Barbara Zangerl ~ interviewed by Monique Forestier. Photos as credited.
Austria’s Barbara Zangerl (25) initially made her name in competition bouldering winning the Italian Melloblocco five times. On rock she achieved the first female ascent of Pura Vida (V12/V13) at Magic Wood in Switzerland back in 2008. Soon after she was forced to stop bouldering due to a back injury and turned her energy towards roped climbing. It seems that the shift in disciplines has allowed Barbara to excel even further. Last year she completed the highly venerated “Alpine Trilogy”, comprised of, End of Silence, Silbergeier and Des Kaisers neue Kleider. Respected for their boldness, these enduring multi-pitch routes are in alpine style and have long run-outs, all three routes were established in 1994 and given the grade of 8b+. I met Barbara at Oliana (Feb 2014) and was excited to ask her some questions about her climbing achievements and future plans.
Onsight: Hello Barbara thank you for your time today.
BZ: No problem thank you.
Onsight: I would like to start by asking you about your background. Firstly where did you grow up? How did you get into climbing? What age were you? And did you do any other sports before this?
BZ: I grew up in Strengen, a small village in Arlberg region, in Tyrol and now I changed the place I live in Bludenz (Vorarlberg) as I also work in the hospital (as a radiological technologist) I started climbing when I was 14 together with my sister, we started in a bouldering gym in Flirsch and we started climbing for the first time. In the beginning I was just focused on bouldering. One year after I started bouldering we went the first time outdoors to Ticino and tried bouldering outdoors. That for me was fun and it was cool to try it together with lots of friends. Before climbing I tried a lot of sports, I tried skiing, football, but did not like them so much.
Onsight: Why did you think that climbing was a good fit for you?
BZ: For me it was really cool to go for the weekend to another place, see new places, new people and to go away from home for some time. And especially it was cool to try together with friends boulders and push each other, getting better and better.
Onsight: So you started as a boulderer and you were very successful. Tell us a little about this time.
BZ: Yes when I started the first time in the gym, I was so motivated for bouldering that after the first time then I went three times a week. We didn’t train, like real training, we only went bouldering and after when we went outdoors for bouldering, for me I would sit under the boulder for so long and try many times, that I could just do it, it felt natural for me this process.
Onsight: Due to a back injury you were forced to change from bouldering to roped climbing, initially how did you feel about this prospect?
BZ: It was really hard for me because the pain at the beginning was not so painful and I thought I can go bouldering and when I take a rest for two or three weeks it will be okay but it wasn’t. I tried it a lot of times after the injury but it was impossible for me to do it, it was really bad at this moment and then I realised that I must stop for a minimum of one year otherwise it would come back. Then it was a strange process because there are so many different sport climbing places near my home town that I had never climbed at before, so it was good fun to climb all these routes. Then after I never looked back to bouldering, for me it was a new experience just like when I first went bouldering.
Onsight: Last year you completed the highly venerated “Alpine Trilogy”. What made you choose such an adventurous goal? What specific training did you do? How did you prepare?
BZ: It was not my goal to complete this trilogy I only wanted to try Silbergeier. It was really cool because I found a partner, Nina Caprez, so we tried the route together, but at this time my back injury returned because of an under-cling move on Silbergeier and I had to rest half a year again. After this I thought I couldn’t go back to Silbergeier because the risk was too high. So then I searched for a route which is similar to Silbergeier and then found End of Silence and the year after I went to this route and tried it sometimes but in the beginning it was really hard. I thought it was sport climbing multi-pitch, I only had quickdraws with me, but it wasn’t, it was alpine style and I needed Camalots for the easier pitches of End of Silence. At the first ground up try in this route the risk was too high without mobile protection so after five pitches we must come down. In this year I completed End of Silence and then after I went back to Silbergeier and it felt so much better, I didn’t try this under-cling move so many times. And then after doing Silbergeier doing the trilogy, for me it was the goal.
For training I just tried the routes. For me it is always like this, when I try a boulder I just practice the boulder and for sport climbing I just try the route. In winter I train specifically bouldering in the gym.
Onsight: The first one off your list was End of Silence (11 pitches of 7a+, 6a, 6c+, 6c, 7b+, 7c+, 7b+, 8b, 8b+, 7c+ and 7a+) which you completed in August 2012. It was established by Thomas Huber on the compact rock of The Feuerhorn in the Berchtesgaden Alps in Germany. The real difficulty comes at the 8th and 9th pitch. How did you conserve you strength and focus for such a long day? Was there a reason to tackle route one first?
BZ: I tried this one first because I was not sure if I could go back to Silbergeier but I liked it because it was similar style. It was crimpy, not so overhanging and beautiful rock. It was a real mental challenge because in the beginning I was near to falling at the first 7c+ but I climbed up to the 8b without a fall and then I did the 8b on my first try because I had too, otherwise I would not have enough energy for the next pitch. I was really tired at this point and then I fell two times on the 8b+ and I thought now it is finished. I felt so tired but I think it was only my head, because I really wanted to do it, and that was the reason why it worked. I also had a fall after on the 7c+.
Onsight: How many times did you attempt this route?
BZ: I tried it for two months and I only tried this route. I always had one climbing day and sometimes we were 10 hours climbing in the wall, then I rested for two days and then go again. This was all the training I did. I went there ten days.
Onsight: The second route that you completed was Silbergeier (240m, 6 pitches; 8b, 7c+, 8a+, 7a+, 8b+ and 7c), which is located in Switzerland’s Rätikon mountains and was established by Beat Kammerlander. You had teamed up earlier with Nina Caprez who went on to do the first female ascent. Did you think that Nina was interested in completing the trilogy also?
BZ: She asked me last year if we can try together Des Kaisers neue Kleider but she had to work in her new flat and she had no time to join with me. But at the moment I think she is not interested in trying it.
Onsight: In August 2013 you completed the last of the trilogy, Des Kaisers neue Kleider (240m, 9 pitches; 6b, 7c, 8a+, 7b+, 8b+, 8a, 6b, 8b+, 6c) this one is situated in Austria’s Wilder Kaiser mountains and was established by Stefan Glowacz. It has an 8b+ pitch midway and then another as the second last pitch. How did this route go for you on the actual send day?
BZ: Mmmm. For me this was the hardest route of the three because, and this was mental, this was the biggest challenge I ever had, because I climbed without falling until the last hardest pitch (8b+) and there I had six falls, and I always fell at the middle of the pitch on the last hard move. Also there are strange climbing passages because you have to stand on really small foot holds and for me it was also a little bit of luck too, not to slip.
Onsight: So you fell six times and then you made it through. So at what point do you say it’s enough I cannot go any further?
BZ: I did this only because on every try I got one move further or did it a little bit better, that was the reason why I tried it again and again. Otherwise I would stop.
Onsight: You obviously have incredible fitness to do all of the lower climbing and then be able to try and try again.
BZ: Yes I think it is all about the head. In this moment I was so motivated to finish it because I have so many hard pitches behind me and that was the reason I didn’t want to give up.
Onsight: How long did you rest between each attempt?
BZ: 20 minutes always 20 minutes. I rested on a ledge for twenty minutes and then after 30 minutes there was a big ahhhh and then rest again. In the end the last 6c was a real fight.
Onsight: How did you feel when you realised that you had succeeded in becoming the first female to achieve this goal given that only a few men have done the same (Stefan Glowacz in 2001, Harald Berger in 2005, Ondra Benes 2009 and Mark Amann 2013)?
BZ: For me it was a crazy feeling to do all of these routes and when it was finished it was… Onsight: a relief. BZ: Yeh but the big adventure was finished so I was disappointed. At first it was very cool, one of the best feelings I ever had but also a little bit sad because I had a lot of cool days with a lot of cool people. For me the best thing is when you find somebody who has the same motivation as you, for a route, and you can push each other, if somebody finds a new solution for a move, then that’s the best for me.
Onsight: You are here now in Oliana. I have seen you literally tear this place apart in a matter of weeks. Is this a holiday for you? Does this count as training?
BZ: No it’s a holiday for me, the first climbing trip after my winter training indoors.
Onsight: You did Fish Eye (8c) quickly and then in a matter of three days you went on to do your first 8c+ with Mind Control. So what next? Will you be looking to try a 9a?
BZ: No I think not, I am more motivated for multi-pitch climbing in the summer and for me I only do sport climbing in Autumn and Spring and so I think I would need a really, really long time, or maybe it’s impossible for me to climb 9a. So I don’t know, it’s not a goal in the next time for me.
Onsight: What do you do for training? Do you have a strict training program or training cycle?
BZ: I only train in winter and there I have a special training, I do only bouldering for 6 weeks and there I chose three boulders, one boulder with slopers, one boulder with pinches and one boulder with crimps. I climb each boulder six times with one and a half minutes break between, this is called Aufbau in German. And this I do for 12-15 days with rests between and after I just go bouldering and climbing routes for one month. And after, when it’s possible to climb outside I only climb outside.
Onsight: What is on the horizon as far as your alpine multi-pitch climbing goes? Do you have specific goals in mind?
BZ: I really want to learn crack climbing better because I am very bad at this. For me the most important thing in climbing is to do different things to keep my motivation high. Now I am motivated to do multi-pitch alpine style and also sport multi-pitch but also to improve in crack climbing, I will go to Indian Creek (USA) in end of March. This year I am also motivated to try Pan Aroma 8c (right of Bella Vista) in the Dolomites. I was in this route years before with Hansjörg Auer, for belaying him, when he did the first repeat of this route. I was fascinated by this route and I really want to go back sometime, hopefully this year.
Onsight: Whatever the discipline you seem to excel. You have done Super Cirill (8a) a nine-pitch crack line on natural gear, located near Ticino, Switzerland. How do you rate climbing on natural gear compared to sport climbing?
BZ: For me it was completely different, I did multi-pitch routes before and they were graded much harder but for me Super Cirill was so hard. I couldn’t climb this crack and I had a lot of tries and it felt so hard. I couldn’t boulder these moves out and it was just like fighting and hopefully stay on the crack.
Onsight: So you are comfortable climbing on natural gear but not so much with crack climbing?
BZ: I feel often scared about the gear and when I climb on bolts I don’t feel scared but with gear, scared for sure. Now I am trying a route in my home town and this route you can only use nuts and three cams, no bolts, and for me I feel scared on this route but when I go back I will try it again.
Onsight: Where in the world is your favourite place to climb?
BZ: A lot of different places. I like Rocklands for bouldering. Also near my place I like Switzerland and the Dolomites, a lot of different places.
Onsight: Thank you so much for your time.
BZ: You are welcome.
And here’s a video of Barbara attempting Super Cirill: