Two of the most respected climbers in the world, Barbara Zangerl and Nina Caprez recently successfully ascended the massive 1,400-foot Die Unendliche Geschichte, rated at 8b+/5.14a. Located in picturesque Switzerland, the impressive Rätikon massif is a sight to behold. The 12-pitch line was redpointed on September 8th and 9th.
We got a chance to talk to both climbers and ask them to share their thoughts and feelings about this incredible climb, a classic Beat Kammerlander route.
Editor: Thank you Barbara and Nina for spending some time talking to us, we’re honored to interview both of you.
Barbara: Thanks for your interest about our recent project. It’s a pleasure to talk about “Unendliche Geschichte” with ClimbSkiBoulder Magazine.
Editor: Can you tell us who thought about attempting this line initially and how long it took to project it…cleaning the holds, assessing the face?
Barbara: One year ago, I had a talk with Beat Kammerlander who is a good friend of mine. We were filming on “Silbergeier”. And the day after Beat was giving an interview for this film. And he was talking about Unendliche Geschichte also. We were sitting just next to this incredible wall and he was talking about this time when he did the first ascent of “Unendliche Geschichte” and what happened since that. Not really a lot ---just one repetition from his good friend Pietro Dal Pra. All these stories and old pictures of this route --- this made this route so interesting to me. And this was the reason I really wanted to try this route one time.
I teamed up with Nina a few years ago when we started to try Silbergeier together…and we had such a good time in this project. I knew Nina will be a perfect partner also for this one and I was psyched to team up with her once more to try Unendliche Geschichte. This is how it started.
Nina: Initially it was Babsi’s idea. She knew that she had a long period during the summer for trying a new route (because her boyfriend was going on an expedition).
This was the reason why we teamed up again after such a long period. We spent 10 days on working out the route during a period of two months. It took us one day to find each other again concerning auto-comprehension in the route (rope management etc.) and then we functioned again really well together. It took us three days to be able to move a little on the 8b pitch, which was a really tough and tricky one. Once we linked some moves on this one, we knew that Unendliche Geschichte became a real project and that we really wanted to do it.
The route has been done only two times since 1990 so there were no obvious holds. We had to clean some and we had to search a lot for the footholds and to find out the beta. Right now, Babsi and I, we have exactly the same level in climbing and during the last years, we climbed individually plenty of multi-pitch routes. We’re both really experienced now and while hanging on the wall, we never ever had any technical problems. (Except some small errors during the first day.)
During the 10 days of working the route out, we both sent at least once, every single pitch. Which made us confident to send the route. We both sent the route individually on our first try, ground up, which was due to a lot of luck but also to our determination. We were luck bastards…
Editor: How did the rock challenge you both mentally and emotionally?
Barbara: Everybody who ever climbed in Rätikon knows that the classic slabs can be really challenging. And Beat was and is really good in this style of climbing so…the protection in the easier pitches which are not easy at all, it is always very technical and you have to stand all the time on really thin footholds --- there you have always long runouts. You have to climb in a very concentrated way on this part of the wall — sometimes a fall is not an option. But I have to say, on the harder pitches the bolts are not so far. You can have some bigger falls but it is safe when you have a good belayer.
And you can also use some mobile gear on the easier pitches. So at the first attempts, it was sometimes really mental challenging but when you know how it works, how to climb then it is getting more controlled and safe. But this is exactly what makes the route so interesting. You never know what is coming next when you have no information about the route, when you don’t know the moves or the holds. This route was not so often tried the last years so there were no tick marks or anything, we had to brush the holds --- it was a big puzzle to solve and the same time a great adventure.
Nina: While approaching a new pitch, I always had this feeling of fear inside of me. It always scares you in the Rätikon. Especially the “easy” pitches are really dangerous and exposed. Due to our same level in climbing and experience, we were sitting in the same boat. The contribution was always balanced and we were supporting each other a lot! For the hard pitches, we played the yoyo-game to reach the chain after hours and hours.
Mentally, the route was demanding a lot and I was happy that Unendliche wasn’t my fist route this summer that I climbed in the Rätikon. The mental battle was always big and really demanding. Emotionally we both surfed on a wave of happiness and psyche. I never felt such a big motivation and power which was due 80% to my climbing partner. I had the chance to live an extraordinary experience with Babsi. We became really close friends and she’s the person I made the most confident.
Editor:Walk us through some of the technicalities of this climb, not many have climbed it or left their marks on it.
Barbara: Beat Kammerlander redpointed this route in 1991 and Pietro Dal Pra repeated the route in 2005. That’s it? A few climbers tried the route over the years. We could see that — because there is a wall book where climbers wrote some words about their experiences in this route. So when we started to try this route, there were no tick marks or any marks of other climbers. The route and holds were quite dirty and we had to brush the dust away…and search for the right holds — finding the right solutions for the single passages on the route. This was just pure and cool!
Sometimes we had to swing leads in one pitch…a few times to reach the next belay. It was really hard work! One sequence on the first crux pitch was the 8b pitch in the middle of the wall. Just the first 3 meters of this pitch --- to resolve this little boulder problem --- this took us hours and days…At the first days on the wall, we were not sure if we will keep on trying but from time to time it got more and more realistic to think about climbing this whole thing.
Nina: Yeah, because it’s really bouldery and because of the vertical style, there are no holds. We had to try so hard to find the beta but it was really pure. I never climbed in such a “vierge” route and I have to avoid that the dosage of adrenaline was high all the time.
Editor: How old were you both when you were drawn to climbing? And where was this?
Barbara: My brother took me to the bouldering gym for the first time, where I made my first attempts at climbing together with my sister at the age of 14. Through Bernd Zangerl (no relation) and Didi Siegl, I got to experience climbing on rocks. At this time I spent a lot of time in various bouldering areas, like, for example Rocklands, Ticino, Magic Wood, Silvretta. When it comes to climbing, I think this is surely what has defined me the most. I had really good teachers and the start into climbing was in a playful way.
Nina: By the age of 13 I started to climb in the Rätikon, but I was more into the alpinism. By the age of 17, I remember the day when I sent my first 7b and this was the time while I started to practice some real sport climbing.
Editor: Who was your first climbing teacher?
Barbara’s answer is above.
Nina: There was a guide called Ueli Hew who intoduced me into the climbing techniques.
Editor: What is your advice to young climbers who look up to you?
Barbara: Climbing is such a colorful way of living! The most important thing is live your dream and enjoy the time outdoors. Have fun!!! And respect nature and all the other climbers.
Nina: Follow your heart.
Editor: Here’s an important question that truly defines a climber.
Why do you climb?
What has climbing given to you and to your life?
Barbara: A few years ago I couldn’t imagine changing my focus so much in climbing. I always had my preferences to play outdoors also when I was a child. I spent most of the time outside...playing around, building small huts in the forest or just tried different sports. It was always changing, I never had a favorite sport or hobby. I tried everything and the learning process by doing something new, this was the most interesting thing for me.
I remember when my brother took me the first time to the bouldering gym in our home valley. It was so different to everything I did before. It felt like this kind of thing has everything I need to be challenged, feel happy, to be creative and it was even more fun to share all this with friends, my brother and sister.
This felt like the perfect thing even though it was quite hard to understand for my parents. Trying to hold on small holds, searching for a hard way to the top of a little rock, where you can easily walk to the top at the backside. Or sitting in a dark corner and trying to lift my ass for hours, just to be stubborn with myself to find a way even when there was no chance for me to resolve this problem. When I think back, that feels also a little strange to me now, but this was the result of a few years of bouldering. Searching for hard moves, most of the time concentrated on not more than 5 moves.
It was not only a question of body strength --- it was also a lot about skin and conditions, much more than when you challenge yourself on a long endurance route, for example. But that’s exactly what made me happy and I couldn’t imagine to stop bouldering, or find something which motivates me more to push myself and feel more satisfied and balanced. It was not all about the bouldering. It was also to be away from home almost every weekend when I was at the age of fifteen. Traveling to different places, different rocks, to different and new problems where we wanted to test ourselves, where we also got frustrated sometimes during the process from projecting to sending a problem.
In 2009, I had a broken discus and that changed a lot of my attitude to climbing. The first time I felt broken and I was not sure if I could practice bouldering with the intensity that I did before. My mind was not open for something new, even when it was also climbing, just using a rope instead of a crash pad. So I tried to take a more or less long break, and after that I went straight back to this small rocks which meant so much to me. The fact was another inflammation on my broken disc and that continued until I was forced to face the situation that I definitely had to stop for a long time.
And when I am looking back, this was a key moment which opened my mind to see climbing in a bigger perspective. Now, I like to combine all styles of climbing. So, for me it makes sense to spend the spring time for sport climbing and when the temperatures are getting warmer, I like to go for bigger walls to have more adventure, more effort, more suffering, more mental games, being out in nature at silent places far away from the crowd, this is what gives me a feeling of freedom.
At the same time I am thankful to have this freedom to spend so much time at these random places. I couldn’t imagine to go back to focusing just on bouldering. Now, I don’t spend a lot of time on bouldering, mostly just for training in the gym, outside I prefer to climb with rope, doesn’t matter if it is sport, trad or alpine-multipitch climbing.
Nina: Climbing gives me a red line in life. My dreams in climbing are taking me all over the world and the experience I can make, in the first place with the persons I meet, are making my life really colorful and rich. Soon, I chose to follow my heart and this took me to practice more and more multi-pitch routes then for example doing comps.
During my entire life, I made some big decisions and I assumed them completely, even if I made some errors. By the age of 18, I became a completely independent person (also financially) and so I developed a natural and logical way of thinking.
Editor: Here's an important question. What are your thoughts on the preservation of nature and climate change?
Is enough being done to protect our planet, and thus our climbing areas?
Barbara: For sure not. I think everybody should think more about that and should keep their impact low. We should take care of the places we love.
So simply things like the collection of the rubbish, not only your own, taking your toilet paper away…and all these things are very easy and important, also for the next generation in climbing that they can enjoy all this --- how we do now!!
Editor: Okay, let’s mix it up a bit…this is sure to delight your fans!
On rest days, what kinds of books do you read?
Barbara: I don’t read so much…some of my favorites: “Knochenmann”, “Liebe das Leben”, “The Life of Pi”…
Nina: Martin Sutter, a Swiss author.
What kind of music do you like to unwind to?
Barbara: Cake, electric sound, Makossa, Coldplay, Feist.
Nina: Sylvan Esso.
What’s your favorite movie?
Barbara: City of God.
Nina: Le Dîner de Cons.
Are you a tea or coffee person?
Barbara: Coffee, coffee, coffee.
Editor: What are the 3 things you never go climbing without?
Barbara: Down jacket, bubble gum, good sandwich.
Nina: Arcteryx down jacket, a good picnic and a really good climbing partner.
Editor: Thanks for spending some time with us, Nina and Barbara. It was great to learn about your great success!
Barbara: Thanks a lot !!!
Interview conducted by Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
Administrator of the Facebook Climbing Page: 'An Interview With'.
Editor-in-Chief of ClimbSkiBoulderMagazine.com
Interview © Vera Kaikobad.
All images were supplied by Barbara and belong to their respective photographers.
On the Cover:
Barbara Zangerl & Nina Caprez -
Die Unendliche Geschichte,
Cover Date: September 24th, 2015