Angel Falls is one of Venezuela's top tourist attractions

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 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 base of the falls feeds into the Kerep River (alternatively known as the Río Gauya), which flows into the Churun River, a tributary of the Carrao River.

Name

The waterfall was known for most of the twentieth century by the name "Angel Falls" after Jimmie Angel, a US aviator who was the first to fly over the falls in a plane. The common Spanish name "Salto Ángel" derives from his surname. In 2009, President Hugo Chávez announced his intention to change the name to the 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 will not decree the change of name, but only was defending the use of Kerepakupai Vená.

Exploration

Sir Walter Raleigh described what was possibly a tepuy (table top mountain), and he is sometimes said to have been the first European to view the 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. Later on, they were indeed spotted in 1912 by the Venezuelan explorer Ernesto Sánchez La Cruz, but he did not publicize his discovery. 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 Metal Aircraft Corporation 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 backside but news of their adventure spread, and the waterfall was named Angel Falls in his honor.

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 Westerner to reach the river that feeds the falls was Latvian explorer Aleksandrs Laime, also known as Alejandro Laime to the native Pemon tribe. He made the ascent of Auyan-tepui in 1955, by climbing on the back side where the slope is not vertical. He also reached Angel's plane on the same trip, 18 years after the crash landing. He gave the river feeding the falls the name Gauja after a river in Latvia, but the Pemon-given name of the river, Kerep, is still widely used.

Laime also was 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 National Geographic Society survey carried out by American journalist Ruth Robertson in 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. The climbers were, John Timo, George Bogel, David Nott, and Paul Straub (ANGELS FOUR, Prentice-Hall Inc. 1972) A book by David Nott, Angels Four, chronicles the first successful climb up the face of Auyantepui to the top of the falls.

Tourism

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, and 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).

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