Natalie Bärtschi closes an important chapter in her climbing life by climbing Neverending Story 1 in the Magic Wood. In an interview, the climber explains what it means to her to be able to climb her most difficult boulder to date after retiring from competitive sports and how she has been able to keep her motivation high over the years.
Natalie, you recently had the best day of your life at Magic Wood. How come?
It was the first free autumn weekend since we returned from Mallorca and we left on Friday evening to spend the night in the VW bus again. After a leisurely breakfast in the sun and a short warm-up session on the hangboard, we set off for Intermezzo.
However, through regular finger strength training over the last few years, I have made great progress in this area and I was confident that I could finally make it through. I was actually able to master the individual moves relatively quickly and climb the boulder just a few attempts later.
Since the conditions for Neverending Story don't get really good until the evening, we decide to check out the Flatlander highball plate.
After several falls-free ascents on the top rope, we decide to try it without a rope. When climbing through, I can concentrate completely on climbing and the pulls feel almost easier than before on the rope. Nevertheless, I am relieved to have solid ground under my feet again and a little later my partner Remo also reaches the top without falling.
Clouds are slowly gathering and it looks like rain, so we make our way to the Bruno Block. After failing several times on the last move last week, I'm reacquainting myself with the ending.
The body tension is there, the heel hook is in place and the rock feels sticky and wet, a notorious characteristic that washed-out river rock often exhibits when the humidity is high just before the rain. Without hesitation I dare to try it from the start and can climb the boulder on the first attempt, a dream comes true!
What does this boulder mean to you?
For me it is confirmation that the years of training are paying off and that I can be very versatile as an athlete. After the World Cup in Bern and my retirement from competitive sports, I wasn't sure what would happen next. But I am just as motivated to continue improving and finding out what is possible for me on the rock.
Do you remember what your first attempts at Neverending Story felt like?
I think it was in the fall of 2017 after I returned from South Africa. That's when I realized for the first time that I had the potential to climb at this level of difficulty. Inspired by a day in Magic Wood with Anna Stöhr and Alex Puccio, I looked for a project.
Except for the start, I was able to climb the individual moves in the first or second session, but the long crusade right at the beginning was a mystery to me. By repositioning my left foot I was finally able to master this move, but breaking the position felt impossible.
How many times have you returned to Magic Wood to try this line over the last few years?
To be honest, I didn't count. I've probably been to Magic Wood several times every year during the season, especially since I've been living in Chur. In the spring, however, my focus has been more on the competitions and even in the fall I often tried other boulders or went to Ticino.
How has your progress developed over the years?
In the summer of 2018 I had a really good session and was able to climb past the start for the first time. Even though it had rained during the night and the first steps were still wet, the grips felt really good. Unfortunately it was a little too wet for the groins at the end and my endurance wasn't ready for a climb.
Unfortunately, in the next session I had a lot more trouble just climbing the individual cables and after several unsuccessful attempts I felt increasing pain in my right knee. In the course of this, a tendonitis of the hip adductors and elbow flexors developed, so I couldn't try again for a few months.
After that, progress was unfortunately anything but linear and it wasn't until about 2 years ago that I managed to climb the boulder again in two parts. However, there wasn't much time for rock climbing during the competition season and suddenly winter was here. This fall I was motivated to try my luck again for the first time and was surprised to climb to the end in just a few attempts.
Did you train specifically for this boulder?
Not really, until recently most of my training was geared towards competitions. However, I am convinced that this training also helped me on the rock.
These skills are also central in competition and therefore have a high priority in training.
You once wrote that the intense hooks in Neverending Story damaged your knees and the compressions triggered your elbow. How did you get this under control?
During the development phase in winter 2019, I started training regularly in the weight room and included leg strength in my program for the first time. Since then I have hardly had any knee pain and I feel much stronger on heel hooks. It actually sounds logical, but it took me almost 15 years to get started.
How have you managed to find enough motivation over the years?
I often lack the motivation to plan a single boulder over a longer period of time and I miss the variety. Luckily, climbing is a very diverse sport and I have countless other projects – both in Magic Wood and elsewhere.
I prefer climbing with friends and am flexible when choosing my projects. Especially in summer, when the conditions are not optimal for project planning, I like to look for the challenge elsewhere (e.g. Highball, DWS).
What challenged you most about Neverending Story 1?
The biggest challenge for me was finding the necessary stamina for the end and finding the right conditions. Often only the start or only the end felt good and in bad conditions I sometimes had the feeling that I was taking steps backwards.
In the end it was probably a mixture of patience and calmness, both qualities that I wouldn't necessarily count as my strengths.
Can you review the climb for us again?
Over the years, my body has memorized the moves so precisely that I can simply recall the movements without thinking, and that's exactly how it felt when I climbed through. In addition, I was already so satisfied with how the climbing day had gone so far that I didn't put any pressure on myself at all.
Of course it was a great relief that it worked on the first attempt that day. Afterwards I primarily felt a deep sense of satisfaction and a little bit of pride, immediately followed by anticipation of everything that was to come.
What are your next projects/goals after this success?
I then tried the first move from Part 2 of the Neverending Story and was surprised to get stuck on the bar after just a few attempts. So far I haven't had enough distance or I haven't put enough pressure on the downhill hook. Unfortunately it wasn't enough to get through that day, especially since the next moves are almost as difficult, but I'm confident.
That might interest you
- Natalie Bärtschi climbs Open Shoulders in Flatanger
- Video about Magic Wood classics with Natalie Bärtschi, Rebekka Stotz and Remo Sommer
- May we introduce: The Swiss athlete Natalie Bärtschi
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Credits: Cover picture David Tomlinson / Quadrel Boulder