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Difficulty:3B III (v3a2 III)
Raps:7-10, max ↨200ft
Red Tape:No permit required
13 May 2023
"Fun day in Monkeyface. Anchors were in great shape, flow was high, fun but not too pushy.
This is a classic. The lower section of this canyon provides a sequence of waterfall rappels through a narrow granite hallway including short free-hangs with water pouring down around you, that with a good flow are some of the best in Southern California. There are a number of rappels that have awkward starts and potentially challenging natural anchors, hence this is not a beginner canyon. The approach is steep and loose and offers another potential hazard. Please note that although it is possible to descend the full canyon, only the Lower section is really worth doing. The Upper section is not interesting and the Middle section adds a couple waterfalls to the descent but it does not have an easy access.
Monkeyface Creek is spring fed and therefore is likely to have at the very least a small flow year round. However, to catch it with good flow look to the winter and spring season. Caution should be taken however after large rainfall. The lower section is quite narrow and could be extremely hazardous and potentially deadly at high flow. From the short-cut drop-in point on the ridge at 34.09976, -116.95299 you can see the 2 smaller upper waterfalls by looking up canyon. Compare them to the picture. With twice this flow it could be fun. With significantly more flow it could be quite dangerous. The canyon doesn't really narrow up until after the first couple rappels. At that point, the high-water escape route is the only option to leave the canyon.
Some of the waterfalls are partially visible by a signpost on the road, this makes for a good checkpoint to inspect before starting the approach. Another checkpoint is in the vicinity of the drop-in point where a couple waterfalls in the Middle section are clearly visible.
Rappel 5 is probably the most dangerous rappel in high flow, and hence the best reference to compare waterflow. This rappel has a large chockstone at the top of the rappel and graffiti on trees at the bottom.
This is where you earn it. The approach is steep and sustained. You have 2 choices, the gully climb or the ridge climb (see pictures below). Either way rock fall can pose a serious threat. Gloves and helmets should be worn and spacing out is wise, but be aware that any rock knocked loose can gain more and more speed the farther it goes down. For larger groups the ridge is much safer as it gives room to spread out laterally.
Gully climb approach: Head up a rocky boulder field that turns into a shallow but obvious gully. There is some scrambling mixed with steep loose slopes. About 2/3 of the way up, it turns into a dirt trough that can be a pain to climb. After about 1,000 feet of gain you reach a big dead burn out tree and just above that a flat rocky area. Up and slightly right (North) is a small saddle which is the historic gully drop-in. Up left (West) is the new earthen slope drop-in.
Ridge climb approach: Head up the same way, but cut left above the first scramble "headwall", just before the 2nd one. There are fairly prominent footsteps and switchbacks that wander up the steep slope. About 800 feet up you reach the knife edge ridge (34.09896, -116.95413) and you can see R2, R3 and R4 from this high vantage point. Continue climbing up the steep ridge 200 feet up, until it flattens out (34.09933, -116.95359) and head toward a large burnt out pine tree on a less steep slope left. There is a good use trail that starts here and continues all the way to the canyon floor.
Below are pictures of the recommended approaches.
Historic Gully Entry: Prior hand-line / downclimb gully (from the saddle) is now a total mess of toppled large trees and large amounts of loose scree and talus (as a result of July 2018 Valley Fire). This way into the canyon is now much more hazardous than before the fire. Take the earthen slope entry instead.
Earthen Slope Entry: Before the historic gully saddle (hike West a couple hundred feet back along the ridgeline), hike down the earthen slope from the ridge to the creek bed following a use trail. This way down requires no handline or scrambling, just walk down the steep dirt. It is a safer and easier entry than the gully, although it can be tricky with snow cover.
Once at the creek you can hike upstream a ways if you'd like to check out the first of the upper two falls. Hike downstream past a huge logjam to R2. Dawn the wetsuits (except for the hottest of days late in the season when the water is not so frigid). A rain shell is highly recommended even in summer and full wetsuit in winter and spring.
NOTE: It is possible to climb an additional 2,500' gain on the same type of terrain (maybe worse) to access the Upper and Middle sections of the canyon, but this only adds the 2 short rappels which you can see from the drop-in ridge. If you want to do the upper 2 waterfalls, follow the beta described in R1 (descent section below).
The Descent beta describes the Lower section of canyon, which provides the most bang for your buck.
R1: Either sneak route bypasses this rappel sequence. To access this upper waterfall pair, climb up a steep (but not exposed) gully directly across from the earthen slope drop-in, head right into a sub gully, top out a small ridge, traverse across to another ridge with 2 large tree in a gully leading down to the falls. Rappel 60 feet off each tree (IE 2x 60') down to the top of the upper falls. Rappel the upper falls off a tree or large tree root DCL. Use log(s) and or rocks for an anchor to rappel the low angle lower falls. Hike a few minutes down canyon and you are back to the earthen slope drop-in.
R2: 80+ feet anchored from a tree RDC on the rappel slab at top; webbing is hidden from view. Historically 90+ feet anchored from huge tree with top busted off and various half live branches. Both of these anchor keep you out of the water course most of the way down.
R3: 43 feet anchored from a mostly dead tree RDC; nice rappel over a huge boulder into the water, and overhanging the last bit. As of JAN2022 all the logs are cleared out, so you can continue through R4 rather than rig a separate rappel. As of JUN2022 some large sticks and small logs are present; check your pull for snagging!
R4: 50 feet anchored from a boulder RDC about 35 feet back from the drop, near the bottom of the R3 waterfall. The drop itself is short now as the pool at the bottom is clogged with logs.
There is a short hike past an overhanging wall (left side) with some sport climbs and a bend to the left where you will be able to see Forest Falls Road far below. The canyon starts to narrow up here and drops more significantly through a granite hallway with rappels one right after another starting with:
R5: 48 feet anchored from large tree. Descends over a giant boulder, then overhanging next to falling water.
R6: 75 feet anchored from a horizontal part of a large tree LDC, forcing you into a fluted waterfall in a chimney. NOTE: There is a 20 foot tree upside down in the rappel line at the base of the drop! Use good judgment in determining whether to rappel behind the tree or over it. In any normal flow, this is not somewhere you want to become stuck, as you can get hypothermic quickly. Make damn sure your pull rope is on the outside of this tree, otherwise your block will jam on the tree when you pull your rope!
Downclimb the super slimy chockstone and slide off the end into shallow pool. Depth check first for new rocks, logs, and other debris. There is a rappel anchor off a large dead tree, but the rappel is super awkward and normally results in bashing yourself into the chockstone since there is no footing under it.
R7&R8: 40+25 feet anchored from bolts with chains and rings LDC. Rappel down narrow crack which can be a little awkward, and into the full brunt of the waterflow. Fist touchdown is on a big chockstone that is super slippery, but continue another 25 feet to pool below. The last person should stop at the chockstone, anchor into the R8 bolts with rings RDC head level, pull the rope, thread through the rings and rappel R8 separately from R7. If you don't use the R8 anchor, then there is a significant chance your rope will get stuck behind this chockstone when you pull it from the bottom of R8. Many ropes have been stuck here!
R9: 78 feet anchored from bolts with chains RDC; there is a short down-climb to access these bolt. This is the Monkeyface "money drop", where everyone takes pictures, including the banner and flow reference pictures. Be careful once on rappel guiding your rope into the slot, once you clear the chockstone as there are some quartz shards sticking out of the DCR wall. Several ropes have been core-shot here!
The canyon opens up to a campsite below the R9 pool. A short hike down leads to 2 options for R10:
R10: 30 feet off bolts RDC over a short overhang, into the mud, and then down climb the slab to the next rappel, or continue the rappel a full 100 feet to the R11 bolts. When the slab is wet, staying on rope here is wise!
R10 alternate: First, downclimb the slick rock on the left side of the massive boulder (bigger than a bus) canyon center beyond where the creek flows under rocks. Once down on the jumbled rocks between the massive boulder and the left canyon wall, face up canyon at the "rabbit hole" portal underneath the massive boulder. In this portal is a short, hidden waterfall, and a rigged fixed line around a pinch point (under water flow at moderate or more). Using this fixed line you can rappel down 5 feet into the portal, and crawl along the low angle, super slippery bottom over to an anchor. There is a tiny rock chock and a bolt with ring hanger on the other end of the fixed line. This anchor point allows you to rappel out from under the massive boulder, down the watercourse slabs past a shallow pool to the top of R11 (80 feet). NOTE: above moderate high flow it may be difficult or impossible to safely access this anchor.
R11: 88 feet off bolts with chain RDC down low-angle falls. You can easily stay out of the water course here as the slab is super slippery and most fall over trying to rappel the slimy slope.
At the bottom of R11 it's easy to exit by hiking up slightly at stay completely against the left wall. Or you can do the bonus rappel:
R12: 25 feet ghost off a dead tree that fell over the drop.
High-Water Escape Route
A high-water escape route has been created using bolts and natural anchors. If a canyoneer decides to use it, ample webbing and rapides should be taken to reinforce or build new natural anchors. The rope lengths normally taken to descend the canyon should be sufficient for the bypass. The bypass route was intact in June 2021. All rope lengths are close approximations. Use safe techniques with an end knot in the rope while descending the bypass. The goal of this route is to gain access to a large broken rampway hovering over the flowing water. The ramp is on canyon right. In this way, the very narrow portion of the canyon can be avoided if it has too much water to be safely descended. There are two entry points to this rampway. The numbering of rappels used for this discussion for the main canyon came from the ropewiki description of July, 2017.
First entry point is half way between main canyon rappels 4 and 5. There is an obvious side canyon coming in from the west (canyon right, aka RDC). Climb up about 70 vertical feet above the water to a large oak tree. Take the narrow rampway below the rock face, down canyon to the right. You may choose to use a natural anchor on a small tree to create a roped, protected traverse about 54 feet long.
Second entry point is found between main canyon rappels 6 and 7. Climb up an easy class five route on canyon right for about 18 feet. Just out of view of the watercourse is a double bolt anchor. It allows you to traverse 45 feet over to bypass anchor #5. This is a nearly horizontal traverse with fall exposure. The first/upper entry point may be easier.
Bypass rappel #1: a double bolt station, length 47 feet, continue down through brush, small trees and cactus.
Bypass rappel #2: a natural anchor from one of many large bushes, length 82 feet, continue down and to the right.
Bypass rappel #3: a double bolt station, length 70 feet.
Bypass rappel #4: a natural anchor, length 51 feet.
Bypass rappel #5: a double bolt station, length 75 feet, continue generally down the fall line toward thick tall trees below.
Bypass rappel #6: a double bolt station, length 58 feet, easily accessible with a small platform at the anchor.
Bypass rappel #7: a double bolt station, length 53 feet, located on a face with a tiny ledge to stand on. This places you in the main canyon downstream of the R9 waterfall and its pool. You are near a room sized boulder that had graffiti, and the premium camp spot pads. The canyon opens up here. You now only need to complete R10 and R11, both of which can be done out of the water flow.
At the bottom of the final rappel there will be some poison oak straight ahead downstream and to the right. You have two options to avoid it:
- Head left (east) along the slope, you will find a faint trail takes you downhill through a boulder field and further down where the brush clears up and a faint trail leads back to the road.
- Drop into the stream and go right (west), follow the stream till it dries up and then continue on the dry stream to the road, then circle back around to the car.
Watch out for rattlesnakes around the rocks.
Forest Adventure Pass is not needed at the recommended parking area.
Trip reports and media
- Car break-ins are a problem for this canyon; multiple groups have had cars broken into. Do not leave anything in your vehicle! We ran it on 28 Sept, 2014 and 3 of the 5 cars were broken into. Reported to Sheriff. Wallets, phone, gps, bag left in view were stolen. They did NOT steal any canyoneering gear that I am aware of. Rope bags etc. not stolen. They broke the windows but did not open the doors, all cars were still locked. Most likely so as to not set-off alarms. In addition to not leaving anything in view inside your vehicle you might also consider leaving all of the windows down. Another tip might be to park in full view of the road, not tucked away, hidden. A. Anderson (talk) 13:29, 29 September 2014 (PDT). Try parking in full view of the road, and not tucked away (like at 34.09642, -116.95346). Leave as few things as possible in your car, especially those visible from outside, and consider opening your windows so that thieves don't break them looking for valuables. Valuables can be hidden in the nearby streambed if necessary.
- A resident of Forest Falls has been trying to remove graffiti for many years. He leaves equipment under a large boulder in the bottom section. Nevertheless, the graffiti is accumulating faster than he can remove it. On 1/27/2016 we pulled bathroom bar soap and a can of Klean Strip paint stripper. If anyone knows the graffiti cleaner - please suggest less harmful methods of removing the graffiti.
- A resident of Forest Falls reports that the area is owned by the City of Redlands Water Department. He once tried to purchase the land from them while leaving Redlands with the water rights. The City of Redlands did not accept the offer.
- Fire Damage: On Friday afternoon July 6th The Valley Fire started at the base of Monkey Face exit and approach hike and spread rapidly up hill encompassing the canyon. Valley Fire Info: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5900/