Weiner Falls, as seen in April 2017, is a little oasis in the Alberni Valley. SANDY MCRUER PHOTO

Pac Rim Active: exploring Weiner Falls

Columnist Sandy McRuer hopes for improvements for the descent down to the waterfall

  • May. 2, 2017 9:00 a.m.

Sandy McRuer

Special to the News

I remember the first time I saw Weiner Falls. It was in February, overcast, and hoarfrost covered everything. I was with Trevor Harvey, who used to live past the old Westbay Hotel (where Sproat Lake Landing is now located). I was just creating ideas for tours around here, and Trevor offered to show me the falls. When I stood at the top, I was stunned. For a guy who had spent 20 years climbing round in the bush in many different parts of the south coast, and hadn’t seen mountains till I was 30, I was impressed.

At the top is a smooth flat rock where you can sunbathe in the summer. And next to it is a little cobble beach to wiggle your toes in. And at the bottom you feel like you are in a grotto. The water plunges over a 50-foot cliff into a plunge pool that is about chest high in the summer and full of the coldest water imaginable. From there the water plunges through a gorge about 300 metres long. It is a place of power and majesty. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was considered sacred by the Hupacasath First Nation; but it is not on their traditional territory map.

When I got to the top of the route to the bottom, I paused. Below me was terrain that wasn’t quite a vertical cliff, but was very steep. A rope tied to a tree at the top, and knotted for better gripping, led to a ledge, 20 feet down. That rope is still there and looks to be in pretty good shape. Another rope strung between trees ran along the edge of the ledge. It wouldn’t prevent you from falling off, but you could grab it on your way by. Besides, the ledge is wide enough that you won’t fall if you are careful. To get to the next leg of the descent, we stepped to the other end of this ledge and squatted down to grab a third rope tied to a tree. Then we leaned out and one at a time, descended backwards down the rope to the bottom. It was definitely not a descent for everyone. And I never tried to persuade anyone to go down if they were reluctant.

Since that time I have promoted the trail thinking that if you were careful, and had confidence in your physical skills, it was safe to go down. And I have noticed that more and more people are visiting it. The Community Forest, who administers this piece of Crown Land, has improved the trail up, created a small turnout under the powerline at the trailhead, and added a short road connector to Highway 4 by Sproat Lake Landing and included it in its trails map. Sproat Lake Landing has its eye on giving tours for their guests from their lodge to the falls.

Two winters ago a tree blew down off the side of the cliff. It was precariously rooted to begin with, and winter storms have a way of blowing trees back and forth until the roots loosen and the rain provides the lubricant that tears a tree off a mountainside. Sometimes there’s a domino effect and a slide happens. Anyway, the tree came down partially blocking the descent. The tree to which the current rope is attached is also precariously rooted. So it’s just a matter of time until this one comes down too. I don’t expect this to happen in the summer unless an extraordinary storm happens. But I think it is something that needs to be addressed.

I saw just the other day that the Nanaimo Regional District made an announcement that they were going to improve access to Ammonite Falls. The access to the bottom of it is similarly challenged. The article said content stairs would be constructed. I am hoping that something less costly could be created for Weiner Falls, like a couple of ladders with rails. Whatever might be built, it has to be well constructed to ensure people’s safety.

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