Entering the Lost World of Mt. Roraima

On the triple border between Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana lies the crown jewel of Canaima National Park, the 2 billion year old Mount Roraima.  This awe-inspiring tepuy served as inspiration for the surreal rock in the film “Up” and anyone visiting South America should consider putting trekking Mt. Roraima on their ‘must-do’ list.  While you can buy a tour in either of the three countries, the most common approach is from Venezuela’s Gran Sabana region and with rampant inflation plaguing the country, it’s unquestionably the most economical option.

river crossing, trekking mt. roraima, parque nacional canaima, venezuela

The second river crossing on the trek up Mt. Roraima

The second river crossing on the trek up Mt. Roraima

Phyllis and I arrived in Santa Elena de Uirnen on Friday, hoping to book a tour leaving in the next day or two.  You can book tours ahead of time, but being the lax planners that we are, we added the destination as a whim after meeting up in Manaus. Even so, we found a group leaving the following day for a six day excursion for roughly $200/per person (included food, tents, and porters for everything except personal belongings).  This is the shortest time period, the longest being ten days, and gives you a day and a half at the top.  We would have liked something longer, but we took it not wanting to spend to many days in the lack luster town.  Apparently it’s illegal to go up on your own and, knowing myself and the ‘quality’ of my tent, it was just a better idea for the all-inclusive package.

mount roraima porter, trekking mt. roraima, parque nacional canaima, venezuela

A porter taking a break from carrying the 60 pounds of supplies/gear.

A porter taking a break from carrying the 60 pounds of supplies/gear.

We left Santa Elena the following morning around 10am, making the two hour drive to Paraitepui, the tiny Indian village where you pay the 50 bolivar entrance fee and begin the 2-3 day approach to the mountain.

Gran Sabana, trekking mt. roraima, parque nacional canaima, venezuela

Scattered trees on the Gran Sabana

Scattered trees on the Gran Sabana

After a quick and simple sandwich lunch, the rest of the day was spent walking up and down the golden/green grass-covered, rolling hills of the Gran Sabana and dcxpast patches of trees.  Aside from the grueling heat and a steep incline or two, this day was relatively easy hiking.  The bright and clear day gave way to the darkness and one of the most radiantly starlit skies I have ever seen in my life opened up above us.

milkyway, stars, camping, trekking mt. roraima, parque nacional canaima, venezuela

Here’s our tent underneath the milkyway and billions of stars.

Here’s our tent underneath the milkyway and billions of stars.

camping sunrise, mount roraima, trekking mt. roraima, parque nacional canaima, venezuela

Setting off around 7:30am, two hours after the break of dawn, did not help us avoid the harsh sun the next day as we began the climb up to base camp.  Fortunately, we could take a quick dip in either of the two river crossings and refill our water from streams indicated by our guide.  Despite being in a group of around 14 people, not including the porters, my friend and I found ourselves hiking alone most of the time through the spectacular scenery.  We made it in on the tail end of the low season and didn’t have to deal with the larger crowds of the dry season (December – March).

Gran Sabana, Roraima sunrise, trekking mt. roraima, parque nacional canaima, venezuela

Sun rising up over the mountains and Gran Sabana

Sun rising up over the mountains and Gran Sabana

sunrise over mount roraima, fire in the sky, trekking mt. roraima, parque nacional canaima, venezuela

Luckily, we didn’t run into any rainy weather until we had made it to the top.  Having completed the shorter trek from the second day in 4-5 hours, we were well rested for the much steeper climb of the third day.  The hike became exponentially steeper, but was far more pleasant as we could finally hide from sun, plunging into the shade of the mountain’s creeping jungle.  Each step took us further up towards the cloud enveloped peak, offering breathtaking views as well as plenty of adrenaline in some of the more precarious, cliff-hugging portions.  With the help of our guides we made it through the maze of rock and plant filled puddles to our home for the next two nights, an protected outcropping of a rock formation they referred to as Hotel Sucre.

jungle on roraima cliffs, trekking mt. roraima, parque nacional canaima, venezuela

summit mt roraima, trekking mt. roraima, parque nacional canaima, venezuela

Our stay at the top of the mountain was all too short, but we were blessed with weather that allowed us to see out over the Gran Sabana in the radiant late afternoon light and the jaw-dropping window that opens on the jungle that crawls up the waterfall speckled cliffs of the Guyana side.  In between the incredible views, we also explored the “Valley of the Crystals” where I had to restrain myself from grabbing a souvenir (taking anything from the mountain is strictly forbidden – sorry Oni, it’s respect not lack of ingenuity), the crystal clear pools, and trekking to the highest point of Roraima.

Roraima waterfall, Guyana, trekking mt. roraima, parque nacional canaima, venezuela

Waterfalls cascading down Mt. Roraima’s walls

Waterfalls cascading down Mt. Roraima’s walls
girl, trekking mt. roraima, parque nacional canaima, venezuela

Looking out the ‘window’ at the Guyana side of Mt. Roraima

Looking out the ‘window’ at the Guyana side of Mt. Roraima
mount roraima, highest point, trekking mt. roraima, parque nacional canaima, venezuela

View from the highest point on Mt. Roraima. Phyllis is pretty happy:)

View from the highest point on Mt. Roraima. Phyllis is pretty happy:)

The final night of blinding lighting and torrential rain cleared in time for our descent, but left significantly more water along the path and a gigantic waterfall to stumble down through.  Of course, I managed to contract some kind of weird stomach condition that left me completely unable to carry my bag the first day of the descent — every step I literally wanted to cry from the impact.  Fortunately, one of the porters (ironically named Jesus) could carry my stuff down.  It rained on and off until we reached the grasslands, the clouds practically removing the mountain from view.

clouds over mount roraima, gran sabana, trekking mt. roraima, parque nacional canaima, venezuela

Clouds gathering over Mt. Roraima

Clouds gathering over Mt. Roraima

Back in Santa Elena we were in for a whole other set of ridiculous adventures…

P.S. I think I could beat Stephen Colbert at LOTR trivia even with a crippling stomach problem.

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