Zangerl and Larcher comment on their amazing Eternal Flame ascent

4 September 2022

In July, Barbara Zangerl and Jacopo Larcher made a six-day onsight/flash ascent of the 650m Eternal Flame 7c+ in Pakistan, topping out at 6 240m. Babsi and Jacopo chose to ‘swing-leads’ - meaning they each led alternate pitches. However, they also decided they would both lead the four hard crux (7c-7c+) pitches on the route. All removable protection was placed on lead, as they climbed. Here are some further details of their amazing ascent as well as a mini-interview. (c) Austin Sidak - Reel Rock

What were the driving forces going for such a big project, doing Eternal Flame?
Eternal Flame was always a dream route for us. Inspired by the vision of Kurt Albert and Wolfgang Güllich. All pictures we saw about this free-standing tower kept us psyched to finally visit this place and try to repeat it. We were already there last year but didn’t get lucky enough with the weather. So last year we spent all our time hiking up and down the gully with just a very little of climbing. All in all, it was a fantastic trip anyway. The country the culture, the people the food, the landscape, staying in this beautiful place without cell phone service or internet far away from everything was kind of a new and great experience. We knew it won’t be our last visit.

What were climbing-wise the biggest challenges for you?
The biggest challenge is of course the altitude and the conditions. You don’t always feel very well at this altitude, everything that you do up there is way more exhausting compared to normal. You don’t really recover from climbing or don’t sleep much during the night. It is also a very long and steep approach in a dangerous gully because of rock falls.

It takes approximately one week to get from home to base camp and then you need to get acclimatized before you even can start to climb this wall. For the first 8 days, we just carried up all the gear, food, tents, the portaledge, and sleeping bags. We went up and down multiple times and slept a couple of times at 5000-5500m before we started our ground-up push. So it takes a lot of time to finally get into climbing mode. And last but not least you need very good conditions otherwise you can’t free climb up there.

How do you feel climbing at such a high altitude? Grading-wise, would the hardest pitch be 7c+ also at sea level?
Yes, I think that the grading is ok where ever it would be. It is just way harder to climb at this altitude. If you don’t have perfect conditions you can’t even think about climbing at 6000m.

Last year we have spent 5 weeks at the Trango Towers and there was not a single chance to climb Eternal flame. It was wet or there was ice in the cracks. So you need to be also very lucky to find the route in good condition. And even if you have good weather it can be pretty cold up there. So compared to other walls we did before….it was definitely more challenging and complicated all in all.

Day 1 – 18th July
At 4 a.m they got up and carried their load up to the base of the wall. They climbed the first 9 pitches, up to ‘Sun Terrace’. (swinging leads) (Lead: 7a+ Babsi, 6c+ Jacopo, 5c Babsi, 5c Jacopo, 5b Babsi, 5b Jacopo, 5c Babsi, 6c Jacopo, 3b Babsi) They set up their bivi at Sun Terrace for the night.

Day 2 – 19th July
They climbed 6 pitches up to the bottom of the first 7b (the 7b was completely wet. So they decided to rappel back down to sun terrace) They spent the afternoon there and rested for the rest of the day. (Lead: 5b Babsi, 7a-Jacopo, 7a+ Babsi, 7a Jacopo, Babsi 7a, Jacopo 6c+)

Day 3 – 20th July
Babsi and Jacopo jumared up to the previous day’s high point. They were quite early and it was so cold that they couldn’t start climbing until the sun came around the corner. They were waiting at the hanging belay for 2 hours. Jacopo climbed the 7b pitch with numb fingers and toes. The wind was blowing and it was very hard and took lots of energy. That day they only climbed 3 pitches (7b, 6c+,7c). Both leading the 7c (first Jacopo, then Babsi), then swinging leads on the others. They were exhausted after this day and the next 7c was still completely wet. So we abseiled back to the sun terrace on the fixed lines.

Day 4 - 21st July
They jumared up to the last day’s high point. Babsi climbed the next 7c in ok conditions. A bit of ice and water at the start of the pitch which made it tricky. Afterward, Jacopo also sent this pitch on lead. Babsi took the next 6c on lead. Jacopo then following her to the snow ledge. They took a rest on the snow ledge—Edu was filming on the next crack pitch- and after one hour they kept on climbing. Jacopo led the next 6c, Babsi 7b, Jacopo 6c, Babsi led the 7c+ on sight then Jacopo also led it first try (flash) After this, they abseiled back down to the snow ledge for the night.

Day 5 – 22nd July
They jumared back to their high point. Jacopo onsighted the next 7c, Afterward Babsi also flashed it on lead, Babsi 6c+ lead, Jacopo 7a lead, Then back to snow ledge for the night.

Day 6 – 23rd July
Babsi 4c, Jacopo 5c, Babsi 5c, Jacopo 5c/M5, then Babsi led the last pitch to the top. They rappelled down the same day and went back to base camp. Some days later they went back to the wall to clean all the ropes.

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