At 3 a.m. local time on Wednesday, Austrian climber Babsi Zangerl and German climber Lara Neumeier reached the top of Yosemite’s El Capitan after freeing a link-up of Muir Blast and El Corazon.
The pair spent six days on the wall to climb the 35-pitch line, both leading the 5.13 pitches. This is Zangerl’s sixth free climb up El Capitan and Neumeier’s first. “Muir Blast includes some challenging 5.12 pitches and one 5.13b pitch on the first 10 pitches of the route,” said Zangerl.
“We decided to haul our water for the final push up to Mammoth terraces. We did this a couple of days before our ground-up push. We also climbed the Muir blast part of the route once in advance as a training lap, in what was Lara’s first ever day on El Cap. Lara did incredibly well from the beginning.” Zangerl’s previous El Capitan free routes include El Nino 5.13b/c, Zodiac 5.13d, Magic Mushroom 5.14a, Pre-Muir Wall 5.13c/d and The Nose 5.14a.
“So, we decided to take the chance of a good weather window and start our mission to climb Muir-El Corazon in a push,” said Zangerl. “Once the push started, we climbed it ground up.” Below is a day-by-day breakdown of their climb by Zangerl.
Muir Blast/El Corazon
Day one: Didn’t go very well, as I hurt my finger and the haulbag, with the heavy portaledge, got stuck. Lara dropped one climbing shoe and a jumar. I slipped off a 5.12, had a proper fall and had to climb it again. But, anyway, we made it both first try and both on lead through the 5.13b pitch and got up to Mammoth terraces, where we spent the first night in our ledge. We were already pretty tired from the first day of climbing 11 pitches.
Day two: We climbed up to Bird Beak. Another 5.13b on El Corazon. We figured out the beta, then we both sent it second go. I’d already done the pitch once before, because it’s part of Magic Mushroom. On day two, we climbed over six pitches. We rapped straight down to Mammoth ledges.
Day three: This was a long day, at 3 a.m. we started to haul everything up to Beak Flake. I led and Lara made quick work of it as well. So, now we had the long scary traverse ahead of us. THE HAULING NIGHTMARE!!! It’s a 50-metre long traverse on pretty loose rock. Climbing it was not a big deal, but hauling was crazy. Our haulbag got stuck on a small flake, so I pulled on the haulbag rope and Lara pulled from the other side of the rope. A couple of seconds later, we saw that the whole flake was moving 20 cm away from the wall, and almost breaking off. That was definitely the scariest and most shocking moment of the whole climb. Dropping a big piece of rock on El Cap was a big risk to any climber or tourist below. We needed to find a solution, so we fixed the haulbag and Lara climbed to it and pulled it off the flake, then she tried to fix the flake. It was too heavy to lift, so Lara moved the flake back in position. It looked OK to us, so we kept moving. At the end of day three, we made it to Bobby’s Bunny Slope, but didn’t make it through the last 5.12d pitch. We were too tired to free that one in the baking sun. We needed time to set up our portaledge on the hanging belay. This day was more about hauling than climbing.
Day four: After warming up, I sent the 5.12d and had a completely different solution than Lara. She did a dyno lower to traverse into a crack, and I had a crimpy solution higher to get to the right crack. It made it a bit harder to clean for Lara, as she had to climb to clean my gear and back down to do her dyno, which definitely made it harder to climb second on top rope. Lara led the next 5.12c techy slab onsight, which was impressive. I climbed second and made it through as well. We finally got into the huge dihedral. We could see the cracks were getting wider than we were used to. We knew this was going to be a hard section. There were a couple of easier pitches before the real challenge. Lara made her first cam belay, which was safer than any belay I’ve seen. We could have pulled up a truck on that one. Then the huge chimney was waiting, and it was my turn to lead. I still feel like a beginner on wide cracks, they’re so intimidating and always exhausting to fight up. I didn’t take off my helmet, which was the dumbest thing I could do on that pitch as my helmet got stuck. So, I pushed it down with my free hand and took it off after I freed myself, all while quite a way up and trying not to fall.
Day four still: It worked out. I lowered my helmet down to Lara, didn’t fall and had a hell of a fight to make my way up to the belay. I knew I hadn’t the power for a second go on that one. That was one of my proudest onsights ever. I felt like throwing up, I was so exhausted. It was Lara’s turn to follow, I was impressed how fast she was at the wide part. I hardly heard any noises while she was fighting up that beast. Very close to the belay, she fell off. I didn’t think she’d ever want to try that thing again after such a long fight, but all she said was, “please lower me I will try again.” That really surprised me, incredible. And she crushed it on her second go, and we were back in the game. I led the next pitch, which was pumpy, but not very hard. Afterwards, I asked Lara if she wants to lead the next one. I didn’t expect that she would be psyched for it, after we had both emptied our batteries on the offwidth. She asked me, “Is it hard?” And I said, “Well it’s a chimney graded 5.10. That should be OK.” But, honestly, I had no idea; 5.10 on a chimney means nothing. She took the lead and fought her way up a long, wide, squeezing nightmare. She sent and I went second. I swear climbing an 8a [5.13b] sport climb is easier than that thing. Anyway, we made it at 1 a.m. in the morning. We then had another fight to set our ledge at an uncomfortable belay. But, you know what, we were right below the final hard crux pitches, so it was worth it to choose that spot. By 2 a.m. we were all set to make dinner.
Day 5: After three hours of sleep, we awoke feeling like we got run over by a truck. No chance to keep on going after four days of continuous climbing or hauling without a break. We checked out the Coffee Corner, but we were so bruised from the fights the day before. Lara’s fingers and to be honest her whole body looked like she got into a car accident. So, we called it a day and took a day off. We both fell asleep. We woke up because we heard some noises from below. Another team was coming closer and obviously pretty fast. It was Sam Stroh and his friend Will. Sam’s goal was to free El Corazon in a day after three weeks of working it. It was impressive to see Sam crushing it. Felt like a real Cinema rest-day program for us.
Day six: Last day before the big storm. We still had 10 pitches to reach the top. One pitch of 5.13b and three pitches of 5.13a climbing included some tricky 5.12. Still exhausted and hurt by the previous climbing days, it was hard to imagine that this could work out for us in a single day. We were super psyched to give it our all on what we knew would be our last day on the wall. We warmed up on the coffee corner and we both had to spend some time on it to figure out the beta. This one felt hard. I cleaned it and led first. I was lucky enough that my beta worked out and I was able to clip the chains successfully and lower back to the ledge. Lara seemed a bit nervous before her lead. It was the first time I heard her scream. She made it. The huge roof pitch was ahead, so I went first to check it out. It didn’t seem too bad. I was sure we both could send that one fast. I tried to talk Lara into a flash try. Half-an-hour later, she did what I always had the feeling she was able to. She flashed the roof. What a moment. Right after that, I did the roof and both of us got back to the ledge. We had pre-placed some gear because it’s just impossible to remove all the gear after every try, it is a 40-metre horizontal traverse and it is a mission to get back to the belay if both climbers want to lead it. The sun was out and hot. We both agreed to wait until the sun went down to get proper conditions for the next cruxy pitches.
Day six still: The break was filled with packing our stuff together. We took down the ledge and hauled our pigs to the bottom of the Golden Desert pitch, another 5.13a. I was psyched to give it all on my first go and I was able to onsight it, placing all the gear. I left some gear in for Lara and she have sent it first try as well. So, it turned out to be a real send train. Lara led the A5 traverse – another sporty 5.13 pitch, the last of this grade before it gets easier. She fell at the next belay, so came back to the lower belay and I had my first lead try and was again able to flash it, using Lara’s beta. I then lowered back down to Lara and she gave it another try, and sent. Suddenly, it looked like we had a chance to make it to the top. We met two nice guys – Tim and Nico. They were on Golden Gate, which shares some pitches with El Corazon, and they let us over take them, even with the fact that they were also in a rush to get to the top before the storm arrived. After the last hard pitches, it got easier, but not the easiest with our head lamp batteries running out. Honestly, it took forever to get to the top. Every move started to hurt. We had bruises on our backs from hauling. We reached the top at 3 a.m. Totally destroyed.
Post-climb: Feeling shaky and done with big wall climbing, but at the same time happy and rewarded that we climbed all free. We really had to suffer for this one. Another great adventure that will stay with us forever. El Cap never gets old. Lara’s first free climb on El Capitan and now my sixth. It’s now a day later and we still can’t touch anything because our fingers and toes hurt so badly. But, we are happy to sleep in a normal bed, have a shower and happy that we don’t have to shit in zip-lock bags anymore.
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