From The Madeira Island Web Site

Rock Climbing
Madeira on the Rocks...
By Oliver R. Donald Guenay
Jun 5, 2008 - 11:34:55 AM

Oliver shows us his skills and the type of quality of rock face found in Madeira

Climbing on Madeira means climbing on different volcanic rocks and they are not often of good quality.

What the volcanoes left, like on many other islands of the same character,  is hardly the solid rock quality we are used to when speaking of   climbing areas like that on continental Europe.

The sea cliffs, although they form powerful precipices like Cabo Girão, are of very little use.

Their crumbly and rotten rock cake provides more for plants and lizards than for a climb.

Mostly, the solid rocks are isolated places of basalt pipes with difficult access across vegetation or very crumbly sediments, or, in higher altitudes, consist of small eroded ridges and rock towers on the top of  peaks, surrounded by vertical jungles and loose materials, across which one has to be very careful picking ones way to access the climbable opportunities.

An example of the type of rock that climbers can expect to find in Madeira.

There is no one single large area with a compact shield of quality rock that we can point to- there is mostly various little rock outcrops spread all over the island and the top of the main peaks.

A sheep trail helps the mountain climber along near "Boca do Buraco"

Early mountain climbers employed less security than today - they were brave sportsmen

Climbing therefore has not had such a long tradition as on the continent and does not inspire many people to venture it.
The first serious climbers on the island had been the Silva brothers in the early fifties.
Around 1955, equipped with hardly more than a rope, Dr. Ruiz Silva and his younger brother Isamberto, began to explore the rock summits around Pico do Areeiro.
In this "heroic age" of climbing the use of a harness was unknown or the equipment unavailable. With no more than a rope around the waist and across the shoulder, belaying was done, and by good luck no accident happened.
A vintage photo of a climber in the seventies

The first climbs were done at the rocks below of the Miradouro do Juncal and the Boca do Buraco. The latter giving a perfect beginners spot for any new climbing aspirant.
Early mountain climber

With more security and equipped with pitons and harnesses, the Silva brothers tempted the more serious peaks:  Pico das Torres and Pico do Gato, but especially the overhanging face of Torre do Couraleiro and the mixed climb at Pico do Cedrão (solid basalt changes with sedimented pebbles).
Also the climbs were tempted under severe conditions as in winters.
By the mid seventies all the major peaks had been climbed across for what they could offer as a rock climing pursuit.
A cliff top at "Boca do Buraco" - and of-course being on top of the world while doing it...

During the eighties Marco Bareto was the first to use bolts and spits for protection at the ridge of Boca do Buraco and at some seacliffs below the Doca do Cavacas at the eastern end of the Praia Formosa.

Except for the artificial climb on Torre do Couraleiro (V, A 3) the highest standards of  freeclimbing difficulties on Madeira were faced there: 6 b+ (or UIAA grade 7 +).
An enthusiast testing the ropes near "Boca do Buraco"

Due to the monolithic or very smooth / compact form of the basalts, the use of bolts is necessary if one wants to go further and try higher difficulties. And especially during the hot months the rock is nearly unclimbable over the day . Take a lot of Magnesia and, if climbing the basalt cracks, use tape on your hands, the rock is very rough!

Along the basaltpipes of the seacliff areas, the use of nuts and friends is common, and, quite easy, but does not give perfect protection, especially for repels and belays where bolts are needed.

Oliver climbing the rock face just off "Doca do Cavacas" - near Praia Formosa in Funchal

The introduction of the bolt, most useful for advanced climbing under safe conditions on Madeira, has found its limits with another group of people around the climber Ruiz Dantes, who is strictly against the use of it.

The pilosophy of leaving the rock after climbing in its natural state, has come up in the alps during the seventies but must be carefully considered depending on the area and the rock quality! At least, some solid points would always give a necessary minimum of safety !

But with only self-protection by nuts and friends during climbs (which demand a high experience in their safe use) this sport will remain strictly for experts only (or those few who frequently join them) and not allow others to get in touch with it. The risks on the rocks are still too high for beginners of this sport on the island.

Climbing the rock face at "Doca do Cavacas" - near Praia Formosa beach in Funchal

Therefore many interesting places remain unequipped because they can only be protected with bolts and nobody wants to find his work crashed a week later, or, has the money and time needed to start it seriously!

While the first remaining spits on the seacliffs, exposed to saltwater, are already covered with rost, no alternative solution to prepare a beginners climbing area, has shown up, so far.

The pursuit of mountain climbing is gaining fans with the local population

In May 2000 the first mountain shop opened in Funchal. “ Montanha”, lead by two young climbers, Marco Quintal and Duarte Silva,  offering equipment and advice to local and  maybe other european climbers.

Knowing the fact that climbing here is quite unknown to   foreigners (although it would be worthwile) and in order to promote this sport safely, I started an initiative to equip a place on Praia Formosa with solid belays and 5-6 bolt - routes to use it for climbing courses.

A typical mountain trail in the areas around Pico do Arieiro

There is still lot to be done: for example, maybe one day,  a nice route will lead across the north face rocks of Pico Grande, the largest unconquered wall on Madeira with a possible grade 7b difficulty. Or a climbing area with routes on Ponta da Galé will be done which could be  accessible by boat or walk.


However, if you are interested and

Want to join rock climbing, contact

Montanha, Tel. 291 222 105, Duarte or Marco, at Rua da Carreira, 103, Funchal.


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