August was a pretty topsy turvy month. When I did Choprock canyon over Memorial Day weekend the folks I met there talked about a friend of theirs, Lisa, who lives an eerily similar lifestyle to mine, working remotely from a van and roaming the western US. She was on her way up to Alaska for the summer, to do some of the same things I did there back in 2009, and we started chatting by email and I was eventually invited to fly up to Vancouver and meet her and a friend of hers, Kevin, for canyoning when she passed through on her way back south.
This trip didn’t get off to a great start. After a bit of rambling around north Vancouver, we went down Cypress Creek the first afternoon, a really nice canyon with a few great waterfall rappels and a lot of beautiful mossy riverbed walking interspersed with easy downclimbs. About halfway down Lisa hit a rock while sliding into a pool and sprained her ankle. With some difficulty walking she eventually exited out the side to the car while the rest of us finished the canyon. Lisa descending the first waterfall:
The next day Lisa hung out in town while the rest of us went down Monmouth Canyon, an absolutely amazing canyon north of Vancouver, near the town of Squamish. After crossing the Squamish river by canoe and gaining 1500′ vertical on a brutally steep trail through the rainforest, we entered the creek and were soon at a rapid fire series of more than 10 rappels, most over 100′. The rock in this area is mostly granite — Squamish is one of the biggest climbing destinations in Canada — and yet the creek carved through it in spots as if it were sandstone, forming potholes, chutes, vertical walled slots, even a couple of arches. Cold clear water and several good jumps. The following pictures are a difficult downclimb near the top and some of the sculpted drops lower down; the second photo was taken by Thomas Compagne (water got to my camera early in the canyon.)
Monmouth was the last day of canyoning in the area; with the rest of the weekend I went out with Lisa canoeing and driving the Sunshine Coast. I ended up skipping my flight home to drive with her to Idaho for a work meeting she needed to be at. Her van was having transmission problems and I was along to help; there’s a good deal more to this story on her blog at http://vanvagabond.com/?p=4.
After a few days I flew to Durango, and a few days later left Colorado and drove up to meet with Lisa back in Idaho. After several days of logistical prep work and some cool adventures — kayaking/swimming/jumping/snorkeling at Shoshone falls and downriver on the Snake — I moved into Lisa’s van and we headed north, making our way back to Vancouver for more canyoning.
Lisa’s ankle had healed enough at this point to let her back into the canyons, and Kevin was organizing an event, Mossfest, over Labor Day weekend with over a dozen people visiting the area from Utah, Washington and so forth. A lot more fun, and a fair bit more carnage. Vancouver had an extraordinarily dry summer, interrupted the day before the fest by a storm that dumped two inches of rain in the area, throwing things into disarray. On Saturday we were able to do Box Creek as planned. This creek is right next to Monmouth, across the river from Squamish. The flow in Monmouth was monstrous and in no shape for descent, but Box creek drains a smaller area and was just barely doable. A good deal shorter, but gorgeous and even more closed in by the granite walls. A couple pictures from the canyon are below; the second is Lisa descending one of the trickier rappels.
With the still high flow a pretty tough time descending many of the rappels, some of the drops pummeling me to the point of disorientation. Things went well though until the bottom of the last rappel, where one guy took a fall and broke his ankle. He was still able to walk using a stick, and we eventually made it back to the river and a jetboat ride across to the cars.
The next day we abandoned plans to do Monmouth and went down Cypress Creek, again having a great time until the bottom of the last rappel, where another guy in the group hit a rock while jumping and broke his ankle. A long time exiting the canyon, he couldn’t put any weight at all on the foot. The below photos are me with Lisa, then Lisa on the last rappel in the canyon, one of the coolest waterfall rappels I’ve seen and really not as difficult as it looks or sounds here:
I’m still new to this sport and can’t really pass judgment on how easily these ankle injuries can be avoided. At least two seemed pretty preventable, resulting from jumping/sliding into pools, but even discounting these I’ve slipped plenty of times descending the flowing canyons around both Vancouver and Ouray, and need to look some more at my risk assessment going through these environments.