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27.02.2015

Rusty Bolts and the Sugar Loaf

My whole 2014 revolved around Cerro Torre, the film release in March, film festivals around the world, and then coming back to Patagonia at the end of the year. Just before the Patagonia trip and after the debut of my film at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in Canada, I made a short stop in Brazil because it was almost on the way and Rio de Janeiro is bordered by a wonderful beach. I stayed busy for two weeks there with a bit of climbing and surfing.

Felipe Camargo, a climbing buddy from my competition days and currently one of the strongest Brazilian sport climbers, had arranged accommodation in a nice area in Rio for me. When I first got there, we went to the beach every day. With surfboards under our arms, it was just a half hour through the city to the first convenient beach break, Barra da Tijuca. White sand, incredible waves and - something I didn’t know before - a very demanding surf spot. A lot of world cup surfers are paddling through the white water and refining their skills. I really did enjoy it, even though I had to learn the hard way that the board's fins are very sharp and that you don't have to be in a boxing ring to loose a tooth. However, I am not the kind of guy to give up.

While there, I had two routes in mind that I really wanted to climb together with Felipe. We started with the ultra classic route Southern Comfort. The route is directly on the beach below the sugar loaf. Climbing legend Wolfgang Güllich opened the route in 1987, and for a long time was said to be the most difficult sport climb in South America. Perfect orange granite that rises straight out of the water with crack of about 20 meters. An amazing route that just needs to be climbed...

Climbing in Brazil

The second route is called Atalho do Diablo (Devil’s Shortcut), it is a multi-pitch route on the world-famous Corcovado. If the devil wants to take a shortcut to Christ the Redeemer he’s in for a tricky climb. There is definitely a reason that the route is ranked amongst the most difficult of its type in Brazil, actually it has only been freeclimbed once. More than eight pitches lead directly up to Christ the Redeemer through mostly black granite. Many times the protection is quite scarce and the climbing is quite complex on the slabby pitches.

We had aimed free the route it in a single day, without the overnight stay on a niche 400 m above Rio's streets which is usual procedure. Even before the start of the climb, our project turned out to be more difficult than expected with our access slog through the jungle, particularly because of the humid tropical heat. We then had to wait until noon so that the sun wouldn't be on the rock anymore. Finally, we started the climb.

The first pitch is hardly worth mentioning - it's a long slab, without any structure and only some sporadic rusty bolts. After the first pitch it goes through a crack into an overhanging face, featured with countless quartz crystals. This section was, as expected, the crux. I was the first to try it and redpointed it second go. Felipe, who had slightly injured his wrist a few days earlier, continued on in the third pitch without any real problems and lead us into a less steep section. We thought that our project was basically done by then and started to quickly climb one pitch after another.

At dusk I reached the second last belay and handed the gear over to Felipe. He started on the last pitch, but with the sun sinking and the fingers hurting he wasn’t able to send it straight away. Night was rolling in and it now almost dark. We were getting really pressed for time because we had neither taken bivy gear or headlamps. Felipe wanted me to lead again, but I realised that there wasn't any way to free climb in the darkness on that complex slab. So I decided to aid myself up on the bolts to try and finish quickly. Little did I know, our adventure was still far from over.

I was only about ten metres from the summit when one of the bolts I was pulling up on broke. Nothing like that has ever happened to me before, but the salty air that comes up from the sea can rust out bolts in a really short period of time – so much so that they can't even hold my 60 kg weight. While I was falling through the darkness I had time to think and hope that the next bolt would be in a better condition and hold my fall. Fortunately I was lucky, and after pushing through we were delighted as Felipe and I reached the observation platform below Christ the Redeemer, which the tourists had all left long ago.

We took a rest day, went back and changed the broken bolt, and then free climbed the last pitch. Our adventure wasn't really going as planned, but just like my expeditions, it's often the unexpected incidents, which spice up even the smaller projects.

Climbing in Brazil

Shortly before leaving for Patagonia we stopped in Sao Paolo, where the Brazilian Lead Climbing Championship was being hosted. Felipe had gotten me psyched to participate, and although competitions are a thing of my past, it was exciting to breathe some gym air and feel the spirit of a competition. After I had topped out all three routes the organizers didn’t quite offer me Brazilian citizenship; but the joint win with Felipe was a successful end of our trip.

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