MAMMUT: The Classics season 2

The second season of The Classics series, takes place on multipitch routes

20 May 2016

Some disrespectfully call it “the most overhanging potato field on Earth” for others it is “the best climb of its kind in the world” (Alexander Huber). And it’s the latter for anyone who stands below it looking up at the endless overhanging desert of small, large and monster pebbles with no alternative but to climb it. Fiesta de los Biceps: it’s a name that says it all and a name that has established itself in the list of the all-time best climbing tours on Earth.

Mallos de Riglos
Riglos is a small, sleepy rural village in the southern foothills of the Pyrenees - a village just like many others in Aragon, were it not for the “mallos,” the local dialect word for “hills.” These “mallos” make the village the hub for any climber in the world looking for something special. However, the rock towers (some of which reach 250 m) that rise up over the village are anything but hills! And that goes especially for one in particular: Mallo Puro, a bizarre 80-m needle that points out of the Mallo Norte massif into the sky like a huge finger. The epic tale of its first ascent, which led to several tragic accidents, ended in 1953, when M. Bescós, A. Rabadá und A. Lopéz reached the delicate summit. El Puro is still the most difficult summit on the Iberian Peninsula at Grade 6b!

The face that really stands out above the village of Riglos is that of Mallo La Visera. It begins vertical and the overhang increases as you climb, until it finally explodes in a huge overhang. A good dozen routes lead up this face, but they all pale in comparison to the breathtaking Fiesta de los Biceps.
After the slight (6a) dihedral, the face becomes gradually steeper before reaching the crux on just the third pitch: a crimpy face that has been really worn down by the countless climbers that have come before, and undeniably deserves its 7a grading - it’s really hard to crack in the glare of the sun. It's followed by climbing heaven: pitch upon pitch of skyward overhangs with good-to-huge holds and no particularly hard sections, but constantly challenging climbing. It’s heaven for those who aren’t short of endurance and hell for those who lose their strength somewhere among the pebble holds. More than one climber has “starved” on the seventh pitch (6c+).

A festival for the upper arms
The first route up the imposing face of the Mallo La Visera dates back to 1976. Known as Mosquitos, it follows a logical series of fissures and dihedrals on the right side of the face and is mainly UIAA Grade V with one section each of 6a and 6b. It was almost ten years before the Fiesta de los Biceps was opened: it was in 1985 that F. Caballé, S. Arnaudas, F. Gutiérrez, J.L. Lombardo and M. Carasol completed the central line up the face that is both the best-known route in the Mallos de Riglos today and the reason for the massif's worldwide fame.
However, the European climbing public only discovered Fiesta in 1989: on 13 April, Carlos García, one of the best Spanish sports climbers at the time, climbed this overhanging ocean of various-sized pebbles free solo. A short time later, a great article by Carlos appeared in the Spanish climbing magazine Desnivel. It featured a little man on a huge face and although he was hanging on large handles, the slightest mistake would have meant certain death.

“Festivals are there to celebrate! I’m talking to my friend the rock, taking him on, climbing him. A vulture rides the breeze, glides gently towards the rocks and watches me curiously. I ask myself what he’s thinking. I climb ever higher, grow into myself and lean against the never-changing, the time-honored. With my solo effort, I am realizing something that rebels against the established norms of society. This destructive society of judges and executioners that makes people sick and destroys them. Mother Earth is dying and it is man who is killing her. People look at me with stunned curiosity. And I continue to follow my dreams of freedom.”(C. García in Desnivel 48/1989)

Anna, Edu and Carlos
When two members of the Mammut Pro Team, Anna Stöhr (from Innsbruck, Austria) and Edu Marin (from Barcelona), stood at the foot of the face of La Viscera in February 2016 they were agog. They looked up at the breathtaking line of bright, chalk-colored holds running through the endless ocean of pebbles - an ever steeper, ever more overhanging face that relents only just before it culminates in the summit.

The reason for their journey was to get to grips with the world’s most famous climbing route. “’When I first stood at the foot of the face,” Edu recalls, “the peculiar rock made it a unique experience. You think that you’re climbing up massive potatoes.” “When we first turned the corner and saw this amazing landscape, it was breathtaking,” continues Anna. “And I could see the face directly from my bedroom!”
Neither of them needed to worry about the climbing itself - after all, Anna is a three-time World Cup Overall Champion and two-time Bouldering Champion. Edu is one of the best sports climbers in his country and has completed some of Spain’s most difficult routes, including several on-sight 8cs. Nevertheless, he is impressed: “It really is a crazy climb,” he says. “You get a bit scared climbing up these huge potatoes, because you’re never quite sure whether they’ll hold or whether the whole potato field’s going to come crashing down around you.”
“The climbing style is similar to hall climbing,” says Anna. “You never really have a bad hold and you’re really hanging on to huge handles on the overhangs. The steepness of the face is imposing, and the fact that the vultures that roost in the towers fly by you so closely that you hear their wings makes the whole thing a really unforgettable experience.” Despite Edu’s fears, the potato field didn't collapse - in fact, not a single hold broke off and Anna and Edu comfortably climbed onto the summit plateau late in the afternoon.
It’s no coincidence that Anna and Edu met Carlos García, the first man to climb the Fiesta de los Biceps free solo in 1989. And it’s no surprise that the conversation revolved mainly around this ascent. Both Anna and Edu are still impressed by this solo, which has gone down as a milestone in the history of rope-free climbing. They’re particularly impressed because neither of them trust the face of the “mallos.”
But Carlos stresses that he’s often climbed here and that he knows the rock very well. The free solo wasn’t a problem for him mentally, but it was physically. Even though he was very fit at the time, had just won the Spanish Climbing Championship at 22 years old and, as is typical at that age, was full of confidence. But he also explained to Anna and Edu that there are only a few times every year when it’s OK to climb the “mallos” free solo - it needs to have been dry for a long time and the temperature needs to be cool. Carlos had waited for such a day back then: “There’s a feeling of infinity being up there in the overhang!” he says. “There's no comparison with the rope climbing. You feel light, there’s no rope, no quickdraw slings. It’s almost like bouldering - just in another dimension.”

“Deep in thought, the rock passes me, and with every meter, the real me expands, enlarges, fills with infinite satisfaction. I feel safe climbing from hold to hold; I dream my dream of freedom. On the sixth pitch there’s a huge stone sticking out of the wall. It's large enough for me to sit on and relax. And from here I look at what surrounds me: the sky, the clouds, the birds, the river, the rays of sun behind the "mallos" and the little points, the audience to another, new episode in the world of climbing.” (C. García in Desnivel 48/1989)
Both Anna and Edu say they couldn’t possibly imagine climbing the Fiesta free solo. “It's simply too dangerous!” says Edu, “a hold could always break off.” However, both of them - especially Anna - say they want to climb the route again on their next visit to Riglos. She heard about the crazy towers the locals call “hills” from her parents. Years ago they climbed a route on the right side of the face and told their daughter about the wild beauty of the towers of Riglos and the Fiesta de los Biceps route in particular.
And now Anna wants to travel to Riglos with her father as soon as possible to experience “the best climb of its kind in the world” again. And she certainly won’t be alone - Fiesta is on the wish list of countless climbers. So it’s off to Mallos de Riglos.

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