The Portuguese Climbing Guide: An Interview with the Author, Carlos Simes

The previous PT climbing guide, “pirate topo,” didn't consult the original openers of the routes nor respect the crags themselves. This one is different.

If you’re a climber here in Portugal and you speak either English, German, or of course, Portuguese, you’re in luck: Carlos “Cuca” Simes, with the help of photographer Ricardo “Macau” Alves, has just published the first comprehensive climbing guide to the country and it’s due to hit shelves very soon. And you can already buy it online here.

Of course, there are some secret spots that he is keeping to himself for various reasons, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t already plenty to do.

Where are you from, and when and how did you get into rock climbing? I was born in Lisbon and raised in Cascais. I first got into rock climbing in the boy scouts at the age of 15 and knew immediately that it was something I really liked doing. I partnered up with a good friend and we immediately immersed ourselves by walking on a daily basis to the limestone coastal crags of Guia and Penedo da Amizade in Sintra.

How did the idea for a guide come to you? I’ve been climbing for 20 years. I climbed a lot in Portugal, Scotland (where I went to university), Catalonia (I also lived there for almost three years), and around Europe. Luckily, having had the opportunity to move around as much as I did, I got to know many different dynamic climbing environments and different realities, and I developed a passion for guidebooks with something else than just line drawings. I felt an urge to do something that would not only represent the history and stages of the Portuguese community and crags I’m part of, but also, to expose Portugal as a rock climbing destination. The last was perhaps my reaction to having been asked countless times if there was any good climbing to be done in my country!

I’m sure you received a lot of help from fellow climbers. What about outside help, such as from municipalities or Portuguese companies? I did receive a good deal of help from other climbers. We’re a small active crew in Portugal, so we pretty much all know each other: who’s opening what, who’s sending what, and who’s participating positively with the community. Once I discussed my project with some climbing partners and outside friends, I could guarantee that I would make the guidebook as I had originally conceived it: author texts telling stories of the development of places, new routing info, and new revised topos that I drew myself as well as other introductory content like the history of Portuguese climbing. No other outside help came into play. Rock climbing is still a marginal activity across the Spanish border towards the Atlantic beaches. Hopefully it will change.

There are already some online resources for climbing in Portugal, and even previously printed climbing guides. How did you want to improve or do things differently with your guide? The previous international guidebook is often called the “pirate topo.” It didn’t really represent or respect the original openers of the routes (as mostly we weren’t consulted) nor the Portuguese crags themselves.

Are there any climbing areas you decided not to include, to protect them from over use or for any other reason? Apart from the level of interest and stage of development, some crags stayed out. There were two others being excluded because the bolters were of the opinion that it shouldn’t be common knowledge. Obviously it’s a sensitive subject that requires reflection.

A lot of the published areas are in natural parks, most of them (except two) are still not regulated. So, if we considered waiting for the respective institutions to create regulated access to the public, which of course had been our preference, we would have been waiting maybe another twenty years before a guidebook for Portuguese climbing could be done. Allowing people to explore natural areas (while educating good practices at the same time) is the first step for appreciation and protection of it and, by no means incompatible with conservation. A lot of places are examples of this. Unfortunately, in Portugal, the main institution behind regulation has no means of monitoring it, nor does it have the staff enforce it.

Do any proceeds from the book sales go to rebolting routes with titanium or other climber-related organizations? As agreed in the contract, the equivalent of 2% of annual sales will get back in the form of anchors and bolts by a company with whom the publisher has a partnership. Also, the rebolting of seacliffs with titanium is exposed and supported by contributions to the Titanium Project.

What are some of your favorite places to climb? Having been raised in Cascais, Sintra’s cliffs, boulders, and the inlets of Cabo da Roca are my favorites. These days, I live in Sagres and love its wilderness, crags and potential.

What is your recommendation for visitors to Portugal who want to find climbing partners? Such as blogs, Facebook groups, gyms, shops, and so on? First get the topo to know what to expect for each area and then, if traveling alone, make use of Facebook groups for the specific areas.

What’s next for you, as far as projects (new climbs/areas, travel or competition plans, or a new guide book?) The guidebook was a long, demanding project, so now I’m really just looking forward to the inclusion of recent new climbs in further editions; to continue enriching it as best as possible. Personally, I want to keep living simply, using my free time to do the most I can outside, with friends; always trying to go to places I dreamed of for climbing, surfing, or just travel to see life unfolding in the most genuine way  possible.

Want to buy the guide? In addition to the online store Versante Sud, you’ll be able to find it at Vertigo climbing wall, Vertical Wall, and Yupik Gear Store in a matter of weeks.

On Key

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