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Canada's Highest Waterfall - Della Falls

Della 1




By Al MacLachlan - Photos courtesy BC Parks

It's strange how Canadians still talk about white Europeans 'discovering' physical places such as mountains and rivers a mere hundred years ago, ignoring the fact that First Nations discovered them somewhere between five and fifteen thousand years earlier.

Still, according to Canadian statistics Della Falls was discovered by Joe Drinkwater in 1899, so let's just say Joe renamed them after his wife, Della.

"I heard a story, long ago, that before Joe found Della Falls," says Bruce Rosenburg, owner of the Ark Resort on Great Central Lake. "He was in the Maquinna Hotel in Tofino with a bunch of other prospectors and they were all headed towards Port Alberni and they all picked different routes to go looking for gold." Drinkwater happened to luck out and find some gold trace, and Della Falls.

And it just so happens that the 444 metres falls is the highest free-falling waterfall in Canada, and some claim in North America. And it's either the 6th, 10th, or 16th highest in the world depending on which source you want to believe. The spectacular waterfall is located in the southern end of Strathcona Park, but other than by helicopter the area is accessed via Port Alberni.

To get to the falls though ain't that easy. It's a 37 km boat trip to the end of Great Central Lake, then a 16 km hike, partly along an old mining trail. Drinkwater, a trapper-turned-miner, built the first gold mine in the area, called the Sherwood mine.

Della falls

"Old Joe, after he'd found the Falls, and staked the first property, he came down the lake and built a floating hotel called the Ark Hotel," Rosenburg tells me.

The original burned down in the 1930s and had then been rebuilt on shore. Rosenburg restored the Ark Resort as a floating B&B. The resort has camp sites, and rents canoes to hikers who want to see Della Falls. It's a 10-12 hour canoe trip; or for those in a hurry, Bruce runs a water taxi too.

"I do not recommend the Della Lake trail if you are a real novice hiker, or if you haven't hiked for a while," advises Blake Johnson, who takes hikers there on wilderness tours. "It's not easy for a novice. You're carrying 30 pounds on your back, so you need to have hiked quite a bit," or be in good physical condition. He adds that, "if you're a back-packer it's in the novice to intermediate category."

From the dock at the north end of the lake you take the old logging road through second-growth forest, over a bridge at Margaret Creek, and on to the bridge at Drinkwater Creek. While there are some exposed parts of the trail, most of it is nicely sheltered, under a canopy of trees. From there the trail is rougher, the elevation sharper; but the upside is that you are in an old growth area, and shaded from the sun, or rain.

At about 13 km into the trek there are two small camp sites, both on creek beaches. Then at the base of the falls is a provincial wilderness camp site. It may be exhausting, "but once you get there the pay-off is huge, with beautiful cascading waterfalls coming down," Johnson says. Most hikers are ready to call it a day, relax and spend the night at one of the camp sites.

"The next day you hike up another two thousand feet to Love Lake and look across the valley to see the glaciers that feed into the water systems." It is an unbelievably beautiful view of nothing but nature, and also the best place to view the falls.

Asked why Della Falls is not known to most Canadians, Johnson replies, "Because it's not easy to get to. But it cuts off a lot of people who probably shouldn't be on a hiking trail anyway."


He also gives rather unique tours. Gourmet style wilderness meals are prepared for the hikers after their strenuous day's adventures. Johnson, who has led many an expedition up there, and is still enthused by it, says, "It's a really good back country experience, and a great trek for families."

As for Joe Drinkwater, "He died in about 1938, in his mid seventies," says Rosenburg. "He died with his boots on. That's the way he wanted to go."


For information on trail conditions to Della Falls and Strathcona Park http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks Or check with http://www.arkresort.com/ in Port Alberni.



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