Dawn breaks on the team's lower ledge camp. Photo: Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

Dawn breaks on the team's lower ledge camp. Photo: Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

Leo Houlding’s attempt on a route on a Guyana ‘lost world’ tepui has begun in earnest, with his team making progress in difficult conditions on its heavily vegetated overhanging cliffs.

One Amerindian climber in the team was bitten twice by a scorpion that found its way into his boot during a 150m ascent on the prow of Mount Roraima.

The expedition decided to follow the route taken by a British team in 1973 at the start of the climb, before deviating higher up the cliff.

Camps have been established using portaledge on the towering rockfaces of the imposing table-top mountain, said to have influenced Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World.

The Berghaus-sponsored expedition has sent back regular updates from the site, the summit of which marks the border of Guyana, Brazil and Venezuela.

A team spokesperson said: “After laboriously shifting all of the kit through the slime forest and across the swamp, the team got everything set up at advanced base camp, where they discovered that the parachute that they had rigged up was leaking.

The prow of Roraima. Photo: Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

The prow of Roraima. Photo: Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

“Despite working hard to make the best of the site, the call was soon made to instead build a hanging wall camp with portaledges at the base of the prow on a good set of rocky ledges. Another day of moving, rigging and building followed, establishing a wall camp at the base of the prow which is precarious, but miraculously remains dry.”

The team: Leo Houlding, Anna Taylor, Waldo Etherington, Wilson Cutbirth, Matt Pycroft and Dan Howard, along with local support guides and porters, completed almost 100km of ‘jungle bashing’ to reach the location of their basecamp in the Guyana rainforest.

Two local men stayed with the group to join the climbing expedition and are being tutored in techniques by Etherington.

The spokesperson said: “The prow is so steep higher up that even though it was raining, Leo and Wilson were able to begin free climbing the first extremely vegetated and dirty pitches sheltered from the precipitation.

“It was slow going on loose rock, but they made it to the cabbage – bromeliad – patch and reported cleaner rock ahead.

“Waldo and Anna made a crucial water supply on the dripping wet, westerly side of the prow, using a tarp to catch the drips. Impressively, wall camp was now stocked with 70 litres of water and food for two weeks.

“Finally, after two weeks of trekking and ferrying loads and months of planning, the team was in a position to begin their big wall ascent. Next objective: heading into some clean looking rock leading into some remarkably steep terrain and a decent ledge 150m up called Tarantula Terrace.”

Leo Houlding on the ledge during the building of the camp. Photo: Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

Leo Houlding on the ledge during the building of the camp. Photo: Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

By Sunday the team said it was fully switched into big wall mode, established in the portaledge camp at the base of the wall.

The spokesperson said: “All eight – the core team of six, along with Amerindians Troy and Edward – have slotted into the lifestyle pretty easily.

“As wall camps go, it’s about as comfortable as it gets, a terrace of ledges the width of a pavement, totally dry, protected from the torrential downpours by the giant roofs and overhangs above. Of course, danger is omnipresent. There is a 1,000ft drop into the misty forest below one slip away, so everyone is clipped to a safety line with a sling around their waists at all times.”

Film-maker and climber Matt Pycroft said: “We’ve been carrying on our jungle routine of rising with the sun and settling down with it too.

Troy gets to grips with the climbing kit. Photo: Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

Troy gets to grips with the climbing kit. Photo: Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

“The weather is often best at first light, and we’ve been met with golden sunrises to accompany hot coffee almost every morning. The mist generally rolls in throughout the day, and we get sporadic rain squalls interspersed with low hanging mist and partial cloud.

“Two nights in a row we’ve eaten our dinner by headtorch light as the sounds of the harsh weather storm their way in. We hear the thunder first, and then the wall camp is lit up momentarily by flashes of lightning penetrating the mist.”

Houlding began the lead, climbing free and onsight from their last high point into pitch three, which follows the 1973 British route. The spokesperson said: “A long, loose, steep corner, it was littered with large blocks and chock full of moss, bromeliads and a fair few dangerous scorpions.”

Pycroft said: “Climbing this sort of pitch if it were at a Lakeland crag would be a three-star experience, but here it’s a fear inducer.

“With his belayer below, and his own ropes to think about, Leo doesn’t want to be knocking these microwave-sized blocks off by accident. These pitches take a long time as you treat them like a vertical gardening and rockery project, all while hanging off small crimps in the mist and the wind after two weeks trekking through the jungle.

“A three-star experience for very different reasons.”

Anna Taylor leads a pitch. Photo: Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

Anna Taylor leads a pitch. Photo: Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

The spokesperson said Taylor led the fourth pitch: “Anna took the lead in establishing the free route and got most of the moves worked out quickly, but there’s a crux low down on the pitch that proved to be a sticking point for a while.

“Anna’s battle with it spanned more than a day and involved a few falls, a lot of frustration, and a big challenge to her motivation on her first big wall expedition. However, she kept her cool, persevered and eventually cruised past the crux, then pushed up to complete what continued to be a very tough pitch.

“Anna reported that taking her first fall had broken the fear barrier. She had admitted that the strain of the trip had really started to take its toll, with thoughts of home starting to creep in, and doubts about whether she could really make a mark on the wall and significantly contribute to the climbing element of the expedition. By completing pitch four, Anna did just that, as one of the jewels in the crown of a world-class wall went free, setting the team up to focus on the rest of the hard climbing above.”

Houlding and Cutbirth continued the route. “At the top of pitch four, Leo decided to break away from the ’73 route and trend left,” the spokesperson said. “After a tricky traverse there was a heart-stopping moment when he had to place a bolt while precariously balanced on a tiny ledge above the misty abyss, relying solely on protection a long way away.

“Thankfully, Leo managed to get the bolt in place and clip in safely, before heading upwards again. He eventually arrived at the Invisible Ledge. From the ground, it’s indistinguishable, but on arrival, Leo found it to be 3ft thick and about 30ft wide, a perfect staging post for the next wall camp.

“The team is a few days from setting it up, and the lower wall camp is an ideal place to hang out and recuperate, so they will stay here as long as is feasible.”

As well as belaying Taylor, Etherington has also been training the two Amerindians in rope techniques.

The spokesperson said: “They’ve taken to it incredibly quickly, and after a few practice sessions they ascended three pitches of fixed rope up to Tarantula Terrace.

Houlding leads the fifth pitch. Photo: Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

Houlding leads the fifth pitch. Photo: Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

“Arriving at the top, Troy clipped into the fixed anchor then started frantically fidgeting with his boot, complaining of a biting pain. He’d jumarred 150m on his second ever day of rope access with a tarantula in his boot that had bitten him twice.

“He seemed unfazed, but Waldo, Anna and Dan couldn’t believe he was so calm and chilled. The Amerindians are remarkable, and the wild encounters the rest of the team are experiencing are regular occurrences for them, with the ropes, big walling and portaledges an obvious exception.”

Berghaus is supplying clothing and gear for the expedition, which is being recorded by Mat Pycroft for the Coldhouse Collective film company.

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