The best way to the Sugarloaf in Rio – Via Dos Italianos

The Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) at the end of Copacabana beach is probably the second most visited tourist attraction in Rio de Janeiro. The most visited is of course the Christ the Redeemer. So it should not be a surprise that the second most popular climbing route goes up the mountain. The most popular is, surprise, the one up to the Christ.

When I get my hands on the soft granite of the Sugarloaf and start to climb the first pitch of the route called Via Dos Italianos, I feel at peace.

Safe on the rock

Before flying to Brazil, my mum very kindly reminded me that she would worry if I went climbing in Rio. But after being super alert because of the pocket thieves and armed robbers and all sort of dangerous people that I was warned of, I feel very safe on the rockface.

Via Dos Italianos is an easy multi-pitch climb that goes up to the Sugarloaf on the steep, west side underneath the cable car. I’m climbing the route with a guide so I don’t need to worry about the gear or rope length or route finding; he has climbed it many times.

Sometimes I need to pay people to be nice and spend a day on the cliffs with you. This time it was all worth the money.

A climb that flows

We start at 7am to optimise climbing in the shade – it gets hot in the sun. The weather is perfect, not cold, not too hot. A very light breeze travels from the sea. The water below shimmers and the far away mountains of Serra dos Órgãos seem to be floating above the clouds. As we climb, the city noice muffles out. The serenity is broken by the rattle of the cable car and occasional close swoops of the black vultures that circle above us.

One of them lands on a rock near me and turns its raptor’s head from side to side to look at me. These bald birds can’t sing, they can only hiss.

I expected to feel a little queasy as the climbing route is very exposed and it has been years since I last climbed a multi-pitch climb, but the peaceful feeling lasts until the end. I remember what it feels to let the climb flow. Everything else might have changed but not my love for mountains.

After seven pitches, we finish the route underneath the cable car station and hop on to the viewing platform where all the neatly dressed visitors pose for cameras. I’m very aware of my sweaty top and chalky hands but I also think that all those people who took the cable car up to see the view missed the best part of the Sugarloaf mountain.

Most of the way the route goes up the rock face below the cable car.

Climbing in Brazil quick fact

Interesting thing that only climbers will find interesting: Brazilians have a weird grading system and their climbing styles don’t “match” with the UK or European vocabulary.

The route description I checked beforehand said that Via Dos Italianos is a trad climb. And it is. Only, the Brazilians call multi-pitch sport climbing trad climbing. Single-pitch climbs are called sport climbs and trad climbs where you place your own gear are called classic climbs. Way to get confused. Also the grading is bizarre. The grade of Via Dos Italianos is E1 D1 19. The French grade would just be 6a. At least that is what I gathered.

Of course there are easier ways too the top. But there are a few harder climbing routes up to the loaf as well….

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