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Malicious Gap, AZ

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Guide 11 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Globe > Young S
4.3 of 5 by 3
Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
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Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Round Trip 2.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,712 feet
Elevation Gain 650 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 3 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 5.75
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
10  2019-02-09 MountainMatt
1  2012-12-22 ssk44
5  2012-04-05
Malicious Gap Campsite
11  2012-04-05
Malicious Gap Campsite
19  2011-11-26 Kenny
12  2011-11-11
Bear Head Mountain Loop - Sierra Ancha
51  2011-11-11
Bear Head Mountain Loop - Sierra Ancha
24  2011-06-22 CannondaleKid
Page 1,  2
Author ssk44
author avatar Guides 19
Routes 12
Photos 2,250
Trips 274 map ( 830 miles )
Age 44 Male Gender
Location Gilbert, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Jan, Feb, Apr, May → Early
Seasons   Late Summer to Early Summer
Sun  6:07am - 6:33pm
2 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
How bad could it be??
by ssk44

This destination was heavily damaged during the Mistake Peak Fire of 2012. Extreme runoff damage and fire scouring is present throughtout the area.

Malicious Gap is a rugged canyoneering route in a remote region of the Sierra Ancha Mountains, within the Tonto National Forest. The hike is located near the Conway Ranch, just northeast of Greenback Valley. This location has been a local secret for years. Oops, not any more! I found out about this route from a member of the Conway family that I periodically communicate with. He informed me that crazy hikers, as he called them, go up there every once in a while and somehow scramble their way through the rugged gap. I was immediately interested!

Malicious Gap is a narrow segment of upper Greenback Creek. As the name implies, Greenback Creek starts out as a fairly normal open canyon and "gaps" down into a narrow deep gorge that later opens up again into the Greenback Valley area. The vertical elevation drop through the gap is a steep 650 feet. That's a decent amount of drop when considering that this canyon segment is only 1.25 mile long. Within Malicious Gap you will find a seasonal stream, running spring water, lush vegetation, classic Sierra Ancha geology, sheer cliffs, incredible rock formations, various waterfalls, and extensive pour-overs.

With a name like "Malicious Gap", you just cant help but be intrigued. It begs to be explored! The hike starts out at the end of FR236A from a beautiful primitive campsite with extensive shade from large oak trees that line the lower Greenback Creek drainage. Just to the east of the campsite is Greenback Creek, which will be the route that you will be following.

Route finding on this hike is basically a "no-brainer". This hike involves extensive boulder hopping and scrambling. Much of the canyon bottom is open with segments of solid bedrock. Bushwhacking is only moderate by my standards with about three sections that are particularly thick. What good off-trail backcountry hike doesn't have some bushwhacking to deal with?

Not far into the hike you will encounter the first of many gems along the route. I rounded a corner to find a monster, solid rock waterfall. Very cool!! I estimated it to be between forty and fifty feet high. That could be an exaggeration, but whatever it is, its definitely big and gnarly. Pictures just don't do it justice. The initial part starts out as a pour-over that quickly turned into a jagged and sheer overhanging rock face. Seeing this spot when Greenback Creek is running would be truly stunning. Greenback Creek typically runs in the winter months during snow runoff from warm periods between storms. Running water would definitely add an interesting and possibly challenging variable to this hike and should be taken into consideration. I figured that this was the end of the line but noticed a faint trail from either game or people that headed up a steep slope just to the right through a grove of oak trees that climbed up about half the height of the waterfall. From that point you could start to scramble up a section of small rock ledges heading back towards the middle of the canyon. The bypass is actually a fun scramble, however the trail that follows the cliff ledges heading up to the top is very narrow and steep with small loose rocks lying on the ledges. This is not a section to be taken lightly. One poorly placed step and your hiking days are over.

Beyond the main big waterfall you will encounter numerous pour-overs and small waterfalls that can all be handled with manageable scrambling. The remaining sections of the hike are actually very fun with nothing too intimidating or dangerous. Not far up the canyon there is one short section with a "trail bypass" that goes above a particularly thick section. I built a moderate sized cairn just above the canyon bottom on the left side to mark the bypass. I did not notice any recent evidence of people heading up the canyon. No one has been through this canyon for some time. All of the trail sections looked to be primarily used by whitetail deer. Whitetail deer trails are a real pain for people to follow because they duck down real low and go under the brush rather than directly through it. I beat open a decent fresh path through the thick sections of the canyon with my walking staff to make things a little easier for future visitors to follow.

Nearing the end of the hike you will pass "Lion Spring". The actual location of Lion Spring is difficult to determine. There was not the typically obvious spring location with large and thick trees, however the water in the canyon bottom was particularly clear and healthy at one point with more current than most parts. The end of the hike as posted is very distinguishable (Lat. 33 degrees/55'/25.59"/N & Long. 111 degrees/6'/39.51"/W). While walking up from the Lion Spring segment you will eventually encounter a very tall shear rock face with a dry waterfall on the right side. Work your way around the left side of the rock face through a steep section of oak trees to come out onto a nice flat open area on top with a few nice ponderosa pines around for shade. This seemed like a good ending point for this great hike. Just prior to the posted end for the hike was a perfect small backpacking campsite just off the trail with lots of shade from big oak trees. A short walk down towards Lion Spring would provide plenty of good water. See attached map for location of GPS waypoint described in text.

Malicious Gap is truly a great scramble hike with awesome scenery and lots of interesting places to explore. Nice and short, and not overwhelmingly difficult. Very rewarding and fun hike! Seeing this beautiful canyon with a swift stream running down it would be off the chart! Truly special destination. Count on having it all to yourself if you go.

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2009-05-09 ssk44
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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.

Most recent Triplog Reviews
Malicious Gap
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Malicious Gap Campsite
3 nights/4 days of "Car Camping/Off Trail Hiking" in the Sierra Ancha Mountain Range within the Greenback Valley Area at the Malicious Gap TH/Car Campsite-->
Malicious Gap
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Malicious Gap Campsite
Four days of camping and ruin hunting with my good friend Hank. Our planed hike days were Friday and Saturday. Finding ruins is just a bonus for me. Adventure and scenery is enough to keep me coming back to this area. The mountains and canyons surrounding Greenback Valley are highly diverse and very scenic. I really love it hear and the campsite at Malicious Gap is special. We had a great time. It just doesn't get any better for me... Perfect temps, minimal bugs, remote privacy, great campfires, and lots of beautiful live oak. I was definitely in my happy place.

So... The question of the day. Did we find any ancient hidden ruins?
Malicious Gap
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I can't remember the last time I had this much fun on a 3.4 mile loop hike for a total of 7 hours 49 minutes with a stopped time of 4 hours (of either rest/snack stops, scenic pic moments, or just plain stuck in the bush :DANCE: ..)

In April'11 on another Sierra Ancha Mountains adventure to the remote Dupont Rim area, I first viewed this intriguing "Bear Head Mountain" from a distance.. and had since hoped we could do some hiking here this year. Our ssk44 (Eric) has always come up with some excellent back country adventures, but this remote and diverse Sierra Ancha Mountains hike was a great Eric find and choice for me and I am very pleased I could join him.

We put it on the calendar and one hundred and forty-one pics later (with fifty-one making the cut for HAZ posting.. too many pics I know, but I loved it), I can confirm it is a winner!

I prefer to document many of my hikes with a "start-to-finish" picset and detailed captions rather than just post a few possible pic winners. My thought being.. for those interested in considering this hike, viewing the entire picset (from beginning to end) with explanatory captions will hopefully provide a better overview of what to expect and should also further complement the hike description narrative.
Malicious Gap
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Bear Head mountain has been calling my name for over ten years. On the southeast face, is a mammoth 300 foot +/- slab or solid rock that is visible for miles in the area surrounding Greenback Valley. Hiking Bear Head was a relentless beating and I knew it going in. I talked Hank into joining me with the possibility of unregistered ruins. Bear Head has all the signs that point to ruins and my luck has been good over the last year. He took the bait. Hank is a good friend and I thoroughly enjoy our adventures. We've had some good ones and this day was no exception. I would have done this hike with our without ruins. Finding a small cliff dwelling was the icing on the cake. The exact purpose of the structure was unclear. Finding this little ruin was the teaser that kept pushing us forward looking for more. It was unfortunately all we found on this hike. Small or big doesn't matter to me. Just finding something like that is so special and the setting was simply grand. The views from the base of Bear Head Mountain are incredible and having a special love for the area only added to the experience. Along the base of the cliff is a long hidden self with alcove areas, deep cracks, and lush thick vegetation. I emphasize thick. Mostly shrub oak with some large live oak trees and periodic grape vine. Water actually seeps through the massive rock face in multiple areas. It's actually funny that I first noticed the water from drips that hit my face. I thought is must have been raining. The drips were coming from way up the cliff face. Looking up the cliff face made me dizzy every time I tried. Hank and I were like ants moving across the lower shelf. It's actually intimidating to stand below that huge rock face.

After finally reaching the east edge of the mountain, the discussion quickly switched to something along the lines of... "Do we really have to go back the way we just came". That was one nasty route. The initial cliff face approach and the shelf itself took forever the traverse. The thought of enduring that pain again was more then I wanted to experience. From where we stood, I could actually see the upper end of Malicious Gap and it didn't look all that far away. Balling off into the middle segments of Malicious Gap is not an option due to the steep cliffs, however the upper end is doable. I looked over at hank... So... Are you interested in door number 3? It's one of those "pick your poison" decisions. I knew we could safely navigate the Gap and the alternate wasn't very appealing. We had enough time to pull it off. Why not! He agreed and we were off again. The first hundred yards or so involved pushing our bodies through dense chest-high brush, however the planed route opened up into a manageable chunky rock slide areas that led towards the bottom. We win! The light scrambling in Malicious Gap was a welcome change and the killer red rock scenery eased the pain from earlier. What a great way to end this hike. The loop was a good mutual decision on our part. I actually forgot how much I loved this canyon. About seven hours later and with late evening quickly approaching, we finally reached the truck.

What a great adventure. Completing this hike had special meaning for me. Being able to share it with Hank was really cool. Ha. He was definitely beat up afterwards but I think the high points outweighed the bad. Nasty terrain comes with the territory in off-trail exploration. The rugged Sierra Ancha mountain range never disappoints.


Malicious Gap
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Up early for our second shot at Malicious Gap we made good time covering the same ground as yesterday. Once at the falls, I tried to talk Tracey into scaling the wall all the way up so we could continue on togerher. No such luck, so I left her at the bottom of the falls with a 2-way radio so I could keep her abreast of trouble I would be getting into, as usual.

Having found a better path around the falls on the return trip last night I wasted little time climbing up above the falls. This time there were more bees and butterflies at the stagnant pool than last night but I figured I'd leave the photos until the return. Onward and upward following hte same path as last night until hitting the very dense brush. When I came upon the rock cairn it did appear the "trail" went up higher to avoid the dense brush, but the moment I saw a cave up the wall across the canyon I knew I was headed there. Within feet of Eric's cairn I was almost completely swallowed up by the brush. Just the act of getting down to the floor of the creek took plenty of effort while gaining thorn stripes up both arms. The moment I found the only semi-open spot I took my long sleeve shirt out of my pack and put it on. No matter how hot I got, it was better than being sliced to ribbons. More than once I dropped into such dense brush that I just lay on my back while using clippers to cut enough brush around me to be able to move once more, only to have the same thing happen again. Surprisingly once I got to the bottom, I found the brush on the other side wasn't quite as bad so the climb up the other side wasn't near as bad as the drop down from the other side. Still it was thick enough that I ended up climbing too high so when I came across a narrow ledge thinking the cave was right around the corner I hit a dead end above the cave. So it was back across the ledge, down and across and I was finally at the cave. Hoping to find it had been used as part of an ancient dwelling I was crestfallen when all that was in it was a bunch of scat from various animals. It turned out to be caused by a natural seep in the canyon wall that eroded over eons of time. Ok, being near the edge of the 2-way radio range back to Tracey it was time to head back.

I hadn't taken but a few steps out to take a photo across the canyon when I felt a stab in the left calf. Somehow by walking FORWARD, I was stuck in the back of the calf by a large agave. :o It seemed like it hit a nerve because it went numb almost immediately, yet any movement of the calf muscle sent pain shooting to my hip. Of course, still having a steep slope to climb back down that made it pretty hairy. If there was smooth ground I would have just slid down on my butt but that was not an option. Then once I was back in the creek bed I was met once more by the thick brush. I figured since it was such a chore to get down through the brush from the other side earlier I'd stay in the creekbed and take my chances. Again there were areas where I was completely enclosed and out came the clippers to break through again. It was through this section where I came across a plant that appeared to be benign but turned out to have small but sharp thorns along the stems. I ended up getting cut on it numerous times before I realized the part I looked at was actually another plant with no thorns yet intermixed with the thorny one. I still have the wounds in my forearms from that, although pure aloe lotion has speeded the healing already.

Finally I broke into the clear again and filmed a video of my walk all the way back to the falls. Coming back to the stagnant water there were bees and butterflies galore so I spend time taking a video of that as well. Then it was time to climb back down around the falls. Thankfully it was an area where I could slide down so it wasn't too bad on the calf. Once at the bottom I met back up with Tracey and we headed back to the car, bolder hopping all the way. Thankfully we had packed everything before the hike so we could just grab a quick bite and hit the road back home.

Full set of photos will be here:

Video of cave is available here:
Malicious Gap
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After our morning/early afternoon climb of Greenback Peak we were all set to search up Greenback Creek for the 75-80' waterfall I'd read about. While the drive was pretty much goinf back downhill for a few miles before heading up toward Malicious Gap TH, the downhill part was just as physically demanding to drive as the uphill was. (If you think driving a rough road like this is less demanding than hiking, try it some time... without power steering and on a 103 degree day without AC, I got much more of a workout driving than the climb up Greenback Peak. But it's a blast driving Sammy!)

Once we reached the trail head we set up our camp right away. We weren't sure how much time the hike would take and we sure didn't want to set up camp in the dark. After all, it was bear country... With a quick bagel and Starbucks Frapaccino pick-me-up we were off on the trail... actually a dry creek bed. Boulder hopping is the name of the game pretty much all of the way to the base of the falls. Once at the falls we took a few photos and sought a way to climb up the right side to the top of the falls. The climb wasn't bad with the help of the trees and light brush, at least up to the rocky area. That's where Tracey decided she'd turn around and wait for me at the base of the falls. Once I got past the thin rock ledge area it was a matter of climbing up a large rock fall and then over toward the falls and drop back to the upper creek bed.

After a few shots from the top of the falls to the base I was off in the direction of Malicious Gap. The first item of note was a stagnant water hole busy with bees and butterflies. Continuing on the going was easy, basically a flat section of rock for 50-100' then a small shelf up 2-4 feet followed by another flat section until the brush started to close in. It was getting late in the day and I was sure Tracey was wondering what kind of trouble I'd be getting into all by my lonesome so I figured it was time to call it a day and headed back. With our campsite just a few miles away I figured on returning in the morning with hopes of getting Tracey to climb above the falls and we'd complete the whole hike to Lion Spring.

We took our time on the return hoping to catch some wildlife that may be moving before nightfall. Once at camp with a long and hot (up to 103) day of driving & hiking behind us it was time for a dry shower... or at least it might as well have been. Attempting to get somewhat clean with a damp washcloth doesn't exactly make you feel clean, especially with the temperature still in the 90's and mosquitos attacking from all sides. Eventually we got our feet to start shedding the dirty look of having tramped all day through all kinds of terrain in our Teva's. With little air movement we left the fly off the tent, which paid off in dividends with a clear sky full of stars, and somewhere around 2 in the morning the moon was bright as could be for only a half moon.

Full set of photos is here:

Video links will be posted when they are edited and posted on YouTube.
Malicious Gap
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After our morning to mid-afternoon 1st attempt hike to reach the "Horse Canyon Ruins", our late afternoon was planned to tool around the various FRs in this remote and scenic section of the Sierra Ancha Mountains (between Hwy188- Roosevelt Lake in from Pumpkin Center and Hwy288- the Young Hwy). Eric wanted to show me some of his favorite stomping grounds for previous posted hikes on HAZ. We covered a lot of high clearance and 4x4 miles on our way to end at this "Malicious Gap" TH at 5pm (only about one hour before dark).

This "Malicious Gap" location is a tricky one for timing in order to arrive when all the stars and planets are aligned just perfectly for his hike description discussed 45 foot most awesome water fall to be flowing for that picture perfect moment.

We originally had no plans to hike to the waterfall as Eric just wanted to show me the TH Start and Camping Location, but when we arrived, we noticed that Greenback Creek was flowing due to snow melt, so this meant that the Malicious Gap major waterfall might also be flowing.. :o We took a chance one hour before dark, hiked the rocky creek .37mls one way and it was definitely the highlight of my day to see this colorful rock falls in its awesome setting.

Dinner at the historic "Butcher Hook Restaurant" in Pumpkin Center to close a very fun day.
Malicious Gap
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Malicious Gap (05/08/2009)

This was a very fun and rewarding trip. I literally decided to do this one only three days ago with hardly any preplanning. Very unlike me. I'm really not even sure what reminded me of the location. I planned on the hike being interesting but I never imagined it was going to be as good as it ended up. I was actually shocked that it was a doable route. With a name like Malicious Gap, I was anticipating failure. The morning temps were perfect for hiking and the bugs were manageable with the only exception being an extremely aggressive fly that seemed to be following me all the way up the canyon. If I even thought about pulling my camera out, he was immediately they're to drive me crazy. I really need to come back next winter to check out the killer waterfall near the beginning of the hike. Wow!!

Permit $$

Map Drive
High Clearance possible when dry

To canyon trip
From Mesa take Highway 87 towards Payson. Turn on Highway 188 and drive to Punkin Center. In Punkin Center you will be turning directly after the "Punkin Center Bar & Grill", which is visible from Highway 188. From there take FR71 approximately twelve miles to Greenback Valley/Conway Ranch. Do not enter the private property of Conway ranch! Before FR71 enters the ranch site, turn left on FR236A. Follow FR236A for approximately three miles to the trailhead. While traveling on FR236A you will reach a fork within 1.5 miles, which is FR236. Stay left and continue driving on FR236A. FR236A from beyond the FR236 fork degrades into a high clearance two-wheel drive road with very little base. !!DO NOT DRIVE THIS SEGMENT DURRING A RAIN STORM!! You will regret it. At the trailhead location is a beautiful primitive campsite with extensive shade from large oak trees that line the lower Greenback Creek drainage.

(Special Note) From Punkin Center, FR71 crosses Tonto Creek before heading to the trailhead. The crossing at Tonto Creek is gravel only and can be dangerous to cross for long periods of time following heavy storms and periodically throughout the spring during heavy snow runoff. It is advisable to check the CFS stream flow the day prior to your trip to unsure that you won't be driving all the way over there for nothing. Typically, any number higher than 200 CFS is not advisable without four-wheel drive. When in doubt, wait five to ten minutes for one of the locals to cross so you can see how difficult it is. See USGS Website for "Real-Time Water Data". Select "Tonto Creek Above Gun Creek, Near Roosevelt, AZ" from the "Statewide Stream Flow Table" for current CFS.
page created by ssk44 on May 09 2009 6:31 pm
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