Mystery Wonders
Kerepakupai Meru (Angel Falls)

Angel Falls, the tallest waterfall in the world, drops nearly a kilometer (about 979m total drop with 807m freefall) from a table-top mountain (tepuy or tepui in the indigenous Pemón language). Of all the famous waterfalls that Julie and I have been to, this one seemed to invoke a sense of mystery and adventure. This was probably due to the fact that its remote location meant we needed to endure long transits plus a pretty strenuous and muggy hike to the overlook pictured at the top of this page. On top of that, the elusive falls was frequently shrouded in clouds. Only Mother Nature revealed this gem on her terms and we were relegated to hope she would be kind to us on the limited amount of time we were there. Plus, we had heard about legends regarding its discovery by the Western world, and we were intrigued by the lost world atop the falls where I'm certain not many people have been. The tepuy from which Angel Falls makes its dramatic plunge is known as Auyantepuy (or Auyantepui) meaning "Mountain of the God of Evil" as well as "Devil's Mountain". The waterfall's existence seemed to us like a paradox as it didn't appear to be fed by conventional drainage sources such as snow/glacier melt, lakes, nor a major river system. Instead, the abundance of water responsible for the falls was practically all rainfall from equatorial tropical clouds condensing onto the cloud forest atop the tepuy's plateau. It was almost as if the clouds wrung its water onto the tepuy like a soaked rag. Angel Falls is also called Salto Ángel or indigenously Kerepakupai-merú. The indigenous name derived from the Pemón natives means "falls from the deepest place". Ironically, the more famous name of the falls had nothing to do with the connotation that its water fell from the heavens. On the contrary, it just so happened to be the name of aviator Jimmy Angel who in 1937 landed his plane above Auyantepui near the falls in an effort to prove to the world of the existence of the falls (and apparently to search for gold). According to the literature that we've been exposed to, given the soggy terrain atop the tepuy, Angel, his wife, and two friends landed the plane but couldn't take off again. They had no choice but to make the difficult trek down from the vertical cliffs of the tepui towards civilization (taking around 11 days). Only after successfully performing that feat did the falls become known to the rest of the world, and so eventually the falls were named after Jimmy Angel himself. His plane has since been moved, restored, and we saw it (or at least a replica of it) on display at the airport in Ciudad Bolívar. To give you an idea of what it took for us to see the falls, we first had to endure sore bums riding a small motorized boat against the current of two different rivers (i.e. El Rio Carrao and the almost blood-colored Rio Churun) for four hours. Once the boat ride was done, we then had to cross a stream (the same one responsible for the falls) before embarking on a steep and uphill 90-minute hike. I recalled we brought Keens to handle both the water and the hiking, but if we were to bring hiking boots, then we probably would've carried an extra pair of water shoes or sandals so as to not ruin the boots on that stream crossing.


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The uphill hike involved stepping onto exposed roots (i.e. it can be slippery) plus the constant humidity meant the trail was typically muddy where there was dirt. We were warned about the possibility of snakes prior to the trip so that did weight on our mind about whether to bring hiking boots versus just relying on Keens. Anyways, once we were at the overlook (mirador), there was limited space so at first there was a crowd, but it did eventually lighten up as we lingered there waiting for the clouds to part and reveal the falls itself. Our arrival was pretty late in the day so we didn't continue hiking towards the pool by the base of the cascades below the base of the main falls. When the day was done, we slept on hammocks with mosquito nets in an open-air camp covered with a corrugated tin roof. Given the adventure it took to get here, you could argue that this type of excursion was more about the journey than the destination. Yet it was probably because of the uncertainties surrounding our excursion that the reward and exhilaration factor was amplified when the falls was revealed to us. In the short time we were able to witness Angel Falls, we saw it take on many forms - from thick multi-segmented horsetail plumes to a thinner horsetail that disappeared into mist on its way down before reappearing as lower cascades for the remainder of its drop. We tried to time our trip to ensure the highest likelihood of seeing the falls flow while trading that with the likelihood of clouds obscuring our view of the falls (as well as trying to take advantage of holidays).

The Natives in Venezuela had known about the "Salto Angel" since the beginning of time. Then United States pilot Jimmie Angel was flying over the area in 1935 when he landed on the top of a lone mountain in search of gold. His plane got stuck in the boggy jungle on top of the mountain and he noticed a pretty impressive waterfall plunging thousands of feet down. He wasn't too happy about the 11 mile hike back to civilization, and his plane remained stuck and rusting upon the mountain as a monument to his discovery. Soon the whole world would know about the falls, which came to be known as Angel Falls, after the pilot who "discovered" them. Angel Falls plunges 3,212 feet, with the longest single drop of 2,648 feet (979m/807m) from the top of a mesa, or what the natives call a Tepuyi. Named "Auyantepui", the Angel Falls mesa is one of over a hundred of its kind which are scattered about the Guiana Highlands of southeast Venezuela. Like so many slumbering giants, what characterizes these mesas (Tepuys) is their massive heights soaring up towards the sky, each with a flat top and totally vertical sides (check out the picture at left). Also called "table mountains" (which accurately describes their shapes) these Tepuys were formed out of sandstone billions of years ago. Their vertical sides are continually being eroded by the action of water from the heavy rainfall the Guiana Highlands gets. (Photo used with permission from Berrucomons). Take a flying tour over the worlds' highest waterfall




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