Sean Villanueva, Stephane Hanssens, Jean-Louis Wertz and Nicolas Favresse just came back to civilization after 38 days in the jungle. "We had a really good adventure, very different from all the other expeditions we have done in the past. The weather, the rock, the jungle, the indigenes, the animals and this incredible wall of the Tuyuren waterfall made up for some very exciting moments. We managed to put up two new free routes on the Tuyuren waterfall wall, one on the left side "Maria Rosa" and one on the right "Apichavai"".
When we first came out of the jungle directly to the base of this wall, it looked so overhanging that gravity felt heavy in our minds. We were really not sure wether free climbing this wall would be possible and even more in the style we had commit ourself to approach it. From the ground we could see almost no real obvious lines, very few cracks and the wall is relentless steep... Definitely the steepest I have seen of this size. Our friends Mason Earle(US), George Ullrich (UK), Siebe Vanhee (BE), Sam Farnsworth (UK) had 10 days of advance on us and where already hanging quite high on one of the main obvious line at the center of the wall. It was pretty funny because it was a real coincidence. We both team are good friends and both originally decided to go to the same place without knowing we had the same plan!
Maria Rosa 7b 500m no bolts, no pitons, no rap stations
The right side of the wall looked to us most likely impossible, in the middle the other team had taken the main line (which looked quite impossible too!) so we decided to first try a route on left side where we spotted an appealing line. As we did our first pitches we realized the climbing here is completely different from the big wall climbing we are use to. It's steep,very featured but mostly with horizontal holds so it's very difficult to anticipate what's next. Mostly you just have to commit section and hoping for the best;) Traversing was often the easiest and most tempting solution instead of climbing straight up in the unknown.
The climbing was steep and adventurous but this rock is so featured that the climbing, although quite sustained, went easier than we had expected. In only 4 days we made it very high to the base of some massive roof only to find a perfect 10m roof crack with about 400m of pure exposure. We were super excited but unfortunately to enter this roof crack, a one move boulder problem shut us down and didn't allow us to free it all. But the roof crack was so beautiful and unreal that we still played on it for a couple days just for fun. Then when we got ready to push for the summit, we split in two teams to go to the top: One went around the roof to make a free variation to the massive roof while the other finished our most logical original line. We hauled all our gear to the top of the wall and hung out one full day on top of the tepui to enjoy the beauty of this magical place. The next day we came down on the left side of the wall on the Venezuelian route "Wacupero Amuri" which allowed us to leave absolutely nothing behind on our route. We called this new route "Maria Rosa" after some local cookies called Maria in which we had the occasional surprise to find strawberry filling. So the route has two exits. One all free avoiding the roof with 3 long pitches traversing left and then up to the summit and the other which exit straight up the roof with a few aid moves of C1.
Nicolas Favresse making his way up on the second pitch of Maria Rosa
Apichavai 8a+ 500m 5 bolts
When we came down from Maria Rosa, we made a quick trip back to Yunek to get more food. There we met with the other team on their way back home. We had seen them climbing next to us the whole time but we couldn't communicate because of the loud sound of the waterfall. They motivated us to try to free their line "Kids with Guns" at the center of the wall which they thought could go free but as we returned to Amuri, adventure called us for the exploration of a new line, this time on the most likely impossible right side! Only the first two pitches of the line we chose seemed more or less obvious and not so steep and the rest was just like an overhanging ocean of Quartzite. Right away we encountered difficulties with hard pitches, vegetation, tricky protections and lose blocks. On an attempt to redpoint the second pitch Sean Villanueva took a 40 m fall ripping 5 pieces of gear, three of which look perfect except for a bit of dirt. Thankfully the ground was still 20m away and the wall is so overhanging there was only air to hit. But Jean-Louis who was belaying got some very bad rope burns on both of his hands. For a moment we were not sure wether he should stay or go home to avoid serious infections. But after 4 days it started looking better so he decided to join us on the wall but without being able to climb. There were many other falls on this climb around 20 between all of us! On pitch 4, 6 and 7 the route goes through the most overhanging part of the wall and those were the hardest pitches to free climb with difficulties up to 8a+. Out of the route's 15 pitches, we could only onsight 4 of them. The rest of them were hard and required some cleaning and aiding in order to explore them and study the protections for the free climbing. What was most amazing is that we found a path that goes free up this wall. Many sections were only possible due to only one single hold. The last 4 days on the wall, each day we thought we would reach the top but each day we got shut down by unexpected hard sections we had to work out, clean and redpoint. It seemed like we were never getting to the end of this wall. Amazingly It didn't let go until the very end and we were really not sure wether we would make itl! It's the first time this happens to us. But finally the dense vegetation of the summit was there and there we were for the second time on top of Amuri!
We placed a total of three lead bolts and two bolts to reinforce two anchors in all the route. The route took us 14 days, 4 of which we stayed attached to the ground waiting for Jean-Louis's hand to heal. The difficulty is very sustained with 8 pitches of 7b and harder!
"Apichavai" is the name of a warrior who lived in Yunek and finally managed to kill "Tri Tri": the giant bird who would catch people and eat them high up in his cave on the Tepuys.
Fearless Sean Villanueva finally sends pitch 2 after his 40m fall
We would like to thank everyone who helped us live our dreams : The Belgian alpine club, Patagonia, Julbo, Five Ten, Black Diamond, Seeonee, Sterling ropes, Beal, Belclimb.be, Petzl, Careplus , Katadyn, Nordisk, Boreal, Crux, AVS aviation.
Also we would like to thank Oliver from Trekken Tepuy who helped us with some logistic issues, our pilot Marcos Garcia and all the kind poeple from Yunek who help us carry all our gear through the jungle.
You will find in the next couple weeks more info and stories on : www.xpedition.be
Nico, Stephane, Jean-Louis and Sean
Nicolas Favresse choose to traversing above huge roofs on the final pitches of Maria Rosa
Sean Villanueva's interview
Petzl met with Sean, back from his venezuelian trip, and asked him a couple of questions.
Petzl : Hello Sean, and congratulations for these two new routes opened in great style. Climbing on the Tepui sounds like a real hardcore adventure, how do you prepare such a trip, and how does the team manage the everyday life on the wall ?
Sean : We always organize our expeditions at the last minute, this means that things can go wrong, but it increases the adventure aspect of the trip. We contacted British climber John Arran, who has a lot of experience in the area and he sent us a picture of Amuri Tepui. He told us it is possibly the most overhanging big wall in the world that there was a big potential for very hard routes. Obviously that got us really excited.
On the wall we usually work in two teams. One team goes up to explore higher which is always very challenging when you are going on new terrain. On this rock finding a free line was particularly difficult, because it’s a real labyrinth, not with an obvious line. The second team is either redpointing one of the lower pitches, or hauling up gear to bring up the portaledge camp. Usually we swap tasks every day. Even though every single pitch on these climbs was overhanging, we did fin a lot of perfect ledges, which meant that our hanging camps were very comfortable. Obviously playing music and singing is important to stay sane when you’re hanging in a vertical world for 10 days! Nico brought a small guitar, Stephane plays the pots and pans, I play the tin whistle and the flute, and Jean-Louis is an experimental singer.
Petzl : Reading the report it sounds like these two ascents were really engaged, and that big whippers are part of the game, what are the tricks to staying alive ?
Sean : Besides playing music to keep your mind sane, you have to stay in contact with your instincts when climbinbg, your inspiration. We have no shame in backing off if we don’t feel something. You have to read the rock and objectively estimate the dangers. Here the wall was super overhanging, which meant we could afford to take big falls. I would say that for big wall free climbing the most important thing is to be inspired. Obviously being physically well trained is important, and being strong mentally too, but the real important thing is to have that flame inside your chest, inspired, like a dancer expressing himself on his stage, you have to feel it inside. If you don’t feel it, you back off. Don't climb faster than your guardian angel can fly. Besides that, like with everything in life, you need to have some luck too.