The Living Edens "TEPUIS" Behind The Scenes ... Daily Log 5 of 6

The Making of the Tepuis Film : "The Living Edens : The Lost World"
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Daily Log : TRIP TWO

1st February - 20 February 2001

Rock Shapes, Summit of RORAIMA

Rock Shapes, Summit of RORAIMA

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 Elena.

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.

Roraima summit

Roraima Summit

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 short distances.

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 sweeping mist.

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