INTERVIEW: Bernd Zangerl - A Bouldering Pioneer

by Natalie Berry - UKC

Austrian boulderer Bernd Zangerl was at the forefront of the sport for many years. Having recently made the first ascent of a particularly risky highball problem named 29 dots in Valle Dell'Orco, we caught up with Bernd - currently living in the Himalaya - to find out what inspires him, his thoughts on the modern bouldering scene and what lies ahead for future bouldering pioneers.

                                      Bernd Zangerl © Ray Demski/Red Bull Content Pool

"The pressure to report more outstanding performances is increasing and value will become more important than an idea. For me this illustrates a sad image of a sport which used to be characterised by individualism, creativity, freedom, and an exploratory spirit."

How did you get into climbing?

In 1994 Peter Grissemann, a local mountain guide (living in the same village where I grew up), saw me traversing, climbing around on an artificial wall on the roadside. He asked me if I wanted to try „real“ climbing. A few days later he taught me the basics at a local crag nearby. After that first day I wanted to climb as much as possible, and Peter had a new partner for his alpine adventures. That's how everything started...

I read that you started in alpine climbing but made a conscious decision to focus on bouldering - what prompted that decision?

As a 17 year old teenager I had a dramatic day on the Marmolada south wall (Dolomites, Italy). Halfway up: a rockfall. A table-sized piece of rock shattered beneath me into small pieces. Seconds before I was watching this piece of the Marmolada south wall falling in my direction. We were shocked by this incident, but decided to finish the climb. Later that day we lost our bearings due to heavy fog in the upper part of the wall. We lost track of the orginal line. Finally I was climbing up some wet and dirty chimneys, mixed with ice and snow without any possibility for protection.

After that day I quit my alpine 'career' and focused on sport climbing. I put all my energy into it, dashed through the grades and two years later I made the first ascent of Tai Chi (8c, Lorüns, 1998). I tried my luck in competitions, participated at three world cups and at the first ice climbing competitions in Austria. Finally, in 1999 Thomas Steinbrugger took me down to Cresciano for my first boulder session. After that day on the boulders my rope stayed at home on climbing days and bouldering became my true passion. After trying so many disciplines of climbing, I finally found what I was searching for....

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