“In my opinion that is the most beautiful campsite on Great Central Lake,” our captain Ben bellowed over the roar of the outboard motor. I looked up from my thoughts to see he was pointing at a rocky point covered in arbutus trees. There was a wide open space for a tent that would provide a 270 degree view of the lake. On one side of the point was a small sandy beach, perfect for swimming.
‘It has to be one of the most beautiful campsites on all of Vancouver Island,’ I thought to myself. It was yet one more example that the real fun in a trip like this lies in the journey, not in the destination. Given that we were returning from one of the best destination hikes on Vancouver Island that was saying something.
It was only three days earlier that we walked off the boat and onto the dock that serves as the Della Falls trailhead. We were clean, dry, and full of energy. Only three days, and yet we’d seen and experienced so much since then. I’ve always found that the person who walks out of the trail with a backpack on - dirty, blistered, bloody, and sore – is a slightly better version of the one who walked in. This trip would prove no different.
My wife Kim and I had dropped our four year old son, and one year old daughter, off with their Grandparents the night before. This would be our first time alone for an extended period of time in over four years. For me as an entrepreneur and Kim as a nurse and mom, it would be the first time we didn’t have people outside our marriage relying on us for anything in a very long time. We had only two goals; reach Della Falls and come home safe.
The first three hours of the hike was amazing in its simplicity. The trail is relatively flat and the footing is excellent. The trails run along the west end of Great Central Lake before turning to follow Drinkwater Creek. The forest here is made up of relatively small maple, hemlock and spruce trees. It’s a beautiful section of the hike because you don’t have to watch every step; you’re free to enjoy the sights of the trees and wildflowers. You cross over a few creek beds – some with water and some without. This section of trail ends at the first campsite marking the Margaret Creek crossing. The water is clean and cold here, as it is in all the major creeks along the hike.
A nice bridge crosses Margaret Creek right below some impressive rapids. We stopped here for lunch and enjoyed the sound of the rushing water and the feel of the cold mist in our faces. Right after you cross Margaret Creek the trails begins to climb. Never again during the hike are you afforded the luxury of not watching your feet. The trail is less well defined, and in fact, we lost it for a brief moment pushing through a thicket. There are also a fair number of logs to climb over or scamper under. This section of trail rewarded us with our first views of the crystal clear waters of Drinkwater Creek.
The last hour of the hike was mostly uphill, and by the time we reached the cable car crossing over the canyon at Drinkwater Creek, we were ready to set up camp. Ok, I might be underselling the moment. The truth is I collapsed on the cold hard rock of the cliffs and laid there until the chill from the rock outweighed the bliss of inactivity.
We pitched our tent, hung our tarp, and started cooking. There is always something special about the first night on the trail. We fell asleep to the roaring of the rapids below, the light pattering of rain on the tarp, and the comfort of knowing we were finally safe from the mosquitos. We woke up to the sound of a true Vancouver Island rain storm. Twelve hours later we merged from the tent – stiff, sore and exhausted.
We ate breakfast packed our supplies for the day hike and set off. After the cable car crossing, the trail wanders through a beautiful second growth forest of mainly large spruce and hemlock trees. The footing is tough here, with lots of ups and downs, but the trail is really well defined. The birds were singing, and the bees were out, adding to an already serene setting. About a kilometer later, the trail traverses a rock slide, before crossing Drinkwater Creek on couple of steel I-beams. This is where things begin to get interesting. The next section has you scrambling through a maze of huge boulders at the base of truly massive stone cliffs. You get this definite feeling of hiking into a primordial world.
The trail comes back to Drinkwater Creek at a beautiful sandy camping spot, which has to be the nicest campsite along the entire trail. From here it’s time to start hiking up, up, up. The vegetation through this section is incredibly lush. The devils club, various ferns, and berry bushes of all kinds make this section unlike any hike I’ve done on Vancouver Island. With the birds singing in the background, I almost felt like I was hiking through the jungles of Central America. It was amazing!
After three hours we walked through a massive campsite, and out to the base of Della Falls. The falls, which are among the highest waterfalls in Canada, are absolutely awe inspiring. On this particular day the rain was falling and the tops of the falls was shrouded in mist. I looked way up to the tops of the cliffs where the water begins it drop and just stared. All of a sudden the clouds thinned slightly, and a second cliff materialized towering above the first. The waterfalls were twice as high as we’d originally thought!
The rain was heavy and we were cold! After spending the better part of two days hiking to reach Della Falls, we left after spending less than an hour at our destination.
We spent the next day and a half retracing our steps. As we became more exhausted and more battered, the trail thankfully became easier and easier. While every step was bringing us back home, it also felt like we were moving through time: From primordial to prehistoric, prehistorical to modern. The trail gives you countless moments of peace and beauty along the way. Like every good hike, the more exhausted we became, the more we laughed at the most ridiculous things.
Three days later we emerged from the forest two hours before our scheduled rendezvous, only to find our captain asleep on the boat. It’s like that out there; you sleep when you want to sleep. When he fired up the outboard, we knew that our time in the past was over. We enjoyed the hour long trip down Great Crentral Lake. When we arrived back at the truck our cell phones came back to life. The first message we played was from our son. “I hope you had fun on the hike!” he said in his eternally happy tone of voice. I was so seized up I could barely turn to look at Kim. When I met her eye we both broke out laughing. It was never about the destination!