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Find out more about the ascent of these two amazing mountains

Roraima is the highest tepuy in the Gran Sabana, towering 2,800 metres (9,000 feet) above the plains. Kukenan (Matawi) is its twin. They lie at the confluence of three countries (Guyana, Venezuela and Brazil) and spawn tributaries of three of the continent's greatest rivers (the Orinoco, Amazon and Essequibo). Pemon legend variously describes Roraima as the Mother of All Waters and the home of the Goddess Kuín, grandmother of all Men...

Approaching the Twin Towers of Kukenan and Roraima (right) -- photo: Rafael Leal, Tepuys Home Page

This section includes


rest stop at the foot of Roraima

Profile of KukenanClimbing to and exploring its surface is one of the most memorable experiences of people's lives. Everard Im Thurn and Harry Perkin's account of the first ascent of Roraima is a classic of Victorian exploration (see above) -- it makes you want to drop everything and follow in their intrepid footsteps.

One small step onto a tepuy's surface is one giant leap onto another planet. It's the Earth, but not as we know it. You're surrounded by amphitheatres of rock, carved over millennia by the unforgiving rains and winds. Faces and animals and creatures emerge in their strange, other-worldly shapes, while sweeps of cloud close in all around you, then disappear. Your only bearings are the faint paths of rubbed-away lighter rock, the footsteps of all the other trekkers who've come before you. Vegetation is sparse, reduced to weird and wonderful plants, lichens and mosses. Water is everywhere, running in rivulets, coursing through crags, gathering in mustard yellow and mushy pea green-bottomed pools, constantly seeking the mountain's edge from which to hurl itself lemming-like.

Roraima is also a mystical place to be revered. The Pemon twist stories of natural events which in time become myths explaining a mountain's strange aspect; name tepuis after a story's protagonist; weave magic and reality into a seamless blend of narrative. Tepuis house the mansions of the mawariton high up and out-of-reach. The king of the vultures, Anwona, hides atop the highest of them, while Rató the water spirit lurks in the depths of the region's hundreds of rivers. Westerners' flights of fancy regarding Roraima are no more far-fetched. Arthur Conan Doyle based his novel The Lost World on the reports of early explorers to the region, imagining dinosaurs and prehistoric tribes running amok on the summit. More recent theories claim Roraima is one of the Gran Sabana's 'Invisible Pyramids' of energy...

A heliamphoraTepuis such as Roraima and Kukenan continue to withhold some secrets from science, harbouring hundreds of isolated species -- islands in time caught up in the clouds. Of Roraima's vast surface, only 44 square miles has so far been explored. The rarest creature so far found is a black frog, oreophrynella quelchii. Flora includes many species of carnivorous sun pitchers of which the Heliamphora is perhaps the most rare and spectacular. It is thought as much as half of Roraima's species live exclusively on the mountain.

Zoomorphic rock sculptures on top of RoraimaAtop their quartzite summits lie labyrinths of pagodas, valleys of crystals and clear pools that disappear in the depths. Star-shaped, catherine wheel flowers on long spiny stems, carpets of fuchsia drosera moss, spiky yellow-orb flowers and carnivorous pitcher plants cling to nooks and crannies, sparkling in the rare moments of blinding sun. Stunted trees with wide boughs and spindly leaves evoke parchment scrolls of Japanese Zen gardens, Hokusai waves of prehistoric rock washed over by brush-stroke clouds.

The odd bird flits and chatters, but otherwise, the silence is deafening. You lose all sense of scale, any track of time. The land is old -- these were once the valleys of Gondwana and Pangea -- stuffed full of gold and diamonds, charged with Life's current for over two billion years. The landscape is in constant motion, and yet completely static, like a giant cog in the wheel of time, slowly clunking the gears of evolution. It has witnessed every wonder of Nature, and every folly of Man

Roraima's name has been corrupted from the original Pemon word 'roroima', 'roroi' meaning blue-green, and 'ma' large. The mountain is now universally known as Roraima however.
Kukenan's original name in Pemon was 'matawi' meaning 'place to die'. Because the cataract that plunges from its flanks (the fourth longest in the world), spawns the River Kukenan ('always dirty'), the name has gradually become corrupted. You might also see its spelt 'Cuquenan' and 'Kukenaam'.

For more information :
Bibliography -- particularly Uwe George's inspirational National Geographic article.


All of the material on this site is  © Dominic Hamilton1998-2007, unless otherwise stated. Unauthorised copying or downloading prohibited.
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