Shortly before Christmas 2016, I was invited to go for an adventure with my next door neighbours. They were planning a trip to the local Exstew waterfall on the Exstew River, about 35K from town. It’s a very popular area in the summer with a nearby campground featuring beautiful beaches along the river with back roads to go exploring on. The weather had been extremely cold, dipping to -25C at times and now the waterfall would be frozen. We wanted to see this treasure!
I was going to have my 2 young grandchildren with me for the weekend. The neighbors have 3 boys and 2 dogs so I thought it would be a great time for the kids. I went to pick them up from my son’s house on Friday afternoon and decided to bring their dog, Suma, a sweet gentle Husky/Chow cross. I got everyone packed up and off we went!
The next day we got all geared up for the adventure. It was a chilly, cloudy day but thankfully wasn’t raining or snowing. We headed out onto the highway as a caravan of 3 vehicles. I’ve been to the Exstew area many times before but never in the winter. I’ve done day trips and camped and was looking forward to seeing it all under a blanket of snow. This stretch of the Exstew river is well known for its bear population. It’s a protected area and during some spring seasons, the Fish & Wildlife Department close it because there are so many bears fishing along the river that it’s just not safe to be there. The last time I camped there I saw multiple bears but not near the camping area, only when we were out exploring the back roads (in a truck, thankfully!) But this is winter and the bears are all snoozing away.
We turned off the highway to follow the trail to the parking area. The drive was a magical fantasy lane, with the snow hanging off the trees in thick pillows and branches bending down and touch our vehicles in some places.
Once we parked and everyone was out of the vehicles, the kids & the dogs started to run all over the place, playing in the snow and climbing small boulders. We had to gather everyone together like mother ducks herding their babies and off we went, up the trail. The trail to the upper waterfall, (there are two trails to different parts of the falls), is about a 10-15 minute hike. It’s not flat and wide, it’s narrow, winding, somewhat steep and parts were a bit slippery on this day. But it’s not a difficult trail. Except for my granddaughter Brooke. Our group consisted of 5 adults, 5 kids ranging in age from 4 (Brooke), to 12 (the neighbour’s eldest) and 5 dogs. All the dogs and the 4 eldest kids, ran back and forth, up and down the trail the whole way up, laughing and yelling. The dogs whipped past us repeatedly, chasing each other and having a great time… which in turn, terrified little Brooke. The bit of ice on the flat part of the trail terrified Brooke. The tree roots terrified Brooke. Her brother River talking about snake caves terrified Brooke. Basically this whole adventure terrified her!!! She screamed or cried at every step, imagining mosquitoes and flies, screaming at every small dark cavern under a root thinking that a snake will slither out, crying, “ Gramma! There’s a snake in that cave! I’m scared!” and turning to hug my legs. And as often as I told her that there are no snakes or mosquitoes or flies in the winter, she was still afraid that there were snakes in every little hole!! Ultimately it was my own fault, as I had been telling a story of my boys (their uncles) finding a pit of baby garter snakes at the campsite during a camping trip long ago. River kept pointing out the dark holes that a snake could hide in! So hiking isn’t Brooke’s thing… yet…
I was attempting to help her over the roots because she was crying that she couldn’t, but when I’d start to boost her, she’d tell me that she could do it herself!!! Haha!! There was no winning here! No winning for me, but in the long run, a big win for Brooke. We bumbled and tumbled our way up and when we turned that last bumpy curve, there it was….. the most spectacular waterfall I’ve ever seen, in all its frozen glory!!!!
The magnificent Exstew Falls
This waterfall is especially beautiful and powerful in the summer, pounding on the rocks as it plummets down the cliff, creating a small pool at the bottom from centuries of erosion. Droplets of water bounce off everything in its way, creating a mist that washes far and wide. Anyone within 20 meters will be completely saturated!!! In summer, it’s truly a natural work of art, but now… in the winter, it was mesmerizing. So perfectly abstract. So savagely wild. Sweeping yet contained. Flowing, yet solid. Fierce like a wraith, ethereal like a fair lady. Such a contradiction of textures.
I was taken by its pale turquoise colour, its sweeping icy arms, dripping massive icicles. There was a small rush of water still alive beneath the meters of ice about half way up, reminding us that it was still a most powerful, living entity, even in its state of stasis. The huge pile of ice at the foot of the fall would be the mist rising in the summer, but now was captured by the frigid air and morphed into a massive protective ice ghost.
I was in my trance, gazing in awe at the magnificence in front of me, yet there was all sorts of activity around me. I was snapped out of my momentary daze by little Brooke crying that her fingers were frozen and that she couldn’t get up the hill because she kept slipping on the snow. I took her mitts and gave her my gloves to wear and stood behind her so she could still climb and not slip. I suggested that she pretend to be a snow tiger. That helped her ambition and she smiled and became excited to climb up a bit higher. For a short while she was happy and smiling and proud of her accomplishments.
River, Brooke & me
The other kids and dogs were climbing and sliding up and down the huge hill that is generally inaccessible during the summer. The ground and rocks all slippery with snow on it, are way more slick with water and moss on them! Suma was so happy to be out and about with the kids and other dogs. We were there at least an hour, exploring up and down the creek as best we could, watching the kids and dogs having fun.
Here is a short video clip of the fun & the waterfall on my my YouTube channel:
When we were ready to head out, we gathered all the kids up and started back down the trail. I thought that maybe Brooke would be a bit used to it, but nope. She was NOT happy to be on this horrible, steep, root laden, snake infested trail again!! I’m pretty sure that going down was more terrifying than climbing up and again she cried or screamed at every turn. After a few minutes of this, my wonderful neighbor Cyndi, picked Brooke up onto her hip and packed her right to the bottom! Brooke still screamed, more than cried going down and was happy when we arrived at the bottom. Let me tell you, after all her commotion, I was happy too! So when we decided to go to the lower falls, Brooke, one of the older boys & Cyndi’s husband stayed in their warmed up truck. The rest of us walked to the other trail and headed in. After traversing this very short, flat trail, but with large tree obstacles, I was glad that Brooke was safely in the truck.
The lower falls has a nice frozen pool and a great view of the upper falls.
View of the upper falls from the lower falls
We explored and played there for about 30 minutes and headed back to the vehicles. Once everyone was packed up and ready to go, we drove to the campsite to check out the river and so some snow wheeling. We drove through the snowy camp roads and parked near the river. Everything was pristine and white with part of the river flowing out from under icy banks. Us women and dogs hiked over to the water while the kids stayed with the guys. My friend Lisa’s boyfriend, Corey reminded River of his Uncle Jorden so that’s what he was called for the rest of the afternoon. The two of them got along famously and threw snowballs at each other and played.
Soon we were ready to head home with visions of our adventurous day and dreaming about camping in the summer.
These are how memories are made.
Happy trails to you all!