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Morangma

In mid-September, three other guys and I flew to Georgetown, Guyana. None of us knew each other before leaving. It was for a TV show, and I was asked to join at the 11th hour as a climbing guide. The goal was to find a way through the jungle to a large tepui named Weiassipu, climb its first ascent, and explore its unknown sinkholes. Neither the videographer nor the main character had any climbing experience. I had a gut feeling of disaster before we left home.

The Prime Minister of Guyana arranged a helicopter that we needed to get out of the jungle, given the schedule for the project. A couple of Cessnas flew us to the small village of Phillipai. In dugout canoes, we then traveled to a smaller village called Wayalaleng. With more than 20 local porters, we spent several days walking through the jungle to Weiassipu. Absolute mayhem with our local outfitter turned into continuous drama. I’ve never experienced anything like it. The details are many, but I find them unimportant to list. Patience, acceptance, learning…. Near the tepui, after the porters left, I called our contact on my satellite phone to confirm the helicopter. They told me that the helicopter was no longer available and we were on our own. This meant we would not have enough time to climb the tepui and return for our flight. We immediately hurried back. We left hundreds of pounds gear in the middle of the jungle. I am leaving out a lot of details from the demise of this journey. These notes can help future trips to this area, and I welcome any contact for more information for anyone going there. One level of success: each trip is learning and training for the next. On the way out, I saw a beautiful tepui called Morangma. One of the locals in Phillipai told me that a couple different teams of scientists had been on top before after hiking up from the backside, near Brazil. All our gear was still in the middle of the jungle. I would have to come back for it. Before we left, we paid the locals to retrieve the equipment and bring it to the village.

In early February, I returned to Guyana alone. I took a Cessna to Phillipai, then canoes to Wayalaleng like before. I befriended three of the locals on the first trip, Franklin, Edward, and Harris (local Amerindians living in Phillipai), and they helped me find Morangma. It rained every day after I arrived at Wayalaleng, at least 15 hours a day. As we approached Morangma, cutting a path with machetes, the rain beat me down. We spent four days making our way through the jungle, sleeping in hammocks with rainflys like cocoons. Not once could we see out of the trees to the tepui. A compass and gps were of no help; it was not a matter of traveling in a general direction, we had to compromise with the wild terrain. When we reached the base, on the southeast side of the tepui, the jungle fauna and clouds still hid any visuals. My local friends get all the credit for getting to the tepui; it was amazing how they found the way.

After arriving at the tepui, I had two days to reach the top, then two days to meet my plane. The first day was spent climbing about 2,000’ of steep jungle, from 70° to vertical, like a prehistoric creature. I had to rope up for about half of it, and then established a camp. The most beautiful part of this journey is that Franklin, Edward, and Harris wanted to come up with me. Because of all the gear wed left behind on the previous trip, and that we now had, I could accommodate them. The route was mostly jungle, and these guys are strong and smart. I taught Franklin to belay, and all of them how to jumar. The next morning, I started up a huge chimney filled with moss and vines. Everything was soaked. Moss-lined cracks and vines served as holds and protection; I fixed lines and my friends ascended. On the second pitch, the chimney cut back into the wall, and soon I was in a vertical cave, encased in darkness. After a small runout, desperate and slipping, I lunged to a large vine. Ten seconds later it ripped, and I fell 15’, Franklin’s belay catching me. Back in the darkness of the chimney-cave, about 80’ above I could see a small hole of light, about two feet in diameter. In the darkness, I grabbed through spider webs to reach the worm hole. I squeezed through and popped out of the chimney’s womb into gray light and rain. I was in a huge corner, the rock covered with moss, but it was easy digging to reach the sandstone. Constant rain. I continued in a crack system on the face, vines and moss offering random purchase but little protection. Some vines were strong enough to hold my weight when I equalized two or three limbs like an insect. At one point, runout 90’, I was so pumped I had to wrap my right arm around a vine, and grab my wrist with my left hand. Darkness encroached. I continued up near-vertical vines and trees—so many, I did not even touch stone. I was a spider monkey making my way through the steep web of foliage. Finally, with headlamps, we all climbed wet, slippery 5.5 vines to the top and then sat out the night under a small rock overhang. My feet hurt and throbbed from being wet for several days. When we got down and I finally took off my climbing shoes, I noticed something attached to the bottom of my ankles: foot-shaped clumps of cauliflower, white with a blue hue.

Mike Libecki, AAC