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“It’s a Funny Story”: Chiara Hanke’s Frankenjura 9a

The German climber became the the first female to climb a 9a in the Frankenjura, Germany.

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Chiara Hanke began working on Sever the Wicked Hand (9a/5.14d) in much the same way that she started climbing at all: out of circumstance. That route—her toughest climb to date—marks the first send of the grade by a German female climber, as well as the first send of the grade in the Frankenjura area by a woman.

Hanke was a passionate wakeboarder from a young age, but was forced to put the sport on hold following an injury and shoulder surgery at the age of 13. A climbing gym had opened near her home, and she began climbing as a way to work on her fitness following her recovery. “At the start, I tried to do both,” Hanke explained, “but I was so psyched about going climbing that there was no time anymore for wakeboarding.”

She started attending regional climbing competitions just one year later, and went on to compete nationally and internationally, becoming the German youth bouldering champion in 2010 and podiuming at German Lead Cups in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Recently, the 26-year-old has focused more on climbing outdoors, mostly in the Frankenjura, near home, where she has completed a number of routes including Klondike Cat (8c/5.14b), Odd Fellows (8c) and Battle Cat (8c+/5.14c).

The route features the Frankenjura’s characteristic small pockets. Photo: Hans Radetzki.

Her first encounter with Sever the Wicked Hand was also the product of chance. Some of her friends were climbing at Hängender Stein, and they invited her along. She did so, “because of course,” but she didn’t have anything to work on. Someone suggested she try out Sever the Wicked Hand, and she ended up loving it: “The boulder really fascinated me…. It’s really a funny story because it wasn’t like I said, ‘I want to try it.’ It was more like, I try something because I don’t want not to climb.”

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Hanke lives in Franconia in Germany with her husband, and splits her time between school, working on their recently-bought house, and climbing. Summers in Franconia are hot, so she tends to climb early in the morning when it’s still cool out, and then trains in the gym in the evenings. “I’ve always admired her discipline in training. I think the amount of time she invests into her training is unfathomable for most people,” said Hanke’s friend and fellow climber, Hans Radetzki. Radetzki, the founder of White Van Media, photographed Hanke on the climb and was present for her send.

“The cool thing about Chiara is that—despite being super disciplined—she’d never prioritize her climbing goals over other people’s climbing.” He recalls that while she was working on Wallstreet —also in the Frankenjura, and notably, the world’s first 5.14b—she would willingly pass on good conditions to give Radetzki a catch on his own project.

Hanke initially tried the route on a friend’s suggestion. Photo: Hans Radetzki.

Hanke took six or seven sessions to send Sever the Wicked Hand. The route is long for the area, and includes the Frankenjura’s signature pockets as well as powerful moves. In the Frankenjura, she says, “You always have some boulders and you always have finger pockets. The first boulder [of the route] is very untypical for Franconia, because there are also crimps and more underclings, and the second one is very typical for Franconia because there are pockets.”

On the day before the send, Hanke tried the route and said it was “very, very close,” but that it was too hot and humid outdoors—about 32 degrees Celsius, or 90 degrees Fahrenheit. “Then I decided to stop and to go to the crag in the morning, because it was only 14 degrees and it was perfect…. I gave it a hard first try in the morning and it was also the successful one.”

Chiara’s husband, Christoph Hanke, is a pro climber himself, but he was recovering from an injury at the time and didn’t make it to the crag with her—instead, she brought her in-laws along as belayers. “They’ve supported me many times, and belayed me many times, and it was perfect. They were very motivated to go with me to the crag, and they belayed me, and it was so much fun because after my send it was like, ‘Oh, okay, it’s perfect! It’s breakfast time: let’s go to the bakery and we can have some breakfast!’”

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Hanke’s climb, as the first female ascent of a 9a in the Frankenjura, has historical resonance: the Frankenjura was also the site of the world’s first 9a, Action Directe, established in 1991 by Wolfgang Güllich.

Hanke hopes that after her master’s is done she can take a year to travel and explore climbs in other parts of the world. “I really, really want to climb somewhere else, like America. I’ve never been, and it’s such a shame because there are such great areas.”

“I really don’t think it will be the only route in the realm of the French 9th grade we’ll see getting dispatched by Chiara,” Radetzki said. “So keep an eye on her.”