Running up and down Venezuela’s Mount Roraima in one day seemed like a crazy idea but soon became my only option. Most people take almost a week to do the hike and everyone says you need a local guide to go up. I could not find reasonably priced tour or people willing to share the cost of a guide so I bought a hiking map, bottled water and camp food for a week. With that I headed from Santa Helena towards Roraima Mountain to see if I indeed could do the run.
I arrived in Paraitepui, the last village before the trail to Roraima, at about two in the afternoon. I negotiated the nightly rate of 120 bolivares (approx. 15 dollars black-market rate) for a night in a cabana without electricity and started to look for a trail that would lead to the mountain. It took me a while to figure out which way the trail goes but in the end I thought I had an idea.
While doing my terrain scouting a local park ranger approached me to ask where I was heading. I assured him that all I was doing in the area were some day hikes. He said that was fine and I did not need a guide for that. Of course he could not assume I intended to do a “day hike” to Roraima’s top.
By the evening I was convinced I could run up towards Roraima. I was not sure if I could make it to the top, but it did not matter. I could always turn back after few hours. Without electricity it was easy to go to sleep at 8 pm. I needed to hit the trail long before sunrise.
At 4:30am my alarm clock woke me up and soon after that I walked out of the village. It was dark. Dogs were barking at all the houses I passed. The only light was coming from the military patrolling the village entrance. I could see pretty well in the dark and preferred not to use my flashlight, I did not need any extra attention. There were some people moving in front of me. Minutes later I caught up to them and found out they were some Venezuelan hikers. With huge backpacks they moved much slower then I did. I wanted to run, but it was dark and the road too slippery.
At about 5:45 there was enough light and the road straight enough that I could run. From unclear hike times mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide I figured it normally takes about 15 hours of hiking time to the top. Based on that I need to be about 4 times faster than a hiker with a heavy backpack. That did not seem impossible. All I was carrying was food for a day, extra pair of shoes and my wilderness first aid kit.
I realized my time was not too great when I got to the first campground. Lonely Planet said it took about 4 hours to get here and I only got here at 7am – I was less than two times faster than hikers. Not that promising! As I passed the campground about 50 hikers were waking up and I got some surprised looks. One guide asked me where my guide was – I was too busy running and decided not to answer that question. Shortly after the camp came the first river crossing. I put my river crossing shoes on and in seconds I was on the other end. Minutes later I run up to the sign displaying some rules about the Cainaima National Park. I did not mention anything about the need of a guide. I felt better.
At about 7:30am I was at the second river known as Kukenan. This crossing was a bit more challenging. Here the water sometimes is high and Lonely Planet said you need to rent a boat to cross sometimes. The water was not that high and there was rope to hang onto. No problems. I was at the altitude of 1050 meters (3 444 ft.). From here it was going to be only up until I got to the top at 2700 meters (8 858 ft.).
It was still early and I did not meet any hikers on the trail. I kept running, but soon I switched to runwalking. At 10:15 I passed the last campground at 1870 meters. It was only 4.5 km to the top, but I need to get myself 830 meters (2 723 ft.) higher. From here it was impossible to run anymore. In fact there was more climbing than walking involved I would say. The trail started so steep that I was not sure if I was on a trail or climbing a waterfall. Only once I started meeting hiking groups coming down the mountain I was certain I actually was on the right trail. Some Brazilians told me they took about 3 hours to get down. For the first time I actually believed there was a possibility I could make it to the top today and come back.
In the morning I set my return time to noon. I felt I was getting close to the top so I pushed my return to one o’clock. I knew that I had to cross rivers during the daylight, but the last portion of the run could be done at night. If I crossed rivers by 6pm then I would be fine. I kept on climbing up. No other guides or porters coming down asked me about my guide. Maybe they thought that my porter must be behind me since I had just a small backpack.
At 11:15 I was under what I thought was the last part of the wall. I was only 100 or so meters from the top. Vertical meters. Who knew how long the trail was. And why did the trail seem to level up and go down when I needed to go up!!!
At midday I crossed under a waterfall. This sure must be the waterfall on my map that is so close to the top, I hoped. At this time I was extremely tired and soaking wet. With all the preoccupation about the climb I did not realize how drastically the weather changed. It was sunny at the bottom, but now all I could see was fog a water dropping everywhere. When crossing under the waterfall I was worried that the water might bring some rocks down as well. I gathered a bit of energy, ate a chunk of chocolate, drunk a last bit of water from my first of two 1.5 liter water bottles and run under the waterfall.
After the waterfall I could not run anymore and even walking I had to take frequent breaks. Was I gonna make it? I had to be so close…. Finally I saw a colorful structure that sure most be marking the top. The structure turns out was a crashed helicopter still this was indeed Roraima’s top!
It was shortly before 1pm when I found a rock to hide from rain, changed my clothes and started my celebratory lunch of tuna with corn wrapped in delicious tortilla. It was great being on the top and I wish I had more time to explore it but I knew I had to get back the same day and going up was only half way. So dry and refreshed after my 45 minute break on the top I started my descent.
As I headed down the rain got heavier and heavier. What was a path on the way up turned out into a little stream or waterfall. Sometimes actually these streams and rivers were not that little. In any case there was no way I could run. I had to walk very very carefully.
My descent was slow. At 4:15pm I finally got the the bottom of the steepest part and from the last campground under the mountain I was able to run again here and there when the water filling the trail was not so deep and surface not too slippery. There was a lot of noise coming from somewhere. I did not pay too much attention to it and then suddenly realized that the loud rumbling and roaring was coming from the stream next to the path. If the calm stream where I washed my face on the way up turned into a small river what will the river look like? As I was coming down I decided that if I can see the rope I will cross even if that means I will get soaking wet. Just in case I started to look for places where I could spend the night. I could not find any rock or tree offering even a bit of shelter.
At 5:30pm I was at the river crossing. Excellent timing – except the river was uncrossable. The river was brutally strong and loud. Whitewater rafters would call it IV or V – meaning if you kayak or raft down it you might die. No way I was gonna attempt to cross!
All my clothes and everything in my backpack was soaked. For the night I would have to use my emergency blanket that I never had to use before. But where was I gonna wait till the water comes down? Fortunately there was a little indigenous hut and a few Brazilian spelunkers and Venezuelan hikers who got stranded on the shore as well. They saw me on the way up and invited me under the roof and shared a warm soup with me. I even got a dry shirt from a Venezuelan couple. One of the Brazilian guys had a spare place in his tent so I could inaugurate my emergency blanket there. Humidity in the blanket and feeling every stone under me was not that great but it was not the worst night of my life – especially considering the alternatives 🙂
When I woke up I heard no river noise and was told a good news: The river is low and we should cross as soon as possible. So at 6:30am I was on the shore of a calm river that did not look anything like the crazy river from the previous evening. Crossing it was a breeze.
I continued my run and little bit after 9am I was back in my cabana. Nobody seemed alarmed that I did not spend last night here. I wanted to leave the same day, but was too tired. Instead I decided to enjoy another day near the Mount Roraima – the mountain that did not let conquer itself in just one day. It’s always the mountain who sets the rules and one has to respect that.