Yesterday we set off at around 6am to the Sugar Loaf in Rio, grabbed some food to eat and stocked up with 2l of water each. By about 8am we were at the bottom of the crag after a 30 minute walk along a path through the woods. There were four of us, with two ropes & three harnesses. Reynolds and I made a start on the first pitch (50m Brazilian V (roughly F5+/F6a) while Tom & Fab headed back to try and arrange a fourth harness. Almost two hours later we hadn’t made much progress when the pair returned to the crag… I started the first pitch but got stuck, Reynolds had a go but an out of quickdraws until finally Tom led up to the first rest point.
At this stage Reynolds was second and I was waiting by the base of the crag… some time later after doing some leading, Reynolds decided not to continue. The second rope was dropped and I climbed up to Tom (over some of the most cruxey moves on the whole climb) and then led a very short pitch (at most 3 bolts) to the next rest stop.
By now the wind was really picking up & we had on and off rain – never good for long climb. But we persevered and managed to climb up about 125m (two and a half full pitches) up to a cave. The very final pitch, a Brazilian III (F4+?), which I led, was great fun but getting the nerve to start climbing was something else entirely. Tom and I stayed at the anchor for a good 30 minutes before I was able to continue in the wind… climbing a good 4-5m above the last bolt – had I fallen I’d have fallen double that distance plus some extra for stretch in the rope… maybe as much as 11m! What’s worse was by this point we were already 100m up the face with two bolts to protect us!
Once we reached the cave it was already about 4.30pm and we were worried that it would get dark and we’d be caught on the face and potentially even have to camp out until it got light. By the cave were some steel cables for via ferrata which we decided to climb to the summit. A shame really as the last pitch had been much easier than the earlier parts of the climb so there was no doubt in either of our minds that, given enough time, we could have climbed all the way to the top.
At the summit we climbed over a metal railing to applause from 20 or 30 people who had taken the cable car up. Celebrities for 20 minutes with people coming up and asking us about the climb, wanting to have photos taken, etc. A couple of people even had videos and photos from the cable car of us on the face.
This is when things got weird… as we were waiting to catch the (free for us!) cable car down some old German guy approached us and told us that the wind was up and the cable car wasn’t running. As we were climbers we could just rappel down, so why didn’t we? We explained we had no headtorches or proper shoes he produced two headtorches from his bag and offered to show us the way… about 30-40 minutes to reach the bottom and we may even beat the cable car. We figured that if this old guy regularly came up and down by this route (up to three times a week) we’d have no trouble, so we followed.
The next hour and a half was a slip slide down wet, mossy slabs of granite on our backsides, trying to keep up with our leader who was a 60+ year old immigrant from Germany. He took up climbing on his 60th birthday when somebody bought him a climbing harness! There were two short rappels down the mountain (about 35m and 20m) which Tom and I did with belay devices and climbing harnesses… Hans just grabbed the rope with both hands and rappelled down without any form of protection! At points he was advising us to jump on the wet rock into bushes when there were drops of about 5m below us. This guy was totally mental.
There’s no doubt the cable car beat us to the bottom, but what a crazy experience. Never having rappelled before learning in the dark with a headtorch was interesting too.
Next up is the Finger of God climb, which is supposed to be easier. This is going to be tomorrow and one of the hostel staff has offered to go with us, so we’ll be climbing in two pairs, which is much easier than attempting a party of three.