making the dropSwing by one of the world’s most lethally powerful waterfalls—on a rope. Looking for an adventure that someone hasn’t already laid claim to on their Instagram? Try rappelling to the bottom of the Kaieteur Falls in the Amazon jungle of Guyana. A rare few have dared, but none has yet gone the whole distance. If you’ve got the money and know who to call, perhaps that person could be you …
Guyana, on the north-east coast of South America, is one of the least-densely populated countries in the world – by humans, that is. Eighty per cent of it is covered in tropical rainforest rich in flora and fauna so rare some has yet to be recorded. And the interior is almost untouched by man.
“A lot of things have never been done here,” says Ian Craddock. He should know – his company, Bushmasters, specialises in brand-new wilderness experiences.
“Most people don’t know what they want. They say, ‘We’ve got two weeks, we’ve got this amount of money, we want to do cool things in whatever environment, what do you suggest?” explains the former British Army officer. “I say: we’ve got to have helicopters, we’ve got to jump out of them and we’ve got to abseil off the biggest waterfall there is.”
That waterfall is Kaieteur. At 251m high, over 660,000 litres of the Potaro River gush over its 152m-wide ledge per second, forming the widest single-drop waterfall in the world, and one of the most powerful. “It’s a real butt-clencher,” says Craddock. “As soon as you’re off the rock you realise how tiny you are. You’re spinning, there’s a big mist, you’ve got an earpiece with people talking to you, but that normally falls out. And you’ve got to control your descent.”
Abseiling from the top to the plunge pool at the bottom is an operation that requires meticulous planning – “The water is close to terminal velocity and creates air swirls that can pull you in” – it also necessitates specialised equipment: “Over such a long distance, only certain metal objects can cope with the friction. Your normal abseiling harness will melt.”
Such a unique experience naturally draws special clientele. “We had some movie-star guys come down on a trip. You know, Channing Tatum. I had no idea who they were, I don’t have a TV. They were just normal people.” But, says Craddock, anyone is capable of doing it. “I’ve put 12-year-old kids down that rope. You just need to be able to go over the edge without shitting yourself” – providing you can afford it.
“The biggest cost is the helicopter. They’re stupidly expensive, and what we’re doing with the helicopter is not normal, so we’re bringing in a specialist pilot,” says Craddock of a trip he’s planning, which involves jumping from the chopper into the river, to be collected from the bottom of the rapids by a cargo hook. It will be the first full abseil of the falls. “Something like this for two weeks is close to US$100,000, and half of that is helicopters.”
Still, if you win the lottery you may want to consider a trip he’s formulating for 2018. “I’m sure you’ve heard of tepui, the tabletop mountains. The biggest, Roraima, is over 2,800m. It’s so large it has its own weather system, and we want to abseil off it. To get to the bottom it will be two-three days, if not more. We’ll have to camp on the rock face – just hanging there.
“People have climbed it, but no one’s come down like this. This will be the first time. This is just a big one.”
“This is a 250m-long abseil and you’ve got nothing to put your feet against,” says Craddock. “You’ll need plenty of bottle. Keep calm and take it slow, because if you descend too quickly that causes heat build-up, which can mess up the rope or abseil device.”