Bar­bara Zangerl

The Aus­trian Bar­bara “Babsi” Zangerl has ticked V13, 5.14c sport, 5.14 trad, the Alpine Tril­ogy of 5.14-, multi- pitch, high- al­ti­tude free climbs, and some of the hard­est free routes on El Cap­i­tan. At only 30 years old, Zangerl is one of the best, most v

Climbing - - FACES - BY JULIE EL­LI­SON / IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY DONGYUN LEE

While Bar­bara Zangerl is a house­hold name in the Euro­pean climb­ing scene, un­less you pay close at­ten­tion to in­ter­na­tional climb­ing news, you’ve likely not heard of this Aus­trian al­laround badass. A decade ago, she burst onto the boul­der­ing scene with a tick of Pura Vida (V12/13) in Switzer­land’s Magic Wood, the hard­est boul­der­ing as­cent by a woman at the time. She’s since par­layed that into an amaz­ing list of cut­ting-edge as­cents. Babsi is one of only four climbers to have com­pleted the Alpine Tril­ogy: red­point as­cents of the 5.14a Alps “sport” routes Des Kais­ers neue Klei­der,

Sil­bergeier, and End of Si­lence. These runout, tech­ni­cal, multi-pitch climbs are known 1 for their thin, nails-hard cruxes on stormthrashed lime­stone walls at al­ti­tude. In 2017, she and the pro climber Ja­copo Larcher (who’s also her boyfriend) es­tab­lished the 5.14b R trad climb Gondo Crack in Switzer­land af­ter lead­ing it on bolts, and the pair has ticked three of El Cap­i­tan’s tough­est free routes in three con­sec­u­tive years: El Niño (VI 5.13c A0) in 2015,

Zo­diac (VI 5.13d) in 2016, and the long-awaited sec­ond free as­cent of Magic Mush­room (VI 5.14a) in 2017. Zangerl lives in the moun­tain town of Blu­denz, Austria, in the Vo­rarl­berg re­gion, mak­ing her liv­ing as a pro climber and part-time ra­di­ol­ogy as­sis­tant in a lo­cal hos­pi­tal.

The early days of Zangerl’s climb­ing life un­folded, like so many oth­ers of her gen­er­a­tion, at the lo­cal gym: When she was 14, her older brother, Udo, took her and her 16-year-old sis­ter, Clau­dia, to the gym in the vil­lage of Flirsch am Arl­berg, 10 min­utes from their home­town of Stren­gen. Babsi was ad­dicted im­me­di­ately, head­ing to the gym three times a week, im­prov­ing quickly. Mean­while, she and Clau­dia de­vel­oped a play­ful sense of com­pe­ti­tion to fig­ure out beta and push each other to im­prove. Soon, fel­low Aus­trian Bernd Zangerl (no re­la­tion) be­gan to show Babsi and Clau­dia around Austria’s boul­der­ing ar­eas, and then Italy and Switzer­land. Be­ing away from home and vis­it­ing these cool places ex­cited the teenage girls. Their par­ents had been tak­ing the five Zangerl chil­dren hik­ing and ski­ing in the moun­tains from an early age, so it was nat­u­ral to con­nect with out­door climb­ing.

As she im­proved, Babsi dab­bled in the com­pe­ti­tion boul­der­ing scene in Inns­bruck, en­ter­ing a hand­ful of na­tional comps, but pulling plas­tic never cap­ti­vated her like rock. Af­ter only four years, she had sent V11/12; two years later, in 2008, she ticked Pura Vida. At that time, Magic Wood was still rel­a­tively quiet, with untapped po­ten­tial in the boul­der-filled for­est. Babsi, Bernd, and Thomas Stein­brug­ger had found the moss-cov­ered block that houses Pura Vida, and she spot­ted and sup­ported Bernd on his first as­cent. Fas­ci­nated by the small pocket at the end of the prob­lem, she found the moves beau­ti­ful but seem­ingly above her level. Two years later, she did a few moves on Pura Vida to warm up for another prob­lem, and the crimpy style hooked her. She spent 15 to 20 days pro­ject­ing it be­fore the send.

How­ever, years of boul­der­ing and fall­ing off high­balls had caused the L5-S1 disc in Babsi’s lower back to her­ni­ate. A few months af­ter­ward, she could no longer boul­der without pain. The in­jury was slow to de­velop, and the re­cov­ery process was even slower. She would take a few months off, re­turn to boul­der­ing, ex­pe­ri­ence another setback, and need more time off. Even­tu­ally, she re­al­ized she needed to stop boul­der­ing al­to­gether. She started roped climb­ing as therapy, en­tranced by the plethora of high-qual­ity sport ar­eas near her home.

Af­ter two years, she was able to boul­der again, but the pur­suit now paled com­pared to taller ob­jec­tives. In 2011 at Vo­rarl­berg, she sent Reif

eprü­fung (8b+/5.14a), then a month later took down Ern­tezeit, her first 8c/5.14b. The next year, she ven­tured to Spain and the Red River Gorge. Shortly af­ter that, she had her first multi-pitch ex­pe­ri­ence on Aca­cia, a nine-pitch 5.13a on Switzer­land’s Rätikon, a mas­sive lime­stone face known for its runouts. This alpine sport climb­ing pre­sented a new style: slabby, in­tri­cate, tech­ni­cal move­ment. “I had to work on ev­ery sin­gle pitch even if it was 7a [5.11d]. I in­vested a lot of time,” she says. “For me, it was just cool to climb the crux pitches, the top pitches, and then con­nect ev­ery­thing from the ground up. It was like big-wall boul­der­ing.”

CLIMB­ING: So you were get­ting into these big ob­jec­tives—what did you do next?

BAR­BARA ZANGERL: I was in Sar­dinia in 2009, and we went into the Gola di Gor­ropu gorge on a rest day. I saw this 11-pitch route— su­per-over­hang­ing and a com­pletely dif­fer­ent style than Rätikon. I thought, “Wow, some­day I re­ally want to try this route.” Two years later, I came back to try Ho­tel Supra­monte (5.13d) with no ex­pec­ta­tions. My part­ner [the Aus­trian Marco Köb] and I did it in one week, which was a big sur­prise. At that time, I didn’t know about the ethics of alpine sport climb­ing. I thought I had to take ev­ery quick­draw down for each try for the red­point. That was a hard chal­lenge! Then Nina [Caprez] told me, “Oh, Babsi! You are so stupid! You can just leave the quick­draws.”

CLIMB­ING: When did you tran­si­tion to trad climb­ing?

ZANGERL: My first trad route was Su­per Crill (5.13b) in Ti­cino, Switzer­land, in 2012. The nine-pitch route is a com­bi­na­tion of face and crack climb­ing with bolts, but you have to use [re­mov­able] pro­tec­tion on the crux. It’s dou­ble split­ter cracks with no footholds, and I tried to lay­back the whole thing without jam­ming. It felt more like 8b than 8a, but I had no idea how to climb a proper fin­ger crack. I tried to put my

hands and feet in, but it didn’t work, so I used the small footholds next to the crack. A few years ago, I got back on the route and climbed it dif­fer­ently. It felt much eas­ier, and I re­ally had to laugh that I’d climbed it in such a com­pli­cated way in 2012.

CLIMB­ING: How did you tran­si­tion into moun­tain routes?

ZANGERL: Want­ing more alpine, I went to the Dolomites [in Italy], which is not great climb­ing. The rock is re­ally bad, and much of the routes are pro­tected with old pi­tons. I tried Bella Vista, a 10-pitch route on the north face of Cima Ovest. It’s the scari­est route I have ever tried, with this big roof, but the line and the tower are so im­pres­sive—with such dra­matic ex­po­sure up there that it

was hard to feel com­fort­able while climb­ing. When you fall, you have to ju­mar up to get back to the wall. I was su­per scared. I had to turn around a few times, but when I would get on the ground, I would ask my­self, “Why didn’t you try it?” CLIMB­ING: How do you deal with fear—in par­tic­u­lar of fall­ing—on these dif­fi­cult big-wall free climbs?

ZANGERL: When I switched from boul­der­ing to sport climb­ing, I al­ways wor­ried about fall­ing. But over time, I ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of dif­fer­ent climbs and got more used to the ex­po­sure and less scared with how many days I spent out in the moun­tains. But it’s still a chal­lenge when I try a new wall or a new route. On the first days, I nor­mally feel pretty scared, but with tak­ing the falls it usu­ally gets bet­ter. That works pretty well for me, but the most im­por­tant thing is to trust your part­ner. I have to be sure my part­ner can give a soft catch; other­wise, I won’t fall. CLIMB­ING: On these long, dif­fi­cult routes, how do you stay fo­cused on the moves right in front of you?

ZANGERL: At the begin­ning, I never think about it. I al­ways think ev­ery route I try is too hard for me, so ev­ery­thing feels like a sur­prise when I can do the sin­gle pitches. This [men­tal­ity] helps a lot; I never put pres­sure on my­self. It’s more like I want to see how it feels and how far I can get. I like to try routes ground-up and not check out higher pitches. Then I have all my at­ten­tion on what’s right in front of me.

Like on Magic Mush­room, on pitch 27 there were two me­ters where I couldn’t do the moves. [Zangerl and Larcher made the sec­ond free as­cent of the 5.14a on Yosemite’s El Cap­i­tan in De­cem­ber 2017.] I’m sure if I had rapped down to check it out first, then I wouldn’t have sent. When you reach this point ground-up, when you have done ev­ery­thing be­fore, you have so much more mo­ti­va­tion. When you rap down first, you might try the hard section for a few days, then think you can’t do it—and maybe you don’t even try. CLIMB­ING: What were your first ex­pe­ri­ences with Yosemite?

ZANGERL: I had read all these Yosemite books when I was a boul­derer. It was mo­ti­vat­ing to see the big walls, and 2010 was my first time there, with Han­sjörg Auer. Our first climb was Gen­er­a­tor Crack [a 5.10 sin­gle-pitch of­fwidth]. It took me three hours, and I couldn’t do half the route. The dream of climb­ing El Cap was far away, but we went there and tried Se­cret Pas­sage [a 5.13+]. Hans was a re­ally ex­pe­ri­enced soloist and alpin­ist, but there was a prob­lem when he used a non-lock­ing cara­biner while haul­ing. It opened and he fell six me­ters onto his backup pro­tec­tion, which was also not solid. It was our sec­ond day on the wall, and our El Cap ex­pe­ri­ence was over.

Then we climbed on Wash­ing­ton Col­umn, the Ros­trum,

“I LIKE TO TRY ROUTES GROUND- UP. THEN I HAVE MY AT­TEN­TION ON WHAT’S IN FRONT OF ME.”

and all these dif­fer­ent shorter routes. We couldn’t do a sin­gle one, but we tried. On Wash­ing­ton Col­umn’s Quantum

Me­chan­ics (5.13a, 15 pitches), Hans didn’t want to bring the big Ca­malots for weight. He ended up tak­ing a big fall on a hard of­fwidth se­quence, about 25 me­ters, the big­gest fall I have ever be­layed. He broke his wrist. It took us un­til mid­night to get down, then we drove to the hos­pi­tal and the whole trip was fin­ished. CLIMB­ING: Were you ner­vous re­turn­ing to the Val­ley in 2015?

ZANGERL: By then I had learned to crack climb at In­dian Creek, and I had plenty of alpine multi-pitch ex­pe­ri­ence, hav­ing climbed the Alpine Tril­ogy, Del­i­catessen (5.13d, 5 pitches) in Cor­sica, and Bella Vista (5.14b, 10 pitches) in the Dolomites. [Ja­copo and I] also did sin­gle hard pitches in the begin­ning. For us, plan­ning the or­ga­ni­za­tion was hard. Food, how many days up on the wall, haul­ing, etc.—it was com­pletely new.

We strug­gled a lot with haul­ing; it was a night­mare. It would take us 20 min­utes to climb a sin­gle pitch but two hours to haul it. For El Niño in 2015, the first five pitches are the hard­est so we would work those, then rap down. We did that for a few days be­fore climb­ing the whole route ground-up. We planned on be­ing on the wall for five days but we were up there for eight, and we ran out of food. It was re­ally hard to sleep be­cause we were so hun­gry. We al­most failed at the end be­cause one pitch was re­ally wet. I tried it 20 times be­fore I suc­ceeded. CLIMB­ING: In 2015, you and Ja­copo freed El Niño, in 2016 Zo­diac, and in 2017 Magic Mush­room. What keeps you com­ing back to El Cap?

ZANGERL: Look­ing down to the Val­ley is the best—when you wake up in the morn­ing and you see the shadow down there. It looks su­per-cold and frozen, but you’re up in the sun when it first ar­rives on the wall. CLIMB­ING: On Magic Mush­room, you spent al­most 30 days on the wall, bat­tling stom­ach ill­ness, cold weather, and hard climb­ing. You fi­nally reached the last hard move on the route [ just be­fore the an­chor on pitch 27, the last 5.14a pitch], but kept fall­ing.

ZANGERL: I was su­per happy to be there and thought, “OK, now we are here. Now it’s fin­ished.” But then I worked this pitch for four days. I could do the moves, but I couldn’t con­nect the crack se­quence. This was the prob­lem. I never had so much pres­sure as on

Magic Mush­room, be­cause this crux is only 40 me­ters from the top. I tried and tried to find a new so­lu­tion. In the end, I fig­ured out that I had to press my head against the rock be-

low my el­bow so I could bring my left foot higher. I found that so­lu­tion, rested the next day, and then started the next morn­ing at 4 a.m. I warmed up on the pitch, and then sent it first go. CLIMB­ING: You do a lot of your big as­cents with Ja­copo, who is also your boyfriend. What’s it like in these in­tense sit­u­a­tions to­gether?

ZANGERL: We had met and talked a few times in the past, but his Ger­man was re­ally bad [Larcher is Ital­ian] so I didn’t know him well. The first time we re­ally met and climbed to­gether was at the Mel­loblocco com­pe­ti­tion in Italy. We re­ally talked there, and then started to climb to­gether.

One of our first dates was on the south face of the Mar­mo­lada in the Dolomites. We wanted to climb an easy route, but with 30 pitches, it ended up be­ing the first test of our re­la­tion­ship. We got lost be­cause the runouts are re­ally big, so on one of the last pitches we were in the wrong place. It got dark and we couldn’t reach the top, and with these alpine routes it’s not a good idea to rap be­cause the an­chors are bad, with rusty pi­tons. But it was too cold to

sleep, so we rapped all night. The whole climb and de­scent took 25 hours, and at the end it was hard to have a con­ver­sa­tion. I didn’t un­der­stand him any­more—he was too tired to speak Ger­man, and I don’t speak Ital­ian. Still, some­how we stayed calm and didn’t fight—that’s why we kept on do­ing things like this. That was five years ago, and since that ex­pe­ri­ence was the worst, it’s just got­ten bet­ter. Plus, he speaks Ger­man now.

CLIMB­ING: How would you de­scribe the Amer­i­can ver­sus Aus­trian climb­ing scenes?

ZANGERL: In Austria in the win­ter, the climb­ing gym is full of peo­ple, but in the sum­mer, no­body goes to the gym. Ev­ery­one who is a climber climbs out­side on real rock. In the US, it seems like many peo­ple go to the gym for fit­ness. In Austria, it’s more related to climb­ing. For the most part, climbers are the same all over the world—sim­ple and open peo­ple—but Aus­trian cul­ture in gen­eral is more closed. It can be hard to find friends. Amer­i­cans are open; ev­ery­body talks to ev­ery­body, even when you don’t know each other. You don’t have this in Austria. When you don’t know some­body, it’s hard to get in a con­ver­sa­tion.

CLIMB­ING: Which climbers in­spire you?

ZANGERL: Lynn Hill, who freed the Nose in 1993. It was graded 8a [5.13b], and now it’s graded 8b+ [5.14a]—most times routes get eas­ier, but that one got harder. That is re­ally im­pres­sive. Free­ing the Nose has al­ways been a big dream of mine, and that was the goal last year, but when we went in Oc­to­ber there was no chance. It was too crowded, with 20 par­ties. It’s not fun to try a route like that. I’m also in­spired by Sílvia Vi­dal. I don’t want to do things like she does, but it’s crazy the ex­pe­di­tions she does alone, these first as­cents. Also Beat Kam­mer­lan­der, who has es­tab­lished a lot of cool routes in Rätikon.

CLIMB­ING: Did Beat’s ground-up, trad ethics in­spire you for your green­point (no-bolts as­cent) of Gondo Crack? And do you and he ever climb to­gether?

ZANGERL: I often meet Beat in his lo­cal crag of Vo­ralpsee—it’s fun to climb with such a leg­end! I am im­pressed with how he opened his routes in the Rätikon, al­ways ground-up with long runouts, and bolts only when they are needed. This seems the log­i­cal way, I think. For the climbers who re­peat those routes, it of­fers a greater ad­ven­ture be­cause you have to climb hard se­quences to reach the next bolt. There is no other way—no aid style or grab­bing quick­draws.

I try to re­spect the ethics of the first as­cen­sion­ists, and I think ethics are im­por­tant in climb­ing. I love to go to the UK for trad climb­ing; they have their own strong ethic, which you have to re­spect. No­body would bolt a route there if it’s pos­si­ble to climb it with trad gear, so that of­fers a great men­tal game and a more in­tense ex­pe­ri­ence. In Os­sola where

Gondo is lo­cated, peo­ple bolted all those cracks, but you can climb most of them without us­ing the bolts. If this area was in Bri­tain or the US, there wouldn’t be a sin­gle bolt, but since it’s in the mid­dle of Europe, the trad climber’s eye might wa­ter at the sight of beau­ti­ful cracks with shiny bolts.

For Gondo Crack, it made more sense to us to climb it with trad gear. It’s a log­i­cal line that doesn’t need bolts. Do­ing it this way re­quires more ef­fort, but it also pro­vides far stronger emo­tions.

2. Sil­bergeier ( 5.14a), Rätikon, Switzer­land, here on the crux, fifth pitch of this route i n the Alpine Tril­ogy. 1. Zangerl ( front) at age 6 on top of the Och­senkopf ( 3,360 feet), Bavaria, Ger­many, with her mother, Evi; sis­ter Clau­dia; and a fam­ily...

1. Bar­bara Zangerl on the 5.14a twenty- sec­ond pitch of Magic Mush­room ( VI 5.14a), El Cap­i­tan, Yosemite, Cal­i­for­nia. 2. Hang­ing but happy ona Unendliche Geschichte ( 5.14a), RŠtikon, Switzerl and. 3. Tak­ing the ride on Bella Vista ( 5.14b), Cima...

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