Within the wonderful world of hiking, there are seemingly two categories: those leisurely hikers who love a good dose of fresh air mixed with great views of beautiful landscape and then, there are those adventurous trekkers who love nothing more than beating new and arduous paths towards incredibly remote destinations. Today’s guest posters, Candas Whitlock and Alastair Henry, authors of Awakening in the Northwest Territories and Go for it Volunteering Adventures fall into the second group, albeit unwittingly so. The adventurous duo share their unexpected and humorous journey as they took a three-day trek to the breathtaking Kaiteur Falls in Guyana.
The Kaiteur National Park in Guyana encompasses 627 square kilometers of pristine jungle, creeks and rivers teeming with biodiversity, and The Kaiteur Falls: the world’s third longest single drop waterfall at 822 ft., which is four times higher than Niagara Falls and twice as high as Victoria Falls.
Candas and I hiked it, but had Fiona not convinced us – she said it was an easy hike – we wouldn’t have done it. Her parents were visiting from Ireland and she wanted us to join them on a three day trek up to the top. It was grueling and exhausting and took every gram of energy we had, but we persevered and made it, and were ever so pleased we did. What we saw and experienced was wonderful on so many levels.
There were seven of us, all between the ages of 55 and 70, and we were only allowed one backpack each containing a change of clothes, enough snacks and water for a full two days and a hammock. Two Amerindian guides, Tony and Alwin, were to escort us on our trek: one to lead and one to be last to ensure no one was inadvertently left behind. That was reassuring.
After two days of travel by bus, truck and numerous boats, we reached the base of the Falls where we began our climb. For five hours, we climbed up, always up, and over stones, rocks, streams, roots and fallen trees. There wasn’t much to see in the jungle. The most exciting life form we saw were blue morpho butterflies and howler monkeys. But, being in the dense jungle, soaking wet from perspiration, brought on from extreme exertion and high humidity, was exhilarating.
After two and half hours, we stopped and gathered at a clearing for a rest. We thought we must be close to the top and just needed a break to fuel up for the final push. Then Tony shocked us with the dire news that we’d only reached the half-way point!
Crazy thoughts ran through our heads – we had hammocks in our back-packs – maybe we could call it a day, string up a hammock for the night. “No, you have to finish the climb today,” Tony said with a hearty laugh. And then he stunned us with a further piece of news: “You haven’t climbed the three OMGs yet!”
We looked alarmingly at one another.
“The OMGS? What on earth were they?” we all chimed in.
“They’re the “OH MY GOD” sections!” Tony replied, and roared with laughter. You could tell he enjoyed making this statement.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be right behind you to push you up if you can’t make it,” said Alwin, and both he and Tony slapped hands and guffawed.
What apt descriptions “OMG” was. This was where the trail became more vertical and we had to literally clamber up over stony, wet rubble with our hands and feet in tandem. We pushed and pulled one another and sometimes had to claw our way forward. Our calf muscles, knees, thighs and biceps strained with the effort, but in a strange way, we all agreed it felt good. Maybe it was the sense of achievement we got from doing it, or maybe from relief in the knowledge that it was now behind us. And don’t forget, we were each carrying a heavy backpack. At one spot, spring water gushed out of a ledge in the rock. We didn’t undress, but we bathed in it as totally as we could. It was wonderful to be cool all over, even if the feeling only lasted a few minutes before body heat warmed it up and changed it into perspiration and then into steam.
After an hour and twenty minutes we arrived at the studio, as Tony called it: a flat area with a bench made out of a log. We’d reached the top of the mountain. Hallelujah. Tony chopped up a pineapple to celebrate the hard won milestone. There was still forty minutes of tough slogging to go though before we reached the Falls. Eventually, we walked out of the trees and there, off in the distance to our right, was Kaiteur Falls. They were magnificent. And what I found most surprising was they were quieter than I’d expected – so unlike the roar at the top of Niagara Falls. The water went over the top silently, and only thundered when it roared down and smashed into the river nine hundred feet below.