I met Nilton the next day back at the Sugar Loaf cable car station and we headed off in his car through the Rio traffic to Corcovado. K2 is the classic route to do and the only route I’ve ever seen in a Lonely Planet guidebook. As you climb, the views behind you are the best in Rio. You can see just about everywhere in Rio and there’s a lot of air under your heels. The climb finishes on the observation deck at the feet of the huge statue of Christ.
We parked the car a few hundred metres below the top outside an old colonial looking hotel and plodded up the railway and then onto the road before going behind a roadside crash barrier and heading into the undergrowth. The overgrown trail hugged the bottom of the rock right round the side of the hill. 20m or so before the end Rio came into view through the trees and grass, at feet level! It wasn’t a path to stumble around on.
At the base of the route we quickly got kitted up. I thought that rain looked imminent, but in fact never came. The first pitch looked good and straightforward, a long crack in a leftwards slanting corner, with an exit on to the face after 20m or so. I toyed with the idea of leading it before realising that the grade was also on the stiff side for me (5.9). Nilton climbed it smoothly and called me up. Within 2m of leaving the base the drop and exposure begins. The first few metres were pretty straightforward, from then on you need to layback the next 10m. As usual it was on the strenuous side. The handholds were good and my feet relied on friction until one of them shot out from me. In a flash I was off and had 10-15 ft fall scraping down the wall till the rope caught me. Really annoyed I scrambled across to the start of the route ready for another attempt. I had a large stinging graze on my right thigh and could feel a bit more damage on my right elbow. Not liking the sight of blood I refrained from checking my elbow until we topped out. On the second attempt I grunted my way up without further incident. The fall had really marred my enjoyment of the route plus shaken my confidence with regards to smearing.
The second pitch was short and involved a very delicate traverse out leftwards before ascending at an easier grade. I didn’t enjoy the traverse, expecting a foot to slip off again. We continued upwards climbing in short pitches, with Nilton doing the leading. These remaining pitches were not very taxing and the belay points were places to be savoured with the amazing views and drops. Now and again a helicopter would approach and circle round the summit before flying off, a bit like being on the Matterhorn. The penultimate pitch brought us on to a long grassy ledge with a few small trees. The last pitch was a short sharp 10m pitch of finger tip and smearing climbing, and then we were on the steep ground in the trees just below the top. The hard part was over. As we strolled out of the trees the statue came into view. Cloud had come in so the view was very hazy. Looking up at the statue, it looked big, and with the circling mist it all felt quite magical and atmospheric to me. We stopped in some long grass just short of the observation deck before untying from the rope. I then clambered over the stone wall and into the tourist throng. It was a great feeling being up there and perhaps one of the most special places to finish a route. It had been a real experience. Nilton took a couple of summit shots for me before we headed on for a cold drink and the descent back to the car.
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