National Geographic : 1949 Nov
JungleJourney totheWorld's Highest Waterfall BY RUTH ROBERTSON With Illustrations from Photographs bythe Author SPURTING from acliff more than half a mile high inthejungle fastnesses of eastern Venezuela isAngel Falls, world's highest waterfall, 15 times higher than Niag ara Falls or, by another yardstick, more than twice the height ofthe Empire State Building. Its first drop is 2,648 feet; its total 3,212. I saw it the firsttime from theco-pilot's seat of an old unconverted C-47 just two years ago as we flew overthis weirdly beautiful high jungle between the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers.* On thatflight toAuyan-tepui, so called Devil Mountain, Ishot more than a dozen Kodachromesinthedead-end Angel Falls canyon. As we flew over the dense jungle floor ofthe canyon, I resolvedsomeday toenter that canyon valley on foot toget photographs from the base of Angel Falls and todetermine its exact height. A "Lost World" From almost impenetrable jungle rear mesas like mighty fortresses amile totwo miles high, their sides and flattops eroded into queer shapes. This part of Venezuela suggests thesetting of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World, of W. H. Hudson's Green Mansions, ofL.R. Dennison's Devil Mountain, and some ofthose tag names still stick tothe area. But Vene zuelans and the pilots who flysouth ofthe Orinoco on their jungle runs call itsimply the Gran Sabana-great high jungle plains. Auyan-tepui hasbeen scaled from the south side by theveteran explorer and orni thologist, William H. Phelps, aCaracas busi nessman, and by his skilled son, Billy Phelps, Jr. Others who have reached thetopwere members of an expedition from theAmerican Museum of Natural History, New York, and a few hardy individuals. The aviator Jimmy Angel (page 657) and his wife, Marie, and Gustavo Heny crash landed in the boulder-strewn swamp onthe mesa top in 1937.None, however, reached Angel Falls fromthe toporthrough the Churfin canyon almost amile below. Thousands of years oferosion have dug out huge crevicesand fissures over theflat surface of the giant mesa ofAuyan-tepui, making it impossible totravel far.These deep crevices serve asacatchall forheavy rain. At onepoint this water bursts outafew feet below thecanyon riminto awaterfall of such proportions that itisnowonder Jimmy Angel was astounded when hefirst saw the falls which now bear hisname. That was in1935. Not until theautumn of1948 was theprob lem ofhow toget into thecanyon solved. Imet Alejandro Laime, aLatvian who had been roving around theGran Sabana forseveral years. Heoffered toactasguide tothe falls. Later atalk with bush pilot Sam Fales brought thesuggestion that Laime take Indians into thejungle tothenorth end ofthegiant mountain and clear oneofthelittle savannas near there asasuitable landing place forasmall plane. Inthat way, wehoped, wecould cutouttedious weeks ofgoing bycuriara (dugout) onthe rapids-strewn rivers and days ofhacking through jungle with machetes. ADC-3 could take usinto Uruyen atthesouth end ofAuyan-tepui, and wecould then beshuttled, one ortwo atatime, tothe advanced airstrip. There Laime and theIndians could bewaiting foruswith enough curiaras totake usinto thecanyon and tothefalls. Laime went back into thejungle, and this spring wesent him word togettheairstrip cut. April 23,1949, was setasthedate oftake-off from Caracas. Hectic Last Days The last few days were hectic. There were last-minute conferences with theVenezuelan Government's Minister ofCommunications about theradio and radioman going with us; there were purchases ofcases ofdehydrated foods and camping equipment. There was the assembling ofwaterproofing, jungle ham mocks, snakebite kits, first-aid kits, compasses, machetes, rope, ammunition and guns, flash lights-a hundred other things. *See, inthe NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Caracas, Cradle ofthe Liberator," by Luis Marden, April, 1940; "IKept House inaJungle," byAnne Rainey Langley, January, 1939; "Journey byJungle Rivers tothe Home oftheCock-of-the-Rock," No vember, 1933, and "InHumboldt's Wake," November, 1931, both by Ernest G.Holt; "Through Brazil tothe Summit ofMount Roraima," byG.H.H. Tate, November, 1930.