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Outer Spaces

Falling from Heaven


Photo: Russ Heinl/

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 the horizon.

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