Daily Log : TRIP ONE
30th October - 30th November
Monday 30th. October
Flight American Airlines: London Heathrow to
Miami to Caracas. Started packing cars at 0400 hrs., in 90 mph winds
and driving rain - worst storm in UK since October 1987. Tornado hit
south coast. No trains south of Birmingham. One person killed in car
by falling tree. Floods and broken tree branches on roads. Took four
hours to reach London Heathrow. What a great start to the trip! At Heathrow,
discovered my keys and documents were locked inside a case so we had
to find a hacksaw to cut off the padlock. No customs available to check
our two tons of equipment. Lots of hassles. Just made the flight - Steve
and I were the last two to board the aircraft. Flights uneventful and
Customs entry to Venezuela relatively uneventful. Arrived at hotel just
after midnight - journey time 25 hours.
Tuesday 31st. October
Breakfast meeting 0800 hrs. with Antonio Casado
who is handling some of the local logistics and co-ordination. Meeting
at 1130 hrs. with British Ambassador John Hughes. Lunch with Antonio.
Meeting with Robert Sondeman, a local pilot who flies a Piper Aztec,
to ask advice about getting Steve's and my Commercial Pilot Licences
validated for flying in Venezuela. Turns out that Commercial Pilot status
is reserved for Venezuelan Nationals only and we'll be restricted to
Private Licences only. That's OK. We need to find a Cessna 206 that
we can use in an unrestricted way so that we can film when the weather
is good. Trying to locate privately owned aircraft as well as possibly
doing a deal with a Commercial operator. Dinner with Antonio.
Wednesday 1st. November
Sort out insurance. Visit to Charallave to further
research Pilot Licence validations. Obtained maps, frequency and instrument
approach charts for relevant Venezuelan airfields. We discovered Licence
validation requires: Medical exam, Law exam, psychological interview,
flight check (on type), and fluency in Spanish. This last requirement
is the most difficult hurdle. Whole process would be time consuming
and expensive so opted for plan B: rent an aircraft with Venezuelan
pilot and put him/her in the back while we fly, then we are covered
both legally and for insurance. Hosting a dinner tonight for various
helpful and influential people: Clemencia Rodner (President, Audubon
Society); Robin and Mariella Restall (Robin is retired from J.W.Thompson,
and Mariella was previously married to David Nott); Dominic Hamilton
(writing travel guide on Venezuela so knows the country inside out and
up to date); Antonio and Libia Casado; and Steve.
Thursday 2nd. November
Purchased antibiotics; electric cables and fittings;
and camping gas. Progress lunch with Antonio. Meeting at INPARQUES in
afternoon. Dinner at British Ambassador's residence in company of Philip
Maclean (ex-Ambassador to China and Cuba, and now Director at Canning
Friday 3rd. November
Possible Cessna 206 deal has fallen through -
we are going to try to make a deal with one of the Commercial Companies.
Organised transport by road to Ciudad Bolivar (cheaper than flying)
- cost around £500. More shopping. Packing. Dinner with Lindsay
Croisdale-Appleby of British Embassy.
Saturday 4th. November
Drive to Ciudad Bolivar, journey time 6.5 hours.
More shopping, for food to last us two months. Drove to Puerto Ordaz
to see a possible Cessna 206.
Sunday 5th. November
In Ciudad Bolivar. Meeting at Rutaca Aviation
- negotiated a Cessna 206 for reasonable price - they'll have to put
in dual controls, but their pilot agrees to sit in the back. Also hiring
a big Antonov biplane to haul us and two tons of equipment fro La Paragua
to Uruyen. More shopping for provisions.
Monday 6th. November
Visited Arab shop to try to buy kerosene fridge
but no luck. In the end we made a deal for a new electric freezer which
we'll run off the generator. Meeting at INPARQUES regional office (courtesy
Tuesday 7th. November
Took 1.5 hours to pack vehicle with all our stuff
- so full I don't think we could have jammed in an extra comb. 2 hours
drive to La Paragua, an oil and mining camp. Our aircraft was full of
animal carcasses, so the floor was awash with blood and body fluids,
mixed with diesel oil. Typical mining operation aircraft. No seats.
Piled in our stuff and held it in place with ropes. We were overloaded.
I sat up front in right hand seat. Steve and Antonio sat on equipment.
Most instruments were unserviceable and no headphones - almost impossible
to hear radio talk over noise and clatter of engine. Take off run used
every inch of runway and climb out managed an optimistic 100 feet per
minute. Flying time to Uruyen was one hour exactly, the landscape becoming
ever more interesting with every passing minute. Flew to the west of
Canaima, and down the flank of Auyantepui, capped as usual with a thick
blanket of cloud. Landing at Uruyen was not easy - it's a very narrow
strip on the savannah, and we had so much weight. The old Russian Antonov
has air brakes operated by handles like bicycle brakes, but we finally
slewed to a stop. Uruyen as beautiful and tranquil as ever - a tiny
collection of thatched Indian huts by a small river, with deep golden
pools and bubbling rapids, under the impressive flanks and multi-tiered
cliffs of Auyantepui. We taxied the Antonov to the huts and unloaded,
being greeted first by hungry hordes of biting insects, and then by
our Pemon hosts. We supply the food and Hortensia cooks for us. The
Uruyen valley is a flat area of savannah surrounded on all sides by
forest, rivers, and hills. The flanks of Chimantatepui are just visible
to the south. Prevailing wind is from the east. Seems to be very windy
at night, no doubt the air is heavily influenced by katabatic cooling
from the cliffs of Auyantepui. The generator, hired from Antonio, is
running very rough - stripped it down and cleaned everything but has
Wednesday 8th. November
Still problems with generator. We have to get
it to work otherwise we'll lose all our fresh foodstuffs, including
the meat. Steve worked on generator, while I prepared camera equipment
and the wing mount - the Cessna 206 is due to arrive this afternoon.
Deployed the time lapse Bolex early a.m. for a view of cloud development
on Auyantepui. Started to organise boat trip to Angel Falls, and schedule
a climb on foot to the summit of Auyantepui for which we'll need porters.
We also hope to reach the top of Angel falls directly, by helicopter,
if we can tie in with a helicopter scheduled in our area. Gave up on
Antonio's generator, and hiring one from a local Pemon. Aircraft has
Thursday 9th. November
Set up time lapse Bolex again very early - clouds
yesterday were not very interesting. Filmed the developing clouds on
the Arriflex too, using various lenses, mostly at 5 fps. The Pemon generator
is working. The aircraft has still not arrived.
Friday 10th. November
Antonio left to work with another production.
Cessna 206 YV-785C arrived this afternoon with pilot Eduardo Alvarez.
Fitted wing mount (had to make some adjustments to clamp since the 206
strut is bigger than the 182), and made test flight - Eduardo took off
then once airborne we played musical chairs so he could sit in the back,
with Steve and I flying in front. Negotiated with boatman to take us
to Angel Falls - an eight to ten day trip, departing from Kamarata.
Saturday 11th. November
Started fitting wing mount at 0600 hrs., airborne
at 0700. Flew direct to Angel Falls to film three passes close over
the top and then finished roll along the eastern flank of Auyantepui.
Reloaded and took off again just before 0800 to film the summit plateau
and cliffs of Auyantepui (bumpy). Weather closed in early and unable
to fly in afternoon. The Pemon generator now giving trouble.
Sunday 12th. November
Took off early to film Angel Falls and the Churun
Gorge from the air with the wing mount. Returned and made a second flight
to the same place. Weather closed in early. The Pemon generator is now
not working at all.
Monday 13th. November
Took off at 0615 to film the cliffs of Auyantepui,
clouds, and tracking across the summit. Bumpy this morning so not possible
to make second flight. Weather closed in again. Flew to Canaima in afternoon
as guests of British Embassy to meet Lord Levy, who is on an official
visit. Embassy entourage arrived in a Guardia Nacional aircraft.
Tuesday 14th. November
Took off from Canaima at 0600 hrs. with British
Ambassador John Hughes in the back. Flew over the summit of Auyantepui
which was completely covered in cloud to the Churun Gorge where we descended
and filmed Angel Falls again. Returned to Canaima to say farewell to
Embassy entourage, before flying to Uruyen. Managed a short late afternoon
flight to film cloud layers.
Wednesday 15th. November
Eduardo fed up and leaving. Replacement pilot
arrives. Weather bad.
Thursday 16th. November
Weather still bad. Decided to fly to Santa Elena
to try our luck filming Roraima and Kukenaam - hopefully the weather
will be better there. Stayed overnight at Gran Sabana hotel but very
Friday 17th November
Steve and I moved to cheap accommodation downtown,
while the pilot insisted on staying in the most expensive hotel at our
expense. Weather bad.
Saturday 18th November
Tried to fly but had to turn back - weather bad.
Sunday 19th November
Weather bad. Meeting with Raul Arias who runs
a helicopter business based in Santa Elena. He makes a living taking
tourists to the top of Roraima by Jet Ranger. He has a contract with
a group of Japanese who want to visit the top of Auyantepui, flying
from Uruyen, and we can use the same helicopter to be dropped off at
the top of Angel Falls and be collected three days later. It's a unique
opportunity - it's difficult and expensive to position a helicopter
in as remote a place as Uruyen.
Monday 20th November
At last, a break in the weather allowed us to
fly this afternoon. Filmed the west flank of Mount Kukenaam, tracking
all the way from the south-western tip to the far north.
Tuesday 21st November
Took off soon after 0600 and flew direct to Roraima
where the weather was fine and clear. Filmed Roraima from the north,
over the forests of Guyana which were covered in a carpet of cloud -
Roraima itself looked majestic, the eastern cliffs shining golden in
the first rays of sunshine. Flew across the valley between Roraima and
Kukenaam and filmed Kukenaam's ascent point. Returned to Santa Elena
to reload, and flew back to Roraima, by which time (0830) clouds almost
totally obscured the mountains. Filmed Ilutipu group of tepuis instead
which were still (partially) clear. Flew back to Uruyen to prepare for
helicopter trip to the top of Angel Falls.
Wednesday 22nd November
Reconfiguring the camera and packing for helicopter
trip to summit. Helicopter arrived this afternoon.
Thursday 23rd November
Loaded helicopter and took off soon after 0900.
Filmed through the tiny open side window but helicopter very unstable
with a lot of vibration. Dumped me on a stretch of bare rock, next to
the Angel river, near the top of Angel Falls before returning to pick
up Steve. After helicopter left us with all our stuff, we explored the
local area to find a place where we could see the Falls. Trouble was,
we were surrounded by labyrinths of rock and deep chasms, and swamps.
It took us several hours to find our way to the cliff edge - in direct
distance less than a hundred metres but involving a roundabout route
of nearly a kilometre using fixed ropes on some steep sections. Started
to move the gear but only managed half of it by nightfall and were forced
to make a temporary, and very uncomfortable, bivouac on top of a rock
- it was freezing cold during the night and we were eaten alive by mosquitoes.
Friday 24th November
Made it to the edge and started to make camp
on the only level area which was also knee deep in black mud. Unable
to see the base of the Falls from the camp site so we still have to
look for a suitable look out point. Spent rest of day moving gear from
original landing site to edge of cliff, filming Angel Falls from camp
site and trying to find a look out point where we could see the base
of the Falls.
Saturday 25th November
Helicopter arrived at 0800 to allow me a short
time filming Angel Falls from the air. It was a real struggle - although
we took the door off, the helicopter blades are poorly balanced so there
was a lot of vibration and the aircraft was fishtailing. The air was
bumpy too so we were bouncing all over the place. The pilot had evidently
no experience in filming operations so it was difficult to get what
I wanted. It was a relief when the helicopter finally left us - the
flying time was largely wasted. Spent rest of day filming Angel Falls
from the look out point, where it was possible to see the base by leaning
out, secured by a safety rope; and filming a short sequence of Steve
and I reaching this look out point.
Sunday 26th November
Filmed Angel Falls again from look out point
but a lot of cloud this morning and it was not possible to see the base.
Helicopter arrived at around 0830 to lift us back to Uruyen. Tried filming
from the air again but largely a waste of effort. Arrived back at Uruyen
completely covered in mud. Took us all day to clean all the equipment,
Monday 27th November
Re-packing and preparation for our climb to the
summit of Auyantepui tomorrow. The porters will arrive here at dawn.
Tuesday 28th November
Departure for our long climb. Porters packed
up by 0900 and we began our long walk, initially across flat savannah
west towards the first escarpment. The trail took us across several
streams, and after about two hours we came to a wide river with many
rocks and polished boulders. The current was strong so we tried stepping
or leaping from rock to rock which was not easy with heavy loads. Then
it happened. Both my feet gave way at the same time while trying to
balance on a slippery rock and I fell down, impacting the base of my
spine on the rock. I was immobilised. Luckily the camera and lenses
in my pack were inside a watertight Pelican case, because it was mostly
submerged. Steve and a Pemon lifted off my pack and then helped me out
of the river. The pain was acute and I knew I had done some damage.
I just hoped that the pain would pass and by moving my back, it would
improve. Unfortunately it didn't, and by the time I reached the first
escarpment I was lagging behind and eventually crawling uphill on my
hands and knees. It was obvious that I would be unable to continue the
climb carrying a heavy pack. I sent one of the porters back to try to
find an extra person, so that I could try to continue the climb without
carrying anything. In the meantime we made camp at the top of the first
escarpment and I rested. The pain continued to be intense.
Wednesday 29th. November
The pain was still with me when I woke but I
wanted to try to continue. An extra porter arrived to carry my things.
It was clear that it was going to be impossible for me to film much
of the climb, and I just hoped that, if I could make it to the summit,
I would be able to make all the effort worthwhile. We continued on,
crossing the Guayaraca savannah where Jimmie Angel had made his camp
before landing on the summit; then we climbed some three thousand feet,
through a very steep stretch of forest, leading to a scree slope below
the main cliff. After climbing for another hour and a half in the rain,
we reached a huge overhanging boulder called "El Penon", our
camp site for the night. It was impossible to see the cliff face and
the ascent point, obscured, as it was, by thick cloud. My back was agony
- it had been a gruelling day.
Thursday 30th. November
Forced myself to get up early. The cliff face
and ascent point were clear and I managed to film a little, including
the departure of the porters on the final day of the climb. The scree
slope became ever steeper and the going was rough, part of it a balancing
act across springy tree roots where the ground had been eroded away.
Finally we reached the base of the cliff, where, due to the overhang,
the ground was bone dry. Many previous visitors have written their names
on the rock in charcoal. This is where the climb really starts, up and
over huge boulders jammed between a sort of false face to the cliff
and the cliff wall itself. Using ropes in a few places we hauled ourselves
and all the equipment up; through narrow crevices, tunnels and across
narrow ridges. The whole area is a magical garden of unusual plants,
bathed in a cool, clammy mist. It really does feel like a mysterious
portal to a secret "Lost World". Near the top, the trail led
us through a muddy cave where we found an ancient rope with knots in
it - climb that, and we would be on the summit. It was not the time
to ask precisely how ancient the rope was - after a trial tug on it
to make sure it was secure at the top, we went for it and all safely
reached the summit of Auyantepui. That was not the end of the journey
though - it was another three hours of climbing ropes and sliding on
slippery rock, crossing huge ravines, swamps and streams before we reached
"Oso", an overhanging rock that would be our camp for the
next five nights.