October 15, 2013

An Adventure to Exstew Falls

I’ve lived in northern British Columbia for nine years(!!!!) but I’m still often flabbergasted by the scale of things here. Back in California I thought nothing of throwing the kids in the car and heading off on an adventure by myself. When my boys were 5, 3, and 1, I took a daytrip from Santa Cruz to Yosemite with little more than a tank of gas and a pack of sandwiches.
Since I’ve lived here I’ve been cowed into carefulness. The woods are too big, the bears too ferocious, and too many people–careful people, capable people–die in accidents when they’re enjoying the great outdoors.
So I was thrilled when friends asked my daughter and me to accompany them to Exstew Falls the other day. I’d heard about the falls for years, although no one seemed to know quite where they were, and I wanted to finally get to see them. I went online, found a YouTube video someone else made about their trip, took note of landmarks and directions, and set out happily in my Honda Fit on the appointed morning. I don’t know how many times during the next few hours I was thankful I hadn’t gone alone.
About fifteen minutes out of town we started seeing landmarks. Between the map my friend’s brother had drawn on a scrap of paper, and my memories of the video, we found the road after one mishap. There is no sign for Exstew Falls. Instead, a dirt road crosses the highway few hundred meters before the highway crosses the Exstew river. Once you cross the tracks you are warned that the road (and bridges!) aren’t maintained. Bolstered by this soothing message, you drive forward on the rutted road.
And drive. And drive. And drive. Over countless bumps and potholes. Through standing water where the swamp to the right seems higher than the road. Around bends and bumps. Over three or four (unmaintained) bridges. If not for my friends’ truck bumping over the road ahead of me, I’d have turned back for sure. (If I ever actually found the road.)
About halfway down the road my Honda picked up a stone, so the grinding sound that accompanied me for the second half of this harrowing drive added to the fun of it. Thank goodness for my friend’s husband who identified the sound and told me there was nothing to worry about.
We drove on and on and on. Past two forks in the road (always heading right), to a kind of parking area, again completely unmarked. Ahead of us lay a track through a birch grove I recognized from the YouTube video. To the right the main road went on and up a hill.
I thought it was the main road, anyway. My friend’s husband told me it was suitable only for ATV’s. I’ll admit if I was on my own I’d have gamely taken it with my car. 🙂 Judging by what we heard about that track later, I’d have been in serious trouble.
We continued on by foot.
Some ways down the track we came across some animal poop my friends quickly identified as wolf poop (it’s full of fur). Did I mention I was glad I wasn’t alone?
About twenty minutes down an easy track we got our first sight of the falls.
A few minutes later we came to a memorial erected for a man who’d come to grief on the afore-mentioned ATV track–an impressive monument to find in such an out of the way place. His story was harrowing, so I was very glad (once again!) I wasn’t alone, and hadn’t driven that hill. After the memorial, the track veered right, and soon we came to a smaller offshoot trail that goes directly to the falls. (Finally, a sign!) Short, but very steep, we climbed it easily and emerged from the forest out of breath ten minutes later at the base of the falls.
The falls themselves are beautiful now and must be incredibly impressive during the spring runoff. There’s a pool at the base where you could dip your feet during warm weather (taking care not to slip!).
As the mist soaked our jackets and hair, we turned back to make the hike back out, but I’d definitely come again. Maybe on a sunshiny summer day, with a picnic lunch and a bunch of friends.
And a truck. 🙂