Together with my good friend and colleague Benjamin Rodriguez, I helped prepare a blog about Angel Falls so we that we could both share our knowledge with those interested in a piece of history surrounding the iconic falls themselves. For my part I am a board member of The Jimmie Angel Historical Project (JAHP) and President of two NGO’s – www.angel-conservation.org and www.fundacionetnika.org – all have involvement with the local indigenous Pemón in Kamarata, Kamarata Valley which is at the foot of the Auyán-tepui. Apart from this I have been working with tourism, specifically ecotourism since the year 2000 with Angel-Eco Tours.
Paul Graham Stanley
Angel Falls (Salto Angel) is located, falling from Auyán-tepui, a table top mountain deep in Canaima National Park, South Eastern Venezuela. The falls can be seen obviously from the air but also from the ground / river in Churún Canyon.
1933: Jimmie Angel first saw Angel Falls on November 16th, 1933, while flying solo as an Aviator-guide for the Santa Ana Mining Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
His solo flight was over Churún Canyon popularly known as Devil’s Canyon, he was flying a Travel Airs 6000B, powered by a three-hundred horsepower Wright J-6-9 engine, registration number NC-631W. He returned to the waterfall three days later on November 19th, 1933 and recorded: “MY WATERFALL.” Again, 22nd November he wrote: “FLIGHT OVER THE BIG FALLS – 1 – MILE”.
Venezuelan Carlos A. Freeman took the photo above of Angel Falls from Jimmie Angel’s airplane on 1 May 1939. It and a companion photo of Angel Falls appeared in “Exploración de la Gran Sabana,” Revista de Fomento, No. 19, December 1939.
The existence of the waterfall known to the world as Angel Falls may or may not have been known by the indigenous Kamarakoto Pemón tribe living in Kamarata Valley next to Auyán-tepui. During interviews with Isabel Barton of Angel Conservation and Fundación Etnika (ACC & FE), elders spoke of certain Pemón entering Churún Canyon, home to the falls, after battles/altercations in order to purge themselves from any killing. They were not known to have inhabited the area as the waterfall is in a location remote from the closest village. The Kamarakoto name for the waterfall is Churún-Vená.
Tall waterfalls were reported in the journals of several early non-indigenous explorers, but recent findings has in large measure debunked the suggestions that the waterfall was first seen by other explorers including Sir Walter Raleigh, Ernesto Sanchez La Cruz and Captain Felix Cardona. It came down to Jimmie Angel being the first “outsider” to see the waterfall and accurately place it on maps and report it to the world.
One thing is certain about the “discovery” of Angel Falls; its existence became known to the world because of Jimmie Angel’s explorations.
It is the world’s highest waterfall, the main drop being 807.1 metres (2,648 ft.) with a total vertical drop of 979 metres (3,212 ft.). It drops over the edge of Auyán-tepui, a tabletop mountain in the Canaima National Park.
Almost 100% of visitors to Venezuela have Angel Falls at the top of their bucket list, it is only accessible by river or maybe helicopter.
The falls were measured by Ruth Robertson, an American Photojournalist, during her ‘Forgotten Expedition’ in May 1949. She was the first woman to see Angel Falls from the ground – she and her team arrived at the falls on May 12th, 194t9.
Her team consisted of Aleksandrs Laime, Perry Lowry, Ernest Knee and Enrique Gomez. Together they set about their work to measure Angel Falls.
His name was Aleksandrs Laime a Latvian, he arrived in Venezuela with his wife in the mid 1940’s and was interviewed by El Gráfico in 1948 when he stated that he had made the journey to Angel Falls previously (sometime between 1946 and early-mid 1948). Ruth read the interview and quickly contacted him to help lead her expedition the following year.
Salto Angel (Angel Falls) was the name officially adopted by the Venezuelan Government in 1939 after an exploration trip of the Gran Sabana, in a presidential order by then President, Eleazar López Contreras.
The report stated: “Salto Angel, bautizado así en honor de su descubridor, James Angel” (Angel Falls, baptized as such in honour of its discoverer, James Angel).
Salto Angel is the Spanish name for Angel Falls.
The Kamarakoto elders of one of the local Pemón tribes in Canaima National Park call the falls, Churún Vená.
In December of 2009, Ex-President Hugo Chavez, announced on his show “Alo Presidente” that the name of the falls should be changed to ‘Kerepacupai’. A name that Charles Brewer-Carias, a prominent Venezuelan explorer, had previously proved to be incorrect, citing that there was a river called ‘Kerepacupai’ on the summit but that was in the northern part of the tepuy and not connected in any way.
Chavez’s reasoning was interesting – “how are we going to accept the thesis that the waterfall was discovered by a person that came from the United States in an airplane? No one should mention Angel Falls anymore! That was ours long before Angel reached the place.”
Angel Falls is in Canaima National Park (established June 12th, 1962). The Park was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994. A natural reserve that has a unique feature – tabletop mountains (tepuis).
At 979 metres (3,212ft) it is twice as high as New York’s Empire State Building about three times taller than another monument structure – Paris’ Eiffel Tower.
Angel Falls is more than 10 times taller than South America’s famous waterfalls, the Iguazu Falls in Brasil and approximately 15 times taller than Niagara Falls.
However, Angel Falls is only about 150 meters wide at its base.
The first known attempt to climb the face of the cliff was in 1968, during the rainy season. It was unsuccessful due to the rocks being very slippery and as such dangerous to proceed. In the year 1969, a second attempt was made during the dry season. This attempt was again unsuccessful. The first climb to the summit is known to have been completed on January 13th, 1971. The climbers needed almost ten days to reach the top and one-and-a-half days to rappel down. Permits are required and very difficult to obtain as there have been fatalities in the past.
Bernhard lives in Bern (Switzerland) and works for Kunstmuseum Basel. It is a highly regarded Museum of Art. “There I am responsible for the digital archive and the digital collection, among other things. I also completed an apprenticeship as an industrial climber. Before that I studied new media art in Zurich. I had the idea for the Highline project in Venezuela and organised it.
Check out these amazing photos.
Angel Falls, one of the eight natural wonders of the world, are an icon for Venezuelan tourism and continue to be the number one destination for incoming foreign tourists. They are in Canaima National Park which has a number of unique destinations, many can be combined in around 8-9 days.
By plane from either Caracas, Maracaibo, Margarita Island, Puerto Ordaz or Cíudad Bolívar to Canaima, then by river to the falls itself. Naturally, helicopter is another option not easily arranged and quite expensive.
During the rainy season, which is basically May through November. The river levels are important in order to get to the falls – once folks disembark and re-board the curiaras (dugout canoes) too regularly it means water levels are getting too low to traverse the rapids.
It is possible sometimes to get to the falls during the dry season (Jan-May) – if that is the only time one is able to visit then it may be possible to do a fly-over if the water levels are prohibitive.
Karen Angel, Jimmie Angel’s niece (President of The Jimmie Angel Historical Project – www.jimmieangel.org) has recently had a book published Angel’s Flight about the life of Jimmie Angel, American Aviator-Explorer. Jimmie discovered Angel Falls.
The book is available from Lulu or Amazon.
The popular Pixar movie ‘UP’ was released in 2009 and inspired by Angel Falls, Jimmie Angel, and the tabletop mountain. In the movie, this place was named Paradise Falls. This fall also made a small appearance in the Disney movie “Dinosaur.”
The latest film was made in 2015, “Point Break” with Edgar Ramirez. There were various Angel Falls scenes.
Jimmie Angel’s ashes were scattered over the falls on July 2nd, 1960 by Marie Angel (Jimmie’s second wife), they were assisted by Jimmie Angel’s friends that included Pat Grant (a pilot) and Gustavo Heny.
Canaima National Park is the second largest park in Venezuela, after Parima-Tapirapecó, and sixth largest national park in the world. It is the about the size of Belgium or Maryland.
The park protects part of the Guayanan Highlands moist forests ecoregion. About 65% of the park is occupied by plateaus of rock called tepuis, which are a kind of tabletop mountain millions of years old, with vertical walls and almost flat tops. These constitute a unique biological environment and are also of great geological interest. Their sheer cliffs and waterfalls (including Angel Falls, which is the highest waterfall in the world, at 979 metres (3,212 ft)) create spectacular landscapes. The most famous tepuis in the park are Mount Roraima, the tallest and easiest to climb, and Auyán-tepui, the site of Angel Falls. The tepuis are sandstone and date back to a time when South America and Africa were part of a super-continent once known as Gondwana.
The park is home to indigenous Pemón Indians, part of the Carib linguistic group. The Pemón have an intimate relationship with the tepuis, and believe they are the home of the ‘Mawari’ spirits. The park is relatively remote, with only a few roads connecting towns. Most transport within the park is by light plane from the airstrips built by various Capuchin missions, or by foot and canoe. The Pemón have developed some basic and reasonably luxurious camps, which are mainly visited by tourists from across the world.