This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this epic Secret Compass expedition to Venezuela.
Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations. Use the buttons below to ask questions or to apply for this team or, once approved, to secure your spot on this expedition team with a Booking Form and a £400 deposit.
Arrive: by 1700 on 3 Feb 2018 into Símon Bolívar International Airport.
Depart: anytime on the 16 Feb 2018.
Insurance: ensure you have comprehensive cover.
Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
Balance due: 90 days before departure on 3 Nov 2017.
The aim of this epic expedition to Venezuela is to take a small team of adventurous travellers to become some of the very few people to climb the tabletop mountain (tepui) of Auyán-tepui and to abseil down the world’s highest waterfall, Angel Falls.
The 979m waterfall takes two days to rappel down over 23 rope lengths. Watch this BBC Extreme Mountain Challenge Angel Falls episode for a closer look at these phenomenal falls.
To get to the summit of this epic tepui you will trek and climb on the only known route to the top, which was charted in 1927 when a rescue attempt to the summit was launched to rescue American aviator Jimmy Angel when he crash-landed on the summit.
Abseil off Auyán-tepui down the 979m high Angel Falls, the highest in the world.
Trek and climb up to the summit of the tepui via the only route possible.
Explore a region of made famous in Conan Doyle’s The Lost World novel.
Travel and explore the Canaima National Park, a UNESCO Wold Heritage site.
You need to organise your own international flights. We have a unique partnership with Student Universe (a specialist division of the Flight Centre Travel Group and no, you don’t have to be a student to use them). The dedicated Secret Compass team understand us, our destinations and use global buying power to save you money and offer security along with a 24hour assistance helpline. Fill in a free, no-obligation Flight Quote Request form or call (UK) 0844 560 9799 for assistance in booking international flights.
It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed for fee or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. See our online Terms and Conditions.
You need to arrive in Caracas International Airport by 1700 on 3 February 2018 and the expedition officially ends after breakfast on 16 February 2018.
Insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy. Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).
Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad: at least $500,000.
Activities: ensure that any activities carried out on the expedition are included, these could be trekking, horse riding, rafting, MTB etc.
Geographical region: check the region you are going to is insured (often the US, Canada, Afghanistan etc aren’t).
Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and Travel Aware website.
Dates: make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose any to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.
Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit our Expedition Travel Insurance.
Visas are your responsibility. Most countries such as UK and EU citizens can obtain a 90 day travel card on entry. However, US citizens must obtain a visa before arrival or they will not be permitted to board the plane.
You should have a passport valid for the duration of the expedition and your travel dates. Venezuela recommends six months remaining before expiry. Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you on the expedition in a safe place.
Day 1: Feb 3 – Caracas
Arrive in Caracas and make your way to the team hotel near the airport by 1700 to meet your leader. Welcome meal and expedition briefing. The expedition will officially begin at the airport.
Day 2: Feb 4 – Uruyen Lodge
Transfer to the airport for a private flight to Puerto Ordaz (included) to the Kamarata Valley, south of Auyán Tepui. You’ll be greeted by local hosts who’ll take you to Uruyen Lodge. A small bag with excess kit can be left here at your own risk. The journey then begins, heading for Uruyen’s canyon. Spend the night in Uruyen in indigenous churatas accommodation.
Day 3: Feb 5 – Karamata valley
Once you’ve joined up with the porters and leaders, the ascent will begin to Guayaraka, the first stop on Auyán Tepui. The first leg will give you an incredible view of the Kamarata valley.
Day 4: Feb 6 – Summit of Auyán Tepui
Trek through marshland and thick jungle as you ascend to the second plateau of the mountain. The route progressively gets steeper until you make camp close to the highest point of the mountain.
Day 5: Feb 7 – Dragón
A full day of trekking to take you across the summit of the mountain, encountering many obstacles in the form of large fissures, rivers and marshland as well as ample flora and fauna spotting opportunities. You’ll soon reach the Churun river. Continue to trek along the riverbank through thick jungle to reach the evening’s campsite, known to locals as ‘Dragón’.
Day 6: Feb 8 – Dragón
The entire day will be spent exploring this incredible part of the huge summit, visiting spectacular waterfalls, pink sandy river banks and seeking out wide-ranging views of the Churun river valley. Spend a second night at Dragón.
Day 7: Feb 9 – Weather Station
The camp location for tonight is an old, closed-down weather station. To reach it, you’ll trek through varied terrain including large boulder fields.
Day 8: Feb 10 – Kerepakupai river
Continue the trek to reach the Kerepakupai river. This river cascades over the side of the mountain to become the waterfall known as Angel Falls. Camp will be set next to this unique river.
Day 9: Feb 11 – Kerepakupai river
Rest day. Take in the surroundings, explore the area and prepare for your epic abseiling descent: of the world’s highest waterfall! Get a good night’s sleep, team…
Day 10: Feb 12 – ‘The Wall’
First abseil day. After a very early start to the day, you’ll start your descent next to Angel Falls, over the Churun river valley. The whole day will be spent on the multi-pitch abseil. Teammates will be accompanied by professional Secret Compass and in-country staff. By sunset, camp will be set up on a sheltered overhang. (Do read the Preparation and Fitness tabs of this expedition to ensure you are aware of the abseil experience pre-requisites before booking onto this team.)
Day 11: Feb 13 – Churun river
Day two of the abseil. Complete the final descent of the Angel Falls waterfall. The final leg of the journey will be through thick vegetation and jungle, until you reach the base of Auyán Tepui. Trek through the jungle across the banks of Churun river. After celebrating the successful descent, settle in for a night in hammocks on the riverbank.
Day 12: Feb 14 – Canaima
On board a curiara (motorized dugout canoe), you will travel along the river to Canaima for a chance to rest and to enjoy a relaxed afternoon by the Carrao river.
Day 13: Feb 15 – Caracas
The flight back Puerto Ordaz leaves at midday, you’ll then board a connecting flight to Caracas. Celebratory team meal in the evening.
Day 14: Feb 16 – Caracas
Departure day. the expedition officially finishes after breakfast today. Team free are to leave after breakfast.
About Secret Compass itineraries
Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but may not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team will adapt, flex and change the plan depending on numerous frictions that you will encounter along the way.
All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, this is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you will be sore, tired, hungry and possibly wet! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train for the expedition and arrive fit and ready to go. You must be prepared and fit enough for the following.
Expedition Grading: 270°.
Daily activity: trek up to eight hours a day. Abseil for at least two long days and approximately 23 pitches.
Carry: up to 10kg.
Terrain: very varied. Deep jungles, marshy swamps and very steep paths. You’ll ascend with the aid of fixed ropes and using scrambling techniques.
Abseiling: off sheer vertical cliffs, and at times over overhangs with no wall at all through up to 23 pitches. See below for more on the abseil prerequisites for this team.
Climate: temps around 26°C – 28°C with high humidity. Cooler at nights and at the summit.
This is one of the longest and most extreme abseils in the world. Previous experience of abseiling is necessary for this expedition. You must be completely confident of tying and clipping into anchors and using your abseiling (rappelling) equipment.
If you have no prior experience this is not a problem as you have time to learn these techniques prior to the trip. Find a local climbing wall that can run bespoke training sessions to teach you these required skills.
On arrival, you’ll need to be able to do the following.
Put on a climbing seat harness and chest harness.
Tie yourself into the system.
Clip yourself into a hanging anchor system and make yourself safe.
Rig your belay device (ATC or similar, NOT Fig 8), for abseiling.
Rig an autobloc system such as a shunt.
Abseil an overhanging pitch with no contact with the rock or wall.
Vaccinations. Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS websites FitforTravel and TravelHealthPro are useful. There is a risk of malaria so please bring appropriate prophylaxis/other specific recommendations if appropriate.
Dental. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.
The Venezuelan Bolivar is the currency in the country, but is in a constant state of potential collapse. There will be opportunities to exchange and withdraw money from ATMs in the international airport, but it is advised to not take much and to deal mostly in US dollars. Advice will be taken from the local guides near to the time. This expedition is all-inclusive so you won’t need much money – only for a beer when at the hotels and some souvenirs on the way or for (discretionary but always appreciated) tips.
The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for the 2018 expedition to Venezuela. You will have porters to carry your main luggage, and so you will be carrying a daysack with essential gear such as waterproofs and water. Due to the technical nature of this expedition and the previous experience requirements, personal climbing equipment is also the responsibility of each team member.
Secret Compass has arranged team members discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.
Personal Climbing Equipment
CLIMBING HARNESS: Well-padded with gear loops.
ABSEIL OR BELAY DEVICE: ATC, Rack or equivalent (NB: Must NOT be a FIG 8)
2x PERSONAL ANCHOR TETHER: Daisy chain sling.
2x ANCHOR SLINGS.
5x LARGE HMS SCREWGATRE CARABINERS: Such as DMM Boa HMS.
3x STANDARD SCREWGATE CARABINERS.
1x AUTOBLOCK SYSTEM: Such as Shunt device, or Prusik knot.
GLOVES FOR ABSEILING.
Baggage and Sleeping
RUCKSACK OR DUFFLEBAG: 60-70ltr, all your personal gear needs to fit easily into this pack which will be carried by porters.
DAYSACK 30-40ltrs: A well-fitting rucksack that will carry essentials such as waterproofs and water. It is essential that straps to not impede or get caught up in the abseiling equipment or harness system.
WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable “canoe” or “dry” bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb. You need a large one to line your rucksack.
SLEEPING BAG: Rated to at least comfort 0C. Down is lighter and more compact than synthetic options but also invest in a waterproof stuff sack.
SLEEPING MAT: Inflatable roll mat, and consider a ¾ length for fitting in the hammock. Bring a repair kit.
2 x LONG SLEEVE SHIRT: Quick-drying long sleeve shirt or top (not cotton).
2 x LONG TREKKING TROUSERS: Thin trekking trousers that dry quickly and are comfortable.
1 x MID LAYER: Fleece or equivalent.
1 x LIGHTWEIGHT DOWN JACKET: It may well be cold at altitude or in the evenings.
1 x WATERPROOF JACKET AND TROUSERS: Gore-tex or equivalent.
1 x WALKING BOOTS: Must provide ankle support and be worn in before the expedition. Please consult your nearest outdoor store for advice on choosing the correct boot. Consider lightweight scrambling boots with a well-protected toe box.
4 x HIKING SOCKS.
SANDALS: Around camp and river crossings. Not flip flops.
WIDE BRIMMED SUN HAT.
WARM HAT FOR EVENINGS.
4 x UNDERWEAR: Sport or cycling-styled shorts chafe less.
1 x ROBUST WATER BOTTLE: Nalgene or Sigg.
1 x CAMELBACK: You need to be able to carry a minimum of 3 litres of water in a combination of camelback and water bottles.
Health and hygiene
WASHBAG, TOOTHBRUSH AND TOOTHPASTE, RAZOR, DEODORANT.
SOAP: Anti-bacterial and BIODEGRADABLE.
WET WIPES OR BABY WIPES.
ANTIBACTERIAL HAND GEL.
LIP SALVE WITH UV PROTECTION.
VASELINE: Keep readily available on to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.
FACTOR 30+ SUN CREAM.
Small First Aid Kit:
A team medical kit with a comprehensive primary care provision will be carried.
A WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: Keep kit dry and safe.
PAINKILLERS: Ibuprofen and paracetamol.
ZING OXIDE TAPE AND SMALL SCISSORS.
MELOLIN DRESSING PADS x4.
2 x CREPE BANDAGE.
COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard/original item.
DIAHORREA TABLETS: Imodium.
DIORALYTE SACHETS OR SIMILAR REHYDRATION PACKS.
PIRITON TABLETS: For allergies.
EURAX CREAM: For bites.
ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: Find out the generic/chemical name for your medication in case you need to source more in-country. Please also check that your medication is legal in your destination. You must make Secret Compass aware of any medical conditions before you travel and to any changes in this post-booking.
HEAD TORCH AND SPARE BATTERIES: Petzl Tikka heard torch or equivalent.
SUNGLASSES: With UV-filter lenses.
GAFFA TAPE: For emergency repairs to your kit, you can take some off the roll and wrap it around something else in your kit.
SPARE BOOT LACES.
SMALL SEWING KIT.
RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing, wrappings etc.
Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.
Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.
Local partners and bureaucracy
Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.
Infrastructure and natural events
The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.
In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs)
Part of a team
Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.
There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.
You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.
Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.
We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.
Key risks encountered on this specific expedition include accidents or medical emergencies whilst in a remote environment and political instability in the country. If you would like to see the full Risk Assessment for this expedition, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Incident management and medical
As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies. This will be discussed in full at the arrival brief, so everyone is aware what action will be taken. In summary, incidences are usually managed on the ground by the expedition leader in the first instance with remote support from Secret Compass’s 24 hour Operations Room before evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical centre.
It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time (potentially up to 3 days) and will require wilderness extraction techniques and long carries by stretcher. In-country search and rescue and emergency services are very basic or non-existent and the expedition will rely on internal resources for medical evacuation. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.
Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.
Venezuela is going through a financial crisis and hyperinflation is causing its economy to collapse. Food shortages and crime rates in the capital city, Caracas are increasing. For this reason, the team will not be travelling into the city proper at any time during this expedition and will be staying in a hotel near the international airport. Secret Compass will monitor the security situation and update the team as nearer to the time of the trip. The expedition will be travelling to the Guiana Highlands, which will be a world away from the troubles facing the urban cities of the country.
The highlands form a large part of the country and include Cainaima National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the sixth largest national park in the world. It is approximately the same size as Belgium. It is home to a number of indigenous tribes, including the Pemon Indians who have an intimate relationship with the tepuis, which are home to their ‘Mawari’ spirits. A lot of the local support staff will be Pemon, and you’ll get a chance to learn more about their beliefs and traditions.
This is a varied expedition with diverse terrain in a short space of time. You will walk through deep jungles, marshy swamps, grass covered plateaux and up very steep paths, ascending using the aid of fixed ropes and using scrambling techniques.
This highlight of the expedition will be the abseiling, which will be off sheer vertical cliffs, and at times over overhangs with no wall to rest against, all while descending the world’s highest waterfall.
Although the dry season, there is still a high chance of rainstorms due to the rainforests and being located so close to the Amazon. Temperatures will average between 26C and 28C with high humidity. It will be cooler at night and at height.
Team members are responsible for their own international flights to Caracas. Once the expedition has begun at the hotel in Caracas and until it ends there after the expedition, all forms of transport will be covered. There will be several flights, including a small propeller private plane to reach the base of Auyantepui. Motorised dugout boats will also be used for transport whilst the rest of the expedition will be on foot.
A variety of hotels and lodges will be used at the start and end of the expedition, based on sharing twin rooms. You leave a bag at the start in Caracas at your own risk. Throughout the expedition you’ll camp in technical tents shared between two, and in jungle hammocks for one night on completion of the abseil.
You’ll eat in the hotels and lodges, where there will be a variety of delicious local meals. Whilst on the mountain, fresh food and hot meals will be prepared by the expedition’s local team. Though sufficient calories in terms of meals and snacks will be provided by Secret Compass, teammates are advised to bring a few favourite snacks or treats to keep spirits high.
Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a Satellite Phone and a DeLorme two-way communication device. These will be used for regular updates to head office and for emergencies.
Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.
Cell Phone.Your mobile roaming will work in Caracas and perhaps some of the bigger villages. You are unlikely to get signal whilst the trek starts until completion.
Here are some frequently asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our general FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.
Cab vegetarians join?
Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying. The food situation is outlined in the Practicalities tab.
I can’t abseil. Can I come?
Due to the extreme nature of this expedition and that it involves one of the longest abseils in the world, previous experience in abseiling is absolutely 100% vital for the success and smooth running of the expedition. As long as you fulfil the fitness requirements, abseiling requirements and have an adventurous spirit and willing to work as a team, you will have no problems.
If you have no prior experience, there are many indoor climbing centres which can do bespoke courses if you want to get build your confidence in using ropes and safety equipment.
Can I arrive a day late?
As the plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates to the location where the expedition will commence, so start and end dates are not flexible.
Can I charge electricals?
Once the team start the trekking there will be no access to mains power. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration.
Will there be signal?
There will be mobile signal in Caracas however once the expedition starts you should plan on having no signal throughout the entire trip.
How can I find out more?
Apply for this expedition team using the button on this page to receive your Expedition Handbook with fuller details. The Application page explains the joining process. Secret Compass is then on hand to answer any questions or to firm up your place on the team.