Climbing Mount Vines in Brazil – Boulder Daily Camera
Brazilian phenomenon Felipe Camargo on his new route Gran Reserva (5.14d, (11c Brazilian)) shortly before the red dot on July 5. Climb at night for cooler temperatures. This is now one of the most difficult climbs in Brazil. (Jim Lawyer / Courtesy photo)
One step at a time.
It’s my motto on long, tough courses like the Super Herois, a 165-foot fairway that overhangs for all but the last 35 feet. I exhale as I leave the ground and try to execute each movement quickly and accurately. I can tolerate a few mistakes on this marathon climb – a classic of the Serra do Cebu, if not all of Brazil.
One year ago, I’m embarrassed to say, I had never even heard of this place. For some reason, it’s not well known in North America, but climbing in the Serra do Cebu dates back to the mid-1980s and boasts some of the oldest and best sport climbing in South America.
Serra do Cipó means “mountain of vines,” and it couldn’t be more appropriate: a spider’s web of vines, thick and thin, creates a canopy over the trails. They line the rocks and even grow on some climbs. On one memorable road called Jane, and next door, Tarzan, there were comical moments when all fours of my limbs got stuck on vines instead of rocks.
Most of the routes, of course, go up the rock, and it’s some of the toughest I’ve ever climbed. It’s limestone — a dime-a-dozen type of rock — but it’s metamorphosed in a way that makes it more like marble. In fact, a small portion of Cebu has been mined for marble.
Climbers first arrived in Cebu in the mid-1980s to ascend crevasse systems and other routes that could be protected with traditional equipment. By the early 1990s, the sport of climbing was booming, and climbers began to explore the faces, the true gems of the area, which could only be protected with bolts. Today, it is these world-class sporting routes in Cebu that attract international climbers like us.
I’ve been here with my family – Heather, Dallas, and our nanny, Sophia – and four friends from the US and China for three weeks, and I have yet to meet anyone, climber or otherwise, who is anything but kind and welcoming. I was lucky to meet locals Wagner Borges, who wrote a climbing guide to Cebu in 2015, and his wife Fran. They married in Serra do Cebu in 2007 and have lived here ever since.
They climbed here for the first time in the 1990s when there were only 30-40 sport routes. A new guidebook was published last year, containing nearly 700 routes. Since then, Borges said, more than 200 have closed.
In 2012, Borges pulled out of a route that he had tried once or twice but was too difficult to climb. He sat there, “sleeping,” as he put it, until July 5, when Brazilian phenom Felipe Camargo finally freed him. “I saw the restrictions, but for me it was impossible in this life,” he said, laughing.
This route became the Gran Reserva (5.14d (11c)) and is one of the most difficult routes in Brazil. Camargo climbed it at night with headlights to take advantage of the cool temperatures. Among his sponsors is The North Face, which is making a film about the hard roads of Brazil with Gran Reserva as the main focus.
“I’m very happy,” said Borges, who said he felt lucky to have found and hung up. Borges wisely figured that someone would climb it one day, no matter how long it took. Other lines at Cipó, like Super Herois, have provided challenges to climbers like me for decades.
I struggled up the final swell, 130 feet off the ground, my forearms so heavy with gas that I didn’t notice my racing pulse until I was finally able to balance my feet on the vertical wall above. As I continued up the final section to the top, I savored the moment, taking time to enjoy the tactile feel of each unique grip—the wide flutes, shallow pockets, and textured back.
I pulled a hood over the summit, and finally stood on flat ground with a view I’ll never forget: distinctive black rocks, dense forests, and the occasional clearing in the distance—a hint of humanity in a brutal landscape.
It is no exaggeration to say that I was a different person from the person who had started the climb more than half an hour earlier.
Contact Chris Weidner at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram @christopherweidner and Twitter @cweidner8.