Falling from Heaven
BY DAVID SMALLWOOD
|Photo: Russ Heinl/BritisColumbiaPhotos.com|
The trip itself is a rite of passage. After
a one-hour boat ride up Great Central
Lake and a seven-hour hike into the
dead-end canyon, there it is: Della
Falls. Sheathed in wilderness and sequestered
at the northwest end of Drinkwater Valley,
Canada's highest waterfall catapults out of
the alpine landscape and makes its free fall
440 metres to the creek below.
Located 60 kilometres from Port Alberni,
Della Falls lies hidden in the mountain
wilderness of Strathcona Provincial Park,
Vancouver Island's largest wilderness preserve.
The falls existed in all its cascading obscurity
until a prospector and trapper named Joe
Drinkwater discovered it in 1899. Drinkwater
staked the area and named the falls for his
wife. It has been written that Mrs. Drinkwater's
namesake provided her with a wilderness
retreat while husband Joe worked his claims.
If the story is true, then Della Drinkwater, I
decide, was one strong lady. By the time our
party reaches camp, we are 20 minutes
from the base of the falls, and my
shoulders are sore and my knees ache.
After we pitch camp, I walk toward
Della's base. Remnants of mining sites
— iron wheels and steel tramway
cables — pay silent tribute to man's
historic quest for gold. Della Falls'
sheer height is staggering. Almost
eight times higher than the famed
Niagara Falls, it ranks among the top-100 highest waterfalls in the world.
The flow drops over the cliff in three
cascades from glacier-fed Della Lake
above. It is spectacular as it descends
through alpine glades, even though
the arid summer has reduced the
stream to finger-like rivulets etched on
the mountain's rocky face.
In the morning, we continue along
the Della Falls Trail up the valley wall,
where the rain-forest canopy gradually
gives way to alpine country. After 2½
hours, we reach a cliff face bordered
by a dazzling meadow of densely
clustered yellow, green and purple
wildflowers. From our lofty perch, we
breathe in the sweeping view of Della
Falls and its glistening emerald-green
lake, while the valley below drifts into