By Anna Taylor
Photos by: Matt Pycroft and Dan Howard
I was totally surprised when Leo Houlding contacted me out of the blue in early 2019, and invited me to join him and his team on a major expedition later in the year. At the time I was a young climber just starting my career, and the farthest I had ever travelled from my home in the UK was Germany. I had never even heard of Guyana, or Mount Roraima, and I had never been in a jungle, or climbed a big-wall. This was all about to change, and a few months after Leo had first got in touch we were on a plane headed for Georgetown, about to start the most amazing adventure of my life…
Mount Roraima is a huge Tepui (flat-topped mountain). It is accessible to tourists on one side, but on the other a giant, overhanging prow, shaped like the bow of a ship, looms over the interior jungles of Guyana. The objective of our team was to be the first to free-climb the prow (climbing with our hands and feet, with ropes for protection), something that had never been attempted before. After arriving in a hot and sunny Georgetown, our team of Leo, Waldo Etherington, Wilson Cutbirth, Matt Pycroft, Dan Howard, and myself, spent a couple of days packing our enormous amount of food and equipment into carefully labelled bags, before leaving the city and taking a bush plane out to the remote village of Philipai.
The flight to Philipai was magical, soaring above miles upon miles of jungle, and it was here that we met up with a group of local men that, working as porters, helped us carry our equipment through the forest, and guided us expertly for 100km to the foot of the mountain. Living deep in the forest was an incredible experience. We swam in pools below enormous waterfalls, visited idyllic indigenous villages, and fell asleep at night listening to the cheeping and whirring of birds and insects. I had worried briefly before setting off how I would cope being the only woman on the team, and the youngest by far at 21, but once I had settled into the pattern of day to day life in such a different environment from what I was used to, I realised it didnÕt matter at all, and quickly grew to love the beauty and simplicity.
Upon reaching the base of the mountain, our next task was to transport all our equipment up a huge, steep ridge that led to the bottom of the main cliff, where we could begin rock climbing. This took another week, and everyday we would pack a heavy rucksack, and make the long commute up the ridge through some of the most difficult and treacherous terrain I have ever come across – including climbing up vertical vegetation, crossing swamps, and navigating through forests of strange, alien looking plants. It was around this time that the wet season surprised everyone by arriving significantly earlier than we had expected, and the rest of the month long expedition was to be spent battling daily deluges of torrential rain.
After two very tiring weeks, we had set up camp at the base of the cliff and could finally start on our main objective. The climbing itself turned out to be steep and physical, with the added danger of many tarantulas and scorpions, but the rock was of good quality, and we made quick progress, soon moving our camp up to a feature we named ÒInvisible LedgeÓ. This was a clean, pavement sized ledge around halfway up the cliff, and for four days our team lived there together, sleeping in Portaledges (hanging tents that can be attached to rock-faces). As a thank you for their invaluable help during the first part of the expedition, we had taken two of our Amer-Indian friends, Troy and Edward, up the wall with us, and their mastering of climbing equipment over a very short apprenticeship was very impressive. During our ascent we experienced just about every type of weather Roraima had to throw at us, from storms that shook our tents to crystal clear mornings with beautiful jungle views. The climb proved to be difficult, with a few sections requiring many attempts and Leo, Wilson and myself all taking falls, but on 4th December the whole team stood together on the summit, admiring the incredible view, having finally succeeded in our goal.