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Affordable And Stunning, Brazil’s Developing Rock Will Bend Your Mind

A photographer's journey reveals unimaginable climbing wealth and beauty, and barely scratches the surface of possibilities.

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Last September, the French photographer Jan Novak journeyed to Minas Gerais, a vast state in southeast Brazil that by itself is larger than all of his native France, to see whether the whispers of a land brimming with crags and boulderfields still in their infancy were true. For four weeks, Novak roamed, often under the tutelage of Luca Portilho, area protagonist and proprietor of the climber’s hostel Milho Ventura, in the tiny hamlet of Milho Verde just minutes from much of the main climbing action.

Novak found the rumors substantiated, with over 50 climbing areas in Minas Gerais.

Development began around Milho Verde in 2017. In just five years, Milho Verde has exploded into one of Brazil’s most important climbing areas, now with over 2,000 lines, including boulders up to V14, sport routes up to 5.14, and a spackling of spicy multi-pitches. And that’s just the beginning. The potential is staggering—90 percent of the rock in the region remains untouched.

And that stone, says Novak, is “The most hallucinogenic that I’ve ever seen or touched. Every route is unique—you can find in the middle of the climb the smooth texture like in Fontainebleau, while the rest of the route is on quartzite crystals. Every line is a king line.”

As Novak’s images on these pages attest, the topography around Milho Verde smacks of Rocklands, with grotesque, surreal, sculpted quartzite boulders cast among the flora of the Cerrado, one of Brazil’s vast savanna ecoregions—and second only to the Amazon rainforest as a major habitat type, with a high level of endemism and 10,000 plant species. This mountainous, subtropical area lies between 3,000 and 7,000 feet; the climate is temperate, and the region is rich with waterfalls in addition to the untouched stone. It’s hard to picture a more perfect destination for climbers—and it’s all just 15 miles from the historic town of Serro, where you can provision with anything you might need.

Of course, you can never have too much climbing, and Tres Barras, only five miles from Milho Verde, delivers endurance until your forearms are as tight as grilled Johnsonville Brats. But then, as Novak’s images will attest, Serra do Cipó isn’t to be missed. This, Brazil’s premier sport-climbing area and a national park, dazzles with over 700 routes on mint limestone.

Sounds good right? And now is the time to go. Brazil remains in the grip of an ongoing recession, and the dollar might never stretch so far again, with lodging found for as little as $10 a night and all-you-can-eat delicious local cuisine going for as little as $3 a meal. So go, gorge yourself—on rock, of course.

Magda Gromadzka polishes off a problem at Rapadura, named for a traditional sugarcane candy sold in rectangular bars, just like this bite of rock. This burnished block is just one of hundreds, most still untouched, cast along a dry riverbed in São Gonçalo do Rio das Pedras, near Milho Verde. “All the boulders in this riverbed are beautiful for texture and colors, but some of them are difficult because this smooth rock is missing friction, which makes climbing insecure,” says Gromadzka. Photo: Jan Novak
Luca Portilho on Faixa Preta (5.13d) at Tres Barras. The most striking line at the crag, Faixa Preta was the first one bolted—and that was just two years ago. Previously, the area was known solely for its 2,000 or so boulder problems, but now that sport climbs have gone up, it’s become an all-year destination: Boulder when it’s cool, then hop on the shady sport climbs when it’s warmer. Photo: Jan Novak
Larissa Valls latches stone and catches afternoon rays at Retiro Rupestre, one of the largest bouldering sectors at Milho Verde, with over 300 problems from V0 to V14. Innumerable blocs still await their first daubs of chalk and boot rubber. As you can see, the rock smacks of South Africa’s Rocklands. Indeed, this bouldering area goes by the nickname “Milholands.” Photo: Jan Novak
Luca Portilho sneaks in a late-evening send at the Rapadura sector, Sao Goncalo do Rio das Pedras, near the city of Serro. Despite the unbelievable rock quality, this area is largely undeveloped—there are just too many climbing options within 45 minutes of Milho Verde. In 2019, the visiting climbers Daniel Woods, Giuliano Cameroni, Nina Williams, Shawn Raboutou, and Matty Hong, hosted by the Brazilian climbing legend Felipe Camargo, climbed here and shot the video Night Moves, which you can see on the Mellow channel on YouTube. Photo: Jan Novak
Clara Viegas dances up Samba Pra Laiá (5.11b), Serra do Cipó. Photo: Jan Novak
Local climber and geologist Marcelo Freitas on Gorges du Joseph (5.12c/d), one of some 50 routes on bullet stone at Tres Barras, about five miles southeast of Milho Verde. This smooth vertical wall sports sustained crimping with powerful boulder-problem cruxes and micro feet. Luca Portilho notes that Freitas, along with other fanatical locals, is “putting up some of the finest multi-pitch climbs around.” Photo: Jan Novak
You’ll find some 300 boulders, 30 sport routes, and myriad waterfalls just minutes from the Milho Ventura hostel (@milho_ventura), situated in the beating heart of the Minas Gerais climbing scene. Here, from left, Magda Gromadzka (Poland), Larissa Valls (Australia), and Marianna Chiari (Brazil) make plans as the sun sets over the village. Photo: Jan Novak
Portilho, owner and operator of the Milho Ventura climber’s hostel. Portilho moved to Milho about four years ago to explore the huge climbing potential. “Back then, we had less than 200 climbs. Today we have close to 2,000,” he says. “The best thing for sure is we have tapped less than 10 percent of the potential.” In 2019, Portillho opened his hostel, and has the ongoing project of compiling a local database of climbs, a task he’s “obsessed with.” Photo: Jan Novak
Clara Viegas, a student and winner of numerous youth climbing championships in Brazil, on the ultra-classic power-endurance route Coliseu (5.13b) at Serra do Cipó, Minas Gerais. Photo: Jan Novak