Words: Paul Mcsorley
Film & Photos: Kieran Brownie
“Holy Shit!!! Stop!” Dave snapped out, shattering the glazey silence of our pre-dawn approach. “It’s a SNAKE!!! I HATE snakes!” Unwittingly, I’d just missed stomping on a slender viper, recoiled front and centre on the path before me. The light of the Super Blood Moon had bolstered my nonchalance to routefind sans headlamp and rely on the eerie glow that seeped past the jungle canopy onto the vague trail. This brazen, battery saving strategy was less than a success and had literally nearly come back to bite me in the ass. Our blood pumped to the beat of a Gun’s N’ Roses track as we slinked cautiously away from this reptile, whose ability to induce fear loomed far greater than its physical stature.
Of course, this was already strike two on the way to our planned objective: a first ascent up a granite dome deep in the Orinoco Watershed. Our teammate and photographer Kieran Brownie, had forgotten a crucial item on a scoping mission the day before, so was moving independently to re-summit the peak where he’d spaced his gear. Dave and I immediately thought of him and hoped he hadn’t experienced an Indiana Jones moment like this, or worse, a terrible viper strike.
Headlamps on full blast, we continued toward the base of Cerro Pajarito, the most prominent peak in a cluster of domes that are among the world’s oldest rock formations: the Cerros de Mavecure. Every step towards Pajarito led us further away from the Inirida river, the only “road” in or out of this place in the forlorn Guyania region of Eastern Colombia. Eventually, we thrashed our way to the wall only to be welcomed by a rain shower that gave us no choice but to curl up in a pathetic pile of ropes and take a restless siesta until Kieran arrived.
The idea for this trip was born two years earlier. During a random film review, I caught a glimpse of an astonishing place that looked like nothing I’d ever seen. The images of shapely Domes, mushrooming from an occult landscape, played backdrop to Ciro Guerra’s drama El Abrazo de la Serpienta, (Embrace of the Serpent) the first Colombian film ever to be nominated for an Oscar. Sometimes, a powerful visual is all it takes to scratch up some cash and buy plane tickets to place you know nothing about.
If you believe everything you see on Netflix or in a State Department travel advisory, Colombia, is a terribly dangerous place you probably shouldn’t visit. The truth is, this country is as welcoming and progressive as they come. Just this year, the government created the world’s largest tropical rainforest national park to protect uncontacted tribes as well as a wildly diverse biomass of flora and fauna. Colombia is picking up the pieces form its tortured past and dancing forward to the rhythm of a feisty Cumbia.
After a tough start, Kieran, Dave and I eventually found our groove. The climb snaked its way up a 600 meter slab that could only be protected with bolts. Between natural stances, we’d run the rope out as far as we dared, moving as fast as possible to avoid the oppressive midday sun. As we rounded the top of the mountain and topped out through a final jungle bushwhack, the fireball in the sky caught us. Sunstroke and dehydration were our reward for sneaking past the Serpent but we’d managed a wild new route on a mountain so far off the radar, it’s likely few climbers will ever repeat it. For us, this chance to visit such an enchanted land and discover something new, was more than enough…