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, 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," says Michelle. "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," says Michelle. "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.”
In 2009 some friends invited Michelle on a three-week 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.”