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Michaela Kiersch, a doctoral candidate at Rush University and one of America’s most accomplished sport climbers, has sent her first V14, Hailstorm, in Ogden, Utah. Shortly afterward, helped by Kiersch’s carefully curated beta, Alex Puccio made a quick ascent of the same boulder.
“[It’s] a technical compression climb,” Kirsch told Climbing by email. The rock is very sparsely textured, and the moves consist of “complex foot and hand sequences, including a kneebar.”
“It’s been a lot of fun climbing with another motivated and strong woman,” Kiersch said.
Kiersch, 27, is widely known for her hard sport climbs, but she’s also an accomplished boulderer. In 2019, she won the Hueco Rock Rodeo by sending two V12s, a V11/12, two V11s, and a V10, in one day.
Kiersch spent more than ten days over two years on Hailstorm, longer than she’s spent on any other boulder problem. She first started working the V12/13 stand start in June 2020, when Drew Ruana was working on the then-undone sit-start. And she was there when, shortly after Ruana made the FA, a mountain storm rolled in and pummeled them with hail—an event for which the problem is named.
But Kiersch was “relatively laid-back” in the projecting process, she says, visiting the boulder whenever she “had spare time and climbing partners.”
Kiersch is not a full-time climber; instead, she’s spent the last three years balancing her climbing against a doctoral program in Occupational Therapy. “Both [school and climbing] are incredibly demanding and time consuming,” she says, “making it difficult to give both my attention at the same time…. Keeping my expectations realistic has been crucial for my mental health.”
Even so, she managed to up her climbing level while pursuing school. Last summer, shortly after making the first female ascent of Boone Speed’s iconic Supertweak (5.14b), in Logan Canyon, she sent Chris Sharma’s notoriously hard Dreamcatcher (5.14d), in Squamish. And now, with Hailstorm, she’s done her hardest boulder.
“I think that I excel when I am being challenged in multiple areas of my life,” Kiersch adds, “which could explain why I am able to maintain a high level in climbing.”
Puccio, meanwhile, has been climbing V14 for the better part of a decade. She did her first V14, Jade, in Rocky Mountain National Park, in 2014, and has since done New Base Line in Magic Wood and Penrose Step in Leavenworth, among others. She first tried Hailstorm’s stand start the day before her ascent, but the top holds were wet and, after thirty minutes of trying the first few moves, the snowmelt had rendered the entire boulder unclimbable. Returning the following day, she quickly sent the stand, then dispatched the sit. (Uncut footage here.)
Regarding the grade, Puccio is unsure.”It looks like some think V14 and some think V13,” she told 8a.nu, “I honestly don’t know.” On Instagram she added that “it suited me REALLY well AND I had all the beta handed to me. Regardless, it was a really fun and productive day out for both of us girls!”