Q&A: BD Athletes Babsi Zangerl and Jacopo Larcher Claim Second Ascent of El Cap’s Magic MushroomTuesday, December 12, 2017
Babsi Zangerl and Jacopo Larcher are no strangers to the hard free-routes of Yosemite’s El Capitan. The duo, hailing from Austria and Italy respectively, have become one of the best big-wall free-climbing teams in history. In 2015, they tackled the Huber bro’s testpiece, El Nino (VI 5.13c A0), and in 2016 they made the third free-ascent of the Zodiac (VI 5.13d)—watch the video here.
However, when the team eyed the 28-pitch Magic Mushroom—a route established by Tommy Caldwell in 2012—they had their doubts. “We thought it would be a long-term project,” says Larcher. “It felt impossible,” adds Babsi. Regardless, the team went to work. They spent the better part of a month on the route, working the dozen pitches that are in the 5.13 to 5.14- range, and in an 11-day single push, they surprised themselves, and bagged the second free-ascent of Magic Mushroom—arguably El Cap’s hardest next to the Dawn Wall.
We caught up with Babsi and Jacopo between their hot-tub sessions and binge snacking to hear about their latest El Cap adventure.
First of all, congrats! How are you feeling after being on the wall?
Babsi: We are pretty tired after so many days on the wall ... Now is definitely time for the hot tub.
Are you resting in Yosemite or heading out?
Babsi: We are at “Yosemite bug” at the moment. It is just 40 minutes away from the Valley. Here we eat good food all day long and are going from one hot tub session to another.
So, Magic Mushroom. What inspired you to climb this line?
Babsi: First of all, it was Jacopo's idea to try this route. I was psyched too, but at the same time just a bit shocked as well after I saw the topo the first time. So, at the beginning of this year we were sure to go back to the Valley in autumn … but we didn't have a fixed plan or project (like always). First, I always wanted to have a look at the Nose and Jacopo was up for that as well. But to be honest I was pretty sure that we would end up on Magic Mushroom. In October and November, it is just too busy on the Nose, to try it free.
You climbed the route ground up first, right? Why that style?
Babsi: Right. For us it was just logical to start from the ground and to check one pitch after the other, with the risk that maybe we couldn’t do one move at the very top. This makes everything more spicy and interesting. Of course, that's easier to do if you know that the route had already been free climbed.
How many days did you spend working the route?
Babsi: We spent a lot of days on the wall. I think more than 30. There was also a lot of work to do! On the lower pitches, there was a lot of dirt. Some cracks were completely closed with moss and dirt. So, for a few days we just needed our brushes instead of climbing shoes. Normally we always spent several days on the wall. During this time, we climbed a few pitches per day and tried to get our portaledge higher up the wall. We basically spent a lot of time figuring out beta ... sometimes it took us half a day just to figure out two or three moves on the harder pitches. Most of the time we climbed in the night or early morning. In the sun, it was always too hard. (We still woke up at 4 a.m. in the morning—hard to change the daily routine.)
What was your first impression? Did you think a send was possible?
Babsi: At the very beginning it felt impossible to me. After a while I was optimistic that I could eventually do the single pitches up to the last hard one, but when we got to the last 5.14a pitch (40 meters below the top) I thought, I definitely can't climb that route. At least not on this trip!
Jacopo: We thought it would be a long-term project. But after all that work we put in, I felt quite confident except for one weird and beautiful 5.13c flared chimney in the middle—I had a really hard time with that one. The climbing is so weird though, that you can never be sure to send!
When did you decide to go for the push?
Babsi: We realized that we were running out of time. We extended our trip and decided to go for a push and take enough food and water for 12 days. We got super lucky with the weather—we had just one little storm.
How many days did the final push take?
It took us 11 days to top out.
And Babsi, you got sick? Jacopo you too? What happened?
Babsi: Yes, I had a stomach infection and I wasn't sure if I could keep going. I really didn't want to bail though! Luckily, I started to feel better after a rest day.
Jacopo: No, luckily I didn't get sick … and, as Babsi could just eat rice for some days, I had a lot of good stuff to eat ;-)
During the push, was there any moment when you thought it wasn’t going to happen?
Jacopo: I think we had three “cruxes.” The first was when Babsi got sick. The second was the 13c for me, when I kept on slipping off the same spot. The third one was the last 14a for Babsi, where she struggled with the last hard move right before the anchor.
Babsi, you were falling on the last hard move of the route?
Babsi: It was on the last 14a (in some guidebooks it is 13d) but for both of us that one felt harder than the “original 14a crux pitch” lower down. It was the biggest mental game ever. First, I was a bit down because I knew I was going to fail on the last hard one. Even if everything went well until this point. I had never done that one before when working the pitches, I couldn't link the lower to the upper crux. From the beginning on I knew this would be the heart breaker ... especially after so many days on the wall. I felt pressure.
I fell three times at the very top, loosing all my body-tension for the reachy crux move (just 3 meters before the chains). I changed my beta—that was the key. Squeezing my head against the edge to bring my left foot high up for the last layback moves and I surprisingly sent. I was in heaven and had to cry.
Jacopo, were you worried she wouldn’t send???
Jacopo: We've climbed so much together, that I know she gets some “super power” in those situations, which allows her to climb even harder. But yes, of course I was worried. It wouldn't have been the same if we couldn't do it together.
What was the scariest part of the route?
Jacopo: Maybe one short 5.13c protected only with shitty copperheads. I was surprised they held a fall when I ripped off Babsi's crimp ;-) Maybe I ate too much of the good stuff!
Babsi: When I led the last traversing top pitch I was sooo tired. It's called an 11b but felt like a 13a with really long runouts. I got totally stressed out, barely escaping a bad fall.
What was the best part about climbing Magic Mushroom?
Babsi: Every single pitch was amazing. My love/hate relationship with the last 14a was the best! An overhanging corner pitch. One of the best single pitches ever and on the very top of El Cap.
Jacopo: I think the best part about climbing Magic Mushroom was the fact that we had to climb so many quality pitches in a row. I'd never expected to find a similar route. Last but not least, I really suck at climbing chimneys—it's a very hard style for me, so it was even better to eventually succeed.
Finally, what’s the best part about topping out an El Cap route together?
Exactly that is the best part! Standing on top together after such an intense experience.
And of course, the shower afterwards and then chips and salsa.
—Interview by BD Content Editor Chris Parker