A small group of ice climbers made history last month, becoming the first to climb Canada’s tallest waterfall.
At 440 metres high, Della Falls—located about 60 kilometres northwest of Port Alberni—is considered by some to be the highest waterfall in Canada, although there is some debate. Due to the waterfall’s location, on mid-Vancouver Island, it is unusual for the falls to freeze completely. But a cold February on Vancouver Island led to perfect conditions for a climb, according to Chris Jensen of the Alpine Club of Canada Vancouver Island.
Jensen was joined in his expedition by Will Gadd, a professional climber and guide from Canmore, Alberta, and Peter Hoang, a climber and photographer based out of Ontario.
Jensen has been climbing recreationally on Vancouver Island for 20 years and although he is based in Victoria, he is not new to the Alberni Valley. As a member of the Alpine Club of Canada Vancouver Island, he has been involved for the past few years in the construction of a public backcountry hut in the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, known as the 5040 Peak Hut, which recently opened to the public.
A small window of opportunity came up in February for Jensen to head into Della Falls with Gadd, and he knew it was time to try the climb.
“It’s been talked about for many years,” said Jensen, noting that most Island guide books indicated that no one had climbed the falls yet. “It’s so far back that not a lot of people get out there.”
Getting down Great Central Lake was one of the main challenges, but Jensen and his team were able to catch a ride from local boater Ron Kyle and “the trip was quickly on.” They were dropped off on a dock at the northwest end of Great Central Lake and headed to Della Falls—a 15 kilometre approach on snowshoes. Conditions were warm and rain continued to drizzle, but after rounding a bend, they saw the first real ice in the valley—Della Falls.
“It was fantastic,” Jensen said. “They were absolutely ideal conditions. The ice quality itself was really good, for the most part.”
The team climbed it in seven pitches—or seven rope-lengths—with some hiking between pitches. The falls are broken into three main flows—Jensen’s team took the central flow that was also the most vertical, running into a couple of difficult pitches near the peak. Once at the top, they were “surrounded by perfect, bluebird skies,” said Jensen.
“Considering how quickly [the trip] came together, it went quite smoothly,” he said. “Who knows the next time it will be cold enough to do this. It could just be a one-time thing. This is definitely one for the books.”
Jensen climbed the waterfall again the following weekend with a pair of fellow Vancouver Island climbers. During this climb, he took a less steep route, which was more moderate but longer at nine pitches.
“Between two trips, that was 60 kilometres of snowshoeing,” he laughed. “I think I’m done for the season.”