Barbara Zangerl (AUT)


Date of birth: 24.05.1988
Hometown: Strengen am Arlberg, Austria

22-year old Barbara Zangerl managed what many climbers dream of - she worked hard and patiently to master a new level of difficulty and was the first woman ever to manage an 8b boulder problem. Due to a herniated disc, the 1.62 meter tall and 54kg light Tyrolean focused more on route climbing in the past months – there, too, she mastered highest difficulties in the endurance domain.

How did you get into climbing? Who taught or inspired you?

My brother took me along climbing when I was 14 years old. That’s how I started. Together we went to the bouldering centre in Flirsch. I enjoyed climbing from the very first minute. After my first visit to the hall, I went climbing regularly. Later I climbed a lot with my sister and Bernd (Zangerl). He took us to a rock face for the first time. Together we checked out the various boulder regions in Switzerland. I can very well remember my first rock face experience. Back then I could hardly imagine that climbing on a natural surface could be so much better than what I did before. It was an incisive experience for me.

What is so special about climbing? What causes the passion and obsession with which you practice your sport?

I love being outdoors, travel to various regions to try out cool boulders or new routes. Climbing and the lifestyle involved are important to me. I enjoy travelling with my friends and discovering new place – adventures, if you will. And I like to rise to a challenge and master it. Whenever I manage something that is at my personal limit, it’s an incredible feeling that encourages me to carry on and to explore new boundaries.

How much time do you spend climbing?

Over the winter months I train a lot indoors. In the summer I try to spend most of my time outdoors on the rock face. At the moment I still go to school. I’m a trained assistant medical technician. But I do have enough spare time in which I can go climbing. After my formal education I want to take some time off to travel to the United States. There is a huge boulder region called Hueco Tanks, which I’d love to visit.

And what would you do if you could no longer climb?

I cannot even imagine that. No idea! I’d probably look for something that I enjoy as much…

How do you deal with risk when you go bouldering?

In bouldering there are special ‘high balls’. They start at five metres or are even higher. When we do those we use very thick Mondo crash pads, but you still have to be very careful. If you crash from a certain height you may really get hurt…

When I try something at that height, I have to be very confident in myself. Sometimes I first try it with rope and then I climb without, once I’m sure that I can do it.

How would you define yourself? As climber or boulderer?

Bouldering is a part of climbing for me. If I feel like bouldering I go bouldering, otherwise I go climbing routes. Right now I enjoy bouldering more, that’s why you see me more often with a crash pad than with a rope. So I guess at the moment you may call me a boulderer…

When you go bouldering you don’t have to worry about the rope and can focus more on the movement. That inspires me and enables me to develop.

But for health reasons you cannot boulder as much as you would like to, is that right?

Since half a year I have been suffering from a herniated disc. That’s why recently I had to focus more on route climbing. Early this year, I first found the Caramello Tour in Zilltertal. I really enjoyed climbing a bit more, I mean getting ahead meter-by-meter and play with my endurance instead of putting all my energy into maximum power. I managed the crux at the end quite quickly. My problem was rather having enough strength at the end to master the final tough moves. But it worked out swiftly. 

What makes a boulder problem appealing for you?

If I find a boulder that I like – for instance a nice bloc, cool moves, brilliant holds – that appeals to me and attracts me to try it.

And what is a cool boulder?

Personally, I prefer to climb on granite or sand stone. Those rocks usually have nice structures. The best boulders are those that only have one way up and where the line is obvious.

What has been your toughest project to date?

For sure Pura Vida. Pura Vida equals my limit. When I had a bad day, I couldn’t do the first move for Pura Vida. I with either not fit enough or badly recovered and on those days there was no point in putting more energy into that problem. Instead, I simply focused on an easier boulder. 

What do you need to be successful in this sport?

If you are enthusiastic about climbing and enjoy the sport you can only move ahead. But ambition and motivation are also helpful…

What are the highlights of your climbing career to date?

There are several. Pura Vida, of course. That cost me a few hard days and it was at my personal limit. For Pura Vida I had to do the most difficult moves by my standards. This year my main focus was on route climbing and my highlights were endurance routes like Caramello or Coq au Vin. What matters here is keeping a cool head, combining lots of pulls and moves and holding out in difficult sections from beginning until the end.

Apart from that I enjoy combining it all together, i.e. to not only see bouldering, but to also gain ground in route climbing and combine the two. I have always enjoyed high balls – one of my highlights in that domain is the boulder ‚Falsche Götter’ in Galtür, which is 8 metres high. What matters here is dealing with fear. You are afraid to fall and hurt yourself. That is climbing on a whole new level.

Do you think the number of women in climbing is increasing?

I’d say bouldering and climbing are booming in general. There are many new climbing halls, tourism federations are eager to create an infrastructure at the rock and you find many people in climbing parks and boulder regions. However, that is not always positive… Some areas are really overcrowded and polluted with trash, dog poop and so on… 

What do you need to become a climber?

A bit of courage and motivation.

Climbers usually get very rough hands – does that bother you as a woman?

What do you mean by that… (laughs) Yeah, that’s true. Ever since I started climbing, my fingers have become stronger – but if that wasn’t the case I would have had lots of injuries. Annular ligament etc. Having thick fingers is certainly not a disadvantage – and they are not that chunky…

Please describe your most difficult boulder problem to date – Pura Vida – and tell us why you are so proud to have mastered that one?

For me personally it was a highlight and certainly my most difficult boulder up until now. I invested a lot of time and many attempts in this project and it took me several days. After a lot of painful holes in my fingers and loads of failed attempts, I knew I could do it – the only question was when? My intuition was really motivating which is why it turned out to be such a great success for me. 

Pura Vida is located in Avers Valley in Switzerland, half an hour south of Chur. The boulder area is called Magic Wood. I can best describe my boulder as an overhanging belly with several ledges and a strikingly small hole in the granite, which you find towards the end of the problem. The boulder line moves from the left hand side shortly to the right and then vertically up. I needed 15 pulls to the top.

How and for how long did you prepare for Pura Vida?

I tried Pura Vida for the first time in spring 2006. Initially I only tried some pulls. The pulls of Pura Vida were brilliant. I really enjoyed solving that problem… Unfortunately I tore my ligaments in the summer of 2006 and had to pause for a while after my surgery… so I only returned one year later to Magic Wood.

In total, I spent two weeks there in a period from 2006 to 2008. For this boulder I always trained directly on the face. In spring and fall I regularly drove to Avers Valley to practice the respective pulls. I trained the individual pulls intensely and climbed some shorter passages several times. Thus, the pulls became easier for me day after day.

What was your biggest challenge with Pura Vida?

I managed to do the individual pulls of Pura Vida quite quickly, but connecting the respective moves was a puzzle that challenged me. Pura Vida is divided into two key parts. Two difficult shoulder moves at the beginning make up the first difficult sequence. I was always struggling with these moves. They are at the limit of my grasp… But I couldn’t practice this part very often, because it was too painful for my shoulder.

Another crux I only discovered later – the end of Pura Vida first seemed impossible. Especially the pull to the small granite hole was a problem for me. But due to my many attempts at this boulder I became stronger and by and by I was able to hold the grip much longer…

How can one envisage a difficulty of 8b and why is it so hard for women to climb at this level of difficulty?

There are many factors that are crucial at this level. Your size, for instance, or very complex single moves, that cannot be mastered by everyone.

I believe at a high level of difficulty personal strengths play a decisive role. There are boulders that suit you and others don’t. You have to find the right motivation to try a difficult boulder and to train for it. If you pursue a goal single-mindedly, women are also able to boulder at a very high level. We haven’t reached the limits yet…

Has competition climbing ever been an issue?

I did experience competitions. From time to time it’s quite cool, because you can test your limits. In competitions you have to give 100 percent at a certain point in time, you must climb a certain boulder or route with as few tries as possible. That’s something completely different. For me, personally, it doesn’t matter as much. I prefer being outdoors. I love nature and climbing outdoors and I much prefer that to performing well under pressure on an artificial wall. 

What are your strengths?

I love small, sharp holds… 

And what are your weaknesses?

Wide moves and jumps. Mmh, I have lots of weaknesses…