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Angel Falls on Devil Mountain is 19 times higher than Niagara, was undiscovered until 1937 and is still inaccessible except by one perilous route—40 miles and two or three days from the diamond and resort town of Canaima. "We thought the climb itself would require 18 days, but that was before we took 27 on El Cap," Harding said. The face of Angel Falls is sandstone, but is extremely hard so that when the rock breaks, it fractures like glass, with brittle, sharp edges. "People have said walking on the fallen rock at the base is like walking on broken porcelain," said Harding. "It might shatter or be too hard to drill in. Fortunately, it looks like there are enough cracks for pitons."
Their first thought had been to climb a route dramatically near the falls, but that plan was based on a photograph taken during dry season. "We discovered later that the falls go from nothing to full torrent in an afternoon," Harding explained.
Part of the lure of Angel Falls is a question of its source. Some authorities say it comes from a branch of the Caron� River, but Caldwell has heard its source is a huge spring atop Devil Mountain. Revised plans are to scout the falls in person at high water. Raindrops falling on your head are one thing; the world's highest waterfall beating on it is another.
Since this reconnaissance won't come until months after the Jirishanca venture, the Middle Andes subsidiary of the Lower Sierra EDF Society will have ample opportunity to indulge what Caldwell calls "a real penchant for falling into a party situation."
A fine example of the society's uninhibited approach came one morning not long ago when the group impulsively decided to bake muffins at 4 a.m. The muffins all baked, someone began thinking how delightful they would be to throw at each other. A Great Muffin War ensued, an occasion of such hilarity that requests have often been made for a reprise. (In the midst of the fun, however, Caldwell demonstrated that he has a serious side. Thinking compassionately of a friend to whom he had not written for two years and who was missing the Muffin War, he sat down with needle and thread and sewed a stamp on a particularly rubbery muffin. He then addressed and mailed the pastry to him, without bothering to include any explanatory comment.)
The society also sacrificed several large cans of Reddi-Wip to an indoor whipped-cream war. Beryl and Warren managed to get completely covered with Reddi-Wip, topped with a generous quantity of dust. Deciding that they needed a shower, they danced across Yosemite Meadows toward the communal lavatory under a large sheet. They were stopped by a security guard, who wanted to know what they were doing. Their explanation didn't help.
Caldwell still finds it difficult to take his impending climbs more seriously than his last one. A friend was recalling recently how Caldwell had timed his last arrival at Jirishanca to coincide with the disastrous Peruvian earthquake. The only thing that prevented this potentially cataclysmic confrontation was an injury that kept him from traveling.
"This time," Caldwell remarked, "we must be sure not to miss the annual earthquake season."
Someone threw a meatball at him.