It can’t be easy being a climber in Denmark. A country that has been described as the ‘Kansas of Europe’ because it is so flat - the highest natural point is only 170 metres above sea-level - and within the confines of Europe has no crags aside from on the island of Bornholm.
For Michelle Kim Theisen, born in 1991 and growing up in a small Copenhagen suburb, her first experience of climbing was as a 12-year-old at a local climbing gym during her school summer holiday. She quickly became hooked on it and quit all her other sports.
The same year that Michelle started climbing, she began competing and finished fourth in the Junior Danish Championship. By 2005 she’d won her first Junior Danish Championship in lead, and in 2008 won the lead and boulder categories, as well as finishing an impressive second in the seniors lead competition.
Her introduction to climbing outside was on a trip to Gorges du Tarn (France) in 2008, arranged by the gym-members. It made a big impression on Michelle. “I still remember my first climb up a 6a – it was a struggle finding my way, but it was love from the moment I pulled on the starting holds. On the same trip, I climbed my first multipitch route; four pitches up to 6c. I still remember us laughing, sitting at the top of the pillar thrilled about the climb, eating carrots and enjoying the beautiful view.”
Unfortunately, that same year she had a fall at the bouldering wall that left her with a shattered ankle and unable to climb for six months. The doctor thought she would never be able to climb again. “At the time, climbing was everything to me. To stop was not an option. As soon as I could fit my foot into the climbing shoe again, I went back to climbing, knowing I would be doing this for the rest of my life,” says Michelle.
Up until 2009, Michelle had only been on a couple of one-week climbing trips, when some friends invited her on a three weeks vacation to Les Actinidias – a family camping/climbing destination in southern France. She’d recovered well from her accident, although walking to the rock was hard and running was impossible.
Introduced to redpoint climbing she climbed her first 7c on the third day and after this her friends encouraged her to try her first 8a. Michelle recalls: “I often think back to this climb because I found joy in the process of trying it over and over again. Clipping the anchor on the last day of the trip left me feeling happier than ever. This made me the youngest female climber at that time in Denmark to pass the eighth grade, despite the doctor’s words.”
Since then she has been travelling a lot, often by herself, meeting new people and teaming up with other climbers from all around the world. “Meeting and climbing with others is a big part of my climbing life, and my travels have given me so many amazing memories and good friends,” says Michelle.
Her all-time favourite destination is Ceüse, France. She loves the crag's climbing style and even the long hike. Ceüse is where she has ticked her hardest climbs so far – spending the past four summers there, focusing on harder redpoints of the many classic routes with her first 8a+ being Face de Rat.
Preferring to go sport climbing when heading outside, Michelle had only bouldered indoors when training with friends, until one trip to Chironico (Switzerland) in 2015 when she was encouraged to try The Arête With The Pocket (8A). This problem became an eye-opener. “On the second session, I had figured out all the moves and had some really good burns, linking the problem in two parts. I realised that I was able to climb much harder than what I thought possible.” This was a big motivator to boulder more outside and trips to Magic Wood, Sweden, Fontainebleau and Ticino soon followed. In 2016, she went back to the 8A in Chironico, worked out the moves again on the first day and found herself at the top on the second day after a good warm-up. “I couldn’t believe I was the first and only Danish woman so far to break into the eighth grade bouldering,” recalls Michelle [Vid] For Michelle, climbing has always been fun, even when fighting at her limit. When climbing, she describes it as feeling timeless. “I can spend hours on the same route or problem – trying to figure out the moves, trying again and again... Even though I keep falling off, something inside me keeps on fighting.” At home due to the lack of nearby crags, she only has the option of climbing on plastic. Luckily Michelle has always loved training, enjoying pushing herself and seeking constant improvements. For the past two years, her focus has been on the European World Cup competitions as a member of the Danish climbing team. Michelle is currently climbing/training full-time, mainly indoors, and working as a coach on various climbing courses in Denmark. Follow Michelle on Instagram (@michelle_kt).