Tiptoeing Across a Raging River (On the Edge of a 600-Foot Drop)

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. 


As we finished our biodiversity survey work around our first camp near the edge of the mountain, our trailcutters Mani and Uwawa spent two days opening a trail to our next basecamp at the center of the Plateau. Now that the trail is cut, it only takes about 3 hours.

Our second camp, a small clearing at the confluence of two large streams, was dubbed “Caiman Creek Camp” by a prior expedition because of the presence of these reptiles in the vicinity (we only saw one very unintimidating yearling). The day before our move, it rained. Hard. The creeks that we were going to cross had swelled to twice their size, and were nearly waist deep in some places. Not ideal for casual crossing let alone hauling lots of gear and food for 11 people.

To make matters more interesting, one of the main crossings is only a short skip from the edge of the plateau…losing one’s footing means you’re over a 600-foot waterfall. Initially, some of us stripped down and tied a safety rope to trees on each side, although this was not ideal when we’re carrying big loads.

Mani and Uwawa got to work immediately, felling a tree across some boulders in the creek and even tied a handrail using branches and rope made from stripped bark.

Putting up a safety line near the edge of Augustus Falls. Photo by Andrew Short.
Our trailcutter Mani crosses one of the creeks on our makeshift log bridge. Photo by Fabian Michelangeli.

Along the trail to Caiman Creek, we passed the wreckage of small plane that had crashed on the summit more than 50 years ago. The pilot, Rudi Kappel, was killed and the now mostly-abandoned airstrip near the mountain was named after him. By late afternoon we had successfully moved all our gear and set up our second makeshift camp at Caiman Creek.

Plane wreckage on the summit of Tafelberg. Photo by Andrew Short.

The following day, we started exploring the area round our second camp, which includes some really interesting terrain, including a sunken basin that has sidewalls that are themselves about 200 feet high. The botanists in particular found some really cool discoveries here I’ll cover soon…

Setting up our second basecame at Caiman Creek near the center of the Tafelberg plateau. Photo by Andrew Short.


NEXT: Trail Blazing Right Up to a Waterfall’s Edge

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
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.