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First Ascent of Della Falls, the Highest Waterfall in Canada

Top ice climber Will Gadd, West Coast local Chris Jensen and photographer Peter Hoang have made the first ascent of Della Falls in Strathcona Park on Vancouver Island. Della Falls is considered the highest waterfall in Canada at 440 metres and has been the talk of focus of many conversations among climbers as to whether it completely freezes.

To access the route, you need to take an hour-long boat ride to the northwest end of Great Central Lake. While there was plenty of snow and ice around the temperatures had started to rise.

On the West Coast Ice Facebook page, Jensen wrote, “With the wet conditions were weren’t feeling very optimistic that we’d find decent ice. After about 14km of slogging in snowshoes, we rounded a bend and saw the first real ice in the valley: Della Falls. It was on! My face lit up. The weather also cleared and temps dropped to -10 overnight. Perfect.”

Della Falls first ascent, what an adventure! Last week Chris Jensen, Peter Hoang and I snuck a high-speed trip in and climbed Della Falls, the highest waterfall in Canada. And, surprisingly, it’s on Vancouver Island. And that location is why it hasn’t been climbed, and why it was one of the most epic adventures I’ve ever done. Vancouver Island does not give up its secrets easily; never have my boots and head been so wet at the same time. Della Falls is recognized by the government of Canada as the highest waterfall in Canada, though of course there are good arguments for other waterfalls. I’ve wanted to climb it for years, but it’s on Vancouver Island, which is normally more about golf than ice. But there is ice on Vancouver Island, so maybe Della Falls would freeze up? A few years ago Peter Rothermel sent me an email asking me if I knew about Della Falls, and a long email chain started. It had been a very cold year on the Island, and he thought it might, just might, freeze up. It didn’t work out then, but the seed was planted, and he put me in contact with local grizzlyman and ice climber Chris Jensen. Short story long, conditions were really cold this year, and a sudden change in my schedule gave me a very tight four days to fly out to the island, boat across a 35K lake, hike 15 K, and climb it. I’m going to share the story over the coming week with more of @pete.hoang ’s pics, but it was an all-time adventure! The beautiful and legendary Della Falls, 440M, WI 6, goes! Seven good pitches (more if the coastal snow doesn’t cover up the ice steps), FA Will Gadd, Chris Jensen, Peter Hoang, February 22-25 2019. A huge thanks to Chris Jensen, Peter Hoang, Peter Rothermel, Chris Istace, Captain Ron for the best boat ride ever, and @arcteryx and @redbullcanada for the last-minute logistics help, really appreciated! More pics to come but the cat is out of the bag and wanted to share some of Pete’s great images. So stoked! @redbullcanada @arcteryx @blackdiamond @scarpana @sterlingrope @smithoptics #chromapop #dellafalls #iceclimbing #stoked #vancouverisland

A post shared by Will Gadd (@realwillgadd) on

The trio climbed the tall route in seven pitches: WI4, WI3, WI4, WI4, WI6, WI5 and WI3. Jensen said that they took the direct line up the centre and that there are other lines that could go at WI4+.

“The WI6 pitch had big overhanging mushroom funkiness and sparse good gear,” said Jensen. “The WI5 pitch was some of the nicest Island ice I’ve swung into. Vertical solid blue bliss. We were stoked to top out in the sun with views of Nine Peaks and Big Interior.”

For decades, Gadd has been at the cutting-edge of the sport of mixed and ice climbing and he’s made first ascents of many of Canada’s most famous waterfalls, including Niagara Falls and Helmcken. He also established the world’s first M12 with Musashi in the Canadian Rockies and opened the first 5.13 on Yamnuska with Yamabushi. He climbed his first peak at age eight with his dad, has set two world records for paragliding and has kayaked some of the most wild rivers on the planet.

James Bruce Falls is known as the highest waterfall in North America and ninth in the world. Located in Princess Louisa Marine Provincial Park in B.C., it flows from a small snowfield for 840 metres down to Princess Louisa Inlet. However, the two flows have been known to dry up during hot summers, making it not a year-round waterfall.

Della Falls in fall 2018 Photo Bill Roy

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