I've stumbled across several waterfalls in the backcountry of the Alaska Range, but I usually only spy them from a distance because they are either too far out of my way to visit or else located in inaccessible cliffs. Last winter, I found a couple photogenic frozen waterfalls while skiing up an unnamed creek just north of Black Rapids along the Richardson Highway. That creek is actually mislabeled "One Mile Creek" by a highway sign, while the real Onemile Creek lies to the south, flowing down through a narrow cut in the mountains. I spotted a large waterfall glinting in the afternoon sun along Onemile Creek from the highway a few years ago but it wasn't until I found the waterfalls along the faux "One Mile Creek" that I finally decided to pay the real Onemile Creek a visit.
While "One Mile Creek" featured a few steep pitches and some other hazards that would make it an inappropriate adventure for the inexperienced, the route to the base of the Onemile Creek waterfall makes for a rugged but relatively easy snowshoe. That being said, if you aren't planning on ice climbing, you will have to do some steep scrambling to get over the lower two falls to reach the more impressive upper fall.
I made an initial scouting trip to the waterfall with a friend on a mostly cloudy afternoon in late March. We slogged through deep snow up the hillside above the waterfall where we had a great view overlooking the Delta River valley. When we descended to the base of the upper fall, there appeared to be an opening behind the ice on either side about halfway up. The opening on the left was guarded by rocky cliffs, and while it looked possible to scramble up the cliffs without a rope, I decided it would be too risky with the loose snow covering the rock. I walked up the steep snow slope to the opening on the right and was pleased to find a tall curtain of translucent blue ice when I stuck my head inside. There wasn't much space to maneuver, but there were still plenty of interesting angles to explore. Before leaving, I noted the time and the position of the sun in the sky and estimated that I could catch the sun fully illuminating the waterfall if I returned on a clear day around 6-7 p.m.
I returned to the waterfall a couple weeks later on a beautiful spring day with another group of friends. We could see the ice of the waterfall gleaming in the late afternoon sun when we parked along the highway, and we passed several moose on the way to it. The snow on the cliffs to the left of the upper fall had melted away, so I psyched myself up for a dangerous scramble and made like a Dall sheep up the cliffs to the opening I had yet to explore. Once inside, I found it was a little deeper than the other opening but not as tall. The shapes in the ice itself were not quite as striking, but the glow was still captivating and the view peering out from the opening was more interesting.
The "floor" inside the opening consisted of thin, murky ice with water underneath. The ice wasn't going to hold my weight so I did my best to position my tripod on it and compose my shots while crouched on the adjacent rocks. After shooting the blue ice for a while, I turned around and realized the sun was shining directly inside the opening. The view was rather unique and I knew it wouldn't last very long, so I attempted to capture it by pointing the camera in my direction and ducking while the camera took the picture. It took several tries to get the focus and composition right, but I didn't realize until later that my backpack was silhouetted at the bottom of the frame in all the shots. Luckily, I was able to save one or two images by cropping a little tighter than I normally prefer.
In May I might try to catch this waterfall as it "opens up". There's certainly plenty of water flowing beneath the surface of the waterfall already, but in a matter of weeks that water should be flowing over the top while the ice to the sides continues to slowly melt. Looking forward to a summer stroll to the waterfall as well! (Update: I did see water flowing over the ice in May as I passed by on the highway, but when I returned a couple days later with my camera the water had disappeared under the ice. Maybe next year...)
Want to see this waterfall? Check out my Black Rapids Tours winter offerings.