Hiking Mount Roraima in Venezuela
by Will Hatton
The jungle floor rushed up to meet me as I stumbled forwards, sheets of rain lashing down through the canopy, my pack heavy on my back, every step a battle with the oozing, sucking mud. This was not what I had expected…
I have been lucky enough to visit many of the world’s most impressive peaks, to summit a few, to be defeated by others.
I am far from being a professional mountain climber, referring to myself instead as an enthusiastic amateur. Amateur being the key word… I am more of a trekker than a climber and when it comes to bashing gear into the face of a mountain to support a rope, I kind of suck.
Roraima, the highest table top mountain in the world, luckily requires no technical mountain climbing skills.
If you can hack your way through the jungle, if you can face the scorching heat of the open plains and the unforgiving hordes of mosquitos, it is possible to simply walk to the top of the mountain.
I say walk but crawl may be a better term, the path is so slick with mud in places that you have to lower your centre of gravity drastically or risk slipping to your doom. Every year, the mountain claims a couple of lives.
These days, not many people venture to Venezuela and the few that do almost all come on expensive organised tours.
Travelling independently in Venezuela is a truly unique experience, for starters, everybody on the backpacker trail through Central and South America will tell you that you are nuts for even considering going. This is the kidnap-capital of the world and Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas, has the highest murder rate out of any of the world’s cities.
Civil unrest and rapid inflation have brought the country to it’s knees and yet, backpackers still have a place here. Some argue that visiting a country in the middle of a financial meltdown is irresponsible, unethical even, but the fact of the matter is that backpackers in Venezuela are one of the very few sources of foreign investment still trickling into the country.
For a five day trek consisting of permits, food, camping equipment and an experienced local guide, I paid just eighty dollars. A similar trek in, for example, Brazil would have cost ten times this.
Even more appealing than the low prices, Venezuela is an adventure backpackers’ playground; with the world’s highest waterfalls, uncontacted jungle tribes, isolated beaches, beautiful women, the startling wetland plains of Los Llanos and, of course, very cheap beer; Venezuela offers incredible opportunities for real adventures.
Mt. Roraima, the highest table top mountain in the world, clad in jungle and hidden in cloud, a harsh and unforgiving land of twisted vegetation and windswept rock, of freezing nights and scorched mornings.
I swatted in vain at a mosquito, looking upwards, the mountain disappearing into the clouds, before sighing, shifting my pack and beginning to move once more.
I spent a sleepless night tossing and turning, the freezing cold penetrating my sleeping bag as the first icy tendrils of light slipped through the clouds.
I awoke, early, rolling out of my tent.
My hardy mountain guide was already up and pushed a mug of hot coffee into my hands.
“If we go now, trek for three kilometers, we may catch a break in the mist”
I was dressed and ready to go within thirty seconds. This is what I had come for.
Together, we set off into the boggy wasteland of treacherous drops and clinging vegetation, we passed pools of clear water surrounded by fantastical crystal formations, sacred to the mountain.
The cloud cover was heavy, reducing visibility to just a few feet but I slogged onwards, confident in my guides abilities.
Panic in his voice.
I stopped… on the edge of a drop leading into nothingness.
We turned around, seeking a new path, slowly but surely snaking our way across the top of this mighty tepui to the edge.
Tantalizing windows in the mist appeared, blink and you’ll miss it, offering glimpses of the scene below.
Opposite us, another huge tepui, a waterfall flowing from it’s side, clad in jungle and roaring at the sky.
Below us, the great plains of the savannah stretching away as far as they eye could see.
Slowly, teasingly, the clouds moved away and the whole scene was revealed…
The mud, the mosquitos, the shitty food and worse nights sleep, it was all worth it.
Roraima is a land like no other, this is a place lost in time.
Visit now, before mass-tourism gets here.
About Will: Writer and photographer. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand push-up. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will is currently hitchhiking from England to Papua New Guinea, a journey which will take over three years. Will blogs over at The Broke Backpacker about his adventures in some of the world’s least visited countries, you can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter. For real-time adventure, check him out on Snapchat at WTHATTON