This trip was between july 23rd and july 25th, 2012. A few weeks ago.
First of all, a quick explanation
We took the road and the whole time looking at Papagaio Peak, which quickly grew in size on the windshield of the car. The funny thing is that it is not a mountain, moreover, is the lowest "sub-summit" of all the Papagaio Sierra, but it has a gorgeous shape, draws attention by tens of kilometers away, and it is still recognized by overwhelming majority of brazilian hikes and climbers as "Pico do Papagaio" (Papagaio Peak), even if not technically a mountain. The summit of Papagaio Peak lies at 2.105 meters above sea level (6.906 ft) and it was checked with a Garmin 60CX hand gps by Tacio on the huge stone that lies in its summit.
Papagaio Peak is not a mountain, because the lowest point of the ridge where it is, exactly where you exit the forest and there is a meeting of tracks in a "Y" shape that marks the traverse route that goes all the way through to the crest to the Canjica Hill on the other end, does not reach quite two thousand meters, actually it is at 1.980 meters above sea level. This gives Papagaio Peak a prominence of 125 (410 ft) vertical meters only. And it should be at least 300 meters (984 ft) to be considered a mountain. So that lowest point should be at 1.805 meters high tops.
For many who do not know here in Brazil, the summit of Papagaio Sierra is Bandeira Hill, with 2.370 meters (7.776 ft) of altitude, and it has the same name of our beloved and idolized Bandeira Peak in Caparaó National Park, way higher with 2.893 meters (9.491 ft) of altitude, being the third highest point of our vast land. Along the ridge there are some high points, different summits with given names, including Tamanduá Hill of 2.180 meters (7.152 ft), with a curious overlapping of rocks that looks like a hand pointing to the sky, roughly halfway between Papagaio Peak and Bandeira Hill, and soon after Bandeira Hill there is another summit called Canjica Hill, which reaches 2.240 meters (7.349 ft), also higher than Papagaio Peak. Even so, the only one with projection in our community of hikers, climbers, campers or whatever, is Papagaio Peak, maybe the reason is the “peak” is easily identified and can be seen even from Itatiaia National Park, 38 kms away. Papagaio Peak is also a simble of rock climbing in south of Minas Gerais, its wall is 450m high on the front (higher on its north side) and can be seen pretty much from every where around the area.
Now we can go on...
As we approached the city of Aiuruoca, by the way I've heard for years but had never stepped there before, we had the vision of the misty Papagaio Sierra, even though the clouds were high then the whole mountain was clear, without sun, but clean. We were getting more and more impressed with the size of the wall and I think I can understand why that it’s known or recognized as a peak for pure merit, for its beauty. You know what? I agree, Papagaio Peak it is! : ^)
We arrived in the city early around 16:30h, so we had time to grab a bite and then look for a quiet guest house to wash up and sleep in a real bed before going to Papagaio Peak next morning. I normally don’t do this but due to “changing circumstances of higher force”, my body needs a comfortable bed and a hot bath, and a pharmacy close by... lol
After eating we went in a grocery store to buy some things and at all times, even the street, we could admire Papagaio Peak with its huge wall, like a sentinel for the small town of Aiuruoca, oh what a beauty those summits of Papagaio Sierra!
We found a nice place to stay, “Pousada e Restaurante Dois Irmãos”. At the modest price of R$ 40,00 (around US$ 19.00) provides a very good room with double bed and single bed, clean bathroom with hot water, city views from a terrace and a very good breakfast, with variety of breads, cakes, jams and fresh orange juice. Cheap and good. We sit, and then everyone took his bath and then we went down for dinner, afterwords we went to city center (just a few blocls away) in search for ice cream.
In the morning before sunrise I was up, well rested and with the adrenaline running through my veins, couldn’t wait to hike the slopes of Papagaio Peak, but I'm rushing it, then I just stood there looking at the heat of the sun start to light up the quiet corners of the quiet village, as I waited for Tacio and Aline to wake up so we could have coffee together before leaving. We did that and after we arrange all the stuff inside Tacio’s Defender and left.
Finally we arrived at the entrance of one of several tracks that lead to Papagaio Peak, very near to the city, even though the access is a dirt road in good condition, only half an hour to get there. Actually I do not know if there are several tracks, but the main trail begins with certainty more than one place and it all will be joining higher up in a single trail, very eroded by the popularity of Papagaio, which attracts in winter weekends dozens of climbers, campers, adventurers, friends, and all of them are seeking the view from its summit.
We stopped the car at 1.320 meters high (4.331 ft) in a small farm at the end of a road. A small property that was next to a small corn crop, and a large open field with several subdivisions of barbed wire. There we started to walk and crossed perpendicularly about 600 meters of terrain, which already took some work because the barbed wires. There we found a trail entrance and began to hike. The access we got was certainly not the main one, it goes directly into the main track though, but it’s a secondary access I bet, but only after 100 meters of trail we found a bifurcation of the track that seems to be the main one.
Although overused and eroded, the trail goes almost exclusively up all the time, no bullshit, sometimes it is aground, very few downs, but in general up all the time. I arranged with Tacio and Aline that we should hike up very, very slowly, since with my profound anemia and low rate of red blood cells responsible for loading and distributing oxygen throughout my body, is very low. In short my body is not oxygenating properly then it makes me more sleepy, more tired, lazy, all that.
We hiked without haste, the weather was completely different from the previous day, it was absolutely clean, so blue sky and sunshine so bright that it was even difficult to calibrate the camera I took with me (Lilianne’s), Sony Nex C3 (my Canon G12 has some problem and is on my desk waiting to be fixed for a couple months now). Soon after ten or fifteen minutes we reached a clear area, and from there the trail goes up to nearly 1.800 meters above sea level (5.905 ft) without any protection against the sun, the path was a zigzag eroded and exposed to the sun. I suffered enough. The heat drained my energy and I dreamed of the shadow of a protected track that was about to come right after this part, very close.
After this initial suffering we entered the woods at the base of the wall of Papagaio, that at this side is about 450 meters high, huge, where there is a rock climbing route named "Nirvana". It is very, very beautiful, and literally a part of the trail goes only three or four feet from the wall, which is impressive to see at that point of the trail. The blue sky only helped in the picture! There I was more relaxed, less tired and everything was more enjoyable. Always, every fifteen minutes, Tacio and Aline had to wait for me a little. I feel a bit inconvenient with this, but I can’t do anything...Not until I figure out what I have and fix myself.
In one stop we parted, Aline and I move up a little bit and Tacio was left behind for a few minutes (number two I guess hehehe), and there Aline and I saw a very nice part of the forest. A portion of the trail that actually looks like a enchanted forest, a beautiful forest. Tacio joined us and photographed a huge “Orelha de Pau”, the biggest one we've ever seen in a tree here. We went ahead and while beautiful and much, much frequented, the trail is clean. I did not see anything but a dirty little piece of used toilet paper that the owner did not buried properly, that's all. I was surprised with that since because of its popularity we expected to find a lot of trash, and we didn’t.
After a while more the track came out in a huge open field, and when I say it is huge, I mean several square kilometers. The only thing that breaks the monotony that is clearing off are some termite nests around the place. The trail leaves the open air, but does not advance the field, goes right by some hundred feet in a straight line and reenters the woods. Always well marked, very well marked, with no possibility of someone getting lost.
Then the trail goes back into a clearing, enters the woods again, and at that time gives us the chance to look at the Papagaio wall, very, very close.. Then after a while out again at the crest of the Sierra, where there is a "Y" that meets the traverse trail at 1.980 meters high (6.496 ft), which is also very well marked. To go only to Papagaio Peak just follow the right and get back in the woods. We did, again, the trail leaves in a short clearing underbrush and crosses a track eroded as always. We went back into the forest and there begins a session through impressive woods. The trail turns into a fairy tale, some almost unbelievable in the forest very well preserved:
> Dried leaves lining the ground to become comfortable to hike and scenic...
> The trail becomes almost a road, about 15 feet wide...
> Sunlight penetrates in specific places, then the lighting gives the place an film like air scene...
> There are no bamboos, no spider webs, no roots to go over or under...
> Trees are tall and its crown also high, which facilitates the vision of a very good distance into the woods.
Hell, we were only missing two dozen orcs come running through it all behind us, and each one of us should have at hand respectively a sword, an axe and a bow and arrow, and we would be in the cast of Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring. Damn what a beautiful section of the trail...
Too bad it lasts for just 200 feet of terrain in a straight line, the lower one on the trail, you must descend a bit and hike on the other side where the “charm” ends. Further up the trail closes again, back to normal, but still very well defined, clean, just normal, lost the magic touch. Thereafter it is only up and quickly gains altitude as it is right there near the top, but starts to go around circles, so that if you are a fast hiker you might get dizzy (lol). It gets pretty boring.
We arrived at 2.060 meters high (6.759 ft) and left the forest again, here is a session of scrambles near the summit, typical of the great majority of mountains in the whole Mantiqueira Sierra, and I know many of them. The passage is short and soon we reached a flat rocky part with a very large cairn great for photos. I was getting tired, but nothing much, I could more or less keep track on the couple at that part. Left turn and again into the woods for the last time.
A few more meters of ascent and when I left the woods for good I was at the summit, where Tacio and Aline were enjoying a beach chair, umbrella, and cocktails at hand for at least three minutes ahahahah...I did not sat there to rest, as they go tanning I started photographing the view, made a summit video, and I went looking for the edge view of the car, if possible of course. And guess what, it was possible! The car was only 1.000 meters (3.281 ft) straight line from us, but 805 vertical meters (2.641 ft) below. This in simple math would result in a continuous trail in a straight line of about 40° tilt 1km long. But the real trail is long, 6.2 kms from the car to the summit.
So yes, I sat down, relaxed, ate my canned sardines in tomato sauce, hydrate. I was so relaxed that fatigue and anemia passed by me miles away and I did not notice. Tacio and Aline had their lunch, chatted, more pictures, but then we decided to return. At that time Tacio said: "Bandeira Hill is 4.7 kms from here, we could try to go there, you think you can do it?". I did not think twice, and I said, "Hey, let's go there, I think I can do it". That's how I decided. I was reckless and discover this shortly after, halfway there.
The traverse idea
We collect our things and started hike down, the annoying zigzag, go through the incredibly beautiful woods, scramble down, enter the woods, left the woods, enter the woods again, leave the forest to the "Y" section again. We took in a straight line at the ridge, following the hills by its side almost every time, avoiding hiking up and down the other side. We passed a rock split in half where a tree came out, very interesting. From then on I got tired. It was like a "BOOM!". Over, Ze finit, kaputt. It seemed that my energy was gone, totaly gone. I started walking very slowly and this only increased the number of times that Tacio and Aline had to stop and wait for me. Tacio asked: "What do you think, wanna go back? We still have 3.2kms to go". My answer was funny and even more unthinkable: "Are you nuts?" (and a few laughs). Then Aline offered to take my backpack, that even light as it was would help, and I accepted, no shame at all. What can I do if my body does not follow my wishes?
From that point on it was only a matter of time until I reach my limit. We have entered a little wood cross, went out the other side at the front of Tamanduá Hill, a beautiful rock formation shaped like a hand. There we were already higher than Papagaio Peak, since the top of Tamanduá is 2.180m high (7.152 ft). The trail becomes more eroded and passes through another open field, turn left where there is a slight scramble up until you reach a stone flat area and right in front of the rocks of Tamanduá summit, already at 2.150 meters (7.054 ft).
There I stopped 2 minutes and they 7 because they waited for me. Slowly we hiked up over the final meters to the side of the rocks of Tamanduá, go through that part and started to hike down the other hand, having a curious sight, a stone wall. Man, someone made a stone wall there! When I got home I researched and found a very interesting information. The stone wall was supposedly built 300 years ago by Jesuits who attended Papagaio Sierra, can you believe it? The site even has a name, "Refúgio dos Pedrs” (Peters’ shelter). History on the mountain, is there something better for me? No, no. I do not know the truth of the dating of the walls, or more precise details, but I will search more answers about that.
We walked down the small hill, and went up the rocky hill scrambles right after the stone wall, where there is a natural bouquet of Hippeastrum morelianum, a beautiful red flower normal to be seen throughout Mantiqueira Sierra, especially in Itatiaia. When I arrived at the top of the dome rock, Tacio was waiting for me sitting staring at Bandeira Hill, now closer, while Aline had advanced more to evaluate the descent that lay ahead of us. Tacio once more asked me: "Look what's missing, we're still far away, wanna keep going?". I evaluated, looked and said, "Damn, we still have to cross two valleys??". Tacio confirmed and told me that there was still 2kms on a straight line to the top of the mountain. Then I quickly said, "Dude, I can’t go any further, I'm devastated, you gon on with Aline, I will not derail the summit of you guys because of me". It was exactly 14:30h.
I am pretty sure I could get there, but I would not have the strength to get back the entire track, after all we were doing what nobody does, we were making the traverse to undo it at the same day, even easy as it was, that makes it long and hard enough for anyone and not just me, the “sick me”. I had managed to cover about 60% of the distance between the top of Papagaio Peak and Bandeira Hill. Exhausted, with no energies, it seemed to me I was at more than six thousand meters of altitude, with hypoxia, in an icy slope, tired, cold, and hungry, working my way up. But that wa snot the truth, I was at only 2.170m high in brazilian lands. My body let me down big time. Had to return without headlamp, no extra food, and had to go down one thousand vertical meters distributed in about 7.5 kms of track.
Tacio agreed, I took back the bag with Aline and as they went on I began my long way back. How long it was gonna be...I had no idea.
Going back alone
I looked at what I had to cover on the way back, and how I wished I had a parachute to jump ahahaha...any rocky face and I could jump and come very close to the car. I made some pictures because it is important to keep enjoying life on the mountain, however adverse it presents itself. I started my way back. Before we parted, Tacio told me they were going as fast as they could to see if maybe they could reach me on the way back. So I walk very slowly, to see if they got me and made me company. We were in wednesday so there was nobody else on the mountain, just us. For my state of exhaustion, that was dangerous. Come on, who do I want to cheat? I did not purposely walked slowly to wait for them, walked slowly because it had no more strength! Ahahahaha...
Well, as far as possible I tried to cover the traverse faster and enjoy the sunshine, and after a while I arrived at the "Y" for the third time. I took the right and entered the main trail again, at 1.980 meters high. Wow, I was tired...I don’t know how I could walk, I think I must look like an undead dragging myself since I did not have enough strength to lift my legs properly, and I kind of dragged my feet on the trail by moving the sediment from the forest floor wherever I went. To overcome a big root? Wow, long bidding process, brain processing and lungs massive effort.
I was slowly losing altitude, coming down as slowly in my turtle steps could go, as the trail is long and loses altitude very slowly. I don’t know, that seemed like four days and four nights to me, I wasn’t thinking right any more from exhaustion, until I came to a creek on the trail. I remembered having talked with them, "well that’s cool, this creek is in the middle of the altitude gain we have to do!" as we hiked up hours before. I looked at my watch and I was at 1.800 meters high, I sat and stood a good fifteen minutes refreshing myself with mountain water, spending time to see if they came, but nothing, I couldn’t even hear a single bird, then I remembered I had no headlamp and resumed walking. From then on I started to count meter by meter the altitude I had to go down to get to the car, which was at 1.320 meters high. When I begin to count meters I know how much I'm tired, and I never did that in Brazil before, ever. I did it in San Pedro volcano (6.145 meters) where I was alone and in bivy, and I did that in Sairecabur (6.006 meters) where I was very very cold, never here in Brazil...
It was now 16:35h and the sunlight was almost zero inside the woods when I got to the first zigzag, the one that goes down in front of the wall of Papagaio Peak. There I knew I was close, so I tried to hurry a little, for soon after that I knew there was two tricky parts on the trail and I didn’t wanted to get lost in the dark, no headlamp! In an attempt to hurry I slipped and fell a few times, but nothing serious, and so I was kind of stumbling and slipping on the inclined trail losing altitude. I passed the two tricky parts with virtually no sunlight, with visibility of no more than five meters. Now I knew it was almost the end.
All I wanted was to get out of the woods yet with sunlight, and as I left the woods it was almost totally dark. Finally I reached the clearing that separated me from the car at 17:10h, where the light was infinitely stronger. There, went through the small bushes and clean terrain, rather than jumping the fences of barbed wire, since I had no strength left, I passed beneath that which required less energy, then another five minutes and I reached the car, where I literally fell to the ground, I took my backpack and made a pillow out of it, lay down. I felt cold, took off my fleece from inside my backpack, and went “back to bed”. Then I discovered that when I threw my backpack I broke my julbo glasses. Damn!
After exactly 25 minutes they wasn’t there, then I got up and started walking towards the road to look for them, there was Tacio and he told me “Hello dude!” in total darkness. Back into the car we hurried to catch dinner available until 19:30h. I was so tired that I couldn’t even participate in the talks right, gave monosyllabic replies, limited myself to that. After ten minutes I just stop talking ahahahahahah...
It turned out that the elevation gain accumulated and distance for us was:
Distance traveled between ascending and descending: 15.4kms.
Altitude of ascent and descent: 1.015 meters (3.330 ft) of ascent, same of descend.
Tacio and Aline:
Distance traveled between ascent and descent: 20.5 kms.
Altitude of ascent and descent: 1.420 meters (4.659 ft) of ascent, same of descend.
I know mine is not very impressive, but show it to my hematologist to see what she'll talk, She would probably say "Trying to kill yourself idiot?". Seriously, I should never keep going. From Papagaio summit I should have hiked back down to the car. I forced my weak and deeply anemic body to the limit.
The adventure might have had a tragic end, I could have blacked out on the trail alone and would not have help for at least an hour or two. I could have suffered an injury, a deep cut during a fall due to imbalance since I was so tired, and I actually fell a few times, luckily I did not cut myself. Serious problems could hit be, because with low platelets as they are, I could lose a lot of blood in one single deep cut.
I learned my lesson, I'll be quiet at home, I will not leave the house for anything over 500 meters of altitude gain, I need to recover and take care of my skin, after all, it covers my weak and flawed body.
We returned to town, eat and find another guest house to sleep, as good as the other one, but lost in the breakfast that is very poor. We left early and took the road by changing the return, taking Fernao Dias Highway. After all it was a great decision as we got to see an unexpectedly sight: A Sunflower planting! Of course, this meant spending half an hour photographing! Tacio was like a child having fun because he dreamed of this for ten years, photographing sunflowers, hell of luck! And he is a professional photographer!
We return only stopping for lunch along the way and to buy some goodies in a store by the road, and then arriving in Sao Paulo to all traffic and endless evil of the largest metropolis in South America. The trip was very good, we finally reached the top of Mitra do Bispo Peak and Papagaio Peak, which we postpone for years just because there was something more important on the priority list, and now almost finished with the list, it's time to seek new mountains...
Well, time to rest. See ya folks!