Leo Houlding in Venezeula - Cerro Autana Expedition

by Alan James and Alastair Lee Mar/2012
This news story has been read 18,946 times

Following hot on the heels of our report about a successful Belgian/British expedition to Venezuela (news report here) comes another one about successful international expedition to a wild and remote location in the deepest Amazon in eastern Venezuela - Cerro Autana.

They made the first ascent of the East Face of Cerro Autana and called the route The Yopo Wall, 400m, E6 6b, A1. First ascent: Leo Houlding, Jason Pickles, Stanley Leary, Alastair Lee, Yupi Rangel and Alejandro Lamus, Jan 28 to Feb 5, 2012.

Alastair Lee sent us this report. Warning - don't scroll down if you are squeamish about insects!


Leo Houlding has just returned from a succesful expedition in the depths of the Amazonian jungle in Venezuela. Leo, along with his close knit team of climbers, local fixers and expedition film maker Alastair Lee, took on the complex and ambitious journey to make a first ascent on Cerro Autana (1400m), one of the Amazon's most remote and sacred mountains.

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+Autana Expedition - route line, 105 kb
The route line on Cerro Autana © Alastair Lee

Cerro Autana is a spectacular quartzite-sandstone Tepuy situated deep in the jungle in the state of Amazonas in eastern Venezuela.­The local Piaroa Indians revere it as the stump of the tree of life from which the fruits of all life grew. Due to its sacred status and close proximity to the porous Colombian border, access to Autana is prohibited and extremely difficult to secure on both a national and local level. The starting point for the expedition was the frontier town of Puerto Ayacucho, easily reached from Caracas (Venezuelan capital) by car or plane. From here the Piaroa community of Ceguera is accessed by an eight hour boat ride up the Rio Orinoco and tributary Rio Autana.

+Autana Expedition - the walk in, 197 kb
Hard going on the walk-in © Alastair Lee

'The remote tropical location made for some brilliant filming conditions, each location was like a tailor made film set.'
- Alastair Lee

After seeking a blessing from the local Shaman and partaking in a memorable Yopo ceremony the team accompanied by their Piaroa porters began a four day trek through virgin jungle to establish a trail and base camp below the rarely visited east face of Autana.

'Just reaching this virgin face was a huge adventure in itself'
- Jason Pickles

A host of jungle nasties provided a constant challenge for the uninitiated team. 100% humidity, 35-degree heat and torrential downpours combined with mosquitos, a plethora of flies and a dozen different species of ants made for an irritating backdrop against the more serious menace of tarantulas, scorpions and deadly snakes. From their hammock base camp, a dangerous and complex approach was tackled through vertical jungle, weaving up roots and vines, through hanging gardens and waterfalls to the base of the wall proper.

+Autana Expedition - Stanley jugging, 163 kb
Sean Leary jugging on the wall © Alastair Lee
+Autana Expedition - Dave with his bites, 118 kb
David Reeves with some awesome insect bites © Alastair Lee

"It really was a journey into the lost world. So many unknowns and hazards, once in a lifetime experiences and unforgettable moments. Indiana Jones would've been proud."
- Leo Houlding

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Insects showing an interest in the new Canon D60 © Alastair Lee

The initial pitches involved heavy gardening and proved slow going before the rock quality and cleanliness improved greatly. A couple of fantastic long pitches led to the indescribably magnificent Cuevo Autana. The Autana Caves are the highest elevated cave system in the world. If it were not for their extremely inaccessible position they would surely be one of the wonders of the world. Situated halfway up the east face of the mountain the cave system provided a unique bivying location for the climbers.

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The amazing Autana Caves wall camp © Alastair Lee

A cave, equal in scale and grandeur to a cathedral, proved to be the finest wall camp imaginable with fresh running water, firewood, plenty of flat ground and a truly celestial view over an uninterrupted jungle wilderness stretching for as far as the eye could see.

'Our voyage to the Tree of Life was a real boys own adventure. Truly dismal suffering would be punctuated by moments of absolute beauty or hilarious camaraderie as we pushed through the challenges of the jungle then the climb itself'
- Sean 'Stanley' Leary

Above the cave the wall became incredibly steep. A tenuous line of corners, chimneys and hanging walls led for five pitches through giant ceilings with surprising ease until a final six meter horizontal roof forced a few moves of aid to reach the top of the wall.

A couple of hundred meters more vertical jungle of a very different nature to that of the base eventually led the entire team to the elusive summit, not visited for at least a decade. The team rappelled the line of the climb leaving only their rappel stations behind. Tepuy climbing transpired to be everything they hoped for, everything they had feared and a whole lot more. They will be back, but not for a little while....

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Packing on the walk-in © Alastair Lee
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Leo Houlding in the jungle © Alastair Lee
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The team on the summit © Alastair Lee

+Berghaus logo, 57 kb The expedition is supported by Berghaus and Leo Houlding, Stanley Leary and Jason Pickles are all Berghaus athletes.

A film about the expedition is now in production and will be released later in 2012. 'Autana - first ascent in the lost world'. Produced by award-winning film maker Alastair Lee.

For more info and trailer - www.posingproductions.com

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