Save the best for last. One of the classic areas for long routes in Brazil, and probably the area that is fastest pioneering clean climbing, “São Bento” offers tough granite trad, multi pitch, sport and boulder areas at huge amounts, for all styles, halfway between the two largest cities in the country.
But because of the nature of my climbing, I´ll stick with the multi pitch and trad aspect of the area. Drive 3 hours south of Rio or 2h30 north of São Paulo and you will arrive at a small village of about 10 thousand inhabitants that offers true mild temperatures during the winter and endless possibilities for climbing. The town has seen a big influx of climbers from inland and the capital move there permanently in the past years, turning it into yet another important and pioneering climber´s town in the country, alongside Rio de Janeiro, Cipó, and Salinas (another trad destination, 2h30 north of Rio de Janeiro, with routes up to 700 m).
Thanks to friend and trad master Marcio for letting me use several of his pictures alongside some of mine.
The grades are presented in YDS/French format (i.e. 0.00x/0x).
If you have any questions, don´t hesitate to send a message on the About Me section. Enjoy!
The Pedra do Baú complex is a group of three steep mountains connected by cols. “Bauzinho”, “Baú” and “Ana Chata” compose the landscape (see photo bellow), with many classic routes mainly on the north faces. The south faces also offer a good amount of long routes often in the shade and sometimes protected from the rain and fog, with several crack options. Baú, the central and main mountain, is about 350 m high and about 500 m long, with drops of over 200 m. Bauzinho and Ana Chata reach about 200 m high each. Baú has the hardest routes on the complex, followed by Bauzinho and then Ana Chata, however, there´s very hard routes on all of them.
Multi-pitch and trad routes are generally short (2-5 pitches), however they allow for linking which can make them long, challenging due to the steady moderate grade and requiring good route finding skills (since natural protection isn´t everywhere, you must know where you are going or risk some scary run outs), and that is the way to go if you come climbing in the area.
The first known climb in the area was in the 1940s, and during the 50s and 60s a basic via ferrata was installed on the north side of Pedra do Baú, which nowadays allows for the access of tourists to the summit, and an easy descent for climbers. In the same period the first mountain refuge in Brazil was built in the summit, and what remains today is only bricks. After the 70s route opening activity picked up in the complex, and in the 90s the focus shifted to the sport climbing and bouldering crags in the region, which are numerous.
As climbers are travelling more abroad and access to equipment is becoming more common, the past decade has seen a rise in clean climbing and many routes that can be protected with cams but had bolts are being re-thought and therefore having bolts removed, and that style is strongly influencing the new route openings that have been going on, which shows the area is still being developed in the right direction.
São Bento is one of the top climbing areas in Brazil because it offers every type of climbing with easy access and in a true mountain setting, especially during the winter. Cold or warm weather, rain or sunshine, there´s always something to climb aside from the long routes, including hundreds of boulder problems up to V14 and world class, rain-free sport climbing areas with routes up to 5.14/8ish.
Bring a 60 m rope (70 m even better, especially with a tag line, most multi-pitch/trad can be walked off from the summits), helmet, 15-20 quick draws, a full trad rack, a medium size aid rack for the aid routes (that includes a haul bag, jumar, etc), lots of sunscreen even in the winter. You know, the usual day-long gear. DO NOT leave any trash anywhere and follow rules as stated. There have been many closings recently due to erratic behavior from climbers in sport crags and bouldering areas (all inside private land), so you don´t wanna be part of that.
This is an intermediate/advanced area for bolted multi pitch, mixed protection routes and clean trad, as well as very interesting and challenging aid routes up to A3+. Rock is mostly granite, mostly crimpy but with its smearing pitches. Cracks, dihedrals and off-widths exist in good numbers, predominantly irregular, not so easy to protect (if by crack you think perfect parallels, Indian Creek-type). But if you can climb cracks here, you can pretty much climb cracks anywhere. I can personally say that Chamonix cracks are a luxury compared to here.
When natural protection isn´t available, the routes have bolts, usually in pretty good condition. If the routes is considered easy, expect big enough runouts between protections. Rock is generally solid, but as said before, cracks are irregular so if you are not used to climbing with nuts this a good place to practice IMHO.
The easiest routes on the complex start at 5.8/5b, but are very few. Most of the routes are above a hard 5.10b/6a+, and involve some mixed protection. It is hard to say what is the hardest grade, but I would say they easily reach 5.12+/7c and up to A3+ in aid. And the grade in the complex is considered hard.
It´s also hard to point “classics”, since most of the best and hard routes are quite mythical. With the influx of more climbers of a new generation many routes are being climbed again and in a clean manner. The activity of opening routes is gaining momentum again, and with the new mentality and stronger and more worldly climbers, the area is seeing a change for the best in its style. Locals are the best source of information and recommendation and they will happily point out the musts.
As in most climbing areas in Brazil, winter, that is, June through September, when temperatures are lower and there´s not much rain. São Bento is right at the heart of the Mantiqueira range which is notoriously humid. Especially during the summer months (December through February) it rains a lot. However, if the forecast is good and the rock is dry, it is worth a visit.
Not too many snakes as in other areas, but the animal danger here is bees and wasps in the warm season, as they come out of their nests and attacks are common. The mountains are in a protected public area, and there´s no fee to pay for climbing if accessing by foot, but if you go by car to the easiest access point, you will need to pay a fee by car to park there.
During the summer be very careful with the weather forecast as electric storms are quite common and you do not want to be climbing when one comes. There´s no rescue service in the area, if anything goes wrong you have to get yourself down.
São Bento do Sapucaí is reachable by bus from São Paulo and many smaller towns nearby. From the central area you can easily catch a ride to wherever you are staying. From São Paulo there´s a direct bus twice a day, in the morning and in the afternoon, run by Passaro Marrom. You must buy the ticket to Brasópolis (about US$ 12 one way) and let the driver know you´ll be getting off in São Bento. The bus will drop you at the roadside and from there you walk or catch a ride to your host.
It helps to have a car to make approaches quicker, but if you don´t, the mountains are accessible on foot (1h30-2h of steep uphill walk, depending on which mountains and which face you go).
WHERE TO STAY
There´s quite a good number of new hostels in town, but if you want to stay at a climber´s run refuge, I´d recommend Nativus (Facebook page), which is run by Marcelo Iron and his family. “Iron” is one of the most active local climbers, very welcoming and knowledgeable about the routes in the complex. His refuge sits at Paiol Grande roadside and gives easy access to the trailheads in case you don´t have a car. It´s not close to the town center (about 7 km) but it never took me more than 15 minutes to get a ride to/from the area to the center.
Another option is the refuge Montahismus, run by climber Eliseu Frechou. He also has a small store onsite with a selection of national apparel and some guidebooks. It is quite far away from the crags and mountains so, you need a car if staying here.
IN THE TOWN
There´s two big enough supermarkets in town, several restaurants, bakeries, drugstores and general services, and overall the town, being a winter tourist destination, has quite a lot of cultural events on weekends. Watch out for closing times though. No equipment stores, so bring everything you need.
Also worth saying that it´s pretty easy to buy produce by the locals: if you see something planted on someone´s backyard you might try knocking and buying something for dinner, it´s cheap and clean (as in, organic).
Unfortunately São Bento is an area that has seen an unjustified amount of conflict and dispute between old school and new school climbers and in between climbers of the same generation themselves. That is to say there is a very basic pocket guide of the region, but many very interesting routes aren´t listed, and many routes aren´t even there. It´s a region that does not have a definitive guide, so you must count on gathering information from several sources, and having the final word from the locals.
The pocket guide can be bought directly at Montanhismus, owned by Eliseu Frechou, one of the pioneers of opening routes in the region and worth talking to to plan your climbs. This website also has some topos not on the pocket guide.
Again, try to talk to locals. I can provide good contacts by e-mail if you decide to spend some time here. Feel free to write me.
And some videos:
THE END FOR 2016
This is the last post for the #brazilontherocks series, at least for this year. There´s many other amazing places to climb in the country, and growing – I recently heard of new crags near the border with Venezuela, and that´s about 5 hours flight from where I am right now. Unfortunately I didn´t arrive in time to catch the season on some of them, or didn´t have the time or money to go to all of them, but bellow are some of those places:
- Salinas, 2h30 drive north of Rio de Janeiro offers multi-pitch and super run out (mostly smearing-hell) routes of up to 700 m
- Itatiaia offers completely clean trad routes on excellent granite, long and short, cracks with jamming, off-widths and even crazy looking boulders
- Analandia region (Cuscuzeiro and Itaqueri da Serra) offers sandstone trad and sport climbing
- São José do Divino region (in the middle of nowhere really) has hundreds of monoliths of up to 1000 m (of climbable rock) and still has very small amount of routes, although it is attracting lots of foreigners in the recent years (watch Mayan Smith-Gobat’s Place of Happiness, or Viaje de Cristal, a new route by Argentinians)
- São Luís do Purunâ offers world class hard sport trad and multi pitch on sandstone
These are just a few of the many interesting areas that one can visit. Brazil is a huge country, almost the size of the US, but without the easy access. Most places are isolated, away from urban areas and requiring long driving hours. You need time to climb here, and to enjoy it to the fullest, it should be during our winter. I´m basically saying: either come here several times or chose wisely because you won´t climb everything you want in just one visit.
If you need to plan your rock climbing trip and want more info, feel free to contact me and I´ll do my best to help. Happy 2017 and many climbs to all!