Photo by Jeff Wachsmann
Note 1: The first descent of 2016 took place on 13 May, 2016. There were a number of changes in the canyon. Most importantly, pretty much every place in the canyon where you could jump or slide had filled in with stones. Pools that were swimmers now range from ankle to knee deep. In addition, the anchors for a couple of rappels are more treacherous to access. Finally, the fourth rappel, which used to be anchored off an overhead slung pinch in a little cave, is now anchored further down-canyon, at the top of the actual drop. This anchor is hidden, and is described in the beta below. All new (changed) beta entered in 2016 is coloured blue. Keep in mind that conditions are always dynamic, and may no longer be the same as described!
Note 2: This canyon has now been bolted. All of the nine rappels now consist of bolted stations of either one or two 3/8″ bolts and hangers. As should always be the case, ensure that you check the anchors, whether they are natural or bolts. Confirm that the bolts appear to be free of corrosion, that the hangers do not spin, and of course that webbing, rapides/quicklinks and rings are all in good condition!
At a Glance
ACA Rating: 3C II
French Rating: v3a2 II (in low flow season) up to v5a3 II (in higher conditions) *
Time Required: 3-4 hours
Distance: Technical section – 300m
Rappels: 9, maximum length 25m (80 feet)
Most recent conditions update: 13 May, 2015
A beautifully sculpted, flowing canyon just west of Squamish, BC. The canyon presents no particular difficulties in summer conditions, but is somewhat difficult to get to, requiring a crossing of the Squamish River for access. While there is good cell phone coverage in the area, the canyon is impossible to escape in some of the deeper, darker areas. This all adds to a sense of remoteness and isolation, despite the canyon being a mere 3 km from downtown Squamish as the crow flies. While only a half day canyon, the feeling of adventure is much greater than expected.
Note: It has come to our attention that Box Creek and Monmouth Creek, as well as the approaches to both, are in an area that is a designated cultural site of Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish First Nation).
This definitely does NOT preclude use of the area, but we wish to emphasize the importance of respectful use of the area. Please, in particular, attempt to minimize impact by using the old adage: Take nothing but photographs; Leave nothing but footprints.
Standard gear, including wetsuit and rappel equipment. Adequate rope for a maximum 25m rappel. Webbing/rapides for up to 9 rappels off of bolts.
To the Trailhead
From Highway 99, approaching Squamish from the south or north, turn west at the lights at Cleveland Avenue. After 400m, turn right on Bailey Street. The road quickly becomes gravel and comes to a fork. Keep to the right – this is Government Road. Continue north on Government road for 1.6km, crossing two sets of railroad tracks and getting back onto pavement. Turn left towards Squamish River Dyke Road (signed for Estuary Access and Squamish Spit) and return to a gravel road. After 350m, turn left onto the dyke road. Right here, beside the yellow gate blocking access to the north (right) you will find a short trail leaving the road, down to the river. Unload canoe/kayaks/gear here. You can park in the wide area on the other side of the road.
An optional shuttle vehicle can be placed 1.4 km down the road. This makes the river crossing to and from the trail much easier. Ideally, place things like dry clothing into the vehicle that carries the canoe, and leave it at the take-out spot. If no shuttle vehicle is available, plan on about 15 minutes of walking to return to the vehicle at the put-in spot.
NOTE: Crossing a fast-moving river like the Squamish is potentially very dangerous! Depending upon the discharge rate of the river and the dynamic hazards therein, there may be standing waves, snags, partially submerged logs, etc. You can check on the current, recent and historical data here: http://www.wateroffice.ec.gc.ca/graph/graph_e.html?stn=08GA022
Put in to the river here, and strike out across the river. Work your way across the river, as you head downstream. You will find that the trees you see directly across from you are actually on a long narrow island. You want to round the lower end of the island, and head upstream into a much narrower, slower moving channel on the other side. During high tides, you can head along the shoreline of the island, and through a gap between the island and a large gravel bar. (In very high tides, you may not even see the gravel bar – just a large tree stranded on it further downstream.) If the tide is lower you may need to continue around the gravel bar, past the large tree lying on it, and then back up the other side.
As you head up this channel on the other side of the island, you will soon come to a small cluster of old pilings on your left, close to the tree-covered shoreline. There are a couple of tiny coves here (N49.71469 W123.17253) where you can pull in and tie your boat to the trees. Note: the river here is still tidal and can go up and down a few feet while you are in the canyon – make sure you tie up the boat so it doesn’t float away while you’re gone!
Once you’re ashore, you’ll find yourself in a small clearing with a few narrow trails spreading out into the trees. Go to the north (upstream) end of the clearing and follow the trail there away from the river. After a couple of minutes, it will angle to the left, and in a few more minutes you will hear the chatter of Monmouth Creek. Before the trail starts to climb steeply up the hillside, turn left off of the trail and drop into Monmouth Creek (N49.71347 W123.18041). Following the creek upstream, you will soon come to a spot where most of the water is coming from waterfalls on the right. That is where Monmouth drops down the hillside from Echo Lake. Rather than turning up here, continue straight ahead, slowly climbing the gradient of the smaller stream. This is Box – and the water coming down the stream toward you is the water flow in which you will soon be rappelling.
After about 10 or 15 minutes, you will come to a pool at the bottom of a waterfall with some large logs scattered around (N49.71098 W123.18464). This is the lower end of the technical section – if you wish, you can leave dry clothes, food & drinks, etc. stashed here.
Exit route from the canyon, to climb to drop in point.
To climb to the drop in point, exit the canyon steeply to the right (looking upcanyon) via a big blocky boulder, onto a large log angling up the hill. Be very careful on the slippery log, and watch your footing as you move from the log to the clifftop. There is now a fixed rope to assist on the climb out. Scramble up into the trees, and continue steeply uphill. Note: Be alert for wasp nests in the area – we encountered two on the way in! People with sensitivity to wasp stings must be cautious on the approach. The way from here is now flagged – follow the pink flagging to the drop-in point. Near the end of the approach, the flagging stays wide, to the right, before dropping down to the creek – follow the flagging to avoid another wasp nest. Suit up, and get ready for a great little gem of a canyon!
There are variations in the way this canyon is descended. I will describe here how most people currently descend it, and some variations that are available.
First rappel station in Box Creek – high flow!
Two bolts around the corner, canyon right, down a smooth chute, under a large log and rock pile. The canyon has now filled in just above the rappel, and it may be difficult to access the bolts in higher flow. Consider using a belay to assist the first team member to the station if the conditions seem to warrant it. There is currently a large log hanging down into the channel – be careful not to dislodge it while rappelling. 11m (35 feet).
Top of rappel 2, looking toward rappel 3 in Box Creek
Immediately after first rappel. This rappel has recently changed significantly (early 2015). From the bottom of the first rappel, walk out then climb down a narrow chute on your right into a slightly lower pool. There is a single bolt with a rappel ring located on the left wall just as you approach the pour-off. Two stages – into a pool, then past a boulder to a lower pool. The first pool used to be a swimmer, and potentially difficult to exit at the far side – it is now ankle deep. 18m (60 feet).
Immediately after second rappel. The bolts that were located here have been destroyed by debris over the winter of ’15/16. Now, move to the left through a gap beside the wall. then keep to your right. You will find a single bolt with rap ring on your right, protected behind the large boulder here. Rap down into the channel below, joining the watercourse where it pours over a log dam. Follow the channel down, past where the water disappears off to the left (looking down canyon).
This spot is potentially very dangerous! It is very difficult to determine exactly how the water exits – it may drop into a siphon, and could have the power to trap someone there if part of your body or equipment gets sucked into the flow. Make your way very carefully past this spot!
You will come to a pour-off that used to be a large waterfall, but is now dry. Stay on the rope, and go right to the edge of the pour-off. On canyon right, on the outside of the pour-off, is a two bolt chained rap anchor. Anchor yourself here prior to getting off the rappel, and setting up the next rap. This should take approximately 20m (65 feet) of rope.
Rappel four, viewed from the anchor. The water no longer pours over here, but joins further down.
This rappel used to be a head-pounding waterfall – probably the most challenging in the canyon – but is now mostly dry. The water joins from the side, and you will only enter the flow near the bottom. Rap from the bolts beside the pouroff, approximately 6m (20 feet). Easily spotted for length from the anchor.
Immediately after the fourth rappel. Off two bolts, into a pool, then over a short pouroff. 15m (50 feet). It is possible to exit the rappel after dropping into the first pool (about 8m, 25 feet), and jump into the lower pool, off the pouroff. Practice shallow jumping technique – and always be sure that there are no obstacles, and that you are comfortable with the jump. Canyon conditions change frequently. As of May 2016, the lower pool is approximately waist deep. It can still be jumped – carefully.
Looking down the tube, rappel 6 in Box Creek
“El Tubo” – the long straight tube. Off a pair of bolts on the left wall. 17m (55 feet). When the bolts were installed, they were about 1.5 meters off the ground – the floor of the canyon here has built up in the meantime! The pool at the bottom of this rappel is not deep – don’t even thing about sliding near the bottom, or jumping from the lower end of the tube.
Emerging from the tube, rappel 6 in Box Creek
Right after this rap is a short drop into a narrow channel. There are some logs jammed into the gap, making a bridge. In lower flow, it may be possible to hang from the bridge and drop into the lower channel. Be careful, the water is now very shallow. If you are not comfortable descending into the channel below, there are a couple of options, both of which involve the horn of rock on canyon right, just above the drop-off.
If someone is comfortable descending the gap, they can anchor others from the bottom, by tossing a rope over the horn, and providing a meat anchor. Those getting on rappel must be very careful not to pull out on the rope, as it could then slip over the horn and cause them to fall.
If no one wants to descend the drop, then very carefully slip a bight of rope over this horn, and gently rap down on both strands. Have a partner monitor the rope, to ensure that it does not slip over the horn. From there, provide a meat anchor as previously mentioned.
After this point, escape from the canyon is possible on the left.
Bottom half of rappel seven. This used to be a slide or a jump, but the pool is now far too shallow.
Two stage rappel into a gorgeous alcove. Two bolts on the left wall. Awkward start into an overhang, down into a pool, then a sliding rappel into another pool. 20m (65 feet).
Accessing the anchor may now be very difficult (the logs and debris have shifted closer to the anchor recently). If necessary, move to canyon right, and descend a gap in the logs into a groove, and move across to the bolts.
The second stage used to be frequently done as either a slide or a jump into the alcove pool below. The pool is now about thigh deep, or less, and cannot be slid/jumped into! Stay on rope for both stages.
Yet another possible two stage rappel. Off two bolts on the left side, above the boulder. Drop into a large pool, then around a corner and down a ramp. 15m (50 feet). The first part of the rap goes past a large alcove on rappeller’s left, just after leaving the stance at the start of the rappel. Be careful not to slip into here, as you may get bashed around a bit. This alcove also makes a good spot for the first rappeler to get off the rope, and get photos of the other members on rappel.
Again, the second stage can be done as a slide. Keep to the left, looking down, and try to land with your legs out, rather than “knifing” down into the water. The pool used to be deeper, but is now about waist deep in the landing area. It can still be safely slid, but keep your legs up!
Final rappel in Box Creek
Two bolts on the left side, below a short downclimb. Three stages. The pull can be tricky, through the turns/drops of the stages. Pull is easier if you climb up the talus covered slope a little ways on canyon right. 25m (80 feet).
You’re now back at the pool where you exited the canyon to head uphill. Shuck your wetsuit, pick up your cached food/water/clothes, and head back downstream to rejoin the trail. Hike back to the clearing, hop in the canoe, and recross the river.
Again, head downstream, working your way across. You will see quite a number of logs stranded close to the far bank. Looking downstream, the trees along the Squamish Spit road start to thin out, and cars (if there are any driving along the road) become visible. You want to find a little cove roughly even to where the last logs are stranded on the sand/gravel on the east side of the river, and just before the road becomes completely visible. As you row into the little cove, you will see that it is actually a small side stream that leads through a culvert under the road to the estuary on the other side. There are a number of vertical posts set into the stream, blocking access. Take the canoe out on the left (upstream) side, before reaching the posts. You will find a trail here that leads up to the roadway and your parked vehicle – if you have done a shuttle. Otherwise, walk back up the road 1.4 km to retrieve your vehicle.
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v3a2 II (in low flow season) up to v5a4 II (in higher conditions)
* Reasons for rating:
v3 to v5 – Low water flow on rappels. Rappels end in relatively calm water. Both of these jump to higher levels in greater flow. The author has descended the canyon in conditions that made it impossible to keep one’s footing in the water flow.
a2 to a3 – Short swims, no jumps (optional slides). In higher flow conditions, can involve travel in low or moderate current.