Babsi Zangerl: “That was the most shocking moment of the whole route”

On El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, Babsi Zangerl and Lara Neumeier manage a free ascent of the Muir Blast/El Corazon big wall linkup. Over six days they climb 35 pitches with difficulty up to 8a and experience a terrible moment of shock while hauling in a long traverse.

For the Austrian trad specialist Babsi Zangerl is the Muir Blast/El Corazon already the sixth big wall route El Capitan, which she can climb freely. For her rope partner Lara Neumeier On the other hand, the 1000 meter granite walls in Yosemite, California are new territory - given this fact, their free access is all the more impressive.

Lara did incredibly well from the start. That's why we decided to take advantage of the good weather window and start our mission to climb Muir-El Corazon in one push.

Babsi Zangerl
Babsi Zangerl-El Corazon-09787_Ian_Dzilenski
A strong duo: El Cap novice Lara Neumeier and Babsi Zangerl free climb Muir Blast/El Corazon on El Capitan in 6 days. Image: Ian_Dzilenski

Not a perfect start

The pair's venture to climb the Muir Blast/El Corazon Groud-Up combination got off to anything but an optimal start. “I injured my finger, our haul bag got jammed and Lara dropped a shoe and a Jumar,” says Babsi Zangerl.

Despite these initial difficulties, they managed 11 pitches on the first day and 6 on the following day. From Bird Beak they rappelled directly to Mammut Ledge in order to carry all the material to the highest point the next day.

Home Sweet Home: Airy home high up on El Cap. Image: Miška Izakovičová
Home Sweet Home: Airy home high up on El Cap. Image: Miška Izakovičová

The hauling nightmare

They started the arduous work at 3 in the morning. During a 50-meter crossing with fairly loose rock, the heavy haul bag got caught on a scale. “We pulled on the rope from both sides, but the haulbag didn’t budge,” remembers Babsi Zangerl.

A few seconds later we noticed that the entire scale moved 20 centimeters away from the wall and almost broke off.

Babsi Zangerl

That was definitely the most shocking moment of the entire route. “A large rock fall on El Cap meant a great risk for the other climbers below us as well as for the tourists at the base of the wall.” 

The first thing the two of them did was fix the haul bag. Lara then climbed over to him, detached him from the scale and tried to fix it.

However, the scale was too heavy to lift and so it moved Lara back into a position that seemed safe enough for us to continue climbing.

Babsi Zangerl
El Cap novice Lara Neumeier in El Corazon. Image: Ian_Dzilenski
Lara Neumeier in El Corazon. Image: Ian_Dzilenski

Climbing helmet wedged in the crack

Day 4 began with the 7c pitch, which the duo were unable to free in the blazing sun the day before. While Lara found a dynamic solution, Babsi relied on fine strips. Via a technical, flat 7b+ they entered a system of cracks that were wider than they were used to.

A huge and intimidating fireplace awaited them. “It was my turn to climb and I have to say that I still feel like a beginner in wide cracks,” says Babsi Zangerl.

It's so intimidating and always extremely tiring to fight your way up through offwidths and chimneys.

Babsi Zangerl

The fact that she didn't take off her helmet for this pitch would soon prove to be a mistake. “A little later I was effectively stuck with the helmet and had to pull it out with my free hand without falling out of the crack myself.” The plan was successful and Babsi fought his way up to the next stand with the last of his strength.

I knew I didn't have the energy to try again. This pitch was one of my proudest onsight ascents.

Babsi Zangerl

Then it was Lara's turn. She gave it her all and only fell out shortly before the stand. To Babsi Zangerl's surprise, she tried again. "I didn't think she would ever want to try this thing again after such a heartbreakingly long battle." But the second attempt was successful and the two were “back in the game”.

After a 6b chimney that felt like 8a, the climbers moved into their sleeping place below the last key pitches. It was now one o'clock in the night. At 2 a.m. they were all settled in and treated themselves to a meal.

Self-imposed compulsory break

After just three hours of sleep, the two feel like they've been hit by a truck. The previous four days of intensive climbing and the non-stop hauling had left their mark. So they treated themselves to a day of climbing and relaxation and immediately fell back to sleep.

We were so bruised from the fighting the day before. And Lara's fingers - to be honest, her entire body - looked like she'd been in a car accident.

Babsi Zangerl
Lara Neumeier's battered fingers speak for themselves.
Lara Neumeier's battered fingers speak for themselves.

Time is running out

A total of 10 pitches, including one 8a, three 7c+ and a few tricky sevens, separated the two from the exit. Given their condition, it was anything but certain whether they would be able to do it in one day, says Babsi Zangerl.

Anyway, we were very motivated to give it our all because we knew it would be our last day on the wall.

Babsi Zangerl

Both freed the first crux pitch in the first attempt, with Lara giving loud battle cries for the first time. Now all that was left to do was tackle the large roof.

“I tried to persuade her to try to flash,” Babsi remembers, “and half an hour later she did exactly that: she flashed the roof. What a moment!” After Babsi had also freed the length, they treated themselves to a long break.

It's done: Lara Neumeier and Babsi Zangerl happy but completely destroyed after their latest El Cap adventure.
It's done: Lara Neumeier and Babsi Zangerl reach the top at three in the morning.

Afterwards they fought their way along pitch by pitch. And even though the difficulties increased towards the top, finding the way proved difficult, especially as their headlamps gradually stopped working. “To be honest, it felt like an eternity before we finally got to the top.”

At three in the morning we reached the exit completely destroyed.

Babsi Zangerl

«We felt shaky and had had enough of big wall climbing. At the same time, we felt so happy: we had achieved our goal of climbing everything freely and we really had to suffer for it. Another great adventure that we will remember forever.”

Copy of Shower_time_Lara_Neumeier
Babsi Zangerl: “Even a day later we still can’t touch anything because our fingers and toes still hurt so bad. But we are happy to be able to sleep in a normal bed, shower and use a normal toilet."

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Credits: Cover picture Miška Izakovičová

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