About Panther Falls
Panther Falls was what Julie and I thought of as the mysterious neighbor to Bridal Veil Falls. While Bridal Veil had a signpost and was quite easy to see from the large pullout, Panther lacked signage while requiring a little bit of scrambling and a lot of caution for us to view. The only thing tipping us off to its presence was that we were able to hear it pretty loudly from the north side of the large car park or pullout area for Bridal Veil Falls.
As for its dimensions, it had been claimed that this waterfall was 60m tall though apparently other proclamations had it at 183m, which I would doubt. In any case, there was some serious cliff exposure involved to get close to the waterfall. Indeed, a fall here would most certainly be fatal.
When Julie and I went looking for this waterfall, we actually ran into a guy who had just finished his scramble to the falls. And it was only through his bit of advice about following his footprints (since it had snowed and the trail was covered with the white stuff) that I was finally successful in not only seeing this waterfall satisfactorily but also in going behind it as well! Julie stayed behind since her ankle was still bothering her at the time, and there were a couple of steep sections that was just too risky since she was carrying our unborn baby at the time.
From the north side of the car park, I followed a trail of use towards the precarious (and slippery thanks to the snow) view of a tiny upper cascade spilling into a mini-gorge. Though the size of the upper cascade wasn’t particularly impressive, the noise from the water’s turbulence was nothing to scoff at. Despite the low dropoff, the gorge was still deep enough and turbulent enough to sweep me over Panther Falls if I had the misfortune of falling in. So I made sure to stay back even though it was very tempting to get closer to the edge to see more of the inside of the gorge.
In any case, the views were obviously not very gratifying here so I proceeded to follow the footsteps in the snow towards a rocky outcrop where there was a much more satisfying view of the main falls. However, this particular spot was especially dangerous because this outcrop also had snow on it, and getting a full-on view of the falls required getting as close to the outcrop’s edge as possible.
Needless to say, this view induced serious stomach butterflies and I probably didn’t go as far as I could have given the conditions.
When I had my fill of this precarious viewpoint, I returned to follow more of the footprints, which led briefly away from the waterfall and through a small thicket of forest. As mentioned earlier, there were a couple of steep sections, but I didn’t feel they weren’t terribly dangerous nor too close to the cliff exposure to proceed.
Eventually, the trail switched back towards the falls where it rounded a corner that was exposed to dropoffs. It was at this corner that I was able to get a somewhat “safer” view of the profile of Panther Falls’ main section than the rock outcrop I had encountered earlier that was now directly above me. There was even a wooden post nearby indicating that this might be more of an official trail than off-trail scramble.
Anyways, the path continued along the cliff for a few more steps eventually going into an alcove where I was pretty much behind the waterfall. During my visit, there were interesting icicles hanging from the roof of the alcove. But the thought did cross my mind whether wildlife (a grizzly perhaps?) might use this alcove as a shelter or den. Fortunately, I didn’t have to find out firsthand on my visit.
From what I could tell, I couldn’t figure out a safe way to descend further to the base of the waterfall. However, I found out in the literature after the trip was over that there was apparently a way to get all the way down to the base of Panther Falls. Nonetheless, I managed to find my way back up to the car park, which did involve a small bit of route finding when I suddenly lost the footprints. That further highlighted how tricky the excursion was with the snow.
Panther Falls shares the same car park or pullout as Bridal Veil Falls. That said, from the Columbia Icefields Center (i.e. the Glacier View Inn and Athabasca Glacier access), drive south on Hwy 93 (Icefields Parkway) for about 14km. On the left (east) side, there’s a very large paved pullout or car park (I’m sure this could easily accommodate at least 3 or 4 tour buses and then some). Park the car here and look for the signpost and falls towards the south end of the big pullout area.
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