Daily Log : TRIP TWO
1st February - 20 February
Rock Shapes, Summit
Thursday 1st February
At dawn we were immersed in thick fog which hung
on very stubbornly. I left Steve to cope with breaking camp while I
went to the top of the ledge to film the area. We did not have time
to waste since we were scheduled to descend today to the camp site at
the top of the savannah, at the base of the cliffs. The fog lingered
on however and I was unable to finish the filming until early afternoon.
We then had to descend rapidly to make our camp site before dark.
Friday 2nd February
The day of the long walk. What took us two days
to cover coming, we accomplished in one gruelling day. It's a very long
way. Thankfully our arrangement to have a car waiting at the Indian
village of Paraitepui worked and we had a relaxing ride back to Santa
Saturday 3rd February
Hobbling somewhat painfully after the very long
walk yesterday. The day was spent cleaning cameras, logging film, and
cleaning all our gear in preparation for the next phase.
Sunday 4th February
Departed early to travel to Caracas in order
to send out rushes by courier to England. Flew Santa Elena to Puerto
Ordaz, and from there to Caracas.
Monday 5th February
In Caracas. Delivered exposed film to British
Embassy who kindly helped me to organise the courier to London.
Tuesday 6th February
Departed Caracas early to fly back to Santa Elena.
Arrived back early enough to meet with Raul Arias to discuss our helicopter
lift to the northern part of Roraima's summit, where we intend to make
camp and film for three weeks, longer, we believe, than anyone has stayed
on the summit before.
Wednesday 7th February
Preparation and packing for summit trip tomorrow.
Thursday 8th February
Started loading the helicopter first load at
0800 hrs. Sent a vehicle by road with remaining two loads to a site
closer to the mountain to save on helicopter time. Steve and I took
off soon after 0830 hrs. And landed on the summit, (at N 05 degrees
12.617, W 060 degrees 43.832, altitude 8,920 feet asl) actually in the
Brazilian sector, about 45 minutes later. We had carefully selected
the campsite to be within trekking distance of the different habitats,
including the labyrinth (a dramatic area of rock shapes), lake Gladys,
and the northern prow. The helicopter left us to pick up the remaining
two loads. Close to our landing site were a number of caves which we
could have used for camping but they were very cramped and dusty. We
elected to make our camp in the open, on flat rock, securing the tents
and tarpaulins with pitons and karabiners. It took most of the day to
organise the camp but in the end we were quite pleased with our efforts.
Little did we know....
There was enough time late in the afternoon to
walk around the local area and to take stock of the place that was to
be our home for the next three weeks. The summit of Roraima is largely
composed of bare sandstone rock, laid down in layers as sediments which
are variable in thickness. Some of the layers are softer than others,
and these erode more quickly, so the landscape is broken up into steps,
terraces, canyons, cliffs and rock pillars of bizarre shapes. The lower
lying areas have collected plant debris that has broken down to form
shallow soil, so some of the canyons support considerable amounts of
plant life - even trees, cycads, tree ferns, and palms. Shallow low
lying areas become swamps, or just open pools of water. The landscape
is so alien that it is difficult to judge distances or heights of objects
due to the absence of anything that is familiar, but one quickly learns
that, because of the lay of the land, it is impossible to walk anywhere
in a straight line and it can take a very long time to traverse even
Friday 9th February
Our first night was wild indeed. Winds of hurricane
force hit our camp, and the large plastic tarpaulins, acting as sails,
ripped our pitons out of the rock, catapulting them like missiles through
the camp with great force destroying much, including my tent. During
the darkness I had lain awake listening to these missiles zinging through
camp. It had definitely been a night to lie low, hopefully out of harms
way and wait until daylight and calmer conditions before emptying one's
bladder. At first light the wind had died down and we emerged through
the wreckage of our camp to examine the scene of devastation. To say
we felt unwelcome in this remote place was an understatement. Half that
day was spent making what repairs we could to make our camp habitable
again, and to try to anticipate a possible second interesting night.
Managed to film a little in the afternoon, and made a reconnaissance
of the local area, noting localities for interesting endemic plants
and animals such as the striking bladderwort, Utricularia quelchii,
and the little black toad, Oreophrynella quelchii, an extremely interesting
amphibian even more ancient than the dinosaurs and showing closer kinshop
to African rather than South American cousins.
Saturday 10th February
Our second night was indeed interesting. The
wind, though not as strong as the previous night, brought hours of heavy
rain that caused a flash flood. I lay there in the darkness doing my
best to keep camera equipment dry. Dawn came and yet another scene of
devastation met our gaze. The weather was still bad, with thick mist
and freezing cold. Camp had to be dismantled and we tried to dry our
clothes and sleeping bags. Somehow we still managed to do a little filming,
but only in the immediate vicinity of camp and the weather did not improve.
We wondered what the next night would bring - we hoped that the elements
might abate and give us an opportunity to catch up on much needed sleep.
Sunday 11th February
The force of the elements during the night did
give us a break and we were able to sleep, if only fitfully. It was
very cold at night. At first light managed to film a small bird, Zonotrichia,
a characteristic endemic species on the tepuis. The weather remained
bad all day, with sweeping thick mist and freezing cold temperatures.
It was Steve's turn to make a local reconnaissance, keeping in touch
by radio and carrying a GPS.
Monday 12th February
Another flash flood in the night set us back
again, with another half day spent trying to dry everything out. The
weather was bad again all day and no filming was achieved at all.
Tuesday 13th February
Yet another flood, but dawn brought brighter
weather. The morning was spent drying out the camp (yet) again. Early
in the afternoon, our friend from Santa Elena, Emilio Perez, arrived
with an Indian guide, Braulio, who was to stay with us on the summit.
Emilio left quickly to walk down the mountain, and Braulio made a campsite
in one of the caves. The weather was good enough to make a reconnaissance
of Crystal valley, triple point (the marker where three countries meet),
and a sinkhole.
Wednesday 14th February
The night was uneventful and the morning brought
beautiful, clear weather. We spent a busy morning filming endemic plants,
and then walked to the sinkhole to film there. We climbed down into
a cave and waded through freezing water in order to reach the base of
the sinkhole. Emerging from the water we were completely numb. The weather
deteriorated in the afternoon, bringing sweeping mist and freezing temperatures,
a pattern that was to become familiar throughout our stay on the summit..
Thursday 15th February
Another beautiful morning. Walked to triple point
and also filmed again at the sinkhole. The weather deteriorated again
during the afternoon.
Friday 16th February
Weather beautiful again. Spent the day filming
the little black toad, Oreophrynella. A British Army Expedition arrives,
led by Holmes Rogers, and we organise a joint trip to reach the northern
prow of Roraima for tomorrow.
Saturday 17th February
For me, it was an important personal goal to
reach the prow of Roraima. The prow is the northernmost point of Roraima's
summit - it's like the prow of a great ship, overhanging the cloud covered
forest of Guyana atop several thousand feet of vertical rock. I had
seen it from below when I first came to Roraima in 1971, when our expedition
had approached the mountain through previously unexplored territory.
We had managed to climb a steep ridge to a point only 1,200 feet short
of the summit, but we lacked the equipment and expertise at the time
to make the final ascent up the overhanging rock face. I had determined
then that I would one day try to reach that elusive point, the prow,
and today was to be the day. We all set off from our camp site in the
Brazilian sector as one group, tracking north along a river valley,
crossing several swamps which serve as the sources of rivers. After
about an hour we climbed a small escarpment to a level area of bare
rock that led us along the north east edge of the plateau, with dramatic
views of distant mountains and the forest below. We reached lake Gladys,
named after a character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel 'The Lost
World'. From there progress became very difficult, our route blocked
by a huge deep ravine that extended from one side of the plateau to
the other. I honestly began to think that we might not make it. With
great difficulty we made a descent by rope, and then climbed up the
other side. Once across this barrier, the way to the prow was clear
and we reached it without further difficulty. Standing on the edge I
gazed down at the place where we had made our camp thirty years before.
The trek back to our camp on the summit seemed long and everybody was
weary by the time we arrived. The British Army expedition pitched their
tents close to ours.
Sunday 18th February
The Army Expedition broke camp early and left
to trek down to the southern end of the mountain. We spent the day completing
the filming of the black toad, Oreophrynella, and doing some sound recording.
Monday 19th February
Set off early from camp in bright sunshine to
film the Crystal valley, and triple point. The Crystal valley is an
area where huge seams of quartz crystals were exposed by erosion. Sadly,
there is little left now. Visitors have hacked away pieces as souvenirs,
and the more enterprising vandals have come in helicopters armed with
pick axes to remove huge slabs of it to sell for profit. The Crystal
valley, today, is little more than a scene of destruction, the ground
littered with broken pieces of quartz, and a pile of broken slabs of
crystals, either discarded as poor quality or too heavy to remove. It
is a tragic reminder of the selfish human condition. Another interesting
feature of the Crystal valley is the rock erosion. As the cliffs on
either side of the valley have eroded they have left rows and rows of
oddly shaped tall pinnacles.
Tuesday 20th February
Returned to film more in the Crystal valley,
but when the weather deteriorated during the afternoon, returned to
an area near camp to film birds feeding on flowers; and trees in the