ANGEL FALLS

Posted on: September 1, 2005


Miles Gibson redpointing Pitch 27 (5.13), Rainbow Jambaya (VI 5.13, 1100m), Angel Falls, Venezuela. The route took the seven-person team nineteen days to complete. Its thirty-one pitches overhung by about fifty meters in total. [Photo] Anne Arran

We had wanted to climb Angel Falls ever since we watched a TV documentary of Eric Jones base jump the face. Equipment failure and illness had thwarted our two previous attempts to establish a free route up the 1000-meter wall behind Angel Falls, the biggest waterfall in the world. This time we assembled a strong team, including the UK's Miles Gibson and Ben Heason and Russia's Alex Klenov, to join us in our quest.

Accompanied by local Venezuelan climbers Ivan Calderon and Alfredo Rangel, we traveled from Kamarata village in the Canaima National Park by boat along the rivers Churun and Carrao to the base of the falls. We frequently had to push the eleven-meter dugout up through shallow rapids; on one of these occasions Ben suddenly noticed a crocodile's head, cloaked in leaves, poking out of the river no more than a meter and a half from his foot. At the same time a five-inch tarantula appeared on the side of the boat, barring our way back in.

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We worked in lead teams of two or three in order to keep most of the team on the ground for as long as possible. Though the river feeding the waterfall was dry, its windblown skirt still caressed the first pitches. Miles had to redpoint a damp E6 pitch before we made it high enough to escape the frequent showers.

The continuous difficulty of the climbing amazed us. It took us four days to find a way through the crux, a bulging section at midheight, but our success left us feeling confident. Little did we know that the wall still overhung relentlessly above and that we still had as many hard pitches to do as we'd already overcome. Not until we were within 100 meters of the top could we be reasonably sure our line would go, and even then we weren't sure about the fifty meters of overhanging vegetation above us. Fortunately Miles had recently returned from new routing in Kenya and was well versed in jungle climbing.

Our route, Rainbow Jambaya (VI 5.13, 1100m), took nineteen days to complete. Its thirty-one pitches overhung by about fifty meters in total. The hardest pitches cranked up to E7 6b. There were nine E7 pitches (dangerous 5.12 or 5.13) and over half of the pitches were E6 or above (5.12 without perfect gear). A few pitches proved too hard or too loose to onsight, and we redpointed them on trad gear at about 5.13a. Each member of the team spent between fourteen and sixteen nights on the wall. We placed bolts only at some of the bivouacs.

— Anne Arran, Sheffield, England

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