The German explorer Richard Schomburgk was the first European to see Mount Roraima in 1838. Various expeditions have then been attempted, until the British botanists Everhard Im Thurn and Harry Perkins reached the summit in 1884 and discovered that much of the plant and animal life on top of the tepuy was unique, as a result of millions of years of isolation; as like an
Island in Time.
The news fired the imagination of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the author of Sherlock Holmes), and the explorers’ report inspired him to write "The Lost World", a novel in which dinosaurs are still living on an isolated plateau in the Amazon Basin.
What are the tepuyes ?
Tepuy means "mountain" in the local Indian language; we use that word to call these enormous sandstone's mesas that soar like fortresses above the surrounding savanna and tropical forest.in Southeastern Venezuela.
There are about a hundred of these tepuyes, scattered across the States of Bolivar and Amazonas. Only a few are accessible, some are still unexplored. They are protected as National Monuments under the Venezuelan Law.
They are the remnants of the sandstone deposits that were deposited underwater 1.8 billion years ago, when South America and Africa were still linked as part of the supercontinent Gondwana. 200 million years ago, warping of the continental plates created fissures and fractures in the sandstone plateau, then erosion for millions of years created the present day appearance of the tepuyes.
Mount Roraima is the highest of all, at 2710 meters (9,094 feet). Its Indian name is Roroima-tepuy which means "the Great Bluish". It is also called the Mother of all Waters, as it is in effect: the Kamaiwa River is an affluent of the Orinoco in Venezuela, the Cotingo an affluent of the Amazon in Brazil and the Kako an affluent of the Esequibo in Guyana.
What a better description of the top of Mount Roraima than the description of Uwe George, a National Geographic journalist (May 1989 issue): “What I can distinguish of the landscape in the last daylight seems to have come out of a nightmare. Boulders and pinnacles in every size and form are piled one on top of the other. Stormy winds whip ice-cold rain in our faces. (...) There is not one square yard of flat surface. What is not naked, slippery rock is bottomless morass. (...) It is easy to imagine the pinnacles and towers of rock around us as the ruins of temples from strange, long-ago cultures. My mind conjures up colossal Egyptian statues, Greek deities, Siamese pagodas, Roman gods, dwarf elephants, and giant camels - all grown stiff for eternity.”
As a result of such inhospitable conditions, only a few living species have adapted to that environment, as this little frog (Oreophrynella), endemic of Mount Roraima, that rolls instead of jumping... Other curious species, also endemic to the top of the tepuys are the Stegolepis whose base is enveloped in a gelatinous substance that we ignore the purpose, and the heliamphora, a carnivorous plant.
The Government of Venezuela created the Canaima National Park to protect the fragile environment of the savanna and the top of the tepuys. However the impact of more and more hikers (about three thousands yearly discovering Mount Roraima) is serious on the environment.
Please follow the rules of Inparques, like not venturing on tepuys without a local guide and a minimum of one porter, not bringing back rock crystals, plant or animal life, bringing back all your garbage (and the one you may find on the way), not creating new trails and camping sites, and doing your basic necessities as instructed by your tour leader.
The ascent of all tepuys is a physical activity which requires a minimum of fitness. Although Roraima is accessible to anybody with the will to do it, Auyantepuy is a lot more strenuous and should be reserved to experienced hikers. Although no technical rock climbing skills are required, ropes are needed to climb over a few boulders and crevices.
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