Mount Roraima (Spanish: Monte Roraima [ˈmonte roˈɾaima], also known as Tepuy Roraima and Cerro Roraima; Portuguese: Monte Roraima [ˈmõtʃi ʁoˈɾɐ̃jmɐ]) is the highest of the Pakaraima chain of tepui plateau in South America. First described by the English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh in 1596, its 31 km2 summit area consists on all sides of cliffs rising 400 metres (1,300 ft). The mountain also serves as the triple border point of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana.
Mount Roraima lies on the Guiana Shield in the southeastern corner of Venezuela’s 30,000-square-kilometre (12,000 sq mi) Canaima National Park forming the highest peak of Guyana’s Highland Range. The tabletop mountains of the park are considered some of the oldest geological formations on Earth, dating back to some two billion years ago in the Precambrian.
The highest point in Guyana and the highest point of the Brazilian state of Roraima lie on the plateau, but Venezuela and Brazil have higher mountains elsewhere. The triple border point is at 5°12′08″N 60°44′07″W, but the mountain’s highest point is Maverick Rock, 2,810 metres (9,219 ft), at the south end of the plateau and wholly within Venezuela.
Flora and Fauna
Many of the species found on Roraima are unique to the plateau. Plants such as pitcher plants (Heliamphora), Campanula (a bellflower), and the rare Rapatea heather are commonly found on the escarpment and summit. It rains almost every day of the year. Almost the entire surface of the summit is bare sandstone, with only a few bushes (Bonnetia roraimœ) and algae present.”Low scanty and bristling vegetation” is also found in the small, sandy marshes that intersperse the rocky summit. Most of the nutrients that are present in the soil are washed away by torrents that cascade over the edge, forming some of the highest waterfalls in the world.
There are many examples of unique fauna atop Mount Roraima. Oreophrynella quelchii, commonly called the Roraima Bush Toad, is a diurnal toad usually found on open rock surfaces and shrubland. It is a species of toad in the Bufonidae family and breeds by direct development. The species is currently listed as vulnerable and there is a need for increased education among tourists to make them aware of the importance of not handling these animals in the wild. Close population monitoring is also required, particularly since this species is known only from a single location. The species is protected in Monumento Natural Los Tepuyes in Venezuela, and Parque Nacional Monte Roraima in Brazil.
Since long before the arrival of European explorers, the mountain has held a special significance for the indigenous people of the region, and it is central to many of their myths and legends. The Pemon and Kapon natives of the Gran Sabana see Mount Roraima as the stump of a mighty tree that once held all the fruits and tuberous vegetables in the world. Felled by Makunaima, their mythical trickster, the tree crashed to the ground, unleashing a terrible flood. Roroi in the Pemon language means blue-green and ma means great.
In 2006, Mount Roraima was the destination for the award-winning Gryphon Productions two-hour television documentary The Real Lost World. The program was shown on Animal Planet, Discovery HD Theater and OLN (Canada). Directed by Peter von Puttkamer, this travel/adventure documentary featured a modern team of explorers—Rick West, Dr. Hazel Barton, Seth Heald, Dean Harrison and Peter Sprouse—who followed in the footsteps of British explorers Im Thurn and Harry Perkins who sought the flora and fauna of Roraima in the mid-19th century. The adventures of those explorers may have inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s seminal book about people and dinosaurs, The Lost World, published in 1912. In 2006, The Real Lost World team were the first scientific team to explore the caves of Roraima, only recently discovered. Inside they found intriguing “carrot” formations growing in the 2 billion year old caves. Dr. Hazel Barton returned in 2007 on a NASA funded expedition to investigate the features growing on the cave walls and ceiling: evidence of extremophile cave microbes eating the silica-based walls of the cave and leaving dusty deposits on ancient spiderwebs, forming these unique stalactite type shapes.
In 2009, Mount Roraima served as inspiration for a location in the Disney/Pixar animated movie Up. The Blu-ray version of the movie disc bonus footage features a short film (called Adventure Is Out There) about some of the Pixar production team going to Mount Roraima and climbing it for inspiration and ideas for the making of Up.
Although the steep sides of the plateau make it difficult to access, it was the first recorded major tepui to be climbed: Sir Everard im Thurn walked up a forested ramp in December 1884 to scale the plateau. This is the same route hikers take today.
Today, Mount Roraima is a destination for backpackers. Almost all who go up the mountain approach it from the Venezuelan side. Most hikers hire a Pemon Indian guide in the village of Paraitepui, which is reached by dirt road from the main Gran Sabana road between kilometre 88 and Santa Elena de Uairen. Although the path to reach the plateau is well marked and popularly traveled, it is easy to get lost on top of the mountain, as there are few distinct trails and the near constant cloud cover on top and the uncanny rock formations make visual references problematic. Paraitepui can be reached easily by four-wheel-drive vehicle, with great difficulty by car if the unpaved road conditions are unusually fine, or by foot in about a day.
From Paraitepui, most hikers take two days to reach the base of the mountain, and then another day to follow “La Rampa,” a natural staircase-like path, up to the top. Another two days are typically needed for the return, and many people spend one day and night on top of the mountain, making six days in total. Longer treks can reach the northern portion of the tepui, mostly in Guyana, with less explored and more intriguing sites such as Lake Gladys, although this offers more dangers than its more popular southern part and should only be attempted by well-supplied groups. The less adventurous can also reach the mountain, weather permitting, by helicopter tours available from the nearby Venezuelan city of Santa Elena de Uairén.
The only non-technical route to the top is the Paraitepui route; any other approach will involve climbing gear. Mount Roraima has been climbed on a few occasions from the Guyana and Brazil sides, but as the mountain is entirely bordered on both these sides by enormous sheer cliffs that include high overhanging (negative-inclination) stretches, these are extremely difficult and technical rock climbing routes. Such climbs would also require difficult authorizations for entering restricted-access national parks in the respective countries. As of 2009, climbing from the Brazilian side would be particularly problematic, due to the access being through Raposa-Serra do Sol Amerindian reserve, where armed conflicts between the natives, rice farmers and the authorities have been frequent.