Climbing in Rio de Janeiro

Rio is a dream city for a climber. Steep granite domes raise right and left, featured and completely blank faces stare at you wherever you look.

We came to Rio in early summer – end of November. Research on the Internet left me with a strong impression that climbing there would be great, yet no details were available. Considering we will be traveling with some non-climbing friends, we only took a rope and set of draws to accommodate less time consuming sport climbing agenda.

Some web sites were mentioning two most popular areas – Urca cliff and Sugarloaf mountain. Turned out those two areas are very close to each other as well as to the main tourist neighborhood – Capacabana. There is a cable car that takes tourist from the base of Urca to the top of Sugarloaf. Urca looked like a very steep slab, about 3-4 pitches long. Rock is black colored and must get very hot once in the sun, and it’s in the sun at 6am. Sugarloaf looked much better – steep walls had some features and climbs were at least 7 pitches long. A classic bolted grade 5+ route was mentioned on number of sites and that is what we settled our ambitions on. Now there was a time to get a topo. We stopped by couple climbing shops but none of them turned out to have a guidebook. Finally, a good looking guy behind the counter communicated to us that he is a guide and proudly pulled out the book and showed us the route. I excitedly ceased the paper, but it was not for sale. After 15 mins of bagging in english I was able to get him confused to the point when Alex was allowed to grab the book and run into the next door store to make a photocopy. Now we were equipped with a topo and some beta on how to get to the base. Reassured with that success we chose an all-you-can-eat Brazilian BBQ Buffet to fuel up. That might’ve been a mistake – we ended up taking couple extra pounds with us on the route…

A 7am alpine start deposited us at the base of the park at 8:30am. From the square we took the walk along the beach and soon found the trail (very first trail on your left) to the saddle between Sugarloaf and the mountain next to it. After getting to the saddle one need to turn right if going to the climbs. The trail to the left would bring you to the intermediate cable car station – descent option. (See map below).

In 10 mins we were at the base of the climb at there was a team of two finishing the first pitch. It was the most fortunate thing since now I knew where the route starts. There was no more people around, and the face was still in the shade. We started climbing at about 9:30am. I decided to give my own description of the route here since I couldn’t find it published in english anywhere. The topo is from the book. Here it comes…

Large GIF:


Italiano route follows a barely noticeable arete, almost a flat face, with very little features. There are multiple start variation, but main one is in the big left facing corner formed by a 20-25’ tall buttress. The metal cable of the ferrata route starts just above that buttress and runs right and up about 30-40’ to the right from the Italiano.

Pitch 1: Climb the corner to the first bolt, traverse right following the bolts and go straight up(looked better) or do a funky mantle move on the sloppy ledge (to your right) with a bolt(something I did but probably should’ve not). After that climb straight up a beautiful thin face to the double bolt belay station. Semi-hanging belay. 130-140’. 5.9+

Pitch 2: Climb straight up the thin face following the bolt line. Some crux sections are protected with the double bolts – bring more draws if you are planing to clip all of them. There are number of possibilities for the hanging belay, I’m not sure if 60m rope will take you all the way to the end of the route. 5.9

Pitch 3 (if have to). Climb the lower angled slab to the big alcove with multiple bolts and metal cables in it. 20-40’ 5.6(?)

Italiano route ends here. I saw people raping from there, yet locals have no problem using single bolt as an anchor, so I’m not sure if the rap route is up to your standards.

If you are willing to continue to the top, you can climb the Secundo route.

Pitch 1. From the alcove traverse left and slightly up, then follow some grass-covered groves up the face. Be careful not to drop rocks – most people below won’t be wearing helmets. Once at the top of the vegetated area, climb left to the middle of the dark slab and head up following the bolt line and heading for the big cactus. You will arrive on the big ledge with the boulder on the left. The single bolt for the belay is on the left on the steep face behind the boulder. You might be able to place some gear but pitch isn’t hard and belay is very comfortable. 120-130’. 5.6-5.7

Pitch 2. Climb straight up following some flakes, clip the double bolt and delicately traverse left. There is a double bolt optional station, which we used. 90’, 5.7.

It might be better to continue straight up for another 15-20’ to another double bolt anchor. 5.8

There are two lines up from here (two narrow strips of cleaned rock). The left most one is the easier one(the one we did) but the one right before it is also nice and rated 5.9.

Pitch 3. Continue straight up the thin face following the bolt line. Once at the base of vegetated area climb on top of the flat boulder – the double bolt anchor is at the farther side of it. 200’. 5.8

Pitch 4 – scramble up the trail to the steep rock face, two bolts on the face make an optional belay. Traverse to the right around the corner and stop in the trees at the base of the big right facing corner and a slab. 180’(?), 5.5.

Pitch 5. Climb the corner up to the overhang, traverse right on the sloppy ramp about 20’ clip the bolt and head back left under the overhang. Climb out through the notch on the left. Belay from there or go to the top – observation deck.

Descent: Take the cable car to the intermediate station – showing your ropes will be a substitute for the ticket. At the intermediate station you’ve got an option – find a trail to the saddle and then descent the same trail that you climbed earlier or buy a ticket for the cable car and get down that way (10 reals = 4$)

In general, I would like to add that climbing was plenty challenging for the grade. The crux moves were well protected, but some not so easy run out sections existed. Locals are very bold, climbing a 60m pitch with 4 draws and belaying off a single bolt. Maybe because of this they are also very good – I have not seen a single fall which is somewhat unusual for a sport climbing area. Also, it was a blessing that we had an early start – I was done with leading of the second pitch by the time the sun hit the face(~11am). Otherwise I would’ve had a hell of a time sliding off the crimpers in the 90F sun. It was bad enough finishing the rest of the climb and we all got sunburned. 1 quart of water per person was barely sufficient. I had some trad gear with me and was able to use it on two occasions, would’ve been fine without it but felt good to have some.

After all, here is some info on climbers we’ve met. First there was a guy from the Botafogo climbing club who was speaking very good english and was guiding two younger kids up the chimney route on Sugarloaf. Unfortunately I don’t remember his name. The guide who gave us a topo works at the Capacabana climbing shop (on the Rua Francisco Otaviano inside little mall), he didn’t speak much english. On the route we talked to some nice lads from the Centro Excursionista Brasileiro club (Av. Almirante Barroso, 2/8 andar – RIO/PJ – Das 14:00 as 21:00h Tel (21) 252-9844, the name of their lead climber is Jose Maria and his tel# is 96548650. He was very nice and a great climber but didn’t speak much english. I’m not sure if he was a guide or not, but he would be a good partner if you can break through the language barrier.

All three of us had a great time climbing the route. It’s hard to compare it with anything in the North East, it’s exposure and airiness maybe somewhat similar to the South Buttress of the White Horse. I highly recommend it to everyone. Here are some pictures from the route - hope it’ll get your fingers sweating :).

Feel free to contact me for any additional beta.