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South America, Venezuela, Acopán Tepui, Pizza, Chocolate, y Cerveza

Acopán Tepui. Pizza, Chocolate y Cerveza. In March, back in Venezuela again, we were preparing for another intense tepui (flat-topped mountain) experience. John Arran, nicknamed “La Máquina” by the Venezuelans, was particularly keen following last year’s success on Cerro Autana. But this time there would be no José Pereyra to share the tepui experience—which he summed up last year as “a different kind of gnarly.”

Accompanied by Venezuelan climber Alfredo Rangel, we were landed by our light aircraft on a patch of grassland near the Indian village of Yunek Ken in the Gran Sabana—a destination remote enough to escape the attention of even the Lonely Planet guide. Acopán’s elegant, 300 million year-old bulging orange and gray walls gave the appearance of a fortress towering over the village. Our chosen line looked like an awesome proposition. It took two days, aided by the machete-wielding village chief, Leonardo, to break trail to the base.

Already a distant memory was the headache of planning an expedition deep into Venezuela in the aftermath of political unrest. Even the jungle approach, heavy loads, and irrepellable insects were no longer important. Bright red Gaijito de Piedera parrots welcomed us to the wall as we collected water at its base.

The fun began Tarzan-style, by us monkeying up 2"-thick vines for 35m. Four days of continuously surprising, bold face-climbing and steep cracks led to a 12m roof we hadn’t seen from the ground. Alfredo had brought along a collection of lightweight Bolivian and Peruvian musical instruments which, along with his rap songs, had calmed many a stressful moment. Now a time of uncertainty: Could we overcome the monstrous roof? A reverse mantle and sloping hand-traverse, with legs dangling 400m above nothing, fortuitously led to more amenable ground.

After many close calls we made it to near the top, where the angle finally eased and I felt sure we’d cracked it. At one point John had to dyno for a bush on the lip of a roof, with no idea whether it would hold his weight.

Our 600m east-face route took six days and 21 pitches. We managed to free every pitch without falls. The route overhung by about 50m total with the hardest pitch cranking up to E6 6b (5.12bR), and the team avoided placing any pegs or bolts, even on belays. We spent a fun day scrambling around the summit’s curious dike-like features and wind-carved rock formations, before descending left of the climbing line, making full use of our 100m ropes. This expedition was supported by The British Mountaineering Council, UK Sport, Mount Everest Foundation, The North Face, Petzl, and Beal.

Anne Arran, U.K.