Highball or free solo? Karo Sinnhuber climbs Black Beat (7b+)

Karo Sinnhuber repeats the mega highball Black Beat in Sundergrund in the Zillertal. We spoke to the Austrian about her recent success, the mental aspects of this ascent and the boundaries between highball and free solo.

Check Sinnhuber has been climbing since she was four years old. After twenty years in the competitive circuit, she decided in 2019 to no longer take part in international competitions and instead concentrate on bouldering on rock. She recently secured one of the rare ascents of black beat, an impressive line in Zillertal, where the boundaries between highball and free solo are fluid.

Karo Sinnhuber is happy about her ascent of Black Beat (15b+) on the almost 7 meter high block.
Karo Sinnhuber is happy about her ascent of Black Beat (15b+) on the almost 7 meter high block.

Hey Karo, congratulations on Black Beat! How do you feel after such a visit?

As always, the feeling of standing at the top of the block was extremely cool! I was really proud to have done it straight away in the first session, without delaying.

However, I think for the first time in my climbing career I said: “Luckily we survived that today, let’s toast!”

Check Sinnhuber

Things may go well today - but next time maybe not; It's just a very thin line. Therefore: don't push your luck! And now back to slightly lower boulders, which actually pass for “boulders”.

Would you still describe Black Beat as a boulder or as a short free solo?

Much Mayr has listed it as a 7b+ route. An assessment like that for trad climbing would probably make sense. 7A Boulder with a severity of E7 or E8. Definitely difficult to rate, although for me it was more about the line and the appeal than the degree.

You had been thinking about climbing Black Beat for a while, right?

Ever since I did the highball Knocking on Heavens Door in 2019, which is right on the same block, I've wanted to go even higher. I knew that there was a 7b+ route going up that had extremely few climbs.

Over the years, a few friends of mine have been inside with a rope and they all just said: “Totally scary!!! There’s another stupid stander on one leg at the top!” To be honest, that put me off a bit.

Karo Sinnhuber in the said riser, where a departure is no longer possible. Image: Fabian Leu
Karo Sinnhuber in the said riser, where a departure is no longer possible. Picture: Fabian Leu

But the appeal was still there to prove to the boys that it was possible. And to prove to myself that I can push myself even further in the highball game.

Check Sinnhuber

Do you even need a spotter for a highball like this?

If an emergency does occur and you fall, it's never a bad idea to have someone with you. Of course, I always hope that it doesn't come to that. Even if the level wasn't too hard, it's always cooler to have someone there so you can exchange ideas on beta technology and learn a trick or two.

For the first, more powerful, technical part, a spotter was nice. Because the pads would still be able to be used sensibly. After the first 4-5 meters, spotters and mats were unnecessary.

Once you reach a certain height, in my opinion it no longer makes much difference whether there are 3 or 10 mats underneath. You simply can't fall here anymore.

Check Sinnhuber

What are the difficulties of Black Beat?

Initially I found that there were two key points. But the longer we checked out the places, the more climbable everything became and in the end it was just a persistently exciting high boulder. 

At the beginning you had to hold on tightly to a few side rails, your feet on poor greased steps and quite high to climb up. Until after 4 moves you stood at the edge and got ready for the technically demanding part.

Karo Sinnhuber in the last, easier moves before the exit. Image: Fabian Leu
Karo Sinnhuber in the last, easier moves before the exit. Picture: Fabian Leu

On the left and right you have an edge in your hand and your right foot - also on the edge - prevents an open door to the left. When you are at the end of the edge and can finally lean your body onto the right side, you have a moment to breathe. 

From here on, avoid falling if possible. This is followed by a few easy moves towards the riser, where you have a relatively good edge on the left and a very good kick with the left.

Now you just have to climb extremely high onto this good step and squat with all your weight and then push yourself up onto a flat dent bar.

Check Sinnhuber

From here it's over and you climb a few more moves up the slab to get out.

How did you approach this highball?

I generally check out my highballs with the rope before jumping in without it. Basically, you rope in from above, look through the holds, clean, etc. Then you put on your climbing shoes and climb up from below, place by place.

If I didn't feel 100% safe because a spot was shaky or I didn't have the beta in my head yet, I would NEVER get in without a rope. That would be too dangerous for me.

Check Sinnhuber
Karo Sinnhuber: «With Black Beat, for me it was more about the line and the appeal than about the level of difficulty. Image: Fabian Leu
Karo Sinnhuber: «With Black Beat, for me it was more about the line and the appeal than about the level of difficulty. Picture: Fabian Leu

How did you manage not to lose your nerve somewhere high up?

I only get into highballs when I'm sure it'll work. With many years of climbing experience, I trust my body enough to be able to assess it.

While I'm climbing I'm in a flow, which keeps me from bad thoughts.

Check Sinnhuber

This time it was unique in that extreme foehn gusts were blowing and one had to be expected at any time. Solution: just hold on tight!

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Credits: Cover picture Fabian Leu

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