American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Brazil, Pedra Pão de Açúcar, Pão de Minas

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2009

Pedra Pão de Açúcar, Pão de Minas. I still don’t know if I was invited or just imposed myself. All I know is that after a year of working as a big-city paulista (one of 20 million inhabitants of São Paulo), I was stressed and doubting the existence of goodness. That was when I caught myself planning a one-week trip with my friend Ed (Edemilson Padilha). It was easy to spot Ed when he finally arrived at the bus stop: almost two meters tall, he carried a big backpack and a haul bag. The next day at Belo Horizonte, 700km to the north, we picked up Fernanda Cordeiro. I was surprised that she is as short as Ed is tall. But I have never met a short climber who wasn’t amazing on rock, and she was no different.

Our next stop was the town of São José do Divino. We arrived at night, and as elections had just finished, the town was partying, which in Brazil’s small country towns means a lot of beer and cachaça (sugar cane rum). Late that night we met Edimilson Duarte, an eccentric guy who owns a mountain hostel near Pedra Riscada. He took us there, almost an hour from town by dirt road.

At the farm gates near Pedra Pão de Açúcar, we parked and sought the owner to ask permission to climb. It was a sensible decision, because at the veranda were the owner himself, Mr. Robélio, and his wife Dona Maria Luiza. At first Mr. Robélio showed his dislike for mountaineers, because some people had just trespassed. Asking permission is basic and doesn’t hurt, but because some guys are still irresponsible, the rest of us suffer the consequences. After a lot of talk, we were allowed to enter and also invited to have lunch with them. Before we left, Mr. Robélio challenged us: he said we wouldn’t be able to reach the summit of Pão de Açúcar, as he had been born on that farm and had never seen anybody succeed.

We camped that night in a huge bamboo grove. As we had time before day’s end, we moved equipment and water to the base of the route. Crossing a small wood under a scorching sun, some refreshing drops fell on me. I later learned that the drops were cicada urine—there were thousands of them there. Since we still had sunlight, I led the first pitch, which had previously been climbed by Fernanda, Ralf, and Lugoma.

Rough Monday! We jumared the first pitch, and Fernanda was chosen to lead the chimney of the second pitch, which ended up requiring all three #6 Friends. I took the next pitch, and Ed the fourth, which dealt with a giant bromeliad. We then returned to base camp.

Tuesday: After a slow breakfast we crawled to the base of the route and jumared. The next section was an aid overhang, but as my pal Eliseu says, “Life is tough for those who are soft,” so I took the lead.

After half a dozen hook holes and a pair of copperheads, I reached the base of the overhang, which went with some pins. But after the overhang, what frustration! The arch we thought was a crack was not, which meant we had to traverse 20 meters left with hook holes to the base of the first groove. The drill battery died in the middle of the arch, as did daylight, so we went down to Duarte’s hostel to have a shower and eat something fat and tasty while recharging the drill.

We spent Wednesday socializing with the town folks, who were curious about our climb. In the evening, with a less scorching sun, we went back to the route, jumared to a big hole in the middle of the face, and slept.

In the early morning I finished the aid pitch. In high spirits from fast progress, we went crazy and decided to go for the summit. We figured there were two more grooves and a scrambling section to top out. We decided to rely on Ed’s experience and speed to lead us up. He had no idea what was in store: gravatás plants full of spiky leaves that cut like razors. As there was no other way, he had to grab them and move on.

Our water had run out, but the summit was a matter of honor, and bailing was out of question. The mountain didn’t agree. At the end of the second groove, we found a face so vertical and clean that there would be no scrambling to the summit, but rather another long climb in the bushes. Night was already falling, but we kept on moving. It was late at night when we topped out, exhausted and thirsty. All we could do was lie down on an abandoned anthill and try to sleep. The next day’s rappelling is worth another story, as the route was all diagonal, but I will leave that for another time.

I have been asked if what I saw at the summit was worth the effort, and of course it was not. What was worthwhile was the journey and the opportunity to be with those two friends. And the climb wouldn’t mean a thing if we couldn’t share it with you, because true happiness is one that can be shared. We thank our sponsors Snake, Conquista, Território, and Das Pedras. Watch our climbing video at

Wagner (Guinho) Pahl, Brazil (Translated by Claudinei Dias da Silva)

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