Climbing a distant peak with leukemia, and being a vet for a Day!
Mitra do Bispo (Bishop's Mitre in english) is a mountain which a few mountaineers here in Brazil know about, and it is much less frequented. Searching online for years we found just one, only one trip report of hiking to the top of the distant mountain, and that made us just more and more willing to reach its summit. This wish grew bigger since 2009 and in 2010 when me, Tacio and Victor Carvalho saw the mountain from the top of Garrafão Peak near the city of Aiuruoca. Mitra do Bispo emerges from the ground like a volcano, and it can be seen and easily identified from dozens of kilometers away.
I even try to schedule with a colleague, Felipe from Itanhandú (a nearby city, base to Itatiaia NP approach) to do an attempt, but it never worked for both of us. Me and Tacio also scheduled a few times, but as always the weather changes, unforeseen storms happened, health problems all over the place for me, and we always end up postponing. This time I got a little better from the strong anemia that I had already because of the leukemia (but I still didn’t knew for sure at the time I already had leukemia), so Tacio returned from a recent trip to Serra Fina and, at the area with his girlfriend Aline, send me an email saying "dude, let's get over with it once and for all, Mitra here we go". He planned to repeat the Marins-Itaguaré traverse with Aline, and called me to the summit bid of Mitra and Papagaio peak after they did it.
We agreed that I would find the couple in Cruzeiro county on Monday, July 23rd, 2012, the forecast promised sun so we could not lose the good window, we had poor references to Mitra and visual guidance becomes half the strategy. Well, to summarize, the only report that we found online about a successful hike on Mitra was from 2008, four years before us, also in July, but that was the only one we found. It was very thorough the report and that helped a lot. So in my trip report in portuguese I left a great “Thank you” to the hiker named Ronald Colombini, even though we made a different route to the summit. So, I believe that our real character, a buddy os us, Jorge Soto, has been there too, but he didn’t wrote a trip report, and months later he confirmed in person he was in Mitra around 12 years ago! These are the only ascents by mountaineers we know of, plus our own.
Well, after four and a half hour on a bus I got to Cruzeiro county and met with Tácio and Aline, we first of all had lunch, and looked at our hand gps devices for the land back roads to arrive at the base of the mountain, since Mitra is very difficult to reach. Lunch was good and cheap, then back to the car and towards the unknown.
Reaching Alagoa county where is Mitra, is already complicated. If I'm not mistaken it was around 65 kms (around 40 miles) of dirt road and some parts in very poor condition, especially when passing besides Serra de Santo Agostinho (where Garrafão Peak is), a great mountain of 2.394 meters. Here things were ugly in 2011 when we went there and saw the force of nature, just three weeks before our visit, several landslides happened there equal in size to what happened in Rio de Janeiro (which killed like a thousand people – I’m sure you heard of), but this one caused no deaths in Alagoa region because they were in the valley next to the road, completely uninhabited and wild. Virgin woods, no question about that. To reach Alagoa county, a 4x4 is the key, without it you just can’t do it. And since Tacio had the defender, that worked pretty well for us (later he lost the car...some crackhead robbed the car, it was never found and that year Tacio didn’t renew the insurance…too bad).
We started on the dirt road around 14:15h and we only got to Alagoa around 17:20h, for you guys to understand how the city is kind of isolated from the world, even kinda close, you just can’t drive fast. Lucky folks...Arriving in Alagoa we begin to inquire, asking here, there, always some people walking by the road, and after a while we got two people who spoke the name of two other individuals and which coincided: Betinho and Vivian. Enough to follow the same dirt road where we'd get there after over four kilometers, following the lead of Betinho, the first name the two persons pointed first.
At that point we had 90% sure of being in the right place where Ronald described, a strong way up drive that ended at a point where a road to the right appeared towards some houses. Stopping point to start the trekking in the left ridge (the route he used 4 years ago), visibly followed directly to the main col between Mitra do Bispo and the neighboring peak called Pedra da Campina which has almost the same altitude of Mitra itself, being slightly smaller, about 50 vertical meters.
But, after listening to two different people who came out and said to us the trail was inside the farm owned by this Vivian woman, whose house caretaker Betinho knew where it was, encouraged us to risk the new information. Well, we arrived at this property and were greeted by Betinho himself! Middle-aged and with all that accent I love from south of Minas Gerais state (would be similar to any north american to listen to Texas or Alabama style accent, fun as hell and very cool! At least I think so), one must pay close attention to what he was talking about, because if you didn’t, you literally do not understand anything, seems like another language. Sometimes, I swear, I understood squad, but nodded and gave him a smile! What we got from it all was that he confirmed he knew the way to Mitra and would show us with no problem, he said he could take us there. Great!!!
On the property he works as a caretaker, the view of Mitra is very close and very imposing, very similar to a volcano shape, if we had snow over it, would remember a patagonian volcano since the altitude is very similar to several of them. We ask if we could camp there as the entrance to the property is an open field, flat and very big like a football field, quite large, but he insisted for us to stay in the "white house". We agreed to the offer, returned to the car and headed over one hundred yards more in the driveway until we stopped the car right in front of the house that had a small fence.
We started to settle down and then another ten minutes more Betinho returned with candles for us, I said a thousand times, but I’ll say it again, I love the people of southern Minas Gerais! The warmth is sensational, openness, hospitality, generosity... Even in the smallest details.
We unpacked the food, had dinner and spent some time outside while the Tácio worked in some night shots and I was trying to do some, but back in july 2012 I still used a G12 and there is no way to work on long exposure shots with a G12 (unless you do a technique called stacking, which I don’t know yet, a sequence of dozens of photos put up together as one), since it doesn’t have a bulb mode and remote control access, I got one dlsr months later (now I have a Canon T4i with a 18-135mm lenses, three batteries, remote control, all the gear) and started the chemo, so, never had a real chance to work at my own long exposure shots yet. After we settled, guess what? The house had three bedrooms!
The night was very quiet, I slept fairly well on the cement floor, my back was 100% straight so it was a therapeutic sleep as well. At dawn, sunlight penetrated the house from every possible orifice, so I got up early, just before six o'clock. Up, relieved the bladder first, and walking outside and enjoyed the alpenglow light to photograph the sunrise over a nearby hill. Incidentally, I discovered that the house had a very close view to Mitra, about two miles in a straight line. Beautiful, building up like a volcano close, very close. We did not know that vision as we arrived at the small farm by night the day before.
Time passed and I decided to have breakfast, made some noodles, ate and drink acerola with orange juice, and as soon as I ended Tácio and Aline woke up too, more lazy and tired, after all, Tácio does all the driving and also they had just descended the Marins-Itaguaré traverse, which is a short but tiring traverse because of the constant scrambles, all the time, too much exercise, respiratory, cardio, arms and legs. This can get you tired, and it’s a 13 miles traverse only, done in three days, some people in two, and a few can do it in 14 hours.
Being a Vet for a day
At this time screamed "Ooooohhh no! Tácio help me out here!". Tacio came and started trying to help the puppy, but she (it was a female) didn’t let us help, just looking at it, I felt the pain. Soon after came a dog, the male, who had fewer but even so a lot of porcupine quills on his face too, and he had much more in the forelegs. But he just asked for help, came near us and lay down, and for every quill that we took out of him, a loud cry echoed in the quiet morning of the countryside. I had never seen anything like this before, the quill of a porcupine is very, very big. Some had around 6 cms in length, and they entered the dog at 50% capacity. The thickness equals a toothpick for the biggest ones, so it's a wound that must surely cause a lot of pain, now to understand the suffering of the dogs, just multiply that by dozens of holes, maybe a hundred, per dog.
This male suffered with us, there was a quill just below his eye, very close, about 1 cm below the lower eyelid, and when I force it to leave the flesh, since it was already coagulated, it came from a depth of about 3 or 4 cms. If it were in the eye, would have blinded the dog for sure. The poor thing bled a lot, so I started shitting myself with his blood. I shout to Aline to bring me a tweezers and the camera to record our action with a few shots, and luckily she had tweezers and it was quite easier for us to remove each one of them, some on the lips of the poor male, the female sat next to us leaning against a tree, she was quiet, but would not let us get one bit close to her.
And so time went on, we took off all the quills at his forelegs, all on the cheeks, lips and almost all, we were 2 or 3 away from remove all of them, but we couldn’t. And one thing impressed us: When I got one of them and pulled out with strength, we saw that it had crossed the lip of the poor dog, and was free on the other side, inside the mouth, like a tongue piercing. For a split second we saw it go through the lip from side to side, and looked at each other and said "Damn, did you see that?"
We deduce that they were teasing the porcupines all the time, since the black female literally had a beard of quills and seemed not to worry too much, she was very quiet but in pain, didn’t cry and did not ask for our help as the male did. Then we leave it aside, but we took 99% of the “piercings” from the male. Judging by the injuries, both tried to bite the small animal and that happened. Later searching online I found that this is very common with dogs…
After about forty minutes we prepare and left towards our goal. But before we left I saw the couple stuck after intercourse. What a hell, not even worried about the quills! She didn’t care at all and he was relaxed with almost everything removed, showing his wife a great time...lol.
We found Betinho and he took us to the trail. To our surprise, is very visible by the road about 1.5 kms before reaching the small farm. Betinho took us there and continued up the trail that is very, very marked and eroded at this part. Especially because the track kind of makes a shortcut to another house which lies between two ridges. We thought he would just show us where the trail was, but he lead us at least 2 kms of the trail, until we reached the altitude of 1.800 meters, in a second fence, there he took leave of us and went back down, and we followed the beaten track across to the second ridge, one that we saw on the road that literally ended at the rocky face of the mountain, which now loomed before us a lot closer.
Already at around 1.800m high, this is the view.
After minutes we reach the second ridge and make a slight right turn and followed the trail well marked, it was all good, but then it kind of disappears in the woods, composed by low trees, not very easy terrain because the winter made them dry, but at least the underbrush was easy to step on it, and we had clear view of the wall all the time. So we did the obvious path up the ridge. Shortly after that, two hundred yards ahead I guess, we find that the trail was well defined again at a point where it is well inclined in the woods. There we were at 1.950 meters high, and continued up the trail that proved not to be used by a long time, since we had to clear the way full of little bamboos and young shrubs that grew over the path. At a certain time the trail was very inclined, about 35° or 40°, then became more tiring because it was easy to slip, at least we could hold on to the trees. Then, when we thought the trail would turn left taking the ridge connecting the two mountains, the trail literally ended up in the rocky wall. Ooooohhh my friends, the story changed quite a bit!
This sinister bid lasted about 45 vertical meters (around 150 feet long), it was very exposed and we were happy to enter into a rod bush area just above the end of the rocky face, since the summit dome of the mountain was already there. I was breathless, tired because of the profound anemia, but I didn’t surrendered. We always follow this order, Tacio in front, Aline in second and me in last. Once we got to the end of the wooded area, the very summit is also quite wooded, unfortunately, there is no view. Before we look for some view and take pictures we breathe and rest after the tense climb we just finished, had a snack, I discovered that my gatorade leaked inside my pack and made a mess, and leave us without the precious isotonic up
At the summit there is a small camp. Fits comfortably two tents, three small tents maybe. I’m not sure, seems more like an illegal hunter camp than hiker camp to me (hiking up from the col between Pedra da Campina and Mitra is much easier and safer, but longer). A tidy bonfire demonstrated disuse for a long time. After about five minutes we made the opposite ridge looking for a view, made a video, and seek a better view to photograph, and there are a number of trails just to the same purpose because of the vegetation on the top, and after that we measured the peak with exactly 2.200 meters, 50 meters higher than the nominal altitude that can be found online on a quick web search.
Summit video by Tacio Philip
After about twenty minutes at the top, clouds began to approach and that worried me a bit, Tacio too, so we started to look for another route to go down, since none of the three of us felt comfortable with where we climbed up, to climb down on the very exposed route without ropes was dangerous, moreover, by the fact that during the climb we used the bushes already and that probably made them weak for a second round of use just minutes after the first, with strong hold, and this lowers their resistance, so we could not trust our lives to the very same bushes we used to climb the mountain. It was very dangerous and we knew that.
We looked around and from the start Tacio still had some level of conformity and said to go down at the same place, even though also uncomfortable with the idea of going down the wall (after all he is an experienced rock trad climber, for over 10 years), we searched the gps, and tried to descend at the right side of the wall, but it was too vertical as well and we came back up, I saw another possible way and pointed to a lateral ridge, very close, but despite being very calm and probably easy, safe, would give us a hell of a fight with vegetation for about 1km before to reach the ridge we came up, we even tried but it was no good, the original normal route would give us at least 4 miles more of hiking and I was beat already because of the deep anemia, Tacio and Aline too, then after losing some forty minutes we decided to risk the dangerous descent where we climbed up. This time Tacio in front, me in the middle and Aline in last. Things were a lot easier after all, much more than we expected, still a lot exposed, and we suffered for anticipation, the bushes held good and we got down slipping in our asses, even if it meant being practically standing up because of the almost vertical wall.
Once back in the road tiredness caught me and I was a bit behind Tacio and Aline, but we were all happy, finally we summited a almost forgotten mountain by the national mountaineering history, with a cool altitude (2.200 meters), and a route that was not the normal for the peak, and without any safety equipment. We are not very proud of that part, but everything went well.
We took a photo with Betinho, arrange everything in the car and hit the road, this time we took some shortcut to Alagoa, following a small dirt road indicated by him. Our goal, Serra do Papagaio in Aiuruoca county. The new goal was Papagaio Peak.
That I already told you guys how it was, the trip report is online here for a while, Mitra do Bispo deserved a single trip report since it was a dream for at least three years for me and for Tacio, and by surprise we were a couple of vets for one day!
Hope I can get back to the mountains any time soon!