Overview: This is a class 3 canyoneering trip into lower Fish Creek outside of the Superstition wilderness. The trip involves one rappel only and some moderate unroped climbing (maybe 5.5ish).
Warning: Pay attention to the weather and avoid this trip anytime thundershowers are possible. Flash floods are dangerous in canyon environments. Due to the short length of the slots on this trip, the danger is possibly reduced, however caution is still required.
Warning: This trip involves technical canyoneering and cannot be completed without specialized gear, you will need standard canyoneering fare: harness, caribiner, descending device, and HELMET. In addition, for this trip, add a 100 ft rope , 20 feet webbing, quicklink, and ascending gear to jug the rope back out. In addition to the above, I recommend drybagging anything that cannot get wet. Do not bring a bolt kit, natural anchoring opportunities are abundant and no bolts are needed.
History: Ladder canyon is named because of an old rickety ladder originally in the canyon that was later removed circa 2007 (I can no longer locate the web post by the persons responsible for finally removing this trash). First descent is not claimed in Todd's book and the presence of the metal rod suggests it may have seen some descents when the road or dam was constructed.
Hike: From the road, read the signs at the gate carefully and determine if it is currently allowable to do this trip. Regulations may have or may be changing to prevent anyone from doing this route any more. Obey the law, don't blame me if they now forbid trespassing.
If it is still legal to go, begin hiking downhill on the road following the many turns. Where the road reaches its furthest east point at a switchback (33.561 N, 111.348W), get into the gully that forms at the right side of the switchback and follow it downhill, dodging all sorts of thorn-ridden shrubbery. Eventually you will get to a dropoff with a large metal bar with a hole in it pounded into a chockstone. Rig your rappel here from the bar and use your knowledge of natural anchors to construct one on the abundant person sized boulders to backup the metal rod. Rappel 12 feet to the ledge and continue another 60-70 feet on rappel until you reach terra firma. At this point, you can decide if you want to leave your technical gear (harness, helmet, etc) here to pick up on the return (I recommend bringing a drybag at minimum for electronics, lunch, etc on the rest of the trip.)
Follow the rest of Ladder canyon down as an easy stroll through the chilled slot and peaceful pools until you reach Lower Fish Creek. You might be able to call it quits and attempt to find a hole deep enough to relax and swim here. This description continues with the Micro-part of this loop, so head right (east/southeast) upstream in Fish Creek. Walk along the banks, decent trails exist in almost all parts. Admire the creek, frogs, and greenery in this otherwise harsh desert landscape.
After about a mile or so, the creek turns right (south) into a gorgeous grotto and you will notice a large cave about 60 feet up. The adventurous can climb up to the cave, although there is nothing of significance besides a nice view. Past the cave, Fish Creek spans Fish Creek Canyon side to side and, depending on water levels, you will have to swim(kids and short people) or wade with pack held overhead(tall people) approximately 40 yards through (hopefully) pleasant water. Exit on left (LUC).
Begin going around the bend to the left and look north through the shrubbery to pick out where Micro Canyon is feeding into Fish Creek. Whack your way through the bushes to get into the Micro canyon drainage. Follow this tight slot upstream to a large chockstone with an elegant waterfall. The best climber should give a partner assist to everyone to get them onto the chockstone, then climb up to join his party. After this climb, there are a couple of pools that were large and clear. Continuing to climb up the canyon, we were able to skirt all but the last one. Having not brought drybags, we climbed, unroped, up a 15 foot cliff on left (5.5?), however if someone brings a drybag you could swim this last pool and not need to do the climb.
After the last pool, scramble up the scree slope out of Micro Canyon to the obvious saddle to the west. Go over the saddle and pick your way carefully downhill and back into Fish Creek. Retrace your steps to Ladder canyon. Jug the rope out of the canyon, collect your rope and anchor material, climb the gully back up to the road, and return to your vehicle.
Water sources: Fish Creek, Micro canyon creek(bring a filter).
Camping: Although I didn't see anything wonderful, I'm sure you could camp along fish creek somewhere on the banks.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
Forest Tonto Pass is a forest wide permit for recreational sites and campgrounds. Typically not for trailheads.
To canyon trip From US60 and Idaho rd, go N on idaho to the Apache Trail and turn right. After Tortilla flats, but maybe a mile before Fish Creek hill (about 20-25 miles or so from idaho), take FR80(?) north 1.5 miles until it ends at a closed and locked gate. Park out of the way in an area parking is not prohibited.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.