The Apocalipthical Eclipse
This is the story of a first ascent in one of Brasil's most remote and most classic big-wall playground: the Pedra do Sino's west face. A giant block of overhanging granite that lies in a remote, shady region known as Vale da Morte (Death Valley). Despite its frightening name, the valley is the home of a rich biodiversity. Species, many not yet classified, search for a little sunlight shaded by the sharp granite peaks everywhere. Rare birds inhabit the interior of the cracks that someday climbers, like myself, will place pro while climbing by.
The region located about 65 miles from downtown Rio de Janeiro, remains as a live representative of the Brazilian native tropical rain forests. Federal laws protect the landscape from its worst predator, the human being. Climbers are allowed to enter into the wilderness as long as they show proof that they have both appropriat equipment and climbing experience to climb the wall they are planning to ascend. That can be done by submitting a written petition to the Parque Nacional da Serra dos Órgăos's Chief of Special Operations. Once there, the petition is analyzed, and the permission to the restricted area is granted if climbers meet all requirements.
With a permit in hand, food and fuel fixed up, we were ready for the game. A game that began with a tough three-day approach to the base of the huge wall. It normally takes one full day to get there, but the four of us had to carry 450 pounds of equipment stuffed in twelve packs which took us several trips to transport. And so, moving like ants, we began the climb. Júlio and Pita, two of the four leading climbers in our group, went in front of the team and opened the first pitch of the route that would give us a glimpse of what a Grade VII would be like.
We were on our third day ascending the wall, and I was on the lead linking two cracks with 1/4 inch holes when the cliff I was standing on popped out. Yelling, I dropped thirty feet on a slightly positive stretch of rock. I was held by a couple of SLDC's, which I had judged sort of dodgy (hesitantly). They were now proven good I concluded after the drop! On the other hand my knees were for sure damaged. My kneepads swung up because of the friction against the rock during the fall and my knees had a close encounter with the abrasive rock. Pita, who was on his way up transporting whatever load he could carry, switched my position allowing me to recover, rest and get comfortable.
At base camp one hour later a strong pain on my fist started worrying me. A friend, who had set a tent in the middle of the way down to the parking lot where his car was, came by, and due to that I decided to anticipate the planned renovation mission by going back with him. We carried all garbage, things we judged excessive and all the empty batteries, so we could bring them fully charged. After approximately 16 hours of concrete jungle, I went back to base-camp taking all the planned provisions, this time shared among 4 friends that had volunteered to help me with the load.
On the day before my arrival, the team gained a spacious ledge, and then we decided to move the camp up. Feeling better from my fist pain, I jugged to the high point to first ascend while the others took care of hauling everything up to the scorpion ledge. On the following morning, Pita got sick with bad diarrhea, and the climb was over for him. He rappelled back to base carrying one of many ropes we had and was home by dark. We were then reduced to a three man team facing a 600 feet overhung wall before the summit lip. The radio never stopped announcing that day as the end of world (August 11th, 1999), but it never seemed to have happened up there. Or...were we the only ones alive? Of course not! That end of the world thing didn't really convince us, so we kept up progress.
The days went by nice and mild. At night we were able to see the glowing lights of our hometown Rio de Janeiro, and when a moment of silence would settle in, we'd wonder what people were doing down there. At 8 o'clock in the evening we started snoring hard. On the fourteenth day of the expedition , I gained a nice place to set the hanging camp at about 350 feet from the top. The station was protected by an overhung wall with a bonus straight up A1 crack on the left side of which Hillo would open the next day, while me and Julio set camp. Porta-ledges were hung, things were organized and the world hadn't ended yet, or almost... A dense storm came by, and thanks to the rock shelter, rain didn't hit us, but we still got a little wet. We wouldn't see the sun for the next six days. The radio announced the coldest day over the last three years. Being so, nobody rushed each other to go up since we didn't feel very motivated. Climbing under those conditions was a boring task. Many water drops hit us incessantly, yet, despite the extreme cold, we still climbed a bit everyday. The days began to clear out and bright stars appeared between the clouds making us more confident that the weather would be good again at any time.
The progress was slow and the hard rock delayed the summit assault even more. We began to run low on water and started rationing it. The day before we actually reached the summit, but at the end of a full day and after getting hypoglycemic, I gave up when I was only about 5 meters from the end. It was 9:30 PM and I had been climbing for 7 consecutive hours. We then went back down to the hanging-camp and didn't talk much. For the first time during the whole climb the aftermeal jokes didn't take the stage. In fact, there was no dinner that day. We had one litre of precious liquid left to drink and our only choice was to summit the next day.
The big day had arrived! Water was enough for breakfast milk with granola. I then dispatched the rest of the team to the summit assault while I packed the complex hanging camp. Many hours later I'd find myself throwing the bags away from the Thank-God like ledge hung on the pulley line. Afterwards it'd be my turn to bounce loosely on the fixed line that would inevitably put me many meters away from the wall due to its overhangs. I jugged and hauled the two pitches to where Julio was belaying Hillo, who reached the summit on the late afternoon of that windy August 20th after spending 12 consecutive days hanging on something. We were pretty tired, thirsty and hungry and headed down to a campground located at about 30 minutes below from the summit taking only the bivy gear and food.
We even left one of the bags to be hauled the next day. We felt free to walk again, and even before the actual end of our tale, that feeling of mission accomplished invaded our hearts and souls. The night was cold, and on the next day the sun finally came to stay. So did our friends, knowing that we'd be there overloaded. Eduardo Barao came to help only one month after his near-death accident, when he dropped more than 300 feet in a near by mountain. His ascender disarmed the trigger, plunging him down unroped. Backups are always necessary. When I saw him falling and thought he would die or worse. We gave him the first aid and called the rescue team from downtown Rio de Janeiro, and in a few hours they were extracting his spleen in a public hospital. Well, we made sure to fill his bag with light items such as empty bottles and sleeping-mats. It really looked like he was carrying a heavy backpack after all. On the 22nd day of the month and 22nd of the expedition as well, we went back to civilization after all those wild days in the remote landscape of the Serra dos Orgaos mountain range setting a new standard when it comes to brazilians on the wall. As typical Brazilians we celebrated the climb with a tasty barbecue and beer.
Written by Gustavo Sampaio