After all the miles, days and pitches, success came down to the last 10 feet of a pitch, only 50 meters from the top. The second crux on the 27th pitch of Magic Mushroom (VI 5.14a) was, Barbara Zangerl of Austria says, “the most important part of the route. Or I couldn’t send it.”
Before Zangerl and Jacopo Larcher’s final push on Magic Mushroom, with two 5.14 and 10 5.13 pitches, she had never been able to connect the two cruxes on the second 5.14. The sequence, coming at the end of a long, pumpy corner, was a layback up the right side of a crack, with a final dyno. She could get two fingers on the target crimp, but her foot kept slipping. On day nine of their third time up the route, with a flight home impending, she fell twice, and thought: It’s the end of my dream.
Yet Zangerl, 29, spent an intent hour-plus at the spot working different holds and positions, and ditched her previous beta. “I found a really weird body position,” she says. “I had to squeeze my head against the rock.” She laughs. “It sounds really stupid but it was the best solution I have ever found on a crack.”
Left hand in the crack, she reached far right for a bad, shouldery crimp. Stretched out and stuggling to place her left foot, she pressed her head against the protruding left side of the crack for balance. Up came the foot—and back she went to the portaledge at the base of the pitch, to rest for the send two days later.
“I am a stubborn person,” she says. “It’s really hard to give up.”
Q&A with Babsi Zangerl
What happened after you changed your sequence at the end of Magic Mushroom?
I knew I had to rest. The next day I was stressed all day. It felt like one week. [That night] I was not able to sleep. I could not sleep anyway, so at 4:00 in the morning I had breakfast and I climbed up [the pitch] one time, just to get a feel … and then I came down and did it.
You have said this route was the biggest mental challenge of your climbing career. How so?
I never tried a route such a long time [30 days] as Magic Mushroom, never invested so much energy.
[A big wall is] a big puzzle. You have the approach, the haulbags, you have a lot of pitches … You don’t know if you can do it. … This is really exciting to me. You have to bring it together slowly from pitch to pitch and connect the pitches and try to get farther and to get to the top.
You started as a boulderer. How did that change?
I had an injury, a broken disk, and had to stop. Climbing with a rope was the best therapy to recover. At the same time I found a new passion.
I really liked to learn something new in climbing. I had no endurance at all and was scared about long runouts.
How did you go from that feeling to taking huge falls in Scotland?
I had to work on this. You try to just let go and look how it feels and then go a little bit farther and jump off again, and you can train it.
On the crux [of Achemine, previously unrepeated 5.13d R] I knew that I would not fall on the ground. This was really important. I tried the fall in the crux, and it didn’t feel so bad.
I [would think I] can do two or three meters further and fall and not get hurt, so to me it was a risk I could take, and it was not so bad. After [the crux] it was much easier, and I had to climb in control. You could fall on the ground but it was much easier. I was sure I could do the moves even if I was tired, and I could take this risk.
Other hardest routes?
Bellavista [5.14a in the Dolomites in 2015] was really hard with a lot of loose rock, and it’s super overhanging. At the beginning I was super scared. I had to turn around a few times because I was scared to try the next pitch, and then you are standing on the ground again and think [laughs], Oh my god, you didn’t even try.
But after the first fall it felt much better. … Often you feel a much bigger risk than it is.
Goals for annual sport-climbing trip to Spain?
It would be really cool to try to project a 9a (5.14d). But mostly to try a lot of different routes.
- Second free ascent of Magic Mushroom (VI 5.14a), 28 pitches, 2017; third free ascent, Zodiac (VI 5.13d), 20 pitches, 2016. Both on El Capitan, Yosemite, with Jacopo Larcher.
- First female ascent (among five overall) of the “Alpine Trilogy” (all 5.14a): Kaisers neue Kleider, nine pitches, Wilder Kaiser, Austria, 2013; Silbergeier, six pitches, Rätikon, Switzerland, 2013; End of Silence, 11 pitches, Berchtesgaden, Germany, 2012.
- First repeat of Gondo Crack (5.14b, on gear), had been unrepeated for 15 years, Cippo, Switzerland, 2017. First repeat of Achemine (E9/6c/5.13d), unrepeated for 15 years, Dumbarton, Scotland, 2016. Prinzip Hoffnung (8b/5.13d R), Vorarlberg, Austria, 2014.
- Bouldered 8B/V13, sport climbed 8c+/5.14c.
This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 249 (April 2018).