In 2001, Bernd Zangerl burst upon the bouldering scene with his repeat of Fred Nicole’s seminal Dreamtime V14, graded V15 at the time.  He then went on to establish himself as one of the standard setters of bouldering with first ascents of problems such as Memento V15/16, New Baseline V15, and repeats of such classics as Slashface V14, Coeur de Lion V14 at Hueco Tanks further bolstering his reputation.  

For the last few years Zangerl has kept a decidedly lower profile, partly due to a bothersome injury, and partly because he was seeking newer, less developed areas to ply his skills. Zangerl focussed mainly on new routing, putting up testpieces like Anam Cara V15 at the Silvretta Mountains of Austria. “I still feel that surge of excitement coming up when I find a new, unclimbed line, a new boulder. Repeating problems is different. In a way it is much easier,“ says Zangerl.“It’s just about doing the moves, you already know from movies or pictures. When I started bouldering, I was also very motivated just to repeat. I still do, sometimes. But I have to say, working on my own visions and dreams is more interesting for me“    

This winter, Zangerl spent two months on a futuristic, seven-move problem, bouldering in the snow, with temperatures below freezing, but kept falling from the last move.  Sick of the cold and looking to refresh his motivation, Zangerl abandoned his project and landed in the Murg Valley of Switzerland to try his hand at an old Fred Nicole problem: Entlinge V14/15.  Zangerl had already briefly tried the problem years before, and thought he was too small for the reachy crux moves. His first crack at the problem seemed to confirm this initial assessment. On day two, Zangerl managed the crux move once, but “didn’t really think about a fast success“  Returning two days later, Zangerl fell a few more times before the crux, and was already packing up,“but somehow I went back to give it another try.“ He recalls.“Everything was in flow, and I made it to the top. I was more than surprised. It was just one of these perfect days.“

Riding on that wave of success, Zangerl made short work of the third ascent of another Fred Nicole problem, Dipende, at Ticino, Switzerland.  Originally rated V12 but since bumped up to V14, the only other person to climb it is British strongman and current Squamish resident Tim Clifford.  

Lastly, Zangerl tackled the Dave Graham testpiece From the Dirt Grows the Flowers V15, which Graham established as a new standard for V15.  

In Zangerl’s view, “Many strong climbers have tried The Flower, but nobody succeded. I also tried it, but after doing the moves, I lost motivation and went back to my own projects. This year, I hoped to keep up motivation. On my first day, I climbed all but the last two moves. I was sure that I could do it, so I came back several more times. On March 16th I was very close again. With the last hold already under my fingers, I slipped off.“

Seeking  better conditions, Zangerl decided to try for an early start the next day.  He explains, “During the night the rock cools down for perfect conditions. At 6:00 o‘clock in the morning the alarm woke me up. I warmed up, and just before 9:00 I was able to repeat From Dirt Grows the Flowers.“

Zangerl believes that grades are very personal, particularly at the top end. Nevertheless he offers that “The single moves of From the Dirt Grows the Flowers aren’t that hard, there are just many of them. At the end it’s a question of power-endurance. On Entlinge, or some of my own problems like Anam Cara and Disney Production the moves felt harder. Dreamtime or New Base Line may be a bit easier, but these problems date back to 2001 and 2002. It was much harder to compare them.”  Zangerl further elaborated “Just because the standards rise, we don’t necessarily have to downgrade.  In other aspects of life one describes this as being a natural development, progress. It takes time for a grade to settle and each climber has personal strengths and weaknesses. How much a problem suits your personal style is really important in bouldering, most climbers forget this.”

–Andre Cheuk