AUTHOR: Eva Meschede
PHOTOGRAPHY: Beat Kammerlander, Hannes Mair, Klaus delL´Orto, Christian Waldegger, Klaus Fengler, adidas
What do you do if you have planned a nice big project, done it, and then find out to your surprise that there are still plenty of good climbing days left in the year? Take time to chill? Not if your name is Barbara Zangerl. Then you take a week off to gather your thoughts before setting off to a new destination.
Originally, completing the Alpine Trilogy was not on her list, she even surprised herself with that one, she says. Now she is the first woman to have repeated all the Trilogy routes. Three routes that still count as the most difficult in the Alps. Three routes that up until 1994 only four men were able to write in their diaries. It is therefore quite right that the climbing scene is full of admiration for "one of the strongest women climbers in the world". The first ascenders are particularly impressed. "The Boulder Queen has rediscovered herself," says Beat Kammerlander, "she has extreme climbing ability." Thomas Huber agrees: "Babs is one of the greatest in the Alps. Just imagine switching from two-metre blocks to 200-metre walls in such a short time." Stefan Glowacz goes even further, speculating that she is the protagonist in a new era: "Women are daring to show what they can do. There has been nobody like this since Lynn Hill."
"The Boulder Queen has rediscovered herself."
Because I am so stubborn," says Babs. That is why the Austrian had put the "Silbergeier" route on her to-do list for 2013, the Beat Kammerlander masterpiece in Rätikon. A very special route for the 25-year-old, one which will literally remain a painful memory. That is because the tricky underclings on the 5th pitch were probably the reasons she had to abort her first attempt on the Kirchlispitze in 2011 due to back pain with a vengeance stemming from a slipped disc developed earlier during bouldering. On that occasion she had teamed up with Nina Caprez. Their objective: the first female ascent. It was then claimed by Nina, and Babs had to suffer "the waste", as she called it, of six months forced rest.
In 2012 it was she who came back with a vengeance, snagging Thomas Hubers jewel "The End of Silence" - part one of the Trilogy. It was with mixed feelings when she returned in 2013 to take on "Silbergeier", a mixture of excitement but also "I was worried about an injury relapse," she says. But then everything felt so much better. Without having to boulder cautiously she climbed the critical sections and the best thing was that she was completely free of pain on the dreaded undercling moves. On 28 July she had topped out. Everything went so quickly. Faster than planned. And that is how, just a short time later, hikers on the Wilder Kaiser heard the echo of a woman cussing very loudly. Every half an hour the f-word echoed through the landscape. Because yet again Babs was hanging on one of the most difficult routes in the world. This time on the 8th pitch of Stefan Glowaczs highlight "Des Kaisers neue Kleider" ("The Emperors New Clothes"). "For me the most athletically demanding route," she says. But she pulled through, exceeding the known limits of her strength. Even she was stunned at being able to somehow fight her way up the final pump moves as she grabbed the lifesaving hold at the top of the crux. "My nerves had all but deserted me and I was holding back the tears," she says. By 7 pm she was standing on the summit of the Fleischbankpfeiler with her climbing partner Jacopo Larcher, who would go on to bag the same route a few days later. What does she look like when she is happy at winning a battle like that? Just watch her film "Same same but different" (about "The end of Silence") to witness such a moment: she shouts "Fetzengeil, voll cool, geil!" across the mountains! Elated. Happy. Relieved.
2014 the twentieth birthday
Three climbers, three routes, one objective: raising the bar in sport climbing. 1994 signalled the start to a "new age in alpine climbing" with the euphoric celebration of three first ascents. "Des Kaisers neue Kleider" by Stefan Glowacz on the Wilder Kaiser (9 pitches), "Silbergeier" by Beat Kammerlander in Rätikon (6 pitches) and "The End of Silence" by Thomas Huber on Feuerhorn (11 pitches) still rate today as some of the most challenging routes in the Alps with an upper 10 grade of difficulty.
Even after 20 years, the number of repeats can easily be counted
on two hands. For all three routes – the complete Trilogy – one hand is enough. So far, only five people have repeated all three climbs: Stefan Glowacz, Hari Berger, Ondra Benes, Mark Amann and, as the first woman, Barbara Zangerl.
The meanest handhold?
"This one-finger pocket grip on the 5th pitch. Because I am relatively small, I had to overstretch on this one and then, from this position, move my foot up to almost shoulder height."
"A tiny undercling at the crux on the 5th pitch, which was always damp. You have to stick your fingers right in and then immediately grab the next move with a slimy hand. No time to rechalk."
"A small, vertical crack that you have to finger-jam at shoulder height before reaching over to the next hold on the right. It is difficult to exert downward pressure on your feet in this position. Repeat climbers have found an alternative parallel route that is safer to climb."
The toughest pitch?
"All the pitches on 'Silbergeier' are tough, but the 5th is especially challenging because you have to maintain the pressure for a very long time."
"The 8th is the most difficult technically. There is a foothold, which your feet just do not want to stick to. I needed many
attempts before I could finally climb that section."
"The area around the crack on the 8th pitch is the crux of the route. You can redpoint up to this point relatively easily and then come two, very tricky, metres. By then you have used up quite some energy after eight pitches. I have even dreamt in my sleep about these two metres."
How did the idea for this route evolve?
"It was an open project by Martin Scheel from 1986, he only managed to climb the first 15 metres; time was not right yet. I managed to climb that section straightaway in 1993 and then kept on going. It was a no-brainer since I come from that area. I had already done a number of first ascents, like 'Unendliche Geschichte' ('Never Ending Story') in 1991, the first alpine route in the upper 10th grade. 'Silbergeier' became my milestone, the most beautiful route I have opened up."
"Climbing the central section of the Fleischbankpfeiler was Wolfang Müller's idea. He used to belay me there with immense patience when I was training for competitions. In return, I had to promise that I would be with him to do the 'Emperor' at least once. It was a real eye-opener: I was so impressed that we spent the whole of summer ´92 there to set up the route. Unfortunately Wolfgang was not able to be there for the redpoint in 1994 due to an injury."
"As a young climber I had a summer job at the Traunsteiner hut. I had already been climbing and dreamt of doing the first ascent of exactly this route. 'The End of Silence' was a childhood dream and in the end a very important project. From the first point of contact to redpoint it took me more than eight years. I had other objectives meanwhile, but always came back to Feuerhorn."
What does the name of the route mean?
"That is what Martin Scheel called the route and he was pleased that I kept the name. It refers to the light-grey, silver shimmer of the rock surface."
"'The Emperor's New Clothes' is intended to indicate something novel about the 'Emperor' – a new dimension in performance, new rules to the game, a new grade of difficulty. We were pioneers back then."
"I was virtually a prisoner on this shady wall for hours, days, months at a time. Often I was also alone here and it was a very intensive but also silent time. When I finally nailed it, I had conquered a new world and won back my freedom. It was also the end of the silence."
What were you most frightened of?
"The never-ending runout on the last pitch was certainly scary. Especially because I had already bailed there once and had heavy rock contact during the flight. Still, I didn't want to place a runner as mid-way protection. It was about crossing a psychological barrier."
"The landlord at the Stripsenjoch mountain hut. We were friends and he often used to let us ride up the mountain on the goods cableway. It was an extremely wobbly affair to start with, but he used to have a laugh by switching the cable car off when it reached its highest point. Once, when the gondola started slowly jolting backwards, we were 150 metres above the ground with our nerves in shreds."
"The beautiful summer in 1994. It was simply too hot to be able to grip the handholds. At the end of August it finally cooled down."
What should repeat climbers bring with them?
"Courage or a 200-metre rope."
"Good calluses on your fingers and an understanding for some old-school climbing."
"A couple of Camalots and nuts maybe. People say that we have skimped on bolts on the easier pitches."