Ascent of Monte Roraima on 2016-05-12

Climber: Seán Caulfield

Date:Thursday, May 12, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Monte Roraima
    Elevation:9219 ft / 2809 m

Ascent Trip Report

Amazing hike, stayed 3 nights on top in Hotel Arenal. Also summited twice Friday 13th May 2016.

I arrived in Santa Elena at about 12:30pm from the Brazilian border & immediately went around to the agencies in town to get prices & departure dates for Roraima. The prices I was quoted were pretty high, much higher than I had expected - between US$270-350 for a 6-day tour, & the earliest departure was in 3days. I then went to the bus station to see if I could find any buses to San Francisco, the town where the dirt road to Paraitepuy starts, but none of the bus companies had offices open. Luckily, I met a couple of other backpackers in Hotel Michele (one of the two backpacker/gringo places in town, it’s right next door to Hotel Backpacker). They told me they were meeting a guy later who would take us for less than US$200, but the catch was we’d have to bring all our own food - he was providing transport & guide only. Finding gas for my stove wasn’t going to be possible either, so it would be cold food for 6days…I decided to go with it anyway, I was running out of time on my trip & didn’t want to waste any days waiting around Santa Elena.

Day 1: Left Santa Elena at about 9:30am. It was around a 1.5hr drive to Paraitepuy, the first 45minutes on a paved road - we had to pass through a military checkpoint & show our passports - then the next 45minutes on a bumpy dirt road.
After arriving we sat down in a covered area with tables & benches & had some snacks in preparation for the hike ahead, while our guide registered with the park rangers in the InParques office.
For some reason we then had to wait for an hour for a porter to arrive - one of the girls in the group had hired him for 3days at VEN15,000/day to carry her backpack up the mountain (porters will carry max. 15kg).
So it was after midday when we actually started hiking, I wasn’t very happy with this, obviously, & was even less happy when the guide told us we would only be walking to the Río Tek camp, which he told us was four hour’s walk. The agent we’d organised the tour with had explained to us that we would walk to the second camp, across the Río Tek, on the first day. I spoke to the others in the group & we agreed that we would ask to continue on if we got to the Tek camp early.
The first hour of the hike out of Paraitepuy involved some steep inclines & declines until we reached the top of a rocky hill with great views across the savannah & towards the tepuys, which were shrouded in cloud. Here we waited about 15minutes for our guide & porter to catch up - they were walking way behind us. After another 5minutes the guide told us we could continue on, he would meet us further along the trail. This was the last I would see of the guide until Base Camp the following afternoon.
I was getting pretty sick of waiting & the slow pace at this point, so decided to just walk ahead at my normal pace. After about an hour of walking in the midday heat across open savannah I came to a small wooded area with a stream (water not potable). There were some benches there & shade, so I decided to wait for the others there.
Maybe 20minutes later the other backpackers showed up, but after over half an hour there was still no sign of our guide or porter. I walked back to the other side of the stream, up the bank to the top to look for them, but they were nowhere in sight. At this stage I was totally fed up waiting & told the others I was going to push on alone, I wasn’t going to spend 6days waiting for a guide. I could see rainclouds ahead & definitely didn’t want to get soaked wet the first day.
Another hour or so later I came to the RIo Tek camp - just a collection of mud buildings, no toilet facilities. It was still early, only 3:30pm, & the rain was still a ways off, so I decided it would be a good idea to continue on across the river while the water level was low, the Río Karkenan Camp was less than an hour ahead. I found a place slightly downstream from the main path where I could jump across using rocks without taking off my boots or getting them wet.
I continued on the track up a small hill until a small chapel came into view - weird place for a church. The Río Karkenan camp was actually on the other side of the river (just after the church) - on my GPS it was shown as being before the river crossing. I decided to cross since the rain still hadn’t arrived.
The Karkenan was a lot wider than the Tek, but the water level was similarly low. Luckily, another hiker & her guide were descending & were able to show me the best way across - I followed a rope until it’s end, then turned to the right to reach the bank just in front of the camp, still with dry boots! The guide didn’t seem too happy that I was continuing without my own guide, but I just shrugged my shoulders. I wasn’t going to wait all day & be held back my any guide.
It was now almost 4:30pm, but the rain still hadn’t arrived. I considered carrying on, shooting for the base camp, but it was at least 3hrs away, 8km & 850m in elevation uphill. Unfortunately I didn’t have the Camp Militar on my GPS (about halfways between Karkenan & Base Camp), I would have definitely reached here. Instead I decided to camp at Karkenan for the night.
Karkenan had several roofed buildings & tables & benches, as well as a nice sandy area for camping. I set up my tent in a shaded sandy spot, then prepared my dinner of cold rice & raw vegetables. I went to bed early, wondering how far the others had made it, figuring they were at Tek, an hour or so back & with two rivers to cross.
That night it rained pretty heavily, one of the poles on my tent broke again, meaning my feet got slightly wet & I had to make a midnight repair - not ideal. Luckily I had some spare parts I had salvaged a month or so back in Salento, Colombia before our Nevado Tolima climb & some electrical tape I’d bought in Santa Elena at the last minute.

Day 2: After breakfast I washed my dishes in the Río Karkenan & filled up my water bottles. The river was flowing extremely fast today, the rocks I had used to cross the day before were nowhere to be seen, the water level was much, much higher. The others would have a difficult time crossing, I was very happy with my choice to continue on the day before.
It was just before 8am when I started up the trail again - I would have been up earlier, but it rained until well after 7am. It was very overcast today, the giant mountain ahead was nowhere to be seen. It looked like it could start to rain again at any minute, & sure enough, at about 9:30am, just as I passed Camp Militar (good flat campsite, but a bit exposed & no water source nearby), the heavens opened.
About 1-1.5km before Base Camp was a stream with some really clear, fresh cool drinking water, the first I had found - the water sources lower down (including the Tek & Karkenan) had all been a bit cloudy, were not flowing very fast, or had some sediment. I only drank the water from them through a filter.
At around 11am I arrived at Base Camp, the rain was really coming down, so I was happy to find shelter under a tarp with a couple of porters.There is no permanent shelter at Base Camp, just a couple of skeleton buildings that the porters fix tarps to & leave supplies for the hike down. I waited & waited under the tarp for the rain to pass, eating some fruit & snacks & chatting to the porters & then a couple of other hikers who had descended, but the rain wasn’t going anywhere.
I asked the other hikers & the porters about the route ahead, distance, time, the condition of the trail, etc. - they all told me it was pretty slippery with some difficult stream/waterfall crossings. Great. Eventually, sometime after 12:30pm, the other from my group arrived, followed about 15minutes later by our guide. He didn’t seem to care that I had gone on ahead, I think he understood I wasn’t going to wait around for him. They had indeed slept at Tek the night before, had had a hard time crossing the first river & the guide had swam across the Karkenan for a small wooden boat to ferry the others across the Karkenan. I was now extremely happy with my decision-making from the previous day.
At about 1pm the rain began to ease off & then stopped entirely. The clouds dispersed & the giant rocky face of Roraima came into view, towering over Base Camp.
I informed my guide & the others that I was going to continue on to the Hotels at the top. He didn’t seem too happy about this, saying he was responsible for me if I had an accident, but I told him I wasn’t going to sit around at Base Camp all day, having only walked for 3hours - if the stream crossings were too dangerous I would turn back.
The first stream crossing was only about 5minutes along the trail. It was flowing very fast & was pretty wide, but I made it across without any problems. This would be the most difficult of about 3-4 crossings I would have to make on the 3.5hour hike up. At one point near the top I had to pass under a 100m+ high waterfall & got completely soaked, very cool though!
After making it onto the top of the tepuy I now had to find a campsite. The porters at Base Camp had told me that Hotel Indio was full, so I was looking for the next hotel on my GPS map, Arenal. Unfortunately, the locations of both Indio & Arenal were off, so I spent nearly an hour walking around aimlessly before bumping into two porters who showed me to Arenal, which was unoccupied.
Arenal is a great little camp, there is really only good flat, dry, space for two tents, but it is close to the trail & looks straight out at Piedra Maverick (Maverick Rock, the summit of Roraima). There is also a little stone table perfect for preparing food. I would have it all to myself for the next 3nights.

Day 3: I was up early & headed straight for Maverick Rock. There was a fairly obvious trail up with some easy scrambling to the flattish summit. It was pretty cloudy on top, but the view was still great.
After spending about 15minutes at the summit I descended again & got out my GPS to find the trail to the triple-border point. It was easy enough to find, the black rock is coloured pink where the trail is - the black colour comes from algae growing on the rock and people’s footsteps wear it away.
Although I’m 100% sure I would have found the triple-point myself, I met another guide on the path and he offered to show me the way. He was headed to Hotel Coati, where a group of 14 Brazilian hikers would be spending the night. They had headed out earlier with another guide and some of the porters. Walking with him allowed me to look around at my surroundings a bit more instead of looking down for the faint pink trail or at my GPS. He was a nice guy, from Guyana and spoke fluent English as well as Spanish.
It rained intermittently on our way to the triple-point, the path there wasn’t easy in places and required some scrambling & a pretty long jump across a waist-deep stream. Some of the rock formations though were spectacular. After about 3hours (at a pretty slow pace, the guide was carrying a full pack) we reached the triple-point. I thanked the guide & went to take some pictures while he continued on to Coati.
In hindsight I should have turned back from here, but I wanted to hike on further, into Guyana. The highest point of that country was located somewhere near Hotel Coati, so I decided to continue on. I climbed two other large rocks near Coati, but don’t think either of them was Guyana’s high point, as I was on top of the second rock I saw what looked like a much higher peak in the distance, but now it was late & raining heavily - time to head back.
The way back to Hotel Arenal was pretty tricky, the stream I had jumped across earlier were now raging rivers. I had to SWIM across one of them and wade in water almost up to my neck across another. At other points the “trail” was under a foot or more of running water. Do not even attempt to hike around anywhere on top with a guide or GPS. I made it back to camp eventually, pretty exhausted & completely soaked. I changed out of my wet gear, hung it up to dry, had dinner & went to bed for the night.

Day 4: The following morning I was about to leave for a wander around some of the trails near camp when I heard our guide call out. He was with the others, they were staying in Hotel Indio, next door. They had got to the Hotel at about midday the day before & just stayed in the cave all day playing checkers. Now they were headed for a hike to the “jacuzzi” and some miradors, so I decided to join. This was one instance where the guide would actually be useful, I figured.
The “jacuzzi” was a few pools of shallow water, nice for a refreshing dip, the miradors were cool, but unfortunately the visibility wasn’t good, lots of cloud & some light rain. After just two hours we were back in Hotel Indio, the guide’s work over for the day!
At this point the weather looked questionable, it looked like it might go the same way as the day before, there was no way I was going too far from my cave like I did yesterday. As it turned out though, the weather was great the rest of the day, I summited another two times and got some great pictures from other miradors in front of Hotel Indio and near where the trail up reached the tepuy top.

Day 5: I was packed up by 7:30am and headed out. I passed Hotel Indio, but could see that the others still had their tents up, so I shouted that I was headed to the mirador near where the trail came over the top to wait for them. About half an hour later I heard voices & sure enough, it was the group heading down. I joined them & we descended past the waterfall, which was just a light mist today, not the heavy rainstorm it had been on my way up. The other hikers were struggling with the descent, myself & the guide found ourselves constantly waiting for them. He suggested I go on ahead & I quickly agreed - we were now shaded from the sun by the giant wall of Roraima, I wanted to make it as far down as possible without have to deal with the baking sun.
I made it to Base Camp in under 3hours & waited for the others. The guide was maybe 20minutes after me, but the others took an age, & then when they did eventually get there spent about half an hour resting. The guide told me I should go on ahead, they would be sleeping at Tek Camp again, I could wait for them there.
So I continued on down, making quick work of the descent, only stopping to give encouragement to a couple of groups of climbers I met, one Asian group and one Venezuelan. The river crossings were easy, there was even less water in the rivers than there had been on my ascent. My main problem was now the blistering sun, there were great views back to Roraima with clear skies.
I reached Tek Camp sometime after midday & decided there was no point stopping there & waiting around for the rest of the day for the others, I might as well go all the way to Paraitepuy I decided, it would only take me another 3hours or less. Maybe I could find transport out of there back to Santa Elena, & at the very least I could have a beer, set up my tent & relax.
I reached Paraitepuy at about 3:30pm, I’m not exactly sure on the time since my phone wasn’t really working due to battery failure &/or water damage from the very wet day 3. Anyway, I had made it! I could hear some very loud reggaeton music coming from the top of the hill so walked up & found a small shack with a couple of porters playing dominoes & a guy selling cold beers.
I had a few beers & enquired about the possibility of getting back to Santa Elena, but it seemed like my only chance was on the back of a motorbike driven by one of the drunk porters, so I decided to pitch up my tent for the night instead under the roof of the building where we had snacks the first day.

Day 6: The next morning I got up & was still looking for any ride out of town, I wanted to get to Santa Elena ASAP & then to the Brazilian border, the only bus of the day to Boa Vista was 3pm (Brazilian time, 3:30pm Venezuelan time). If I could make that bus it would save me a whole day which I would otherwise have to spend hanging around Santa Elena - very important since I only had just over 2weeks left in my entire trip.
No ride materialised, but the others in the group actually made it back pretty early, just after 10:30am. We still had to wait for a hour for the 4WD to show up, but I made it back to Santa Elena in plenty of time, picked up my other bag from the locked storage room in Posada Michele & took a taxi to ‘’La Linea’’ - the border. Venezuelan immigration was done in minutes just like before & this time Brazilian immigration was also thankfully pretty quick - I had to wait for 1hr 30mins on entry, but just 15minutes this time. I easily made the bus, the lady in the office even spoke Spanish & gave me a great deal on an overnight bus from from Boa Vista to Manaus.

Overall, I really enjoyed my hike on Roraima. It is a pity that guides are compulsory, but I can kind of see why they are with the danger of flash floods. Before you hire a guide it would be a good idea to make sure he is prepared to be flexible with the schedule & you can take advantage of any good weather that you get.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4987 ft / 1520 m
    Round-Trip Distance:35.2 mi / 56.6 km
    Route:La Rampa
    Trailhead:Paraitepuy  4232 ft / 1289 m
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Stream Ford, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Tent Camp
    Weather:Raining, Cool, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time:1 Days 7 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time:7 Hours 
Ascent Part of Trip: Monte Roraima (5 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Monte Roraima2016-05-124987 ft / 1520 m
2Monte Roraima-Triple Country Point2016-05-12 
Total Trip Gain: 4987 ft / 1520 m    Total Trip Loss: 4987 ft / 1520 m

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