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In the midst of final exams and national competitions, college senior Michaela Kiersch continues to push her sport climbing limits in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. On a recent weekend visit to the Red, Kiersch added two 5.14c’s to her ever-expanding tick list. On March 5, on a weekend trip from her home in Chicago, Kiersch sent her fifth climb at the grade, Southern Smoke (5.14c) at Bob Marley Crag. She quickly followed with a send of 50 Words for Pump (5.14c) the next day in only four attempts. These successes come one week after her send of Twenty Four Karats (5.14c) on February 25, and less than a year after her first 5.14b and 5.14c ascents last April.
“This weekend was a whirlwind,” said Kiersch, who makes the seven hour drive from to Kentucky as often as possible. “I did not drive down that weekend expecting to send both (or either) of those routes, so it was a welcome surprise!”
According to Kiersch, Southern Smoke and 50 Words for Pump have always been intimidating lines for her. “I had heard that they were pinchy and slopey, two things that are definitely not my strengths,” she said. “I soon came to realize that I could actually do the moves, and both routes were more of an endurance game than anything.” With her ascent, Kiersch joins a small group of a few dozen climbers who have sent Southern Smoke, which was put up by Joe Kinder in 2008.
Between schoolwork, a coaching job, and a strict training schedule, Kiersch’s recent climbing accomplishments are all the more impressive. Her next big objective: graduation. “My main focus is to graduate this year, that’s a huge goal of mine,” said Kiersch, who studies bioscience at DePaul University.
This past weekend, Kiersch placed fifth in USA Climbing’s Sport Climbing Open Nationals in Denver. Last month, she took fourth at the Bouldering Open National Championship.