What do you think you enabled you to put down two V14s and then everything else so quickly?

Kiersch: Honestly, I’m not completely sure as far as grades and bouldering goes, those are the only three V14s that I think I’ve ever tried. So maybe I need to try some more, but I think finishing school and having more time and just a new sense of freedom with my climbing has definitely helped me increase my level and get stronger. But I think also climbing with two girls that are really psyched and pushing me. Especially Alex, since she had climbed it before. That was super helpful.

Climbing: How did you prepare for the trip?

Kiersch: I had this home project, this lead route called Apex Predator at the Pop Tire Cave [in Utah]. It’s this 14c and I was training for that pretty heavily before going on this trip to Europe. So I was doing a lot of pitches and endurance training. And then I sent it a couple of weeks before I was set to leave, and I quickly switched to bouldering mode and just was doing some MoodBoarding and hangboarding. Then I left for the Petzl Roctrip, which was in Greece, and I did two weeks of like 30-meter [100-foot] tufa climbing. It was definitely not the most regimented training plan I’ve ever been on, but somehow it worked out. 

Climbing: Can you expand on that newfound sense of freedom that you mentioned? 

Kiersch: I always knew I was going to go to grad school and it was sort of this impending commitment, and it was hard to put a lot of time into my climbing training while I was in school and applying for school and preparing in that way. Now that I’m completely finished and I don’t have any upcoming commitments as far as education or work outside of climbing, I just feel a little bit more free and like I can take bigger risks and take on larger challenges that might be more time consuming.

Climbing: Can you walk me through what your schedule was and then maybe touch on how you see that changing?

Kiersch: During school, my climbing routine changed week to week based on assignments and exams and projects. So I could climb anywhere between two days and five days a week, usually falling somewhere in the middle. My sessions were typically one to two hours and seldom went above that. I got really good at time management, at cramming a lot of training into a short amount of time. I think that has been really helpful for my climbing. The times that I’ve not been in school, I could spend six hours in the gym and not really do anything in that amount of time. Being able to really prioritize helped me, and hopefully I’ll carry that with me long-term. 

Climbing: Beyond time management, can you tell me more about how you’ve been able to balance school and training. That just seems really formidable and it’s something almost everyone struggles with.

Kiersch: Yeah. I think that definitely from an outside perspective, and when looking at my social media, it might seem that it was pretty seamless, but honestly it came with a lot of ups and downs in both school and climbing. Sometimes I really wasn’t climbing at a level that I’m used to because I had to prioritize school so much. I think being really patient with myself and forgiving was key, especially for my mental health through those times. The key ingredient is just scheduling my time. I would schedule each week to prioritize if I wanted to do an endurance workout, or if I wanted to do a hang board workout—whatever was the most important thing. What was the non-negotiable and where did that fit into my school schedule? That was crucial. 

Climbing: Did you have a planner or a list to write it all down? 

Kiersch: Yeah. I have a psycho planner with a million post-it notes and different highlight colors and all sorts of things. I am a very visual person, so I need to see it in order to wrap my mind around what my week is going to look like.

Climbing: And do you do that with your training plans as well? Or are you a little more loose there? 

Kiersch: I’m a little bit more lenient with climbing because I think that I always prioritize school. So climbing was more of a relaxed space for me, but I could imagine now that I’m done with school, that maybe that will change.

Climbing: Do you plan on starting work at a clinic, or what kind of setting?

Kiersch: So occupational therapy is similar to physical therapy, especially in terms of job settings and job outlooks. Originally, I had thought that I would take some semi-permanent, full-time work, but now I’m sort of thinking that I’ll take a part-time position somewhere and do more contract work, which would be like the equivalent of substitute teaching. So very low commitment a couple of days a month, just to keep a foot in the door. But mainly I want to prioritize my climbing and see where I can go.

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Climbing: You’ve really accomplished a lot in the last couple of years. What would you say you’re most proud of? 

Kiersch: I think getting my doctorate has gotta be what I’m most proud of. Not because I’m surprised, but just because I worked really hard for it. I took it very seriously and it was just this dream come true.

Climbing: Is occupational therapy a field that you knew you wanted to be in for a long time? 

Kiersch: Yeah. My mom had worked with occupational therapists when she was sick, and that was my first introduction into the field. They were a really impactful part of her healthcare team. Also, I learned that occupational therapists can specialize in hand therapy, which felt like a really obvious marriage for me, between climbing and my professional life. And that’s how I ended up pursuing it. 

Climbing: Does that mean you’re hoping to work with climbers?

Kiersch: I think I definitely want to work with climbers, but I also would like to continue working with the general population, because it’s a nice challenge. And also there are so many different types of conditions and people that you can see and I think it’s nice to keep learning in that way.

Climbing: From what I can tell, you’ve had a really steady progression in your climbing career. So how have you been able to achieve that? 

Kiersch: I am not sure, honestly. I have been learning more and expanding my repertoire of moves and climbing styles and going on trips with a bunch of different kinds of people. I’m constantly learning and I’m constantly growing. And I think, with that, I gained confidence and momentum. Now that I have more time, I’m hoping to test my skills in a bunch of different climbing areas on a bunch of different types of climbs. So hopefully I can just keep this momentum going forwards.

Climbing: Where are some of your dream crags? 

Kiersch: I really want to go to the Rocklands because I’ve never been. That’s on the tippy-top of my list. And then also the Frankenjura would be really cool. 

Climbing: What are your climbing goals? 

Kiersch: Long-term goals would just be longevity. I want to do it forever and I want to love it forever. Short term, there are definitely some things that I have my eye on, but those I might keep private for now.