“There’s many a man who never tells his adventures, for he can’t hope to be believed.” ―Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Lost World”
(© Ian Plant) There are many beautiful places in this wide world, but some stand above the rest, kindling the imagination with a vivid flame. Canaima National Park, located in the wilds of Venezuela, is one of the most remarkable places I have ever seen—and considering that it is my job to travel to remarkable places, that’s saying a lot. Some say that this remote wilderness inspired the dinosaur-infested landscapes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel “The Lost World,” and it is easy to see why. There is something magical, something mysterious about Canaima, cloaked in a veil of mist and shielded from the unrelenting march of history. Deep in its embrace, one feels untethered from the real world outside, as if tucked away in a pocket that time forgot.
Rising from steaming jungles and arid plains, the Guiana Highlands, worn by two billion years of wind and rain, are dominated by table-like mountains called tepuis. Surrounded on all sides by sheer cliffs, the tepuis are equal parts formidable and alluring, with the world’s tallest waterfalls plunging down from their rocky heights. Mount Roraima—which in the native Pemon language means “Mother of all Waters”—is the most prominent tepui, standing 9,219 feet above sea level where the boundaries of Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana meet. Canaima is also home to Angel Falls, which drops 3,212 feet over the edge of Auyán-tepui, making it the world’s tallest waterfall.
I took this photo of nearby Kukenán-tepui during the long ascent up Roraima. Rain, fog, and clouds are common in Canaima, even during the dry season—views of the tepuis were rare—so when I had this brief moment when Kukenán emerged from encircling mists, I didn’t hesitate. Despite shooting this several hours after the morning “magic hour,” this is easily one of my favorite images from the trip: it tells the story of this amazing place, and is infused with a sense of mystery. “The Lost World”—Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Canon 70D, 35mm, ISO 100, f/10, 1/100 second.
The ascent of Roraima was grueling. Most trekkers take three days to get to the top, but I opted to do it in two. When I finally reached Maverick Rock, the mountain’s highest point, I decided to snap a quick self-portrait in celebration. I didn’t have a view of the surrounding landscape, but the clouds rising up from the valley below was a stunning sight to see. “The Summoning”—Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Canon 70D, 16mm, ISO 100, f/11, 1/640 second.
Roraima has many interesting rock formations and caves, including one which is over 16km in length. The next photo is of a cave-in-the-making, holes and columns of sandstone being carved by the ever-present streams atop the mountain. In a few tens of thousands of years, some happy spelunker is going to have a field day here. “Carved by Water”—Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Canon 5DIII, 16mm, ISO 100, f/11, 8 seconds.
I spent fours days on top of Roraima (I wish I had spent a few more), but rain and fog thwarted most of my attempts at photography. One evening, I got lucky, and the veil of clouds lifted just in time for sunset. I hiked out to a location with a view of the Northern Prow of Roraima; the relentless rain had created dozens of waterfalls plunging down its rocky flanks. I stood in awe at the edge of a 1,200 foot cliff, looking over one of the most inspiring landscapes I have ever seen. It was my last good view from the top. “Mother of All Waters”—Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Canon 70D, 46mm, ISO 100, f/10, 1/13 second.
Afterwards, I journeyed to Angel Falls—first two days by foot to exit Roraima, then by overnight bus, then by plane, and finally by a traditional canoe powered by a motor. I had one night camped below Angel Falls, which meant I had two chances to get something meaningful (once at sunset and again at sunrise). Luckily, at sunset high clouds drifted over Auyán-tepui, catching the last light of the day. I took a chance and placed a ten-stop neutral density filter over my lens, opting for an exposure of several minutes during the peak light. My gamble paid off; I was rewarded with a compelling and colorful radial pattern of streaking clouds. “Kerepakupai Vená”—Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Canon 5DIII, 16mm, 10-stop neutral density filter, polarizer filter, 2-stop graduated neutral density filter, ISO 100, f/8, 141 seconds.
Now that I have returned from Canaima, I can scarcely believe that I was ever there, surrounded by eternal beauty in the land that time forgot. If it weren’t for my photos from the trip, I’d likely think it was only a pleasant dream.
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