Back to Rocinha

15 12 2011

Close up view of a section of Rocinha (photo: Andrew Lenz)

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
  • 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.

BOPE (Brazilian SWAT Team) Emblem

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.

CEU's new space within the government sports complex (photo: Andrew Lenz)

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.

Boy playing at the base of the "Bigger Brother" formation above Rocinha (photo: Andrew Lenz)

Kids climbing up slabs with no shoes. This was probably a 5.4 friction pitch. (Photo: Asa Firestone)

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.

The water runnel which acts as a perfect belay ledge and path along the wall for climbers (Photo: Lenz)

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.

Andrew in the water runnel with the 800 foot face of the Two Brothers looming above (Photo: Firestone)




2 responses

19 12 2011
Gil Weiss

This is the shining epitome of climbing’s co-evolutionary power. That is the power of climbing to transform communities and landscapes, and in turn, for those places to transform the people themselves. Thanks for turning this omnipresent concept into a reality. Keep up the good work guys!

22 12 2011

Well done, Ace. You are harnessing a transformative power with integrity and cojones. Your words and photos bring the vision to life. Keep recording the process, it’s fascinating.

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