Oh my god. This portion of my trip was a mere 12 days, but it felt like forever in the best way! I arrived fairly late on May 19th, around 10pm. My flight through São Paulo was incredible, that city is unbelievably huge, the city lights seemed to stretch all the way to the horizon. A short hour long flight later and I was descending into Rio. Coming into Rio in the dark was such a tease, as planes coming into Santos Dumont airport have to do a close flyby of both the Christ Redeemer statue AND the Pão de Açucar, but in the dark all I could see of the monoliths were the lights at their bases and a smattering of lights at the tops. My main objectives in Rio were to climb Via dos Italianos up the Pão de Açucar and K2 up Corcovado, which tops out at the foot of the Christ Redeemer statue!
After making my way to my aunts apartment, where I would be staying, I crashed after being shown around. The next almost two weeks were absolutely incredible. I happened upon a group of locals my first time going out to climb who were so friendly and welcoming, they let me tag along with them to lunch and then more climbing in the evening. When I took rest days from climbing I biked all over the city, following my feet wherever they took me. Rio is delightfully grungy and dense with so much to see around every corner!
The acaí was such a treat. It's like a cross between frozen yogurt, shaved ice, and ice cream, then with an array of toppings to choose from which are mixed into the cup with the acaí. It's hard to describe, but if you haven't had it and get the chance, don't hesitate!!
My main climbing partner was Liam, a Canadian living in Rio for a time while traveling the world. We climbed random crags throughout the city, but most notably we climbed Chaminé Stop, a 5.7 R, 750 foot chimney climb on the Pão de Açucar. Holy shit, man, that was an adventure and a half. The R rating means there are multiple places ont he climb that are "no fall territory," meaning that if you fall, you'll get seriously fucked up or perhaps die if you're unlucky. About 500 or so feet of the climb, so the majority, was pure chimney climbing. This means that you're climbing inside a parallel crack in the rock, typically pressing your back against one side and your feet against the other to wriggle your way up. For the most part, I was happy as a clam. The climbing was dirty since this is rarely climbed, occasionally run-out as hell (some pitches had a mere two bolts to protect 100ft of climbing), and rock would pull off here and there, but it was easy enough for me to cruise on up. For Liam, however, the climb proved to be a bit of a nightmare. He's a VERY tall dude, I forgot exactly how tall, but he towered over my 5'10" self. I'd spitball at 6'7" or so. This made the chimney climbing really rough on him, as his dimensions were just not friendly to that kind of climbing. Because of that, I took all the leads after pitch 1, so in addition to him not fitting the climbing feature, he also was tasked with carrying our packs below him on a sling tied to his harness. Not fun. Eventually the climb started to feel more like survival climbing than normal climbing, and crossed into type 2 fun (it's fun looking back, but maybe not in the moment) for me and probably type 3 fun (at no point in time is it fun) for Liam. Because of that, I skipped taking pictures in favor of moving quickly. There were some exceptional moments that I wanted to make note of where I have the equivalent of a mental picture in my mind!
1. The climb ascends a pillar feature leaning on the side of the main lump of rock that is the Pão de Açucar. Chaminé Stop ascends the massive crack on one side of the pillar, and there is another, harder climb up the similar crack on the other side. At one point on pitch 2 or three, I was climbing so far back in the crack that I put on and turned on my headlamp to find holds at noon! I was so far back that I could see clear through the pillar to the ocean on the other side! When that far back in the crack, and from many points in the climb, looking out towards the outside would reveal a slanting slash of light revealing vibrantly green trees and occasional glimpses of tall buildings below. Those moments of appreciating the view were seldom, though, as for the most part I was scraping myself up the chimney foot by foot by foot, mainly focused on where the next hold or bolt was!
2. This is the tale of the single worst pitch of rock climbing I have ever had the misfortune to do in my life. We'd finished taking a snack and water break in a very spacious, comfortable ledge/shelter at the top of pitch 4 or 5. According to the topographic map we were using to guide us, the next pitch weaved it's way through breakdown, massive boulders detatched from the main rock that were wedged into the chimney and/or resting atop each other. No problem, I can see some bolts and I'll just follow the path of least resistance! Spoiler alert: problem. I climbed perhaps 30 feet before being unable to see a logical way forward. There was a steep bolt line (with hella rusty, decades old bolts), and a small gap among the breakdown I could get to, but it was so dirty that a cam I placed worked itself out due to the grime. The grime also made it very difficult to trust any holds, as they would slough off the wall given half a chance. It did not look like many climbers went that way, but I couldn't figure out for the life of me in what direction I should go. I down climbed a bit to consult with Liam and agreed to give it another look. I placed the same cam, shamelessly grabbed it for a more secure hold, and hauled myself into the small gap in the breakdown. I huffed and puffed to muscle the rest of my body up and into the gap, where I could eventually stand on a boulder. Yep, there's a bolt, this was the right way. By this point, because of all the twists and turns I had to make to get to where I was, the rope was twisty and turney below me, creating a great deal of friction to the effect of climbing with 50 pounds dangling off my harness. I reached a shiny, 2 year old bolt next to a decades old, peeling rusty bolt and belayed Liam off the two of them. There was no way in hell I could climb further with that amount of rope drag. After Liam finally made it to me (with much to say about the quality of the climb and of the anchor), I climbed another 20 or 30 feet to the ACTUAL anchor for that pitch, which was comprised of two shiny, trustworthy bolts. I have no idea how people are supposed to either avoid the rope drag I was experiencing, or climb on with that kind of rope drag. Insanity. That pitch felt more akin to vertical caving with a rope than actual rock climbing!
3. One of the upper pitches contained what some know to be the mental crux of the climb. It consists of 30 feet of unprotected chimney climbing off the belay to a bolt, then a 20 foot unprotected traverse over the dark void below to easier climbing and another bolt. That's a hell no from me, dawg. The belay was only a couple feet from some large roots that swooped down from near the edge of the traverse. YES please! I skipped the unprotected insanity and opted to scamper hand over hand up the roots for about 50-60 feet until I reached the first bolt after the war-crime of a bolt inside the chimney.
We topped out just before sunset after a grueling 7-ish hours of climbing and got ourselves some cocktails and acai at the summit. Usually I prefer to climb in the wild, but I gotta say sometimes it's hella nice getting a strong cocktail minutes after topping out a climb, then taking a cable car ride down to the base!
Ok, as promised, here are the pictures!
Day 1 was full of surprises! I got up bright and early, packed my climbing gear so I would be ready to climb solo, then headed out for Praia Vermelha where the approach trail starts for several different climbing areas. I was super excited to see people climbing a cliff behind the first cable car station that leads to the summit of the Pão de Açucar. It's so close!!! I'd read that you can buy a guidebook at a newspaper stand, but I couldn't quite seem to find it. I figured I'd ask a security guard outside the cable car station, but the conversation was pretty confusing due to the language barrier. He ended up pointing me towards a building adjoining the cable car station, so that's where I went! I ended up at a desk next to a turnstyle where it seemed that employees of the cable car station would buzz through with ID badges. After a few minutes someone came behind the desk and I asked them if I could buy a guidebook. They asked for my ID so I gave it to them, then they asked which route I wanted to do? I responded that I didn't know yet, so they shrugged then gestured me to go to the turnstyle... I thought clearly there's been a miscommunication but whatever, and she buzzed me through and I continued into the back, but it was just an employee area with stuff to service the cable cars and what-not. I continued up steps and further back towards the cliff-line until I found a small trail behind a retaining wall that seemed to lead into the jungle towards the cliff. Fuck it, I guess I'm climbing without a guidebook! I ended up following the cliff until I found some climbers at the base of several routes. Luckily one of them spoke english so we chatted for a bit.
He told me the newspaper stand that has the guidebooks was way down next to the street and told me roughly where I could find it, then invited me to join him and his climbing party for lunch! I gladly accepted, but as I was itching to climb and they were waiting for their friends to return from their last climb of the morning, I decided to rope solo the first pitch of the nearest climb. I finished just in time to rappel with their friends, then walk with them to the mall for lunch!
They were incredibly friendly, and most of them spoke enough english to get by, and they helped me with my portuguese. We stopped by the newspaper stand, but apparently they were out of guidebooks and informed us that it would be really hard to find any since they were out of print pending a new edition... then one of my new friends gave me his guidebook, since apparently he knows the area well enough not to need it anymore! He wouldn't let me buy it off him so I bought his lunch. After lunch we went to two other climbing areas, the last of which was multipitch, where we climbed into the sunset! The hike out was pretty dark and I neglected to pack a headlamp, so I made do with the light from the others before parting ways where I'd parked my bike. Overall a fantastic way to begin my time in Rio!
Climbing K2, the climb that tops out at the foot of the Christ Redeemer statue, was a hell of a day! I'd met a local climber through the Mountain Project forums who got me into a group of locals who were planning to climb it. Things worked out great, as I made the 4th, so we could climb in two groups of two. We made an early start, I woke up at 5:30 to pack up and get some breakfast in time to get to the meeting point a few blocks away by 6:30. I was the first there and waited around a bit for the others. They arrived one by one, and were all very friendly, but had varying levels of proficiency in english. The first one who arrived spoke very little English, but it was a great oportunity to practice my portuguese! We managed to get along pretty well, even with me being utterly unable to find the right word here and there. Eventually the third climber arrived, then not long later the fourth climber arrived on a motorcycle. Now that we were all present it was time to go! They asked if I had a helmet. Of course, I had my climbing helmet, but eventually I realized instead of taking an uber to the start of the approach we would be taking two motorcycles! I've only ever been on a moped before, and that was almost 15 years ago. As long as I don't have to drive it though, I'm game! I made sure they didn't see that I was a bit nervous, and we were off! It was a blast ripping it through the city streets, then eventually steep, rough cobbled favela side streets weaving up the mountain towards Corcovado, the peak atop which rests Christ Redeemer. Soon we reached the point where we could go no further on wheels, parked the bikes, and began our hike through the jungle towards the base. This climb is known to be a bit hard to find, and with good reason! The trail wove it's way through the jungle, past several side trails, over some train tracks, onto a road then off again, and finally to the base of the cliff where we would begin our ascent!
My new friend who gave me a ride on his motorcycle delivered me straight to my aunts apartment just in time for lunch! The motorcycle was a blast, I could definitely see myself owning one if I find myself spending a lot of time in Latin America.
A couple days after climbing K2, I woke up slowly, had a chill breakfast, and decided I wanted to climb that day. I shot a text off to Liam to see if he wanted to try Italianos that day, but he already had plans. It was only about 10 or 11am by then, so I figured I'd go for it solo! I excitedly packed up my gear and made sure I had everything I needed, then set off for Praia Vermelha, where I would begin the approach hike. The approach was probably about a mile, but the trail was very good and it was nearly impossible to get lost. Before I knew it, I was at the base having a last snack before casting off! The first several pitches are the hardest, easing off in difficulty and steepness higher up.
Normally it takes about 9 pitches to climb as a pair, but since I'm solo I have to climb every pitch twice to collect my gear, bringing my total to 18! The whole climb top to bottom is about 700ft. On lead I was careful to climb clean and only pull on rock (except for the final pitch which was sopping wet from rain the day before, I'm not looking to get hurt), but on my follow pitches where I was on top rope I shamelessly pulled on the rope and quickdraws to speed up the process.
Towards the middle there a few pitches that traverse on a slant. These pitches provided an interesting obstacle for me, as I was climbing solo. I would lead a traversing pitch easily enough, but then I would have to return to the original belay. That's quite a bit easier done while climbing up rather than down. Luckily for me, the first traverse was fairly horizontal and on pretty easy ground, so I simply rappelled and left my gear in place, then retraced my steps and cleaned the gear ont he way back.
The second traverse was a little more interesting. It was more horizontal than the previous one, so getting back to my original belay would be tougher. I ended up reclimbing the traverse backwards cleaning the gear as I went, then downclimbing a short section that was dead vertical above the belay. I then set up a lower out with the rope to gently take me directly under my high point, then pulled the rope through the bolts of the last belay. I then realized that I was stuck under a small overhang I might not be able to climb...
I had to create a make-shift system to ascend the rope to where I could start climbing by hand, which thank god wasn't long as my ascending setup was a pain, then I scampered back to the belay. I could have wasted a lot more time there, it would be good to carry legit ascenders next time!
The top of pitch 8 wove through a few patches of large bromeliads before reaching the belay on a spacious, vegetated ledge. As I rappelled down through the bromeliad patches, the rappel pulled me in line and I fell into them... quite a sad occurrence. The ass of my pants and my shoes got nice and damp from the water collected in the base of the plants and the sharp points that ridge their fronds scratched my legs up pretty good. By this point I was getting pretty parched and hungry, so the bromeliads got an earful!
Somehow, after only 12 days, I felt climbed out. I completed every objective I made for myself within the city, and I was feeling like it! (both from the proud feeling of accomplishment and the bodily fatigue, of course) The next evening, after having one last bike ride (and, from the beach, spying a party of three climbing Via dos Italianos), I headed off for my workaway in Norway, but I'll save that for the next post!
I climb my absolute ass off in Rio! I meet some locals to climb with and connect with another climbing traveler. On days when I'm not climbing I explore the city by bike and just go where my feet and/or wheels take me. I manage to squeeze in one very short beach day right at the end due to getting rained out.
Scroll down to see all the pictures!