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Photo by Michael Messner

Photo by Michael Messner

Photo by Michael Messner

Photo by Michael Messner
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Martin and Florian Riegler, Flying Penguin and the Rocky Mountains

06.10.2009 by Vinicio Stefanello

Interview with Martin and Florian Riegler after their climbing trips to the Bugaboos, Canada, where they carried out the first ascent of "The flying penguin" (300m, 5.12b)on the South Face of Pigeon Feathers.

By now many have come to understand the style of the Martin and Florian Riegler. What is certain is that the Italian Riegler brothers have proven their passion for mountaineering and the quest for something new again and again. And this holds true for their latest adventure in Canada's remote Bugaboos in the Rocky Mountains, circa 900km from Vancouver. Based on a glacier the two climbed a new route up a tower on the South Face of Pigeon Feathers which resembled a penguin, hence the rather bizarre name of their 300m route which ascends the tower confronting difficulties up to 5.12b and A3 via a series of perfect cracks which split the wall in two. It is worth mentioning that the second pitch simply didn't want to go free, and that the brothers placed 3 bolts on the belays, 12 pegs in total and obviously protected all the rest with trad pro. We were interested in finding out more about their Flying Penguin, the Bugaboos in general and more about the brothers themselves. Here's what they had to say.


Florian, we're interested in finding out more about the famous Bugaboos. What are they like?
They're a gift of nature for us climbers. Those rock faces seem like they were made to climb, they're just fantastic!

If you had to compare them to other rocks around the world?
In short, there are fewer people there than in Yosemite, the weather is better than in Patagonia and the rock quality is better than in the Dolomites.

What's the atmosphere like of the climbers, better still, mountaineers there and what ethics do they use?
The people who climb there are used to hauling big rucksacks on their backs, of being away from civilisation for a long time and above all being able to protect themselves using trad gear. It's a great style...

Everyone knows you as the Riegler brothers. The time has now come to introduce yourselves, starting with the eldest, Martin, who will introduce Florian.
Florian isn't very patient and he's not too diplomatic either. But I don't know anyone who shares the same motivation and passion for the mountains. He's a true all-rounder: competitions, ice, multi-pitches, ski mountaineering, all at a top level.

Now it's your turn Florian
Martin is extremely strong, not by chance he's the mind behind the Riegler brothers. He almost always chooses the hardest route and he's managed to do some incredible things in life, I really respect him for this. Even if at times he plays the role of being the elder brother a bit too much... but I've got used to it by now. We get on really well.

Let's return to Canada. What was you approach to this granite and above all the cracks?
We stopped off in Squamish first for a couple of days to get used to the climbing. You need to trust your feet, the pro and above all you own ability! But with a bit of patience you learn pretty quickly.

So you got a feeling for it all by climbing some of the classics.
McTech arête on the Crescent Spire is a must in the Bugaboos and also a good test for things to come. Short but beautiful. Sunshine Crack on Snowpatch spire has become a super classic, comparable to Via Comici on Cima Grande di Lavaredo in the Dolomites. Both are fairly popular, are easy to get too and belays have in-situ gear.

Then you set off in search of your own route. What characteristics must your routes possess?
We wanted to discover the less frequented area around Pigeon Feathers. When we entered into the valley and saw the rock face I looked Florian in the eyes... we didn't need to say a word, we both knew instantly what we wanted to do.

Time has come to describe your Flying Penguin
We were immediately struck by the crack systems which split the tower in half... the idea was to follow them to the summit. The rock is sharp but the surroundings are grandiose with a perfect view onto the House Towers. We believe the line is beautiful.

What, apart from the technical difficulties, was the hardest aspect you encountered?
Already on day 2 our skin hurt because we'd started taping too late. Martin's finger nails were bleeding because he'd slipped on the glacier as he went out to get water. This was another great experience :-)

We read that you Florian risked falling like Wile Coyote on a hollow flake...
Yes, it's not easy to belay your partner when you realise what he's doing is extremely risky. Over the last 15 years I've learnt to always be very watchful and always be very happy if things turn out well. I've already lost too many friends in the mountains, and I miss them loads.

What do you remember about that moment Martin?
It was certainly the most intense moment during the entire trip. I was 100% concentrated, I knew that a fall from there would have been fatal.

What's the best thing about Flying Penguin?
The name... Only joking. The rock quality, the ambient and above all the line!

Back to something serious: what's your style of ascent? Or rather, how can you "justify" those three bolts?
We only placed the bolts on the belays and they were useful since we didn't have to carry two full sets of camming devices. We obviously didn't place them with a power drill, but by hand.

After spending three days carrying out the first ascent you returned to try and free it.... but that second pitch didn't want to listen to reason and remained aid at A3.
We climbed a variation to the second pitch and managed to climb that free, too. But that in our eyes isn't the "Kingline", it's not the line of the first ascent. Perhaps stronger younger climbers will come and free it in the future.

Comparing it to French grades, what grade would you give the route? And can you speculate about that second pitch?
Perhaps 7b crack climbing. The grade of the crux pitch depends on the size of your fingers and whether the crux is wet or not... possibly 8a?

So as not to end with the ritual question about your future plans – give us three good reasons why we should go to the Bugaboos and why you might return?
For those in search of a climbing journey, at the Bugaboos they'll find: impressive nature, few people and plenty of room for new adventures. We'll certainly return because it's one of the most beautiful places we've ever seen!

Flying Penguins
South Face, Pigeon Feathers, Bugaboos, Canada
300m, 5.12b/A3
Gear: 3 bolts, 12 pegs, camming devices
Sponsors Florian: Salewa, La Sportiva, Sportler
Sponsors Martin: CAMP, Arcteryx, La Sportiva, Sportler

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