The Living Edens "TEPUIS" Behind The Scenes ... Daily Log 2 of 6

The Making of the Tepuis Film : "The Living Edens : The Lost World"
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Daily Log : TRIP ONE

30th October - 30th November 2000

Auyantepui, Venezuela
Auyantepui, Venezuela


Monday 30th. October

Flight American Airlines: London Heathrow to Miami to Caracas. Started packing cars at 0400 hrs., in 90 mph winds and driving rain - worst storm in UK since October 1987. Tornado hit south coast. No trains south of Birmingham. One person killed in car by falling tree. Floods and broken tree branches on roads. Took four hours to reach London Heathrow. What a great start to the trip! At Heathrow, discovered my keys and documents were locked inside a case so we had to find a hacksaw to cut off the padlock. No customs available to check our two tons of equipment. Lots of hassles. Just made the flight - Steve and I were the last two to board the aircraft. Flights uneventful and Customs entry to Venezuela relatively uneventful. Arrived at hotel just after midnight - journey time 25 hours.

Tuesday 31st. October

Breakfast meeting 0800 hrs. with Antonio Casado who is handling some of the local logistics and co-ordination. Meeting at 1130 hrs. with British Ambassador John Hughes. Lunch with Antonio. Meeting with Robert Sondeman, a local pilot who flies a Piper Aztec, to ask advice about getting Steve's and my Commercial Pilot Licences validated for flying in Venezuela. Turns out that Commercial Pilot status is reserved for Venezuelan Nationals only and we'll be restricted to Private Licences only. That's OK. We need to find a Cessna 206 that we can use in an unrestricted way so that we can film when the weather is good. Trying to locate privately owned aircraft as well as possibly doing a deal with a Commercial operator. Dinner with Antonio.

Wednesday 1st. November

Sort out insurance. Visit to Charallave to further research Pilot Licence validations. Obtained maps, frequency and instrument approach charts for relevant Venezuelan airfields. We discovered Licence validation requires: Medical exam, Law exam, psychological interview, flight check (on type), and fluency in Spanish. This last requirement is the most difficult hurdle. Whole process would be time consuming and expensive so opted for plan B: rent an aircraft with Venezuelan pilot and put him/her in the back while we fly, then we are covered both legally and for insurance. Hosting a dinner tonight for various helpful and influential people: Clemencia Rodner (President, Audubon Society); Robin and Mariella Restall (Robin is retired from J.W.Thompson, and Mariella was previously married to David Nott); Dominic Hamilton (writing travel guide on Venezuela so knows the country inside out and up to date); Antonio and Libia Casado; and Steve.

Thursday 2nd. November

Purchased antibiotics; electric cables and fittings; and camping gas. Progress lunch with Antonio. Meeting at INPARQUES in afternoon. Dinner at British Ambassador's residence in company of Philip Maclean (ex-Ambassador to China and Cuba, and now Director at Canning House, London).

Friday 3rd. November

Possible Cessna 206 deal has fallen through - we are going to try to make a deal with one of the Commercial Companies. Organised transport by road to Ciudad Bolivar (cheaper than flying) - cost around £500. More shopping. Packing. Dinner with Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby of British Embassy.

Saturday 4th. November

Drive to Ciudad Bolivar, journey time 6.5 hours. More shopping, for food to last us two months. Drove to Puerto Ordaz to see a possible Cessna 206.

Sunday 5th. November

In Ciudad Bolivar. Meeting at Rutaca Aviation - negotiated a Cessna 206 for reasonable price - they'll have to put in dual controls, but their pilot agrees to sit in the back. Also hiring a big Antonov biplane to haul us and two tons of equipment fro La Paragua to Uruyen. More shopping for provisions.

Monday 6th. November

Visited Arab shop to try to buy kerosene fridge but no luck. In the end we made a deal for a new electric freezer which we'll run off the generator. Meeting at INPARQUES regional office (courtesy call).

Tuesday 7th. November

Took 1.5 hours to pack vehicle with all our stuff - so full I don't think we could have jammed in an extra comb. 2 hours drive to La Paragua, an oil and mining camp. Our aircraft was full of animal carcasses, so the floor was awash with blood and body fluids, mixed with diesel oil. Typical mining operation aircraft. No seats. Piled in our stuff and held it in place with ropes. We were overloaded. I sat up front in right hand seat. Steve and Antonio sat on equipment. Most instruments were unserviceable and no headphones - almost impossible to hear radio talk over noise and clatter of engine. Take off run used every inch of runway and climb out managed an optimistic 100 feet per minute. Flying time to Uruyen was one hour exactly, the landscape becoming ever more interesting with every passing minute. Flew to the west of Canaima, and down the flank of Auyantepui, capped as usual with a thick blanket of cloud. Landing at Uruyen was not easy - it's a very narrow strip on the savannah, and we had so much weight. The old Russian Antonov has air brakes operated by handles like bicycle brakes, but we finally slewed to a stop. Uruyen as beautiful and tranquil as ever - a tiny collection of thatched Indian huts by a small river, with deep golden pools and bubbling rapids, under the impressive flanks and multi-tiered cliffs of Auyantepui. We taxied the Antonov to the huts and unloaded, being greeted first by hungry hordes of biting insects, and then by our Pemon hosts. We supply the food and Hortensia cooks for us. The Uruyen valley is a flat area of savannah surrounded on all sides by forest, rivers, and hills. The flanks of Chimantatepui are just visible to the south. Prevailing wind is from the east. Seems to be very windy at night, no doubt the air is heavily influenced by katabatic cooling from the cliffs of Auyantepui. The generator, hired from Antonio, is running very rough - stripped it down and cleaned everything but has not improved.

Wednesday 8th. November

Still problems with generator. We have to get it to work otherwise we'll lose all our fresh foodstuffs, including the meat. Steve worked on generator, while I prepared camera equipment and the wing mount - the Cessna 206 is due to arrive this afternoon. Deployed the time lapse Bolex early a.m. for a view of cloud development on Auyantepui. Started to organise boat trip to Angel Falls, and schedule a climb on foot to the summit of Auyantepui for which we'll need porters. We also hope to reach the top of Angel falls directly, by helicopter, if we can tie in with a helicopter scheduled in our area. Gave up on Antonio's generator, and hiring one from a local Pemon. Aircraft has not arrived.

Thursday 9th. November

Set up time lapse Bolex again very early - clouds yesterday were not very interesting. Filmed the developing clouds on the Arriflex too, using various lenses, mostly at 5 fps. The Pemon generator is working. The aircraft has still not arrived.

Friday 10th. November

Antonio left to work with another production. Cessna 206 YV-785C arrived this afternoon with pilot Eduardo Alvarez. Fitted wing mount (had to make some adjustments to clamp since the 206 strut is bigger than the 182), and made test flight - Eduardo took off then once airborne we played musical chairs so he could sit in the back, with Steve and I flying in front. Negotiated with boatman to take us to Angel Falls - an eight to ten day trip, departing from Kamarata.

Saturday 11th. November

Started fitting wing mount at 0600 hrs., airborne at 0700. Flew direct to Angel Falls to film three passes close over the top and then finished roll along the eastern flank of Auyantepui. Reloaded and took off again just before 0800 to film the summit plateau and cliffs of Auyantepui (bumpy). Weather closed in early and unable to fly in afternoon. The Pemon generator now giving trouble.

Sunday 12th. November

Took off early to film Angel Falls and the Churun Gorge from the air with the wing mount. Returned and made a second flight to the same place. Weather closed in early. The Pemon generator is now not working at all.

Monday 13th. November

Took off at 0615 to film the cliffs of Auyantepui, clouds, and tracking across the summit. Bumpy this morning so not possible to make second flight. Weather closed in again. Flew to Canaima in afternoon as guests of British Embassy to meet Lord Levy, who is on an official visit. Embassy entourage arrived in a Guardia Nacional aircraft.

Tuesday 14th. November

Took off from Canaima at 0600 hrs. with British Ambassador John Hughes in the back. Flew over the summit of Auyantepui which was completely covered in cloud to the Churun Gorge where we descended and filmed Angel Falls again. Returned to Canaima to say farewell to Embassy entourage, before flying to Uruyen. Managed a short late afternoon flight to film cloud layers.

Wednesday 15th. November

Eduardo fed up and leaving. Replacement pilot arrives. Weather bad.

Thursday 16th. November

Weather still bad. Decided to fly to Santa Elena to try our luck filming Roraima and Kukenaam - hopefully the weather will be better there. Stayed overnight at Gran Sabana hotel but very expensive.

Friday 17th November

Steve and I moved to cheap accommodation downtown, while the pilot insisted on staying in the most expensive hotel at our expense. Weather bad.

Saturday 18th November

Tried to fly but had to turn back - weather bad.

Sunday 19th November

Weather bad. Meeting with Raul Arias who runs a helicopter business based in Santa Elena. He makes a living taking tourists to the top of Roraima by Jet Ranger. He has a contract with a group of Japanese who want to visit the top of Auyantepui, flying from Uruyen, and we can use the same helicopter to be dropped off at the top of Angel Falls and be collected three days later. It's a unique opportunity - it's difficult and expensive to position a helicopter in as remote a place as Uruyen.

Monday 20th November

At last, a break in the weather allowed us to fly this afternoon. Filmed the west flank of Mount Kukenaam, tracking all the way from the south-western tip to the far north.

Tuesday 21st November

Took off soon after 0600 and flew direct to Roraima where the weather was fine and clear. Filmed Roraima from the north, over the forests of Guyana which were covered in a carpet of cloud - Roraima itself looked majestic, the eastern cliffs shining golden in the first rays of sunshine. Flew across the valley between Roraima and Kukenaam and filmed Kukenaam's ascent point. Returned to Santa Elena to reload, and flew back to Roraima, by which time (0830) clouds almost totally obscured the mountains. Filmed Ilutipu group of tepuis instead which were still (partially) clear. Flew back to Uruyen to prepare for helicopter trip to the top of Angel Falls.

Wednesday 22nd November

Reconfiguring the camera and packing for helicopter trip to summit. Helicopter arrived this afternoon.

Thursday 23rd November

Loaded helicopter and took off soon after 0900. Filmed through the tiny open side window but helicopter very unstable with a lot of vibration. Dumped me on a stretch of bare rock, next to the Angel river, near the top of Angel Falls before returning to pick up Steve. After helicopter left us with all our stuff, we explored the local area to find a place where we could see the Falls. Trouble was, we were surrounded by labyrinths of rock and deep chasms, and swamps. It took us several hours to find our way to the cliff edge - in direct distance less than a hundred metres but involving a roundabout route of nearly a kilometre using fixed ropes on some steep sections. Started to move the gear but only managed half of it by nightfall and were forced to make a temporary, and very uncomfortable, bivouac on top of a rock - it was freezing cold during the night and we were eaten alive by mosquitoes.

Friday 24th November

Made it to the edge and started to make camp on the only level area which was also knee deep in black mud. Unable to see the base of the Falls from the camp site so we still have to look for a suitable look out point. Spent rest of day moving gear from original landing site to edge of cliff, filming Angel Falls from camp site and trying to find a look out point where we could see the base of the Falls.

Saturday 25th November

Helicopter arrived at 0800 to allow me a short time filming Angel Falls from the air. It was a real struggle - although we took the door off, the helicopter blades are poorly balanced so there was a lot of vibration and the aircraft was fishtailing. The air was bumpy too so we were bouncing all over the place. The pilot had evidently no experience in filming operations so it was difficult to get what I wanted. It was a relief when the helicopter finally left us - the flying time was largely wasted. Spent rest of day filming Angel Falls from the look out point, where it was possible to see the base by leaning out, secured by a safety rope; and filming a short sequence of Steve and I reaching this look out point.

Sunday 26th November

Filmed Angel Falls again from look out point but a lot of cloud this morning and it was not possible to see the base. Helicopter arrived at around 0830 to lift us back to Uruyen. Tried filming from the air again but largely a waste of effort. Arrived back at Uruyen completely covered in mud. Took us all day to clean all the equipment, and ourselves.

Monday 27th November

Re-packing and preparation for our climb to the summit of Auyantepui tomorrow. The porters will arrive here at dawn.

Tuesday 28th November

Departure for our long climb. Porters packed up by 0900 and we began our long walk, initially across flat savannah west towards the first escarpment. The trail took us across several streams, and after about two hours we came to a wide river with many rocks and polished boulders. The current was strong so we tried stepping or leaping from rock to rock which was not easy with heavy loads. Then it happened. Both my feet gave way at the same time while trying to balance on a slippery rock and I fell down, impacting the base of my spine on the rock. I was immobilised. Luckily the camera and lenses in my pack were inside a watertight Pelican case, because it was mostly submerged. Steve and a Pemon lifted off my pack and then helped me out of the river. The pain was acute and I knew I had done some damage. I just hoped that the pain would pass and by moving my back, it would improve. Unfortunately it didn't, and by the time I reached the first escarpment I was lagging behind and eventually crawling uphill on my hands and knees. It was obvious that I would be unable to continue the climb carrying a heavy pack. I sent one of the porters back to try to find an extra person, so that I could try to continue the climb without carrying anything. In the meantime we made camp at the top of the first escarpment and I rested. The pain continued to be intense.

Wednesday 29th. November

The pain was still with me when I woke but I wanted to try to continue. An extra porter arrived to carry my things. It was clear that it was going to be impossible for me to film much of the climb, and I just hoped that, if I could make it to the summit, I would be able to make all the effort worthwhile. We continued on, crossing the Guayaraca savannah where Jimmie Angel had made his camp before landing on the summit; then we climbed some three thousand feet, through a very steep stretch of forest, leading to a scree slope below the main cliff. After climbing for another hour and a half in the rain, we reached a huge overhanging boulder called "El Penon", our camp site for the night. It was impossible to see the cliff face and the ascent point, obscured, as it was, by thick cloud. My back was agony - it had been a gruelling day.

Thursday 30th. November

Forced myself to get up early. The cliff face and ascent point were clear and I managed to film a little, including the departure of the porters on the final day of the climb. The scree slope became ever steeper and the going was rough, part of it a balancing act across springy tree roots where the ground had been eroded away. Finally we reached the base of the cliff, where, due to the overhang, the ground was bone dry. Many previous visitors have written their names on the rock in charcoal. This is where the climb really starts, up and over huge boulders jammed between a sort of false face to the cliff and the cliff wall itself. Using ropes in a few places we hauled ourselves and all the equipment up; through narrow crevices, tunnels and across narrow ridges. The whole area is a magical garden of unusual plants, bathed in a cool, clammy mist. It really does feel like a mysterious portal to a secret "Lost World". Near the top, the trail led us through a muddy cave where we found an ancient rope with knots in it - climb that, and we would be on the summit. It was not the time to ask precisely how ancient the rope was - after a trial tug on it to make sure it was secure at the top, we went for it and all safely reached the summit of Auyantepui. That was not the end of the journey though - it was another three hours of climbing ropes and sliding on slippery rock, crossing huge ravines, swamps and streams before we reached "Oso", an overhanging rock that would be our camp for the next five nights.

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