Urban Adventure: Corcovado in Rio, Brazil

Hiking is not synonymous with visiting Rio de Janeiro. One is more likely to think of beaches or samba dancing or soccer than hiking in Rio. But there’s a hill and a way to get to the top, so hiking Corcovado — the 2,300 foot steep mountain that the 125 foot marble statue Christo Redentor stands on — was a “must” for my recent trip.

Two of my daughters and I had spent more than a week on our feet, chasing buses, dancing the samba and forro, strolling on Ipanema.. we felt ready for this little urban adventure. The mountain is visible (with Christ watching you..) everywhere you go in Rio, so I knew skipping this hike would weigh on my conscience.

christo from botanical garden

Corcovado is atop a small urban jungle — 12 square mile preserve within the city limits called the Tijuca Forest, so it was a convenient way to see many native trees and get away from the clamor of the very crowded city. The route up was pegged at 1.5-2 hours, so I guessed it would be similar to Mt. Monadnock, which is an “everyday” mountain around here. Somehow Monadnock always surprises me with its challenging scrambles, and this “city mountain” did too.

We took a bus to the park at the base on a misty, damp day — better for climbing than a hot sunny day. In a shared pack were a few bottles of water and snacks… plus bananas… a guard gave us a sheet with a sketchy map (no topo lines!) of what to expect and we were off.

jungle conditions

The initial climb of about 15-20 minutes was super easy, through jungle. Then it started to get steep and the soil was a slick clay, not good for footing. Fortunately the jungle trees provided lots of footholds — sometimes roots acted just like stairs, reaching horizontally across the trail.

helpful roots

So maybe you’re wondering if we stopped for a snack? Not really, but at Grace’s suggestion we stopped in a clearing and suddenly little squirrel-sized monkeys came out of the trees for a snack.. I was sure one was going to climb right up Justine’s leg as she peeled the first banana but they took turns and it was very cool feeding them by hand. For a few minutes we forgot all about being a short distance from a crowded city.

monkeys!

Back on the trail, the hardest part was yet to come. We kept up a good pace until we hit these chains embedded in rocks. It was tricky to figure out footing (sort of like playing Twister) because the chain had some slack but not quite enough to reach the side of the rocks that might have been easier for short people to climb.

corcovado chains

Soon we reached the tracks for the cog railway, a significant indication that we were close to the top. The mist made it spooky.

corcovado rr statue

Grace promised at the top we’d complete the ascent on escalators but they weren’t working that day. So of course after a 90 minute quad busting climb we raced up the 223 stairs to the platform that Christo occupies. The view of the city was worth the climb.. too bad obnoxious tourists made the site less than holy.

there's no view if your eyes are closed!

pretty good souvenir

Keeping true to my lifelong streak of screwing up some aspect of most hikes (I’m thinking of unanticipated snowfall, getting lost, bringing insufficient food or water… I’ve done it all!) … there was still time for something to go wrong, and it did.

had we known...

As you can see from the map, the park we started at was in a busy part of the city. We (mostly me, duh, because I’m good at making bad decisions) decided to leave via the auto road to avoid slipping down the steep slick trail. We had no idea the auto road went down the OTHER side of the mountain… was nearly twice as long as the hike up and … it dumped us in a sketchy neighborhood where the route home involved catching a noisy city bus to the metro, taking the metro several stops to..  a place where we caught a cab.. the beginning of a frustrating evening of missed connections. Next time we’ll be better prepared (ha).

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