Roraima Quest: deep in the Amazon jungle of Guyana Leo Houlding and team will be sharing their adventure in real time, right here.
Leo’s expeditions are never dull – inspiring audiences around the world for as long as we can remember, with mind blowing locations and hardcore adventure right at the center of every story. Not forgetting the fact that with Leo, there’s always plenty of laughs along the way too.
Watch the expedition team’s diary unfold as they explore the heights of the Lost World…
6th – 7th November 2019
The team – (l-r) Wilson Cutbirth, Waldo Etherington, Leo Houlding, Anna Taylor, Matt Pycroft, Dan Howard – photo Coldhouse Collective & BerghausAfter leaving from various locations earlier this week, the full team safely reached Guyana – Leo Houlding, Anna Taylor, Waldo Etherington, Wilson Cutbirth, Matt Pycroft and Dan Howard.
The first two days in country were mostly spent “faffing”, an essential process before heading into the jungle. Bags were repacked ready for each stage of the mission. The logistics are incredibly complex, with a lot of the equipment being packed into haul bags ready to throw out of a plane and parachuted to the base of the wall.
The rest of the kit (including an essential special delivery of local rum) was made ready to take to Philippi. Leo will then distribute it to a series of porters to be walked the 50 miles through the jungle. Some of the team spent the first evening at the airport meeting the pilots and beginning to prepare for the drop, which should happen today.
After more faffing, the team had a lot of work to do, strapping the drop loads together, and then rigging the parachutes to the bags. It took a while, as it all had to be done precisely and perfectly.
Leo and Waldo have spent hours/days/weeks developing all of the systems. Even the parachutes were custom made and packed for the job. Early on in her first expedition, Anna’s passion and enthusiasm for all of the details is evident. She seems to be unphased by what they’re all about to do, while simultaneously accepting that it’s going to be difficult for everyone and, for her, a massive learning curve.
Anna is not the only person experiencing something very new. During his briefing with Leo, the pilot of the aircraft (that will drop the kit) listened to the full plan and smiled:
“I’ve flown through these jungles all my life. I’ve flown passengers all over, and have had soldiers jump out of my plane. But, this is new stuff for me.”
The Bag Drop
The drop worked!
A high pressure morning with no margin for error. Flying around the jungle for the first time was sensational, but the mountain was surrounded by cloud. The pilot told us that the weather wasn’t quite good enough to drop at our intended site, and we were low on fuel and it actually looked like the drop might be off completely. But, Leo spotted a lower site, and we whipped the plane around to see if it was feasible. Experience played out, and the first load was dumped out of the plane. The parachutes are rigged in a very specific way so that the bags hit the floor before the parachutes get snagged in the trees, so they took a little longer to deploy than usual which made for a pretty tense moment as we waited for the chute to pressurise. But, after about 5 seconds we saw the canopy fill, and the lads went wild.
Minutes later we touched down in Phillipai and met our porters and guides, distributed kit and spent a night in a hammock camp at the airstrip. Now, as we write this, we’re moments away from shouldering our packs and taking our first steps into the rainforest.
Because of weight limits, Anna and Dan travelled in a separate plane with the porter loads, and the rest of us met them in Phillipai.
The journey begins for real now!
8th – 10th November
We’ve spent the last two days in the jungle, and have made good progress. We set off in the morning of the 9th of November, shouldered our loads and took our first steps into the jungle. Because this part of the rainforest is so close to the Phillipai, the trails are good and it was fairly easy going to start with. Heavy packs and high humidity, but the weather is stable and conditions are fine for walking.
Half way through the first day we stopped for lunch at a river bend, and the full team went in for a swim, clothes and all. You get so wet with sweat and humidity that it makes little difference, and actually gives you a chance to freshen up your clothes as well as keep cool for the next section of the walk. The afternoon was much the same, but the trail definitely thinned a little and the local guides had some machete hacking to do.
We arrived at our first camp early in the day. We’re moving at a quick pace and spirits are high. Hammocks were slung and the locals built a bench and seats for us in a matter of minutes. The team spent the evening hanging out, chatting about the next stage of the process and generally taking it all in.
Anna is adapting to jungle life extremely well, and very quickly. She has a quiet, stoic approach to everything, and just gets on with whatever is thrown at her. The river crossings are trees strategically felled to crest a bridge. They’re mossy, slippery and some have serious consequence if you were to stumble. Anna walks across them like they’re nothing, with no nonsense, as if she’s been doing it for years. The temperature, humidity, and general war of attrition that is expedition life doesn’t seem to be affecting her, but the entire team will be put to the rest as this next week progresses.
Edward, one of the local porters who helped on a few previous expeditions here tells us that as we get closer, the weather will deteriorate. The mist will roll in regularly, and we have been told to expect rain frequently. He’s incredibly knowledgeable, and Leo turns to him regularly when he’s making plans for the coming days, as well as the entire expedition. Edward has expressed a serious interest in coming up the wall with us, and his passion and enthusiasm are obvious, and genuine. Time will tell.
Roraima Quest – Leo, along with Edward and locals.
Today (10th November) was much the same, but the jungle we walked through was evidently older, thicker and lesser trod. The trees are getting bigger, and the path is littered with fallen trees, roots, stumps and the creek and river crossings are much more frequent, and often serious. At the end of the day we walked through a tiny settlement that is the family home for one of the porters. They shared some kasava juice, bread and cooked chillis with us which we exchanged for some of our day food, and Leo bought a leg of wild hog and kasava bread for us all to share.
It’s been a brilliant introduction to the jungle for those that haven’t experienced it before, and a real reminder of why we travel to these places for those that have. We’re consciously avoiding becoming complacent though, as were expecting the terrain to get steeper and denser, and the weather to get much worse.
Today was another jungle bashing day. We left in good time this morning, and the full team are starting to have their systems nailed. The conditions have been perfect, we couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to this harsh environment. When the rain arrives and things get wet our systems will be really put to the test.
Our third day of trekking through the rainforest and the scenery is changing again. The terrain is becoming steeper and we had a our first few tastes of ascent as well as a number of further sketchy river crossings and log . At high pass we caught our first glimpse of Roraima. It’s often shrouded in cloud, but it put on a show for a little while before becoming enveloped once again and disappearing. We took it as a good omen that it showed its face so early on in our trip.
The last part of today’s journey involved a steep incline in blazing hot sunshine to reach Wai Ling (why-long phonetically. Please google) village. This took its toll on all of us, and for the first time we really felt like this environment is starting to up the ante. But we were well rewarded, as the village sits atop a plateau only a hundred meters from one of the most sensational, wild waterfalls we’ve ever seen. The team scrambled down to peer over the edge, which was no way feat in itself, and cooled down and washed in the river further upstream. We’re spending the night here tonight, before two long across the next plateau.
As the miles go by we feel like we’re drawing closer to the mountain, but we’re all hyper aware that we still have so far to go. May the weather gods continue to be kind, We’ve barely even begun.
The team is now jungle bound, so communications are likely to be less frequent and comprehensive. We will report on news of significant developments, as and when we hear from the team.