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Adventure Travel Magazine

Larry Larsen's Media

Angel Falls
Little is known about James Crawford Angel, even after he discovered what some people call the eighth wonder of the world: Angel Falls.

Discovered in 1935 by Angel, these are the highest waterfalls in the world. The cascade pours 3,212 feet, uninterrupted. Located far inside the Southeastern Venezuelan jungle, near the Brazilian and Guiana borders, the falls were only parts of legends, incorporated in treasure-seekers' dreams and stories for centuries.

Angel FallsAccording to a Texas oil man who worked in Ciudad Bolivar in the early 1930's, Jimmy Angel was in Panama when an old prospector, named Williamson, walked into a bar where Angel was drinking and ordered a drink.  The prospector and the adventurer struck up a conversation and Williamson began talking about an amazing "El Dorado", hidden in the jungles of South America.  Williamson described a vivid picture of a high plateau, somewhere in the unknown Guiana Highlands, covered with yellow nuggets but he would not reveal the location.  Before the night was over, he and Angel had made a deal to fly in its search.

After some months of planning, they took off from Ciudad Bolivar and began a zig zag flight, guided by the prospector's hunches, over the jungle. They arrived upon a mountain shaped like a fortress, with sides to steep they seemed absolutely un-climbable. Gesturing wildly, William made Jimmy circle over this "Lost World."  The plateau was the top of Auyan Tepuy (Devil's Mountain) which rose in a series of huge steps to cliffs nearly 1,000 feet high, dominating the scene.

More than 20 miles long and half that wide, it didn't seem to offer the experienced pilot a single landing space. Although generally he didn't mind tampering with his fate, he circled several times before finally gliding in. They landed awkwardly, but safely, and Williamson didn't wait before jumping out excitedly from the plane.

Some hours later, Jimmy began his take-off. The old prospector was happily caressing little tinted rocks in his hands. Back in Panama, it's been reported that Williamson cashed $27,000 in gold.  His good fortune was short lived, however. He died soon after.

Jimmy began trying to locate the mountain again, but it was unknown to geographers. His adventurer spirit was challenged. By himself, Jimmy set flight to search for the plateau. On March 1937, he returned to civilization speaking of a vast new mountain range far to the south of the unknown Guiana Highlands, a population of aborigines, of rich rivers of gold and of a plateau in the sky like a "huge walled fortress."  Most exciting of all, he said he had seen an immense, high waterfall "one mile high."  It seemed only another tale of dreams until a well known geologist named Shorty Martin, who was exploring the area, corroborated the find.

After this discovery, the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Venezuelan government sent joint expeditions to this area to study the wildlife and flora, which was said to be very different from any part of the world. To Jimmy Angel and his group, the key interest was still gold.  Other oil men, geologists and Caracas gentlemen supported Angel financially.  In October 1937, he planned the final flight to the top of the plateau where he was convinced the gold was waiting. He enlisted the help of Gustavo Heny, an expert woodsman, and Captain Felix Cardona, who was very familiar with the area.  While Heny climbed the mountain several times, Angel would fly reconnaissance flights to determine appropriate landing areas.  Heny and the climbers discovered that the top of the falls was composed of three giant crevasses, eroded by centuries of water pouring through. Even though they were able to cross the first two, the third crevasse, out of which tumbled the falls, stopped them.

Back in camp the group decided it was time to land the plane for further exploration of the plateau. Jimmy was convinced he could land safely, but was not sure whether he could take off. Mrs. Angel decided this was not the time to become a widow and insisted on coming along, thinking her presence might make Jimmy more cautious. On the short flight to the plateau, the plane landed safely but the wheels were quickly swallowed by bog. "This doesn't look like the place I landed with Williamson," said Jimmy regretfully. It had been over 14 years.

For days they explored for gold and for a way back to camp. In this region, a person can cope with the poisonous reptiles and insects, but in order to eat he must carry 85% of his food. Most people can only carry a month's supply.  The rivers' high mineral content is unsuitable for fish and jungles are very difficult to hunt. Predators abound while edible wild animals are scarce. It was truly a miracle when they crawled into their base camp, exhausted and hungry.

The U.S. Department of State and the Venezuelan government approved several other expeditions, and Jimmy Angel was hired to fly them into the jungle. He was never again to find the "El Dorado" plateau, though, and it seemed it was again part of the "Lost World" of Auyan Tepuy.  The justified honor of naming the falls after its discoverer converts the falls into a monument that represents his persistence and courage for so many years.

It was no surprise to have a feeling of adventure so strong after reading this story that I was convinced I had to see this "Lost World." Myself.  Many tour operators scheduled organized trips into the area, most departing from Caracas, the capital of Venezuela.

The plane ride flies over Venezuela's northern coast beaches, reaching the industrial Ciudad Guayana an hour later.  Flights into Canaima, at the base of the falls, are regularly scheduled from other cities. If you are fortunate to fly in a small plane, it is possible for the pilot to fly inside the canyon where the falls are located for fantastic photos. 

Arriving into Canaima, stone pinnacles jut up in the clouds and waterfalls spurt out, falling into invisible rivers below. If was a scenery which has been undisturbed for thousands of years. After what seemed a series of giant canyons we begin to approach a gigantic forested wall.  Auyan Tepuy was ahead, with wispy clouds hiding and revealing the unexplored features of the mountain. Composed entirely of sedimentary rocks, its total surface is estimated at 300 square miles. Several enormous crevasses all along its side serve as drains to the rain which falls about 9 months of the year.

Sighting Angel Falls for the first time is unforgettable. Here it was, in all its natural beauty, untouched by man and civilization, protected by its own defiant and dangerous surroundings. It was easy to see why Angel's dreams of riches and wealth wouldn't stop after seeing this uninterrupted cascade of what seemed liquid diamonds.

Fifteen times the height of Niagara Falls, Angel Falls is still widely unknown, even in this world of today where it seems nothing is unknown.  Ask anyone – where is Angel Falls? And most people will look at you curiously. Few people know of its existence.

Tours are available to this natural wonder. Despite the fact that the Venezuelan government is not openly friendly to the United States, the majority of Venezuelans appreciate tourism and recognize its value to the economy. Book with a reputable agent.



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