Angel Falls (Spanish: Salto Ángel; Pemon language: Kerepakupai Vená, meaning “waterfall of the deepest place”, or Parakupá Vená, meaning “the fall from the highest point”) is a waterfall in Venezuela. It is the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall, with a height of 979 m (3,212 ft) and a plunge of 807 m (2,648 ft). The waterfall drops over the edge of the Auyantepui mountain in the Canaima National Park (Spanish: Parque Nacional Canaima), a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Gran Sabana region of Bolívar State. The height figure 979 m (3,212 ft) mostly consists of the main plunge but also includes about 400 m (0.25 mi) of sloped cascades and rapids below the drop and a 30-metre (98 ft) high plunge downstream of the talus rapids.
The falls are on the Gauja River (alternatively known as the Kerep River or Kerepacupai), which flows into the Churun River, a tributary of the Carrao River.
The waterfall has been known as the “Angel Falls” since the mid twentieth century; they are named after Jimmie Angel, a US aviator, who was the first person to fly over the falls. Angel’s ashes were scattered over the falls on July 2, 1960.
The common Spanish name “Salto Ángel” derives from his surname. In 2009, President Hugo Chávez announced his intention to change the name to the purported original indigenous Pemon term (“Kerepakupai Vená”, meaning “waterfall of the deepest place”), on the grounds that the nation’s most famous landmark should bear an indigenous name. Explaining the name change, Chávez was reported to have said, “This is ours, long before Angel ever arrived there… this is indigenous property.” However, he later said that he would not decree the change of name, but only was defending the use of Kerepakupai Vená.
Sir Walter Raleigh described what was possibly a tepuy (table top mountain), and he is said to have been the first European to view Angel Falls, but these claims are considered far-fetched. Some historians state that the first European to visit the waterfall was Fernando de Berrío, a Spanish explorer and governor from the 16th and 17th centuries.
According to accounts of Venezuelan explorer Ernesto Sánchez La Cruz, he spotted falls in 1912, but he did not publicize his discovery. It is possible that Cruz saw the Montoya Falls in the Sierra Pacaraima region, which are more than 500 m tall. They were not known to the outside world until American aviator Jimmie Angel flew over them on 16 November 1933 on a flight while he was searching for a valuable ore bed.
Returning on 9 October 1937, Angel tried to land his Flamingo monoplane El Río Caroní; atop Auyan-tepui, but the plane was damaged when the wheels sank into the marshy ground. Angel and his three companions, including his wife Marie, were forced to descend the tepui on foot. It took them 11 days to make their way back to civilization via the gradually sloping back side but news of their adventure spread and the waterfall was named Angel Falls in his honor. The name of waterfall – “Salto Angel” – was first published on a Venezuelan government map in December 1939.
Angel’s plane remained on top of the tepuy for 33 years before being lifted out by helicopter. It was restored at the Aviation Museum in Maracay and now sits outdoors on the front of the airport at Ciudad Bolívar.
The first recorded person of European descent to reach the base of the falls was Latvian explorer Aleksandrs Laime, also known as Alejandro Laime to the native Pemon tribe. He reached the falls alone in 1946. He was the first to reach the upper side of falls in the late 1950ies, by climbing on the back side where the slope is not vertical. He also reached Angel’s plane 18 years after the crash landing. In 18 November 1955, independence day of Latvia he announced to Venezuelan newspaper “El Nacional” that this stream without any known local name shall be called after Latvian river – Gauja. In 1955 this name was registered in National Cartographic institution of Venezuela (Dirección de Cartografía Nacional). There are no convincing proofs that indigenous Pemon people had named the local streams as Auyán-tepui was considered to be a dangerous place and was not visited by the indigenous people. However, lately the Pemon name Kerep is used as well.
|Partly clouded view of Auyán-tepui and Angel Falls (centre) from Isla Raton camp, taken during the end of the dry season|
Laime was also the first to clear a trail that leads from the Churun River to the base of the falls. On the way, there is a viewpoint commonly used to capture the falls in photographs. It is named Mirador Laime (“Laime’s Viewpoint” in Spanish) in his honor. This trail is used now mostly for tourists, to lead them from the Isla Ratón camp to the small clearing.
The official height of the falls was determined by a survey carried out by an expedition organized and financed by American journalist Ruth Robertson on 13 May 1949. The first known attempt to climb the face of the cliff was made in 1968 during the wet season. It failed because of slippery rock. In 1969 a second attempt was made during the dry season. This attempt was thwarted by lack of water and an overhang 400 feet from the top. The first climb to the top of the cliff was completed on January 13, 1971. The climbers required nine and a half days to ascend and one and a half days to rappel down.
Angel Falls is one of Venezuela’s top tourist attractions, though a trip to the falls is a complicated affair. The falls are located in an isolated jungle. A flight from Puerto Ordaz or Ciudad Bolívar is required to reach Canaima camp, the starting point for river trips to the base of the falls. River trips generally take place from June to December, when the rivers are deep enough for the wooden curiaras used by the Pemon guides. During the dry season (December to March) there is less water seen than in the other months (This can be clearly seen in the photos of the falls above).