Babsi Zangerl's Odyssey on the Eiger

Report of the great free ascent

28 September 2021
The one-day ascent by Barbara and Jacopo on the hardest route of this mythical face.

After the interview we recently published about her expedition to Pakistan and the ascents presented in the first two videos of the Black Diamond Committed (Greenspit, Sprengstoff) series, let's talk again with Barbara Zangerl!

The third episode of the series featured the other remarkable exploit which Babsi and his partner Jacopo Larcher did in 2020. The two climbers approached one of the historic walls of the Alps, the North Face of the Eiger, to free climb the hardest multipitch: Odyssée, 1400 meters up 8a+.

Already in 2018, Barbara and Jacopo succeeded in a four-days free ascent, but then an idea appeared: returning on this route to free climb it in only one day. On 14 September of the last year their project ended in success, in 16 hours of world class climbing.

On the occasion of the third episode of Committed series, we asked Barbara to bring us back to a year ago, to tell us the story of Odyssée.

Here is her full story of their great adventure on the Eiger!

•••

Babsi Zangerl's Odyssey on the Eiger
The report of the great free ascent

The one-day ascent by Barbara and Jacopo on the hardest route of this mythical face

After the interview we recently published about her expedition to Pakistan and the ascents presented in the first two videos of the Black Diamond "Committed" series, let's talk again with Barbara Zangerl!

The third episode of the series featured the other remarkable exploit which Babsi and his partner Jacopo Larcher did in 2020.

The two climbers approached one of the historic walls of the Alps, the North Face of the Eiger, to free climb the hardest multipitch here: Odyssée, 1400 meters up 8a+.

Already in 2018, Barbara and Jacopo succeeded in a four-days free ascent, but then an idea appeared: returning on this route to free climb it in only one day. On 14 September of the last year their project ended in success, in 16 hours of world class climbing.

On the occasion of the third episode of Committed series, we asked Barbara to bring us back to a year ago, to tell us the story of Odyssée.

Here is her full story of their great adventure on the Eiger!

***

In 2018 we tried Odyssee ground up the first time. The goal was to climb as far as we can and try to redpoint the newish line from Roger Schäli Simon Gietl and Robert Jasper which is called the hardest free climb on the Eiger.

We packed all the stuff we would need for sleeping on the wall a few days. We were not sure how long it will take us to reach the top and if we can make it as we don’t know anything about the difficulties of the route.
At this time, we were impressed about the high-quality climbing on this very famous North Face.

It is known for loose rock and fast changing weather conditions. We got surprised of perfect limestone and awesome pitches with bomber rock. Especially the first part of the wall was completely different how we expected it. It was steep powerful climbing and a huge variation of different styles, from technical slab
climbing to athletic overhangs. Super cool, we thought. In the upper part of the wall it gets more and more alpine. The fixed protection got less and less and the runout’s got longer and the bolts definitely less compared to the first part.

In 2018 we had pretty bad conditions. Every day we stayed on the wall we had a thunderstorm passing by and we were pretty lucky to be sheltered in our portaledge, we luckily took with us. It was not only the challenge to climb through the hardest pitches, the biggest challenge was to get successfully over the wet part of the wall. Sometimes it felt like climbing in a waterfall.

It took us a whole day to get over 3 soaking wet pitches before we reached the czech bivi 2.

We were pretty happy about this whole adventure.

When we reached the top at midday on day 4, we couldn’t be any happier. Being in the sun up there with the Jungfrau in the background—-what a view and what an intense experience on the Eiger. This was the time where we started to think about how it would be to try such a big line (with 33 pitches in total) in just a single day.
We knew that this will be a goal in the upcoming years. Until then we always climbed those big walls in a single push, don’t care too much on the time. The most important to us was always to climb ground up and climb everything free and redpoint.

Of course, if you take a lot of stuff what you need for multiple days, that is pretty heavy and adds a lot of extra time for hauling on the wall. It makes you slow. So, if we wanted to go fast, we just needed the stuff for a single day. No more hard-core hauling and more focus just on climbing. That was enough motivation to set this goal to do such a big wall in 24h.

This year in middle of August we went back on the Eiger.

The plan was to climb up the wall, checking out some details of the crux pitches and try to climb fast. Preparing the wall with some static lines for the filming crew who followed us on our adventure. We put some chalk marks on the crux holds before we wanted to give it a proper try. We stayed a few days on the wall, waiting out the very bad weather on the wall. Three days we stayed in a cloud, climbing on very humid holds and freezing cold conditions. Then we got rewarded with best weather conditions. The wall dried up completely. I never saw the wall in such good conditions. There was not a single wet hold. And it felt like another game for some days. The only thing was that we were pretty late. That should have been the time to give it a try but instead we spent time on the wall to do some preparation.

Finally, after a short break at home right before we wanted to give it a proper go it started to snow at the Eiger; half a meter of fresh snow on top of the Eiger.

That could have been the end of our journey.

Does it make sense to spend any more motivation to this objective if you know these dry conditions are gone for the whole season. We held on and were very optimistic. Waited a few days and then it was the time to give it a go. We didn’t get far on the wall, after 12 pitches the game was over. The wall was wet and the snow too much on the wall. It was very obvious that this makes no sense to keep on trying hard. Frustrated we abseiled down and waited some days out to see if the conditions will improve.

I checked the weather forecast and the Eiger webcams at least 100 times a day. But there was not much improvement of the conditions day after day. One week later it finally looked better. In the afternoon the wall looked a bit better and the water stripes dried up slowly.

So, it was our call to go and try one more time.

On our second try we climbed fast, we felt pretty solid on the hardest part of the wall. No fall and we reached the spicy part shortly before the czech bivi 2. We heard the water dropping already on the first pitches and could expect what was waiting for us up there. 4 completely wet pitches from 6c+-7c. We fighted very hard, and it took us some time to get over those challenging pitches. It was a lot of luck that we made it through. You basically can slip off everywhere on this wet part of the wall.

We made it!

Pitch after pitch we got more and more optimistic. The upper part of the wall went down pretty fast. We were just 3 pitches down from the top at the time of 16 hours. Jacopo and I were 100% sure it is almost in the pocket, but how it is at the Eiger, you can never be sure!

It turned 360° in the wrong direction. This was probably the most challenging climbing day we ever had. The Eiger can be pretty like the climbing in Rätikon but within a very short time it can change and then you experience how serious the North face can really be! The weather still looked good at this point. Two pitches later a big storm hit us. It started to hail and rain cats and dogs, as I was in the middle of the second last pitch. I got soaking wet, no possible way to reach the next belay and no chance to climb down. (No fixed protection on this pitch) I had to improvise and found a good solution to get back to Jacopo. In this situation we perfectly worked together as a team thanks to all the adventures we experienced together. The temperatures dropped to freezing cold and the water turned into ice. We rappelled 31 pitches in a waterfall. When we reached the bivi and our warm sleeping bags (at 10p.m.) we couldn’t be any happier!

That was better than any top or any success or summit. Glad we made it back, doesn’t matter the fact that we had to bail at the second last pitch. (On the easy flat part on the very top) sometimes those pitches can turn into the most intimidating!! We always learn from the experience in the mountains! We made a mistake and got in trouble.

That took a lot of energy and motivation. Was this the time to give up??? Giving up so close before the top. Was this really an option??

We thought we would be happy with that performance and leave it how it was. This were the thoughts on the wall and honestly it couldn’t get any harder. This was the most challenging climbing experience I had in my life.

As soon we reached the warm bivi we already played with the thoughts that we will come back. «This was not even close to the top», most people would think, even if it was the easiest part of the wall. In reality a dangerous 6a or 6b in bad conditions can be harder than the so-called crux of the route. And if you don’t reach the top, you never will know how close it exactly was.

So, we waited for another chance. The weather forecast promised perfect weather without any chance of a thunderstorm. This was our call and just two days later we were back on the wall (We still had some tiredness in the bones from the last try).

On Monday early morning, at half past 1 we started, climbed half of the route in the dark. The spicy part of the wall was still very wet…but at least we didn’t have to climb in a shower of water. We were 3 hours faster than ever before, and reached the czech bivi at half past 7 in the morning.

The psych was high and we were enjoying to give it all and climb fast through the upper part of the wall.
Everything was in perfect conditions in the upper part and the weather looked great. So, we arrived at the last hard crux part of the wall. Jacopo didn’t take any rest after the last steep 7c and directly leaded up the 8a pitch. He was pumped and fell!

But as soon he got back to the last belay he started again and made it up to the next belay without falling.
So soon we reached the point where we had to bail last time. I was pretty nervous on the 6b pitch where I got in trouble the last time. This time the weather was still clear and it was easy to find the next anchor. Just two easy pitches before the top we were at 15h of climbing time. Two more to go which turned out to be quite tricky. It was Jacopo’s go to lead the wet gully, we had to take care and go slow on this pitches. It was quite dangerous up there. The final part was partly covered in ice and you have to make sure you will not fall up there.

At half past 5 p.m. we both were standing on the top.

We couldn’t be any happier!!

It was a really hard demanding time to succeed on this mythical Eiger North face. What an unforgettable
adventure!

Our time at the end was 16 h.

Barbara Babsi Zangerl

 

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