American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Angels Four

  • Book Reviews
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1973

Angels Four, by David Nott. Englewood Cliffs, N. J. : Prentice Hall. 176 pages, 8 color plates, 5 drawings, 2 maps, $6.95

Gran Sabana! This wild, weirdly beautiful high jungle land of southeast Venezuela has long been the locale of adventure stories both fictional and factual. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle found a Lost World complete with real live dinosaurs. Jimmy Angel found gold and diamonds (at least his colleagues did!) and a rather poor place to land an airplane! John Timo and his companions found great physical discomfort in the form of soaking rains, mud, slime-coated rock, near starvation. They found great personal satisfaction in making the first ascent of the face of Angel Falls.

David Nott’s exciting account of this venture is a fine mixture of humor and drama, suspense and relief. But always realistic. The action frequently becomes alarmingly similar to a Chinese Fire Drill. Slipping and sliding in the tropical slime, dropping packs, personnel breaking down, inter-personal flare ups, getting lost—all the fun things that seem to be an inherent part of climbing. Especially on an expedition of this nature which involved rather novel logistical and terrestial problems. The matter of including a person with no previous climbing experience and an aging, decrepit journalist as members of a serious climbing team is, at best, questionable … but more about that later on.

I find Angels Four a most attractive book. Its rather tall physical proportions took a little getting used to, but it certainly is appropriate considering the strong vertical influence of the jacket photo.

It would be presumptuous of me to comment on Mr. Nott’s writing style in any technical sense. Rather I’ll just say that it “reads nicely—moves right along.” This fluidity is enhanced by the overall organization of the book—the “Part, Chapter, Chapter sections” format all help to keep it together. Also the two maps help the reader to sort out the rather confusing terrain where all this takes place. It must be kept in mind that Angels Four was not produced solely for the “dedicated climber” (who may find it deficient in certain areas). For example, there is no pitch-by-pitch grading of difficulty—for that matter, there is no really concise delineation of the exact route. This will, no doubt, disappoint—even annoy—some. For them, something like Pat Ament’s High Over Boulder or any of a number of fine guide books would make better reading!

It could also be said that the color photos “are not the best.” This certainly is true. They are the best available! Considering the conditions encountered on the expedition, it is remarkable that any film survived at all. For those who find this unacceptable, there are always the Sierra Club Exhibit Format books. The important thing is the story—the determination and quiet strength of John Timo (his third attempt on this wall), the power, spirit and climbing prowess of George Bogel, the remarkable “learning capabilities” of Paul Straub who enjoyed a most demanding course in rock climbing techniques, and David Nott himself. It’s simply amazing that this fellow—“gamy” leg, palsy, generally dissipated (I’m personally quite familiar with this syndrome!)—could even consider such an undertaking!

But it soon becomes clear that sound judgment is not one of Mr. Nott’s strong points. For example: on page 20, upon receiving a phoned invitation (from John Timo) to join the Angel Falls expedition, he became hysterical, jumped to his feet, ran to the kitchen and poured his glass of scotch down the sink. Next evidence of poor judgment was the incredible failure to include booze in the expedition provisions. (It was only by merest chance that they ran across some beer in a place they’d never even heard of—Callao.) The worst dereliction of all, however, is failure to report the sighting of even a single Pterodactyl. …

I certainly would have!!

Warren J. Harding

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