Bucket List Item: Della Falls, Check!

Our cross-generational family group of five hiked to Della Falls in July 2017. The youngest celebrated her 29th birthday the first day of our hike, the oldest had just turned 60, and in between were a mid-30s male (we ever-grateful for his strong back), and a mid-50 couple.

The tallest waterfall in Canada, practically in our own backyard. Della Falls, a bucket list item for most of the people I spoke to about the hike.

The trail head is a gorgeous 45-minute power boat ride from the public dock at the south-east end of Great Central Lake, which itself is about a 25-minute drive from Port Alberni. We were lucky to be taken to the trail head in a glamorous pontoon boat belonging to good friends of the old-timer in our group – who recently turned 60 – and won’t like being called the old-timer! We ran into other hikers who hired a water taxi and we passed a couple of hikers who got there by canoe (in fact we sidled up to them with the pontoon boat and shared our mini donuts on our way back).

The first part of the trail on Day 1 was very gentle in every way – a walk in the park on a soft trail! But the fun began soon after, with more variety in both elevation and ground. Some of the early path is a narrow dry creek bed, also taking us ambling up and over large tree roots, under and over fallen trees, and crossing several dry river beds. The trail comes close to the crystal clear light green water of Drinkwater Creek at several places. About 2½ hours into our hike, we crossed the river at a long wooden bridge, and a half hour later crossed a smaller river (possibly the same one) using a natural bridge of large stones.

Two hours later (about 4¼ hours from the trail head) we reached the cable car crossing. There is a sturdy wooden ladder at an easy slant up to the platform. (A couple of us had considered taking our dogs, but decided not to because we didn’t know enough about the trail. We encountered two groups with large dogs; they can scramble up and down on the steep narrow ground beside the ladder.) Three young guys had just crossed on the cable car when we got there and gallantly helped our crew cross. Holy smokes!

The cable is nylon and not an easy pull if you’re on your own or even a couple. This was a part of the hike that I was dreading because of my fear of heights. No problem! I was so focused on pulling the cable I didn’t have a chance to panic. When I realized my brute strength wasn’t adding much to the effort, I took advantage to quickly snap a couple of photos (my fear of heights then hiding behind the lens).

The trail gets a bit rougher after the cable crossing, beginning with some steep bits. About a half hour after the cable crossing we came to a couple of narrow metal bridges over rocks and white water. This time my fear of heights made this a bit challenging, especially with the last part of one of the bridges missing its barely-useful-anyway-because-of the-too-far-apart cable handrails. But, wow! Gorgeous! From there, we came to very large boulders to traverse for the next section of trail.

Our first view of Della Falls in the distance was about ½ an hour from our camp. Stunning!

We camped at the campground just past the Love Lake turnoff. It is alongside the river, which is great for brushing teeth, washing up, and drowning out the sound of the mosquitos buzzing around your head 😊 – glad we brought lots of bug spray! There are several sites there, with a bear cache (a large aluminum chest with carabiner closures) and an interesting plastic outhouse that just covers your working parts (standing up fully to pull up your pants results in a full moon for all and sundry passers-by!).

It was a cool night and by morning on Day 2 a light misty rain had set in for most of the day. We enjoyed an easy walk to the base of Della Falls, past the last campground in the area, which we were told stays misty from the falls even on a clear day. Some of our group later started out with good intentions of seeing Love Lake.

One couple (the 50+ – but neither quite 60 – ones) gave up at a creek crossing that required a bit of a jump, to the right of which was a very long drop down to… well, I didn’t take the opportunity to find out. The other couple (younger and more daring) also gave up when they came to a washed out area with a bit of a slippery, steep scramble. Too bad!

Other hikers made it and said it was still mostly frozen and of course breath-taking. Those who made it had to trek through about 5 feet of snow, mostly hard packed, for the last 500 metres or so.

On Day 3, the hike back to the trailhead at Great Central lake was a breeze in comparison to the hike up. Like on our first day, it was clear and sunny. Our crew was eager to jump in the lake; in fact, I personally had a one-track mind that focused on cool fresh water for the last hour or so of our decent. About 20 minutes from the lake a few folks from the boat picking us up met us and hiked back with us. Getting back to the dock felt great. There were several other hikers waiting for their water taxi, who had also gone for a swim. Everyone from our group got into swimsuits and dove in. The water was cool and fresh and wonderful. My feet were especially grateful!

The trip was definitely worthy of being on my bucket list! And now, Check!

Here are some stats about our hiking crew and trek that may be of interest:

Dates: July 13 – 15 (3 days, 2 nights)

Age of hikers: 29 to 60

Approximate distance: 16 km each way

Approximate increase in elevation: 550 meters

Hike times (influenced significantly by the older hikers 😊):

  • Day 1 (7½ hour hike, with several water stops)
    • Left trailhead at 11:45 am
    • Arrived at cable car – 4:00 pm
    • Arrived at camp near the base of Della Falls (just past the Love Lake turnoff) – 7:00 pm
  • Day 2
    • Walk to base of Della falls & back to camp – 10:15 – 11:15 (includes time for photos)
  • Day 3 (5¾ hour hike, with fewer water stops than Day 1)
    • Left camp – 7:30 am
    • Arrived at cable car – 9:00 am
    • Left cable car – 9:25 am (helped others cross also)
    • Arrived at trailhead at 1:15 pm

Gear:

  • Five Fingers hiking shoes (one hiker wore most of the hike) & hiking boots
  • Hiking tents
  • MEC VectAir Insulated sleeping pads & MEC Drake Unisex sleeping bags (0°C) – used by the couple who were not cold at night
  • Hiking size camp stoves & fuel
  • Hiking size pot and dish sets
  • Bug spray (bring lots!)
  • Sunscreen
  • Bear bells, loud horns, hiking knives, bear spray (see below *)
  • Water purifying pills or liquid
  • Hydration systems – aka water bag with drinking tube – one couple didn’t bring one and were we ever jealous!
  • Woolley hats, gloves, warm socks, warm jackets, rain jacket or poncho, bathing suits
  • Trekking poles – my new favourite hiking accoutrements!
  • Moleskin
  • Deck of cards!

* We took bear spray, to be abundantly cautious and prepared. One of the canisters lost its safety… Final result? The spray accidently went off and made for mayhem and a lot of pain for those sprayed. Lesson for us? Bear spray hurts like HELL. Thankfully, we bought the antidote spray and we were at the lake with abundant water when it happened. And those sprayed were troopers with a tremendous sense of humour! **We discovered you have to wash bear spray off with dish soap & water – the packs still had some residue making for an aborted next hiking trip.  Ouch! (The bear in the photo is from another trip).

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