Climbing Takakkaw Falls: The Most Special Place

Sadie expressing my exact emotions

A spray of cool water settles across my face as I lean against my climbing rope to get a better look at the billowing, glacier-fed waterfall next to me. Despite being nearly impossible to pronounce, Takakkaw Falls is one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Canada and right now I’m a few dozen feet away from where its torrent bounds up and away from the eroded shale into the form of a rooster tail. I have been excited for this exact experience ever since I found this climb next to Canada’s second highest waterfall. The kicker is the climb ends in a several hundred foot long cave from the route to the top off the falls. I could not predict it would even blew away expectations.

Climb to the Waterfall

After the EPIC on Brewer’s Buttress, I was happy to have a short one hour approach I could see from the parking lot. My breath collected in a white cloud as I breathed out and looked around the quiet parking lot. We woke up to 34 degrees that morning and I was hoping the cold air combined with the water wouldn’t freeze me the entire day (it wouldn’t).

A short scramble up from the end of the paved falls trail we were roped up to start our Takakkaw Falls (5.7 PG13, 1260 ft). Starting out on lead I immediately began having a good time on the best rock quality I have found to date near Banff. Most rock here is in the form of lower dolomite, middle shale and upper limestone. While there was plenty of loose shale around from upper erosion, the dolomite underneath was solid.

We linked the first two pitches and performed two long traverses until we were started nearing the falls. Everything about this climb is grand. Over my shoulder, I could see the devastation left when a chunk of this rock face collapsed leaving a large white roof and boulders the size of several buses tumbling down to rest at tree-line.

The white shows the chunk of wall that fell off creating a massive roof.

Linking pitch six and seven I climb up along a two hundred foot block in a corner until I reach the anchors on top. Here I get a full, close-up view of the falls in all their glory. I cannot stop from smiling at the amazing environment I am climbing in.

As Sadie takes the lead, the rock quality changes from Dolomite to shale and then limestone. The difficulty becomes easy, but the rock less reliable and it becomes easy to knock carefully balanced pieces down the wall. Reaching the top of the route we unrope and look to our left to a gaping hole we can only assume is the start of our tunnel through the rock to the top of the falls.

Entrance to the cave which is just inside around to the right

Crawl to the Waterfall

I start crawling through a cave which is completely dark without my headlamp. I cannot see the end of this three hundred foot long tunnel. It starts out easy, even a tall guy like me, I can move on my hands and knees. Halfway through the thunder of the falls can be heard outside and it constricts into a roomy army crawl. I have a fear of getting stuck in a cave because of my size and the range of motion required for my long limbs. My breath quickens but I calm myself as I feel out the tunnel and remind myself it’s still pretty wide.

Crawling inside the cave

A short while after the constriction I see light and we crawl out of the exit. 

We are at the top of the falls and my mouth unconsciously falls open. To the left the water performs several short drops through a slot canyon directing the water downwards.

When I look down I see a pot of bubbling white water in a smooth rock cup as a temperature holding area before it drops over a cliff.

Following the water further over the mouth I gaze into snowy, glaciated mountains. This is the most special place. The only way to get here is a 1000+ ft rock climb and a 300 ft cave.

Sadie and I probably spend an hour hear taking pictures, gazing into the water and moving around to see different perspectives before we reverse back through the tunnel. The rappels go quick and we land back at the base of the climb. Soon a mountain goat follows suite, hopping off the rock to our left. We watch them for a while before surfing the scree back to the tourist viewpoint. A fantastic end of a fantastic climb.

Route in pink, tunnel in green.


  • Approach: 30min
  • Climb: 3:15 hrs
  • Tunnel: 20 min
  • Rappels: 1:45 hrs