Angel Falls is the world's largest uninterrupted waterfall, dropping nearly 1,000m into the Venezuelan treetops from atop a massive plateau in the middle of the jungle. Its history (and name) are closely tied to the skies above it – it was revealed to the outside world in 1932 when aviator Jimmy Angel flew over it in his plane, and made iconic as the inspiration for Paradise Falls in the Disney Movie 'UP'.
So it's no surprise Paul Guschlbauer wanted to see it from his paraglider. It has been flown before – although by only five people – but never as a hike-and-fly. Why? Simply the hassle, strength, stamina and dedication required to spend five days getting there on foot. But there's another reason Paul was keen to make the trip – it's the perfect training for the Red Bull X-Alps adventure race this summer.
The waterfall descends from the rim of the 2,500m-high Auyán-tepui Plateau, the largest tabletop mountain in South America, with an area of 667 square kilometres. To make the hike, Paul paired up with local paraglider Igor Elorza and two other local pilots. It's not an easy crossing – which is probably why no paragliders had ever done it before. But the result? “It was one of the most amazing adventures of my life!” says Paul.
Crossing the plateau means a walk that starts in Uruyen and stretches for 62km up and over the plateau – and let's be clear: it's a serious sufferfest. Rain, mud, bugs – this ain't no stroll on the beach.
Says Paul: “Every step was different – sometimes you had 5cm of mud, sometimes there was 50!" The pilots arrived at the falls, after five days of travel on foot, and camped for the night. If conditions came together, the group would be the first to carry their gliders to and fly from Angel Falls.
All that for a fifteen-minute flight that had at least some risk of not even happening. Why? The terrain near Angel Falls isn't exactly built for paragliding.
See the way those clouds roll up to the top of the plateau then get pushed back by the wind? Coupled with the no-fall takeoff, and it makes for a fairly rowdy launch – enough that one of the four pilots that Paul walked in with decided that a five-day walk back was a better idea than taking a risk and launching.
But for Guschlbauer, Elorza, and their cameraman (someone had to fly the drone for the take-off shot, right?), things came together just fine. "I had a breath of wind from behind, which is better than rotors from the front,” says Paul. “Igor got much luckier with totally still air – you can see him take off an entire meter in front of me.”
Once in the air, it was a sight to be behold – as evidenced from Paul's screams of delight – as water came crashing down from an altitude of 1,000m. Since thermal lift wasn't happening in the energy-sapping jungle, it was just a short flight to a rocky riverbed down below. The boys all landed safely, then hopped on the boat that would take them on the two-day journey back to civilisation.
Five days of walking for 15 minutes of incredible flight. It was the world's ultimate sled ride.
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