Jolted awake by my alarm clock, I woke instantly inside my car to the initial stages of the sunrise. I intentionally arrived at Helmcken Falls in total darkness, hours before I would capture this shot. I had slept, waiting patiently, as I wanted to be here the moment the sun drifted above the horizon – the best time to take advantage of this perfect light. As I grabbed my gear and left my vehicle, I could already hear and feel the rumble of the falls coming up through my feet as I got closer to this spot.
Helmcken Falls is Canada’s fourth largest waterfall and is located on the Murtle River. Perhaps somewhat deceptive, the gentle flowing water dives 141 m (463 ft) to the canyon below. These falls are one of the 39 waterfalls found in Wells Gray Provincial Park in British Columbia. You can hear the roar of the Falls, long before you can see cascading water tumbling over lichen-drenched boulders, making its way downstream.
Waterfalls are so mesmerizing it’s very easy to get caught up in their beauty and forget where you’re standing. Panning the jagged rock bed below, I’m reminded that ancient volcanoes and slow-moving glaciers carved the rivers and lakes that fuel the Park’s waterfalls more than 200,000 years ago. There are no barriers keeping hikers from falling along the path, just signs that state “Use Trail at Your Own Risk.”
Helmcken Falls, an iconic crown jewel of BC waterfalls, is stunning in all seasons. In this image, signs of winter are evident with the light dusting of snow on the trees above and the rocks below. Mother nature is making her mark as she is in full shoulder season. You can see that the snow is starting to stick around on the higher elevations but that it’s still very sparse down inside the canyon. The power of the water is immense with its sheer force creating clouds of spray. And, there’s not only spray, but steam resulting from the cold air mixing with the warm river water.
While surging water is seen here in early November, waiting only one more month, I would have been met with water seemingly frozen in mid-air. Winter temperatures drop here to nearly -10 degrees Celsius, creating glass-like statues in place of waterfalls. A winter visit would be worthwhile because the ice cone at the base often grows to 50 meters tall and sometimes even higher in very cold snowy winters. It has occasionally been seen reaching halfway up the falls.
Appearing almost like a horse’s tail in this image, Helmcken Falls is set against the lush mist-fed green moss, welcoming winter while giving us an intimate view of the power of ancient geological events.