Michaela Kiersch made a “surprise” ascent of Lucifer (5.14c) at the Purgatory, Red River Gorge, Kentucky
this weekend. It was the 21-year-old’s second 5.14c ascent, after Pure Imagination this spring.
“My first go [on Sunday] went really well, as I almost stuck the crux move from the ground,” Kiersch tells Rock and Ice. “I think that it was
so unexpected that I surprised myself off the wall.”
Mike Doyle made the first ascent of Lucifer in November 2006, and at the time, it was one of the hardest routes in the RRG. Since then, the line
has attracted top climbers such as Chris Sharma, Jonathan Siegrist, Kai Lightner, Ashima Shiraishi, and Sasha DiGiulian, among others. Antithetical of the more common, steep jug hauls of
the RRG, Lucifer is a “a more technical climb on shallow (razor sharp) pockets and crimps,” Lightner described it as a in a previous interview with Rock and Ice. It remains one of the RRG’s testpieces.
“I think that the crux for me is the same as for everyone: a hard deadpoint from a shallow-pocket
pinch to a sharp mini jug. I just have to use a reeeeaaallllly high foot!” says Kiersch.
She tried the climb sporadically over the last few years, but says she didn’t put in consistent energy until a few weeks ago. “This season has been uncharacteristically
warm and Saturday was what felt like the first true day of fall,” she says. “I went to Purgatory on Sunday, which had been the trend the last three
Kiersch, who lives in Chicago, Illinois, makes the seven-hour drive to the RRG almost every weekend in the spring and fall, despite her “jam-packed” schedule
of school, work and training. She is a senior bioscience major at DePaul University—and answered RI’s questions via e-mail while she
was in physics class, yesterday, after an exam in analytical chemistry.
Five days a week, Kiersch wakes up for her 8 a.m. class, and after school, she hits the climbing gym where she coaches the First Ascent Youth Team—a
job she’s had for the last seven years. “I sometimes find it difficult to motivate myself after spending hours trying to motivate and train the [youth
team], but ultimately I draw a lot of inspiration from them,” she says. “They hustle in school all day just as I do and at 5 p.m. we all end up in
the gym together.”
But the daily grind takes its toll: “I am honestly not quite sure how I am doing it,” Kiersch says, “but something is working. I have to sacrifice things
like ‘down time’ or ‘relaxing’ but I am not really sure what that means anyways. I have learned that I can’t be perfect at everything, and I accept
failure as it comes, which is hopefully not often.”
When the weekend comes, it’s off to the Red. “I think that RRG is one of my favorite places on the planet,” Kiersch says, “and once you get into a groove,
the drive doesn’t seem THAT bad, especially if you’re sending!”
With the cooler temps on Sunday, Kiersch almost stuck the crux of Lucifer on her first go of the day, which was so unexpected that she “surprised”
herself off the wall. After resting, she roped up for a second go. “I didn’t really feel like I was in sending mode because of the quick progress,”
she says. “The rock felt so much better in colder temps and I found myself shaking out on the jug after the crux!”
Kiersch clipped the chains on what she thinks was her fifth attempt of the season, and likely tenth overall. Now with Lucifer complete, when asked
if she has any other projects this fall, Kiersch replied, “Of course I have other projects! I will be back [to the RRG] this weekend.”
This spring, Kiersch sent Thanatopsis and Pure Imagination in one weekend at the RRG—her first 5.14b and first 5.14c ascents. In August, she won the Psicobloc Masters deep-water soloing competition in Park City, Utah.
Watch Jonathan Siegrist Climb Lucifer (5.14c):