Avoiding the crowds during carnival in Rio

By Blaise

Climbing in Rio De Janeiro  

I contacted Flavio, the owner of Companhia Da Escalada a month before my arrival in Rio, and enquired about a few guided climbs. He’s a big deal in the Brazilian climbing scene and is the author of the first climbing guide book of climbs in Rio. Apparently there are over 1000 routes!

The company has been around since 1995, so I had no hesitation with entrusting my life to them.

I initially wanted to climb Dedo De Deus – The finger of God, but Flavio told me the ferratas are in a state of disrepair and climbing at this time of year – February – has a high probability of rain and lighting. It sounded perfect to me! What a way to go; being struck by lighting on the top of the finger of God!

Instead, I ended up doing 3 multi pitch routes while I was in Rio – One pitch is a full rope length, in this case 60m.

1.Corcovado – K2 Route –  The mountain that Christ the Redeemer sits on.

This climb was the easiest, and a good introduction to my first ever multi pitch climb! I think it was 4 or 5 pitches in total, but, like squash, I can never keep track of the score. We climbed directly up the front face of the peak; the Statue of Christ facing and far above us. It was incredible to have the views all to ourselves while the seething masses crowded at the top, waiting impatiently for their turns to take selfies.

It took about 2 hours – with lots of stops for photos. We climbed the route in the shade of the afternoon, with a lifesaving breeze, or as my guide Flavio put it, in his perfect english “the air conditioning is turned on”. Flavio timed all the climbs for the ideal time of day, as to climb the granite in the Brazilian sun- in summer – is intolerable. The rock gets so hot it literally burns your hands, and melts your soles! The last pitch finishes about 30m before the railing, and so the last part is a walk through above – my – head high grass. You can hear the crowds, but before you see them you get your first glimpse of Christ through this long grass. It’s an unforgettable entrance!


2. Pão de Açúcar– Sugarloaf Mountain – The rock with the cable car.

Flavio suggested I try the Italian route on Sugarloaf next. The vertical ascent is 260m so substantially higher than the K2 route on Corcovado. I had to meet Flavio at 6:30am the next day, so that we could climb in the morning shade. I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise over Praia Vermelha – the beach nestled in a cove on the south side of Pão – while I waited for Flavio.

He arrived and we walked for about 30 mins up to the base of the  start of the climb. It was another beautiful day, and once again the “air conditioning” was turned on. This climb was definitely more challenging and required multiple techniques to ascend it. Flavio made it look easy, but the smearing and laybacks are something I’m not used to. I’m sure I did not look as elegant as him. I told Flavio that I was “sudando como un caballo”, but he told me that in Brazil you don’t sweat like a horse, but in fact you sweat in “Gotas”, which I took to mean “droplets. We finished the climb in 3 hours and I believe it was 6-7 pitches with some traverse pitches included. Climbing on solid granite is a real treat, and provides great friction. The wall also has much vegetation growing out of it, including cacti’s, flowers and various lush ground cover and grasses.

3. Pedra da Gavea – The passage across the Emperor’s face

This was by far the hardest and longest climb. It had the most exposure and risk and ended with a rather sketchy and long ferrata cable. Most of it was a traverse across the cliff, so there is not much vertical ascent.

Flavio could not guide me on this day, so instead I was met by Ivanir, who turned out to be a fantastic and experienced guide and climber. He also had a good sense of humor and was great company! We took a bus to and from the start of the climb, which turned out to be the most dangerous – and exhilarating – portion of the day! Once again, we started in the early morning so that we could climb most of the route in the shade. The air conditioning was not turned on very high, but the shade made it bearable.

My guide liked eggs and told me many interesting stories, including that he lived in a cave for 8 months with the sole purpose of climbing in a remote region of Brazil everyday. He and his friend survived on the kindness of weekend warriors giving them leftover food at the end of their short stays. He told me he had a different breakfast every Monday!

He also told me of a sad story of a woman who died on our very route before the days of harnesses. She had basically garrotted herself when she had fallen, and her climbing partner could not rescue her. After this story, he showed me how to rescue myself with prusik knots, which was a relief.

It was while I was belaying my guide as he led the second pitch, that I thought I would be the second to die on this route. Guides would be telling stories about the South African tourist’s tragic end!

I heard this God almighty crack directly above my head, and I looked up expecting to see a huge rock bearing down on me. It turned out to be a base jumper! A few seconds later, another, then another followed. Just when my heart rate had settled and I thought the excitement was over, there was another sound. This time a very loud swishing noise. A dude in a yellow wing suit flew past. I heard my guide cursing, and I don’t know Portuguese, but “son of a bitch” sounds a lot like the Spanish equivalent.

I forgot the name of the route exactly, but we basically climbed on a rock face that resembles an emperor’s face. We climbed from one “eye” to the other, over the bridge of the Emperors nose. The right eye was a lot larger than the left, and we had our lunch in this spacious cave, which was about 100m above the ground.

Ivanir was not in a rush, and we took our time, taking breaks and enjoying the buena vistas and taking lots of pictures with “my machine”, as Ivanir called my camera.

It was an unforgettable day, and I left the moving bus 13 hours after catching it.

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This entry was posted in Brazil, Rio De Janeiro, Rock Climbing