Hiking Pedra de Gavea in Rio de Janeiro

July 20, 2012 by

Sightseeing, Tours & Activities, Unforgettable Experiences

Pedra de Gavea in Rio de Janeiro. Photo courtesy of Antonio Carlos Fernandes da Silva Filho via Flickr.

Pedra de Gavea in Rio de Janeiro. Photo courtesy of Antonio Carlos Fernandes da Silva Filho via Flickr.

Rising above Rio de Janeiro’s Sao Conrado and Leblon skyline from Tijuca National Park is a shear granite monolith known as the Pedra de Gavea. Sailors, who still use it for coastal navigation, named the massive 842-mile (2,762-foot) peak “Topsail Mountain,” for its squared-off silhouette.

The mountain has long tempted hikers and climbers, who first noticed that the mountain seemed carved to resemble a human face, perhaps wearing a turban. Upon closer inspection, an inscription—in ancient Phoenician—was discovered in the 1830s, reading “Here Badezir, King of Tyre, Jetbaal’s oldest son.” While the writing could possibly date to 856 BC, when the “human face” might also have been carved, it’s more likely a Victorian-era hoax playing on the rock’s naturally sculpted features.

If you’d like to see Pedra de Gavea up close, it’s an easy hike to arrange, though some parts of the climb are technically difficult (ropes are recommended, and provided by some hiking guides).

The most popular hike to the top begins at the parking lot for hang-gliding and parasailing in Sector C of the national park. (Serious climbers can arrange more challenging ascents, such as the sheer Pico de Quatro monolith face, that start at the bottom.)

After a fairly steep, shady, nontechnical 1.5-hour climb through the thick Tijuca National Park, you’ll reach the exposed granite face of the mountain, and the most challenging section of the hike. Carrasqueira Pass is a 30-meter (100-foot) crack climb on a 60° cliff, and falling would almost certainly be deadly; some hikers turn back here.

If you can handle it, the rest of the hike is relatively easy, with scrambles of the rock to the top of the mountain. From here, you’ll enjoy magnificent views over the city and park. Including a picnic at the top, it’s probably a five- to six-hour hike.

The best time to make this partially shadeless, exposed hike is in the morning, preferably during the cooler Rio winter (May–September). Hikers have been mugged, so it’s recommended that you go in groups and/or with a local guide, and leave travel documents (a photocopy of your passport will be sufficient) and other valuables back at the hotel.

- Paige Penland

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