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Next paddle: Akolkolex Falls

Guest column by Naomi McKay
Akolkolex Falls. ( Naomi McKay)

Sometimes it is just a name, or a photo, that grabs my attention and makes me want to know more and to explore an area.

In the case of Akolkolex Falls, it was both.

I follow a lot of outdoor groups and profiles on Instagram, as I am always looking for the next paddling destination.

And through social media, I have been introduced to many otherwise unknown areas of this beautiful province.

Although I grew up in Nakusp and have spent a lot of time exploring the area, I was completely unaware of the Akolkolex Falls until a couple of years ago.

The fact the falls are just on the other side of Shelter Bay made this a must do kayaking trip at the end of the summer.

I have been fortunate to see the Akolkolex Falls from high above and at lake level.

From above, you can see the falls twisting and turning as if going down a spiral staircase.

From the lake level, only the last few plunges are visible, although they are spectacular.

According to the sources I have found online, the falls plunge a total of 60 metres into the Arrow Lakes down their windy path.

They are tucked away, on the east side of the Arrow Lakes, an hours paddle from Blanket Creek between Shelter Bay and Revelstoke.

Twenty-six years ago in the summer before I moved from Vancouver to Victoria to go to law school, I met a lawyer from the Okanagan who was in Vancouver for a law conference.

He and his wife were looking to buy property in the Kootenays as they were outdoor enthusiasts and completely in love with the area.

We spoke of our shared love of the outdoors and a fast friendship developed. Less than a year later, we did our first kayaking trip around Galiano Island and we have remained close friends since.

They fulfilled their dream of buying land near Argenta as well as a plot out at Galena Shores. And now that I am back home, we have enjoyed numerous hiking and kayaking trips together as they are always up for joining me on my next adventure.

It didn’t take much to encourage them to join me on my quest to see Akolkolex Falls, a few photos on my iPhone of the view from above, a map of the area, and some animated readings from those who had gone before, and they were both keen.

Surprisingly they had never heard of the falls before either.

We crossed the Galena/Shelter Bay ferry and parked at the Blanket Creek campsite day use area, which is approximately half way between the ferry and Revelstoke. I expect most of you have seen the signs for Blanket Creek as you rush to the ferry.

For anyone who has not been there, take a moment to detour down the windy road to the beautiful Sutherland Waterfalls just a short five minute walk from the parking area.

I promise you won’t regret it.

The Blanket Creek day use parking area is a short walk to the beach and a perfect place to launch (even if the mosquitoes were particularly annoying that day).

Toad hiding in cattle prints. (Naomi McKay)

We paddled along the west shore until just before the Arrow Lakes narrows near Cranberry Lake. The entrance to the alcove where Akolkolex Falls empty into the lake is not particularly clear and charts of the area are also not very helpful.

As I had scoped out the area from the air and had video of the approach, I felt confident locating the entrance.

But I think it might be fair to say my co-paddlers were doubtful at times as we tucked into the east side of the river.

The entrance to the alcove is through a narrow channel with large rocky cliffs on the north side, and lush green farmland to the south.

It is a windy entry and the sound of the falls is not audible until you are very close.

We paddled as close to the Akolkolex Falls as possible for the must have photo op before being pushed back from their force and landing on a small island from which the falls were better viewed.

We could see the water cascading down the rocks before it split as it reached the Arrow Lakes and felt the cool mist of the waterfall.

Intrigued by the trees on the west side of the alcove, and wanting to take more photos from a distance, we went ashore and discovered numerous cattle foot prints sunk deep into the sandy banks.

These foot prints created a perfect place for tiny toads to hide from predators. At first we thought there were only a few, but as we stopped and focused it seemed as though the entire beach was moving with tiny colourful toads jumping from foot print to foot print.

Our walk back was certainly more cautious as we did our best to protect these adorable little creatures from our own giant steps.

My friend Robin is an amazing wildlife photographer and the two of us could have spent all day photographing our reptilian friends and the falls.

But we hadn’t planned for an overnight and needed to get on our way.

We had a quick bite to eat and hopped back into our kayaks just as a helicopter landed on the small island near the falls and two eager passengers gleefully jumped out for the perfect proposal moment.

An Instagram worthy engagement shot if I’ve ever seen one.

If you are keen to see my photos of this trip or others while I am in my kayak, check out my Instagram account @paradisebcpaddling as maybe one of my photos will inspire your next adventure!

Happy paddling!