In mid-May we were invited by our good friend Kyle to take a trip to Della Falls, Canada’s highest waterfall. The trip there isn’t a simple one. Since there are no roads, eager waterfall watchers must travel up the length of Vancouver Island’s Great Central Lake, followed by a 15 kilometre hike up to the falls, and all the way back again. Kyle had already been there a number of times, including once on a marathon 36 hour there and back, so we knew we would be in good hands.
We decided to reduce the distance we had to paddle by starting at the Scout Beach recreation site, about 1/3 down the lake. We arrived after work at the beginning of a long weekend, and the rec site was already full of friends and families with all manner of trucks, vans, trailers, and other forms of high-octane fun. Everybody was eager to chat as we loaded up our canoe, and they promised they’d keep an eye on our car while we left it at the rec site for the weekend. Kyle and his paddle partner Malea arrived with their kayaks just as the sun was setting, and with a little apprehension at planning a nighttime paddle, we were off!
It turns out that paddling by moonlight was actually quite a beautiful experience. The rough waves had calmed as the sun went down, and we were graced with a calm expanse of black water before us. As green and red shore-based beacons helped to guide us on our way, we experienced our canoe in a whole new way as our sense of balance and connection with the boat took on a new role, while the visual cues of our position on the water we usually rely on became less important.
While the shoreline of the Great Central Lake doesn’t offer a ton of great camping sites, there are a few low peninsulas that invite the curious paddler to come take a look. We pulled up on a sandy beach illuminated by our headlamps, pitched out tents, and finished off a nice evening paddle with a late night campfire.
The next day we were off again, and the lake was kind enough to give us a calm day with few waves. We paddled below misty clouds and mountains, sticking close to shore, and made our way to the end of the lake on what was truly a pleasant paddle.
Approximately 25 kilometres of paddling later, we reached the end of the lake and the beginning of Strathcona Provincial Park, where we found an old campground complete with a boat rack for those who decide to paddle themselves there. It turns out we were one of the few who made the paddle, as our boats were the only ones there, and everybody else we encountered on the trail seemed to have arrived by the motorboat water taxi.
Pack the paddles, store the boats, load the backpacks, on with the boots, and off on the trail!
The hike to Della Falls is primarily up an old railway bed used for logging at some point in the last hundred years. While it’s 15 kms long, the gradual grade makes for a relatively easy hike. It’s also primarily through the thick lower-elevation forest typically found throughout Strathcona. Babbling brooks, lush vegetation, and plenty of mosquitoes greeted us as we trudged along the trail. It could be that we’re a little spoiled by now with incredibly scenic hikes, but we were a little disappointed at the lack of stunning vistas or other noteworthy sights during the majority of the hike. To spice things up a little, a cable car crossing does offer a unique if not tiring way to cross a roaring river, and things did start to open up a little in the last few kilometres of the hike.
After a long day of paddling and hiking, we made camp at a beautiful spot beside a crystal clear river, and pushed on the extra few kilometres to the falls. They weren’t the highest volume falls we’d ever seen, but they sure were high! Kyle assured us that they were even more majestic when viewed from the trail up to Love Lake, but that side trip wasn’t in the cards for us this trip, so we contended ourselves with the view of the falls from the bottom, and the contentment at making it all the way to Canada’s tallest and one of its more out of the way waterfalls.
After seeing the falls and camping our second night, we hiked back down, had a swim, and paddled to the same campsite of two nights before, it was just that perfect. On day four we paddled the final few kilometres back to our cars in some almost-too-rough waves, marking approximately 50 kilometres of paddling and 30 kilometres of hiking behind us. All in all it was a worthwhile trip and a nice accomplishment to mark during our time on Vancouver Island. What surprised us most is that while the hike was nice, it was the paddling portion of the trip that we liked most of all, and cruising upon the sometimes calm and sometimes angry waters of Great Central Lake under the misty clouds and snow-capped mountains of Strathcona is not something we will soon forget!