Rio Rocks: Climbing In Brazil

Article by Mike Robertson
Monday 23rd February 2009

Rio de Janeiro is a city that conjures a dazzling array of images, and with good reason. From the sun-drenched beaches of Ipanema and Copacobana to the sprawling slums (or favellas) of the city’s down-at-heel fringes, Rio is indeed a place of absolute contrast. But it’s not all about beaches, bandits, and dodgy politicians!

Cue the glorious, monolithic Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açúcar), with its lofty cable cars, along with the colossal Cristo Redentor - the monumental, 38m-high Jesus statue, poised on the 710m summit of Corcovado mountain. Add to this a gigantic selection of towering granite slabs and sea cliffs within the city limits, and you could be forgiven for buying a plane ticket on the spur of the moment. And that’s without the clubs, the festivals, and the sheer colour of one of the most vibrant cities in the world.

In June 2000, a team consisting of Neil Gresham, Mike Robertson, Seb Grieve and Rik Smee paid a visit to the city, tipped off by an outdoor shop proprietor by the name of Fabiano. Their trip was designed and equipped for a big wall foray, but they found the crags of the region better suited to traditional ascents of brand-new single pitch routes. They placed no bolts, which had the result, especially in the case of Itatiaia National Park, of creating big, bold pitches with long runouts in a very British style. Even a little headpointing went on when the going got really tough! The following photographic essay tells the story of this one-off expedition – of lonely leads, of huge multi-pitch slab routes, and of praying mantis bed-partners.

[note: all captions appear below the photographs]

Brazil’s greatest city in all its coastal glory. Rio de Janeiro, which lies some 23 degrees south of the equator, is also South America’s second-largest city.  Corcovado, arguably Rio’s biggest and most impressive crag, is seen jutting out high on the left, with the huge ‘Cristo Redentor’ statue situated on its summit.

Neil Gresham is seen here slack-lining on a glorious stretch of Rio’s Ipanema beach. Ipanema lies alongside its more famous and glitzy neighbour, Copacabana.

Rio’s shapely Pão de Açúcar (this translates as the ‘Sugar Loaf’) is one of the city’s most famous landmarks, and set the scene for the James Bond movie Moonraker, in which the formidable character ‘Jaws’ chomps the cable car’s huge steel cables with his bare teeth, and bravely takes on the corny grin of Roger Moore. Click here to view this classic piece of cinematic history.

The author strides high on one of the Sugar Loaf’s upper slab pitches. Expect to climb at least 5 or 6 l-o-n-g pitches to reach the cable car station at the 396m summit. The bonuses are plentiful at the summit, though: cold beer and snacks; a view to die for; and a free cable car back down for all visiting rock climbers.

Rio has a smattering of sea cliffs; this shows Neil repeating one of the brilliant routes at Niteroi.  It’s a traditional E4 5c, by the name of Rasura, and found just 1km from one of Brazil’s most popular surf beaches. This climbing area is actually a winding, esoteric ‘canyon’ cut into the surrounding coastline.

Ralf Cortes was one of our very capable hosts, and is an avid trad climbing enthusiast. Here he’s seen on an ascent of Burco Buraco Negro (E5/6 6a) - one of his own routes on the sea cliffs at Niteroi.

Brazil’s breathtaking Itatiaia National Park.  Itatiaia translates as ‘many-painted rock’, and is the grand setting for endless crags, boulders and isolated alpine meadows. We travelled here by bus and truck, to look for new routes, and found a 35m crag that captivated us for some days; we named it Crag Zero (’cos we could find very few gear placements in it!).

First on the rock at Crag Zero was Seb, with his free ascent of this beautiful, soaring flake-line. It goes by the name of Dirty Dog (E5 6a). It was to be the only route we climbed here without deck-out potential!

This was one of my offerings – a fine E5 5c on Crag Zero; the route goes by the name of The Dogging Chop. It was to be the order of the day – every line we cleaned here proved to be sparsely-protected and scary.

Seb’s long and involved route Fuzzy Logic (E7 6c) proved to be very problematical to headpoint, with insecure moves above intricate gear. Quite possibly E8.

The high ‘E’ point of the visit was the headpoint ascent of Boiling Point (E8 6b), by Neil. The route is a sort of condensed Brazilian version of our own Indian Face, with unreliable protection, balancy moves, and lots of smears for feet.

Here Rik Smee is seen soloing Vani (E1 5b) – a great new line line on the right-hand end of Crag Zero. The setting for our new routes at Itatiaia was stunning, although the nights at 2,500m were pretty cold! Expect around -8C at night, in June…

Camping in Itatiaia’s alpine meadows was idyllic. And every night we were joined by praying mantis and stick insects – although we never did work out how they got past the tent’s zips…

The joys of road trips. Here the team is seen waiting for a ride, which did eventually arrive, in the form of an elderly VW Beetle. Don’t ask how the team (plus rucksacks) all fitted themselves in – but at least the road was all downhill back to Rio.

Rio at night: Rio de Janeiro translates as ‘River of January’, although it’s also been dubbed the ‘Marvellous City’. Watch the shocking movie ‘City of God’ (directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund), for an insight into this amazing city.


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