American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Venezuela, Acopán Tepui, North Pillar, Purgatory

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2007

Acopán Tepui, north pillar, Purgatory. Victory in Venezuela: Stefan Glowacz endures “Purgatory” in Jungle Paradise. Folding canoes, machetes, and climbing shoes were the keys to success for a team led by Stefan Glowacz to the Gran Sabana rain forest in December. Result: A first ascent on the vertical walls of Acopán Tepui (2,200m).

Pemón—the “true human beings”—this is what the native Indians who live in the green thicket lining the rivers of Gran Sabana in eastern Venezuela call themselves. To these “true human beings” the Tepui flattop-mountains, rising from the high plateau on the border to Guyana, are the dwellings of the gods. To reach their residence, Stefan Glowacz (41), Holger Heuber (44), Kurt Albert (53), and Ivan Calderón (30) had to suffer through their personal 20-pitch Purgatory (700m, 5.12) on the north face of Acopán Tepui.

The climbers were accompanied on their trip by photographer Klaus Fengler (43), cameraman Jochen Schmoll (34), and expedition doctor Tilo Marschke (35). In a jam-packed all-terrain-vehicle the team negotiated the three-day journey from Caracas to the Indian settlement of Karuai. Here their equipment was stowed into three folding canoes. In their hopelessly overloaded boats Glowacz and his friends paddled down the Rio Karuai until they reached the Indian settlement of Yunék at the foot of Acopán Tepui.

From their base camp they cleared a trail through the dense rainforest to the north face, soaring up to the summit plateau in a sweep of overhanging rock.

“Never have I seen such a crazy wall!” exclaimed veteran Kurt Albert, looking back on a climbing career of some 40 years.

They approached the projected line in pairs. Taking turns, the teams Glowacz-Heuber and Albert-Calderón pushed their route up the wall. Although the lower section had looked compact from the distance, it turned out to be extremely loose. Glowacz: “You could scratch out a hole with your finger!” The overhanging middle part of the face also had its “character-building” qualities, while the headwall offered stupendous “dream climbing.” On the lower half of the wall the team used fixed ropes to facilitate the hauling of supplies. (They removed everything on their descent.) Higher, the climbers stuck it out in “Purgatory” and refrained from seeking relief down on terra firma. The climbing proved extremely athletic, the difficulties continuous between 5.11 and 5.12. They equipped all belays two bolts. They used mostly Friends and nuts to protect the pitches. Glowacz: “Despite the roofs and overhangs, the route always follows a natural line.” After going through “Purgatory,” the team again took to the boats and paddled to the Uonkén airstrip, where they were picked up by a single-engine Cessna. With their first ascent, Glowacz, Heuber, Albert, and Calderón were the first mortals to scale the north pillar of Acopán Tepui. Purgatory is the third route on this extended massif. In 2002 Helmut Gargitter, Walter Obergolser, Toni Obojes, Pauli Trenkwalder, Ivan Calderón, and Renato Botte pioneered the 10-pitch Jardinieros de Grandes Paretes (5.11) on the south face. In 2003 the British couple John and Anne Arran, with Alfredo Rangél, stomached the 21-pitch Pizza, Chocolate y Cerveza (5.12+) on the southeast face.

Mayr Nell Public Relations, Germany

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