After finishing our Ironman in Victoria, we rewarded ourselves with a week of vacation with Megan and Jordan on Vancouver Island. And what’s the best thing to do 3 days after an Ironman? A 20-mile backpacking trip, of course.
We picked a hike to Della Falls, which is the tallest waterfall in Canada, at 1443 feet. The hike to Della Falls is a bit involved. First, it required a 90-minute drive from where we were staying on the east coast of Vancouver Island to Port Alberni. From there, the only access to the trailhead is by boat or sea plane, so we took a 50-minute ride on a water taxi (piloted by Ben, an adorable man we surely hoped would return for us the next evening) to the edge of Strathcona Provincial Park.
Ben strapped our packs to the front of the boat and piloted us 21 miles across the lake, pointing out all kinds of fun things along the way. He told us that Great Central Lake is the second deepest lake on Vancouver Island, but that is has the most water, by volume. He also told us that the lake was really warm, which none of us believed until we felt it for ourselves. It was incredible.
The water taxi ride was unbelievably beautiful. We crossed the entirely of Great Central Lake, which is a long, somewhat narrow lake surrounded on all sides by mountains, with tiny little floating cabins spread along the base. All of those cabins (including some built on tiny islands in the middle of the lake), are only accessible by boat. How crazy is that?
Once we reached the dock, we couldn’t help comparing the view to Jurassic Park. I mean, seriously.
And with that, we paid Ben and watched him drive off, leaving us in the quietest place I’ve ever been, and seriously hoping we weren’t just delivered to our deaths.
From the trailhead, it was somewhere between 9 and 11 miles to our campsite, depending on which map you use and what website you read. It took us around 7 hours to get to camp. The first 5 miles or so were pretty flat, open, and easy, with just a few rock bed crossings; but after that, it got a bit steeper and the river crossings got more interesting.
I think the Della Falls trail wins the award for most interesting hike I’ve ever done. We crossed the river on a wide variety of bridges, ranging from a very nice, sturdy bridge like the one below, to a wooden bridge with a rail on one side, to simple log crossings, to a pulley cart, to a metal bridge with wobbly wires to use as handrails. But no matter the bridge, the water underneath was the clearest water I’ve ever seen.
The pulley cart crossing was probably the most entertaining of the bunch. We all greeted it with a, “seriously?” kind of feeling, wondering how this could possibly be safe. But we came to the conclusion that this is just how it’s done in Canada. They just trust you to do something really interesting (and possibly dangerous), which would probably never fly here in the lower 48.
Up until the pulley cart, the trail had been surprisingly well-maintained for how remote it was, and for how few visitors I imagine this area of the park gets in a given year. But eventually that trail gave way to overgrown plants, taller than all of us, full of berry bushes that blocked our views of anything. This seemed like a pretty solid home for a bear, so we sang loudly and hoped for the best as we made our way through the jungle. (For your information, Spice Girls songs seem to keep the bears at bay.) I’m pleased to report we never actually saw a bear, although they could have been hidden away in the bushes, for all we know. Yikes.
Ben assured us that the water in the river was some of the cleanest water in the world, and was totally safe to drink (it’s actually called “Drinkwater Creek”). Although I think we all believed him, we weren’t quite willing to take that chance. We had water purifying systems with us, so we played it safe. But just looking at pictures of it makes me thirsty.
This was the most terrifying bridge of the hike. The wires on the sides have a ton of slack, so you can’t really hold onto them for balance. And there’s a rushing waterfall underneath. Yikes.
Once we finally made it to camp, we picked out a lovely campsite by the river, surrounded by enormous trees and some nice stumps for sitting. There were no campfires allowed, unfortunately, but the stumps provided a nice place to rest our weary legs.
And then there was this:
The sign at the beginning of the trail requested that we only use the bathroom at the campsites, rather than along the trail (there were 3 or 4 campsites along the route), so we assumed there would be something like the outhouse we had used at the campsite near the dock. But no, there was this hilarious contraption out in the open. It had a toilet seat, just like a porta-potty, but the walls only covered you from the waist down. So while you’re using this toilet, you can see everything (and everyone) around you.
And then there was this hilarious sign, describing a bear cache. Canada, you are adorable.
Ben told us that we could do some swimming in the water by the campsite, which sounded glorious. But after watching Eric and Jordan’s faces when they stuck their feet in the water for a few seconds, I think that cold water would’ve killed us.
Now, on Vancouver Island in mid-June, the sun doesn’t set until around 10:30 pm. We, after waking up at 5 am, hiking for 7 hours, and eating a potluck of backpacking meals, we were exhausted and ready for bed around 7 pm. We all went to sleep while it was still very light outside, slept the hardest, most comfortable camping night’s sleep of our entire lives (the first time I’ve ever camped in non-freezing or non-sweltering temperatures), and woke up TWELVE HOURS later. Insane.
We woke up to a pretty overcast morning, and sure enough, it started raining on us for the first (and only) day of our whole trip.
After breakfast, we set out on a little day hike, hoping to make it up (and I mean UP: almost 2000 feet above camp) to Love Lake, where Ben told us we could get the best views of Della Falls. Unfortunately, we slept a little too late to be able to make it there and back, and still make it back to the dock to catch our water taxi that evening. But we think we made it to the point where we’d get the best view of the falls.
After taking in some views of that glorious Pacific Northwest fog (I’ll never get tired of it), we packed up our camp, pulled on our rain gear, and began the long hike back to the dock. It stopped raining after a bit, but all of the plants along the trails were so wet that we all ended up completely soaked, particularly in the feet. Squishy hiking boots are no fun at all.
We had hoped to go swimming in the lake before catching our boat (despite a chilly day, the water temperature was incredibly warm), but Jordan was the only one brave enough to actually do it on this dark day. He made it look pretty glorious.
And, hooray, Ben did, indeed, return to pick us up and deliver us back to Port Alberni. If you ever want to hike the Della Falls trail, I’d definitely recommend giving Ben a call and letting him guide you across the lake. It’s spectacular.
Here’s to Ben, Canada, and Strathcona Provincial Park!