One of the most famous and recognizable landscapes in the world, the Pão de Açucar and its cable car are located in Urca, a small neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. A real postcard, surrounded by mountains and bathed by the sea, in the Guanabara bay.
This place, much frequented by tourists and city residents, is the most traditional climbing location in Brazil. Counting with three mountains, the Pão de Açucar, the Urca Hill and the Babylon Hill, along with some cliffs and various boulders, the Urca encompasses several styles of climbing, in different levels.
Historically, the Urca witnessed the first known mountain ascent in Brazil, in the Pão de Açúcar, climbed by Enrieta Carstiers in 1817. The neighborhood has also been part of the evolution of brazilian climbing, from the 1940s to the present days, but especially in eighties, with the MEPA concept (maximum elimination of aid points), which redefined local climbing grades and raised the level of many routes.
Of the three mountains, the most frequented by climbers is the Babylon Hill, mainly due to its easy access, located less than 100 meters from the entrance of the Urca cable car. The routes range from easy to moderate grades and, since the face is turned towards north, the wall is kept dry throughout the year, even after a rainy day. There are over 30 routes, from grade II to VI (in the brazilian grading system), ranging between 150 and 200 meters long. Almost all routes are slabs, with some friction dependent sections, protected by P-shaped bolts. The exposition grade of these routes seldom surpasses E2 (brazilian grading system).
The Urca Hill is characterized mainly by the presence of a large tourist complex in its top, a very popular place, since it connects the cable car at General Tiburcio square and the Pão de Açucar. Thousands of tourists visit this place every year, attracted by one of the most beautiful views of the “Wonderful City”.
This mountain has an easy access trail to the top, and it is also possible to climb on the north, south, east and southeast faces. There are about 50 routes, also protected by P-shaped bolts, comprising vertical and slab rock faces, just as in Babylon Hill. In the “Coloridos” sector, located in the south face, there are routes easily accessed through the Cláudio Coutinho track, all well protected and in the low-grade range (II to 4 ° - brazilian grading), suitable for beginners. In the north face, the routes go up to the grade of VIIb, not passing 60 meters of extension.
Most routes, however, are located in the Pão de Açúcar. There are more than 100 routes, distributed on all faces of the mountain, with grades ranging from I to IXb (brazilian graduation). There is also a broad variety of climbing styles. It is possible to climb hand cracks, offwidths, chimneys, sport routes and aid routes. There are routes ranging from 1 to 12 pitches, some of them with up to 400 meters long, in the west face.
The easiest routes in Pão de Açucar (up to grade III) are located on the east face, and almost all of them end up in low angle rock faces, mostly covered with vegetation, which lead to the summit.
For those searching more technical climbs, the south face is a good alternative. In this part, the highlight is the Totem face, which holds some of the most demanding climbs in Pão de Açucar, such as the routes Lagartão (6 VIIa A1/VIIc), Totem (7 VIIIc) and Xeque Mate (6 VIIb). In this face there is also the “Tetos” sector, which comprises a few trad aid routes as well as some chimneys and cracks up to V degree.
The west face holds some of the longest routes in Pão de Açucar, such as "Ibis" (370m), "Waldemar Guimaraes - Waldo" (360m), "Estranha Realidade" (400m) and "Contra-Pino" (400m), all of them grades higher than 6th and with long duration (D3 to D5 – brazilian duration grading system). This face also holds the most difficult free climbing route in Pão de Açucar, "Barriga do Pássaro" (IXb). The most popular route in the north face is the "Secundo Costa Neto" (5 ° VIIa 300m), that comprises a wide variety of climbing disciplines, such as laybacking, chimney and faceclimbing.
The most known and sought routes in Pão de Açúcar are located in the west face: “Italianos”, “CEPI” (via ferrata) and “Cavalo Louco”. These routes are easily seen from the General Tiburcio square.
Urca has also great crags for sport climbing and bouldering, such as the "Wall of Acids/Parede dos Ácidos" and the "Vulture Stone / Pedra do Urubu". The latter is place of the route "Southern Comfort" (Xa) opened by German climber Wolfgang Güllich, that once was the hardest sport route in South America.
Summing up the list of crags are "Falésia de São Sebastião”, “Os Minerais” wall, the "Hot Dog" boulder, “Falésia Pedra da Lei” and dozens of boulders located in the forest by the Claudio Coutinho track. Most of those were open by famous brazilian climbers such as Alexandre Portela, Antonio Paulo Faria, Hillo Santana, Marcelo Braga, Paulo Macaco, Ralph Cortez, among others.
Climbing topos, crags and routes details can be found in the climbing guide “Gui de Escaladas da Urca” written by Flavio Daflon and Delson de Queiroz, an essential purchase for anyone who wants to climb in Urca. It is available at the best outdoor stores.
Text: Beto Joly
Translation: Guilherme Oliveira