The Gondo Crack is a 17-meter finger crack in Switzerland, just a few minutes away from the Italian border, that was bolted by the Italian climber Allesandro Manini 15 years ago and repelled all would-be first ascensionists until Barbara Zangerl (Austria) and Jacopo Larcher (Italy) succeeded in early April. Zangerl was the first to redpoint the route using the bolts at the end of March, followed by Larcher, and then both of them “greenpointed” the route, eschewing the bolts and placing trad gear. Larcher greenpointed the route April 4 and Zangerl greenpointed on April 5. They rated it 5.14b R.
“I sent it first on bolts and made the first ascent, and of course on the same day, a few tries later, Jacopo also sent it,” Zangerl said. “For us it was just logical to use the bolts to work on the route because they were there, and in fact it doesn’t really make a difference if you are toproping the route first [which would constitute a “headpoint”] or working it on bolts for a greenpoint ascent.”
Zangerl said they spent two or three days working the route last year.
“We could do the single moves but didn’t connect the whole crux at [that] time,” she said. “This year we spent two more days to do it on bolts and after [that] I needed two more for climbing it on trad [gear]. Jacopo needed only one more day [to send on trad gear].”
Tom Randall, a top crack climber from the United Kingdom, had attempted the route multiple times since 2014 and came close to completing it as a trad lead without the bolts. On his blog he compared the crux to the famous Cobra Crack in Squamish, British Columbia (5.14a). In a video from 2014, Randall tapes the final piece of protection–an offset nut–to his shirt to facilitate faster placement before launching into the runout crux near the top. Zangerl said she and Larcher used different sequences than Randall’s undercling fingerlock.
“My finger didn’t fit in this fingerlock–so I had a different solution,” she said. “Also Jacopo…jumped to the top crimp…. It was inspiring to watch [Randall’s] video and his solution for the mono finger stuff! Very inspiring!”
Zangerl and Larcher also had their own strategies for dealing with the strenuous gear placements.
“I had the No. 2 Camalot in my mouth for a few moves to be faster and save some power,” Zangerl said. “It was a weird position to place that one. Jacopo didn’t do that. He just had the gear in the right order on his harness. And in general we got more pumped because it was mentally more challenging and it was quite pumpy to place the gear.”
Larcher and Zangerl made the third free ascent of El Capitan’s Zodiac route (VI 5.13d) last November and have also done El Nino (VI 5.13c A0) on El Cap in addition to several other world-class testpiece climbs that require a cool head while making hard moves far above protection.
The two climbers left the bolts in place, rather than chopping them.
“People have been trying that route on bolts since 15 years ago and we have to respect that,” Zangerl said. “Of course…we would have been happy to find that route without bolts but it is an old, bolted project. You can’t just go and remove bolts. It is not our piece of rock. But for the future I hope that climbers stop bolting routes that are possible on trad gear. It is for sure more exciting and a more intense feeling to climb a route [on removable gear]. And it is also mentally and physically more challenging.”
On his blog, Randall writes of Manini, who bolted the route: “This is the man who’s probably contributed more to cutting-edge Italian crack climbing than any other; Profundo Rosso [5.13b], Denti Stretti [5.13d/14a] Lapoterapia [5.14b] are all very beefy crack lines established by a man of [Ben] Moon and [Jerry] Moffatt’s generation. The Gondo project, however, has eluded him since his first attempts on it in 1999 and he’s been kind enough to let me try it.”
Randall took a reprieve from the project after injuring his finger while doing the undercling fingerlock. He recalled his experience on the route in a recent email: “I was really motivated by the route at the time, as I’ve been a longtime proponent [of] trying to get people to realize that [Europe] has just as many hard cracks as anywhere else in the world…. When trying Gondo I’d thought that it was the next logical step up from Cobra Crack in terms of difficulty, as the crux is harder and the climbing [to get to] it [is] a bit more tricky. In my opinion the 8c grade proposed is totally realistic and it’s a real credit to both Barbara and Jacopo that they did it in fairly short order. I’d toyed with going back this year but the crux move (which no one else seems to want to do this way!) has damaged something inside of my finger. It’s probably for the best that people have found a way to crimp around this hold. My finger has never been the same!”
Larcher was out of contact, trying another project at the time this article was written and was unavailable for comment.