Changing Planet

Hitching a Ride on a Helicopter to Tafelberg

Andrew Short is a National Geographic Grantee and assistant professor of
 Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas. An entomologist by training, Short is currently in Suriname, South America searching for aquatic insects to study patterns of freshwater biodiversity that will inform both science and conservation. 


The most logistically challenging day of the trip arrived: moving camp to the summit of Tafelberg. The weather cooperated beautifully and we were greeted with a clear, calm morning. Rain or even heavy clouds would have meant the helicopter would have been grounded. The day before, we had flown in a small bush plane to a deserted airstrip near about 20 kilometers from the base of Tafelberg, and we used this as our staging area.

Tafelberg Tepui as seem from the savanna near Kappel Airstrip in central Suriname. Photo by Julian Aguirre.

First, we had to weigh all our food and gear and separate it into piles of roughly 400 pounds. Each pile is assembled into a “package” to be slung to the summit by a net hanging from below the helicopter.

Assembling our gear into slings for the helicopter to lift to the summit of Tafelberg. Photo by Andrew Short.

Next, we had to locate a suitable landing site on the mountain. Two other members of the team and I got in the helicopter and set out to take a look. There had been an area cleared many years ago by previous expeditions, but it has not been used in quite a while. As we assumed, it had become overgrown. We located a small pocket of open savannah nearby where we could be dropped off safely, then hiked back to the original landing site and cleared it with machetes.

First landing on the summit of Tafelberg in a small natural savannah, before clearing a slightly larger helipad for the remainder of the team and gear. Photo by Andrew Short.

Over the next two hours, the rest of our team and gear were ferried up, and we established our basecamp at a nearby creek.

Our first camp near Augustus Creek on the northwestern rim of Tafelberg. Photo by Andrew Short.


NEXT:  Returning to the Landscape of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World”

Dr. Andrew Short is an assistant professor of
 Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas. An entomologist by training, Short uses aquatic insects to study patterns of freshwater biodiversity in South America to inform both science and conservation. A veteran of more than two-dozen scientific expeditions, he has described more than 125 new species to science.

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