Difficult free climbing was the least of the difficulties Leo Houlding and his teammates encountered on their expedition to Mount Roraima: there was also “vertical tree wrestling” and swamp crossings; poisonous snakes and tarantulas and scorpions (oh my!).
Mount Roraima. Leo Houlding and his team’s portaledge camp is visible on the right. Photo: Coldhouse Collective & Berghaus.
Leo Houlding has successfully led a team to complete a new big-wall free climb in the Amazon rain forest. The team of six climbers, plus two local guides, climbed a new route on the 600-meter continually-overhanging prow of Roraima in Guyana. Houlding, 39, a veteran of many major trips, was joined by Anna Taylor, 21, Waldo Etherington, 32, Wilson Cutbirth, 29, Dan Howard, 31, and Matt Pycroft, 30.
Mount Roraima is a 2,810-meter high tepui (a flat top mountain) that sits on the border between Brazil, Venezuela and Guyana, deep in the Amazon rain forest. Roraima inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic work of fiction The Lost World, and more recently the animated Pixar film “Up.”
After arriving in South America and arranging a tricky parachute drop of equipment near the base of Roraima, the team completed a 53-kilometer trek through pristine, untracked jungle before starting their attempt on the wall.
Just getting to the base of the prow involved “vertical tree wrestling” and swamp crossings. The team also had to avoid some of the more dangerous local wildlife, such as poisonous snakes, tarantulas and scorpions.
Once on the wall, one set of obstacles was swapped for another: in addition to difficult free climbing, the team endured regular deluges of heavy rain.
The route up the wall itself pushed Houlding and team considerably. Houlding, Taylor and Cutbirth did the leading in huge blocks to push their line upward. With time running out before they were due to leave the country, and despite the weather taking another turn for the worse, the team finally completed the full route. They also succeeded in getting locals Edward and Troy up to the top, who became the first Amerindians to stand on the summit of Roraima.
Houlding says, “Journeying through this landscape and up the Prow of Mount Roraima with our Amerindian friends was a unique, profound joy. For centuries, their ancestors have told stories of the ‘Mother of the Great Waters,’ and there they were, stood atop the summit with their new friends—eight equals, sharing a journey through this sensational environment.”
Anna Taylor adds, “It’s been a wild month with highs and lows—crazy storms, spiders, snakes, scorpions, waterfalls, endless ascents, vertical mud slides, swamps, slime forests, river crossings, countless cuts and bruises, plenty of suffering, bags of exposure, and some pretty amazing pitches of rock climbing. All in all, it’s been the most incredible experience of my life.”
Matt Pycroft of Coldhouse Collective photographed, filmed and documented progress throughout the expedition. Pycroft says, “The route is yet to receive a formal name or grade, but Leo mentioned that the grades can be misleading on routes like this. Climbing E6 in the Lake District on a summer’s day is a different scene to onsighting unclimbed, loose rock a two-hour helicopter flight from the nearest city. What we do have, though, is a new free climbed route up the Prow of Mount Roraima. Leo’s aim is to summit, of course, but the dream is to climb these lines free. This is the first time a route has gone fully free on one of these major expeditions. The magnitude of this cannot be overstated, and is a testament to Leo’s meticulous planning, leadership and talent as an adventurer and climber.”