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Spring break, 2012. Once again, I jump on a long flight to Rio… This time my sponsor is the arbitrage of apple equipment. Little to no festas, samba, or late nights would await me in Brazil. This trip would be fully focused on climbing, progressing the CEU project, and setting up a supply chain for BEYONDgear chalk bags.
A colleague of mine at USC (thanks Rebecca!) sent me an article in GOOD magazine that highlighted the work of a special social entrepreneur in Rio, Mother Eunice. Eunice started Costura Unida, a community sewing coop that benefits the women in its community through economic opportunity. Costura Unida also provides a volunteer based day care center so the women who work their can have a safe place for their children. Unfortunately, some of the parents stopped coming back, so Mother Eunice started adopting. She now has 32 more children. Her enterprise is going strong, and I thought I would meet with her to see if they needed extra projects… they do. We are now working together to make BEYONDgear chalk bags that will benefit her community, sponsor kids to go climbing at CEU and help build out a super cool new brand of social impact adventure gear. We hope to have BEYONDgear chalk bags available by this summer. For more info on Costura Unida see: http://www.costuraunida.com.br
We also were able to get some great climbing in, as the weather finally behaved for us. We focused our attention on the North Face of Irmao Maior just above the Rocinha community. We made the infinite stair case trek up to the base of the wall multiple times and opened up some new pitches. My favorite was a beautiful slanting crack (seen below). This line was filled with dozens of wasp nests but lucky for us they were all unoccupied. Our goal of opening up new routes here is to help make this wall above Rocinha into a premier climbing destination in Rio.
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We have a new space in the Rocinha Sports Complex. Our new space is bigger and better, but inevitably comes with more redtape. We are now planning the professional construction of a 100 ft. x 50 ft. wall in the corridor of the Rocinha Sports Complex. The following will explain the events that led to this update:
Through a little networking and a lot of persistence, CEU was able to get a meeting with the President of SUDERJ which directs all sports programs in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The goal of this meeting was to hash out the relationship between CEU and the Rocinha Sports Complex which would host our climbing wall. CEU had designed the wall desired in the space that had been promised to us. The design can be seen below:
Within the first 10 minutes of our meeting with SUDERJ, the president informed us that our space had been promised to a ballet program. My heart sank. All this hard work, all this momentum and now we were back at square one… There was a side of me that for a split second truly dispised ballet. Andrew did not miss a beat, he kept the conversation going and did not show any sign of disappointment. A couple of minutes later we were brainstorming about a new location for our climbing wall and fortunately, one existed, a better space; bigger, taller, wider, and away from the pungent stinch of the river of crap that flows down from Rocinha and right by our old space.
The new space is in a corridor, almost 50 feet tall and almost 100 feet long. A climbing wall encompassing these full dimensions would possibly be the best climbing wall in all of Brazil. But how could we possibly find the resources to build such a dream climbing facility. The nature of this location is great for publicity and will encourage all young ambitious climbers who walk into the sports complex to join our school. As our meeting progressed with the President, we realized the huge potential in the Rocinha market after being pacified last month. There is a line of Brazilian companies that are chopping at the bit to get recognized within the ~200,000 residents of Rocinha. Through SUDERJ and our own contacts, we believe we can find the sponsors to fund a world class training facility for the youth of Rocinha.
In addition to moving forwards on the climbing wall and despite the epic consecutive days of rain, CEU made some progress developing the crags around the rock formations neighboring Rocinha. The first crag being developed is located directly above the sports complex (see below), seriously less than a five minute walk from the location of the climbing wall. We think this outdoor climbing will allow for CEU to more successfully create a strong climbing program.
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After a year and a half of working towards my MBA at USC as well as a summer in the corporate world at GE, I have returned to Brazil to continue my work to setup a climbing school in the favela community of Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro. Much has happened since my last post on the project. Let me bring you up to speed.
- We have changed our name to “Centro de Escaladas Urbanas” (CEU). The acronym stands for “The Center for Urban Climbing” and fittingly means sky in Portuguese.
- We received a grant from the American Alpine Club. The Zack Martin Breaking Barriers Grant is dedicated to climbers who believe in giving back to the communities in which they climb. John Parsons is an amazing climber, friend, and mentor who spear headed the grant. He has become a true ally and supporter of our project. More can be read about the ZMBB grant here.
- The official CEU website was launched and can be found at www.escaladaurbana.com/english
- Major climbing companies like Black Diamond and Petzl have generously donated gear including ropes, harnesses, and helmets to CEU. Also, the Boulder Rock Club donated many unclaimed climbing shoes, harnesses and chalk bags to the project.
- We have partnered with a government sports complex of Rocinha which will provide us space for our program as well as to house a professional indoor climbing wall. This area will serve as our office, training grounds, and club house. We will decorate this space with posters, provide books and magazines on climbing for students to access, as well as provide instructional training all in this space.
- We held a CEU event in our new space with a mobile climbing wall. Approximately 200 kids climbed the wall. There seemed to be great support for the program and excitement among the potential students.
I arrived in Rio a few days ago with the intention to smooth out all bureaucratic issues with our space, build the climbing wall, and develop some new routes on the massive “Two Brothers” formation above the Rocinha community.
My partner, Andrew Lenz, generously provided a couch for me at his apartment in beautiful Santa Teresa. On Monday, we headed to check things out at Rocinha. When commuting in Rio, it is always an adventure, especially on the back of Andrew’s motorcycle. I jumped on the back of Andrew’s ‘moto’ and held on for dear life. Despite being slightly terrified, I made sure to only hold on to the bike… not his waist. As we pulled into the Rocinha Community, we passed what looked to be a Military compound with bullet proof tanks and cars, bull dozers, and really scary looking guys with bullet proof vests and big guns. The under funded police squads of Brazil from years past had been replaced with a squad that would be at home in Iraq. I could not help but notice the emblem for the special unit police squad occupying the community. It was seriously the scariest, most sinister looking emblem I have ever seen.
We arrived at the Sports complex only to find it closed. “Of course its closed, its Monday!” we jokingly said to ourselves, after all this is Brazil and they love holidays here. The sports complex is a beautiful modern facility with a swimming pool, gymnastics area, and even a small skate park. We walked around the sports complex and checked out the location that has been promised to our program. It was a beautiful spot about 30 feet tall. “This spot will do,” I thought to myself.
Since we were already down here, we decided to take a walk up the base of the massive rock face that looks over the Rocinha community. We had our eyes on a classic old route called Patrick White. The line was put up in the 1970’s but has not seen an ascent in at least ten years due to the increasing numbers of drug dealers with big guns patrolling the area in addition to rusty bolts. Since the UPP “pacification” or police occupation of the Rocinha Favela last month, the drug traffickers had mostly fled the community. We felt confidently safe to explore the wall for climbing routes.
We decided that the water runnel at the base of the wall allowed for the best access. As we made our way up from the highway to a large concrete water runoff system, a man dressed in old camouflage army attire came running up on us. “Don’t go up there, there are vicious dogs up there!!” the man screamed at us. We tried to explain that we knew the way and would avoid the dogs, but now the man had new dangers to warn us of before letting us go on our way. “No but there are pit vipers there!!!” the man seemed determined to prevent us from heading up into the overgrown forest. He proceeded to list off every danger we could think of that could possibly exist to have us turn around. “There are flash floods, five minutes of heavy rain will bring certain death if you are in the water runnels” he told us. Drug traffickers, Africanized bees, landslides, the list kept on going. We talked with him with big smiles and explained that we were focused on climbing. Soon we were all friends and he gave us a number to reach him in case of any problems.
Andrew had heard of this guy, he was famous. “His name is Rambo and he lives in a cave up there where that big white flag sticks up out of the forest, he was probably worried that we would go up and mess with his stuff,” Andrew explained. Rambo finally let us go on our way. We imagined him rappelling down the face of the Two Brothers formation with guns blazing and a bandana around his forehead in the case of our distress call.
As we hiked up the water runnel, we did not find any gangsters, but kids climbing around the rocks and flying kites. Surprised to see us, they asked what we were doing. When we told them we were climbing they said we were crazy, ironic considering they were soloing what must have been a 5.4 slab with no shoes and in mid-conversation.
The water runnel snaked up the slope and then turned and followed the base of the wall. The thing was like a perfect stair case bringing us past what seemed like endless new routes and amazing cragging. We found possible slab climbs, face climbs, and even some good cracks. As we hiked along the base of the wall, we finally came upon Patrick White, a system of left facing corners and cracks snaking up the entire wall. It was beautiful. We snapped some shots and committed to refurbishing the line and making a modern ascent as soon as possible. Rumor has it that the bolts are completely rotten.
We will be returning next week to put up some new routes and establish a “crag” which is climbing terminology for a developed climbing area with many shorter routes for training. We will also be making an attempt on Patrick White once we have permission from the local Rio climbing community to refurbish the route with modern bolts. Construction of the indoor climbing wall is planned to begin on January 2nd. John Greenleaf, Wesley Thurston, and Daniel Paly are amazing people who will be facilitating this process. We will be staying in the Rocinha community during this time. Happy holidays to everyone and I will be sure to post again soon.
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Kiehls: Cross Terrain has sponsored the Brazil Rock Climbing Project, Centro da Escalada da Rocinha (CER). Check out the video.
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The following is a high-resolution and free version of our film:
Aratitiyope: Into the Venezuelan Amazon
I want to thank Alex Hemingway and Neal Ficker for their tireless and truly amazing editing work. It was a pleasure and an honor working with both of them on this project. I also want to thank Matt Othmer, my partner in crime for many years of climbing adventures. Of course, I have to give a shout out to Daniel and Eric from Rio and Gandul and Ivan from Caracas, these are truly amazing friends.
Below I have included an email I wrote upon arriving home from the expedition back in 2008.
Dear Family & Friends,
As I arrived back in Colorado last week, I want to provide a recap of our recent adventures in the Venezuelan Amazon to all those who are interested. After over 2 months in Venezuela, it is nice to be home again. Venezuela is quite the fascinating country in both positive and negative regards. It is a place I hope to return to at some point in my travels, and not just because it costs $0.70 to fill up a tank of gas.
The following will provide a summarized version of our expedition.
As many of you know, in December, my climbing partner and fellow East Coast raised, hip-hop loving, Portuguese speaking, big wall climber, Matt Othmer, and I set out to make the first ascent of the East Face of Cerro Aratitiyope in the deepest part of the Venezuelan Amazon. Facing complex logistics, wildly remote indigenous tribes, untouched jungle, heavily FARC influenced areas, Venezuelan military zones, and Caracas (sketch- central), we knew right away that it would be an adventure, even before the climbing began. We could not have made an attempt at such a daunting objective without the generous support of our friends and family. We are both so very appreciative of the support we received and the friends we have. It would surely have been impossible without you!
Upon arriving in Caracas, we met up with the most friendly climbing community I could imagine. They took us in like brothers and made sure we got all our expedition planning and organizing done safely. Our Brazilian team members arrived late, after a number of delays, postponing our travel date to Puerto Ayacucho. Sergio, the oldest and most experienced member of our team, experienced terrible back pains due to a slipped disk, and had to return to Brazil the next day. The four remaining team members (Matt, two Brazilians (Daniel & Eric), and myself) jumped on a bus packed to the brim and blasting salsa at all hours. We arrived in Puerto Ayacucho, the gateway to the Venezuelan Amazon, the next morning.
Our boat journey began on the Orinoco River in Puerto Ayacucho. We were lucky to have a great indigenous boat driver, Flaco. The river was beautiful. Storks, river otter, river dolphin, macaws, turtles, and monkeys were some of the animals we watched, although the infinite stretch of the Amazon rainforest on the river bank was a more reliable view. Each night, we found a place to camp in the jungle, or a friendly community to stay with. We slept in hammocks every night, we fished mostly catching piranha, and cooked on grills made of twigs over camp fires. The jungle was almost fully pristine, with no obvious displays of deforestation. Venezuela’s Amazon is by far the best preserved of any other country. The insects are also preserved quite well in the jungle, and we got our share of exposure to flies, termites, mosquitoes, ants, and bees.
After a week on the boat we arrived in Tama-Tama, a small town built by Christian Missionaries. They were kicked out by Chavez last year, although they had been there for the last 50. Tama-Tama also holds a small military outpost. Our papers for the Venezuelan Military were rejected, and suddenly we found ourselves stuck in Tama-Tama, and our expedition in jeopardy. The pori-pori black flys were the worst we had yet encountered. Four days later, new papers arrived in a boat from Ayacuco, and we were on our way down the Casiquiare Canal. The Casiquiare is the only naturally occurring canal in the world that takes water from one river system (the Orinoco) and gives it to a completely different river system (the Amazon). A couple more days down the river and we had entered into Yanomami territory.
The Yanomamis were only first made contact with in the late 1960’s and are some of the most famous indigenous tribes in the world, mostly due to a number of scandals involving anthropologists. They have many fascinating practices, including the use of Yopo, a powerful hallucinogenic blown up the nose of a Shaman, and the practice of eating the cremated ashes of deceased family members in a platano soup. Upon our arrival in the village of the tribal chief, one curious Yanomami slipped on the edge of our boat and cut his leg, pouring blood everywhere. Instantly, the mood of the Yanomamis switched from curiosity to trauma. A women sobbed uncontrollably, I worried that the Yanomamis would take this bad luck as an omen and our relations with them would be skewed from the first moment. Fortunately, Daniel, one of our Brazilians, was a medical student and quickly cleaned up the cut and bandaged the wound, calming the villagers and preserving our good relations with the tribe.
We left the village with six Yanomami guides. We hired them to help us get through the jungle safely, catch supplemental food, and carry some of our loads. Another three days of difficult navigation on ever smaller tributaries and our dugout-bongo boat could go no further. We were still 25 km from the peak by way the bird flys. We geared up and began hacking our way through the jungle. The Yanomamis, from thousands of years of adapting methods to finding protein in the jungle, were fascinating to watch hunt. We watched as they hunted birds with their 6 foot long arrows, killed a tortoise, and sacked bee hives. Our progress was slow and word came that the river had decreased 6 feet in 2 days due to the lack of rain. Our retreat by boat was now questionable. After much discussion, we agreed to abandon all hopes of the summit of Aratitiyope to avoid being stranded in the jungle with a boat but no water. It was a heart breaking decision, but it was not a tough one to make. Tricky maneuvering of our 40 foot long, 4 foot wide bongo boat got us back to bigger rivers.
We then visited a smaller granite dome, Piedra de Culimacare, that lay closer to the river. We made a first ascent on the steepest side of the dome, and then brought our beloved boat driver, Flaco, up the back side so he could get his first aerial view of the jungle canopy. Two weeks later we were back in Puerto Ayacucho. I came down with a terrible fever, what I thought to be malaria, but some simple (and free) tests came back negative for Malaria. The fever could have been a mild strain of Dengue or just a terrible case of the flu. I soon recovered, and once again, we were in motion.
Matt and I scrounged together what funds we could and were soon off on another epic 24 hour bus ride to the Gran Sabana, near Angel Falls. We hoped we could reach the wall of Acopan Tepui which we heard would offer a more forgivable approach. After logging 5 meals in a day, a couple beers, and a night in a real bed, we were ready for another expedition. We hired a 4 seat propeller plane to fly us to a remote indigenous village at the base of Acopan Tepui, a massive sandstone table mountain. We made a successful, although bumpy landing on the overgrown dirt runway and were greeted by the chief of the village. After very friendly negotiations with the Pemon indigenous people, more hacking through the jungle, a very close encounter with a Fer-de-lance (pit viper), and five long days on the wall itself, we reached the top of our new route, “Perdidos en Venezuela” (Lost in Venezuela) 5.11 C2+ V ~1,500 ft. We struggled through high winds, scorpion infested cracks, loose rock, a sheared rope, and unexpected falls (even while being interviewed by satellite phone with National Geographic Radio). The climb turned out to be of the highest quality and a highly treasured experience. At the top of the wall, the ancient Amazonian sandstone had weathered into wild, soaring shapes preventing easy travel on the summit. The only way down was back the way we came. We rappelled the steep wall with no major problems. That night, sleeping in a hammock in the jungle had a new feeling of luxury. We had finally climbed a new “big wall” route in the Amazon, we named it “Perdidos en Venezuela” in Spanish, to most accurately depict our adventure.
Cheers, and happy trails!
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After a crazy and hectic 1st semester of business school in LA, I felt an overwhelming desire to get myself involved in something non-urban and anti-corporate. Over eight days spanning New Years 2011, I met up in Yosemite with two up-and-coming young climbers from Boulder, Cheyne Lempe and Colin Simon.
It had dumped huge amounts of snow in the valley for a week before our arrival. Huge pieces of ice were breaking off the top of the wall, falling more than two thousand feet before vaporizing on the talus base. It felt like climbing a big wall in Afghanistan. For the first few days, I had my doubts about our potential success.
We were alone on El Capitan’s overhanging, frigid granite walls. Not one other climbing team had dared to face those conditions. We summited on January 5th at midnight and stumbled 20 feet from the cliff edge to make our bivy in five feet of snow.
The following video is a brief portrayal of our ascent of Zenyata Mondatta (A4 – VI).
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