Boulder Creek is a tributary of Marble Creek of the St. Joe river. Marble Creek paddlers
will recognize the name, as the confluence of Boulder and Marble Creeks is the traditional takeout
for the popular lower Marble Creek run. While Boulder looks small and unrunable from the confluence, higher
up it flows through a deep, vertically-walled, box canyon. Due to the extreme nature of the canyon,
the run is recommend for experienced class IV / V paddlers, who are comfortable with rappelling.
The first descent of Boulder Creek was made in the Spring of 2017 by local paddlers Chris Celentano, Whitney Fish, Josh Heise and Chris Mowry.
Boulder Canyon starts out requiring a 400 foot rappel into the canyon. While it’s not
entirely vertical, ropes are required to get in safely. See the logistics section
for information on parking, hiking and setting rappel lines.
Once at the river, the action starts immediately. Look for a 100 yards of class III warm up and only a few two-boat eddies. Around the first left hand corner, ducking two logs is required. Just after the second duck, a 4 foot pour over appears. Charge right to avoid the logs on the left wall. After the pool, look for river right eddies to scout Z-Slot (aka Whitney's Swimming Hole) which occurs quickly below. This drop flows like a “Z” with the bottom dropping into a 4ft wide slot that can either flush you backwards into a log infested eddy (river left), hold you and beat you in the slot, or flush you out downstream. The ideal line is to charge center right and make an angled drop into the slot sideways. Don’t forget to tuck in your paddle! A seal launch is the only option for portaging on river right.
Immediately below this drop, enjoy the amazing box with clear water. The next rapid has a boof and slide, start right for the first and then charge back left to slide down the boulder. The next 1/4 mile of rapids are read and run class III.
The next log duck has a large tributary coming in from the left. Following this, the river drops into a sticky hole that can be boofed with the assist of a log slide on the left. Watch the runout, as the river may push to the right into a log with branches sticking down. Entering the next section of canyon, look for river left eddies to scout and possibly portage the log jam below. The drop under the logs has a river center piton rock.
The next 1/4 to 1/2 mile consists of nice class IV drops, all read and runnable. When a large log jam becomes visible on the right, and the current goes to the left, you are approaching Bootie Beer Gorge. Eddy out here where you can, stash your boats, and hike down the right wall to check the entrance and look for wood. Be sure to look carefully at your line for the entrance drop, while it’s not that technical, it’s very easy to get pushed right and launched forward to piton your line. This gorge is only 5-7ft wide, so remember that when you have an 8ft boat!!
When you enter the gorge, a left angle is best. It’s deep enough for a quick roll, but get up quickly as the 2nd drop is not far downstream. This drop has a sticky hole and decent backwash, so get a good boof stroke at the lip. There is room for recovery below, but no places to get out. The last drop is the hardest. This drop has a 60 degree corner and an undercut on the left wall 10 feet after you land. It has seen the most carnage of the canyon, including a sideways pinned boat. It is non-scoutable and non-portagable. Try not to piton the wall or end up in the undercut. If you roll, get up quickly, and watch your head as it might kiss a wall. If your boat becomes stuck sideways, then the challenge begins. It is possible to climb the sides of the walls at water level back to your boat. Remove your pfd and sprayskirt to climb with. It takes time and energy. In the 11 first attempts at this gorge, 4 swims and 2 rolls occurred.
The final section is below, with three key drops. The first can be run in several directions, all go. The second involves another log jam. Scout or portage right. To run it, stay left through the slot and land on the left bank as piton rocks are in play in the center. Bounce through a shallow section. The last drop approaches, stay right down the entrance slide, and move center. There is an undercut on river right to avoid. From here, finish the last 100 yards to the bridge and take out.
Boulder is the take out creek for the Marble run on the St. Joe River Corridor.
Drive up Boulder creek to the FS 490 road bearing right. Follow this roughly
1 mile until you cross over Boulder creek, park on either side, this is the takeout.
Return back to Boulder road, continuing upstream. Follow it roughly a 1/4 mile past the 3 mile marker. There is a pullout on the right corner of the road, just before approaching a small tributary creek. From here, you’ll gear up into your drysuits/pfd and helmets. Put all other gear in your boat with the skirt on it and your paddle tied in. Start hiking downhill, but stay on the ridgetop. There is a tributary to your left, you do not want to go down that way. After 100 yards on the ridge, it will start going downhill steeply. This is the site to find a good tree to set anchor on. We went down with a single rope, the bottom person on belay with their boat hooked to their harness. Angle slightly to the right when looking downhill of the ridge and follow it to the bottom. As you approach the river, it gets more vertical.
A minimum of two 70m ropes are needed, along with a harness with belay gear and enough carabiners and webbing to attach your boats to your gear. The first groups left the ropes in place, but took the rest of the gear with them, keeping the boats light. The ropes were collected at the end while running shuttle.
On the takeout bridge at the FS 490 road and Boulder Creek is a painted gage. This gauge currently has four levels, min, low, medium, high. This is based on the first trips into the canyon. The gauge is painted at the base of the bridge on the upstream side. Look for Boulder Creek to be running when Marble Creek is at high-medium to high flows, which corresponds very roughly to flows above 6,500 CFS on the St. Joe at Calder gauge.
Copyright Todd Hoffman 2017 - All Rights Reserved