register help

Tango Canyon, AZ

no permit
180 13 0
Guide 13 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Superstitions NW
3 of 5 by 6
Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
View 2
clicktap icons for details
Difficulty 2.5 of 5
Route Finding 5 of 5
Distance Lasso-Loop 6.8 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,156 feet
Elevation Gain 850 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,150 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 6-9 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 12.55
Interest Off Trail Hiking & Seasonal Creek
Backpack No
Dogs not allowed
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
Will recalculate on button tap!
41  2015-11-10 CoryTallman
26  2014-04-06 desert_boonie
68  2011-02-27 Vaporman
15  2009-11-15 nonot
30  2009-11-15 Vaporman
Author nonot
author avatar Guides 93
Routes 236
Photos 1,969
Trips 476 map ( 4,511 miles )
Age Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
Expand Map
Preferred   Nov, Dec, Feb, Mar → 8 AM
Seasons   Late Autumn to Early Spring
Sun  6:13am - 6:22pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
A navigational nightmare?
by nonot

A class 3AIII technical canyoneering trip in the northern Superstition Mountains.

This trip involves rappelling and down-climbing. A full set of technical canyoneering gear is needed, including: helmet, harness, caribiner, and rappelling device. For this trip add a GPS, iron will, 150 ft rope (a 200 ft worked well), and possibly Kevlar body armor. A 50-60 ft rope brought along will get a lot of use (a 100 ft also worked well.) Furthermore, I recommend each party take along 50 ft of webbing and 4 quick links. I do not recommend this trip for beginning canyoneers.

Canyoneering involves slot canyons and you don't want to be in these places during a flash flood. Check the weather before you depart on your trip and do not attempt to go if there is any chance of rain.

This trip is rated a 5 in navigational difficulty. Horse Mesa is full of indistinct drainages running every which way. The last few parties who attempted this have missed Tango canyon entirely. I recommend that you make use of the GPS route I will submit. Furthermore, to avoid the possibility of having to make tough choices in the dark, I recommend you get an early start.

Todd's book indicates a group of Search and Rescue personnel (off-duty) attempted the canyon but could not complete it due to insufficient rope and had to self-rescue. It is unclear if this was a first descent attempt.

From the pullout on the Apache Trail, head into lower Fish Creek and begin rock-hopping downstream. Keep track of your distance as you are looking for the 1st major drainage coming down into Fish Creek from your right at 0.5 miles.

Turn right and climb up the west slope of this drainage, trying to stay near the ridge that runs along the west side. You will pass by a rock formation that some say resembles a ship's bow. Past this rock formation, continue climbing up the left side of the canyon until you reach a fairly flat saddle. Do NOT wait too long to make the climb assuming you can use the slot-like drainage you see ahead of you on your left, you need to summit before reaching that drainage.

Once on top of the Horse Mesa flats, take a break to catch your breath. You are done with the hardest part physically, but not navigationally! From this point, head west and slightly north. Get on the flat plain and contour your way to the head of the next canyon so that you can get up the 30 ft wall without difficulty. After getting up the wall, contour 100 yards around on the flat part of the ridge to your south, then west, and then where you cliff out, head north. Climb up about 60 ft to your northwest to obtain a saddle to the 2nd major drainage into Fish Creek.

Descend into the drainage and follow it downhill. Several minor drainages will appear on your right. I believe we took the third (?) drainage, which had a slick rock floor and was easy hiking north to a 10 ft dryfall. The dryfall is easily climbed on the left and I built a small cairn on top of a boulder here so that you know you are in the right place. From this point, maneuver west by northwest until you begin to notice that you are in a drainage that is considered upper Tango Canyon. Bypass the brush by sticking to the slick rock on the south side, and jump in where the rhyolite sidewalk appears in the bottom of the canyon. Walk downstream and avoid the brush as best you can.

The first obstacle appears approximately 2.5 miles, which you may reach at 2 hour 30 minutes into your trip. It is a 12 ft drop from a chock stone into a water filled (!) slot. There is no anchor here, so backtrack slightly and bypass on the right. Drop down into the canyon and gear up.

A short distance down canyon is your first rappel, a 18 ft drop from a large chockstone into a dry gravel slot. The rope pull here is problematic, do a test pull before the last person comes down.

Continue down the slot until the canyon widens at a 55 ft cliff. Rig your second rappel here off the boulder down the left side of the cliff. Some bushes may give you pause as they grow out of the cliff halfway down. Once your party is on terra-firma, repack up your rope as it will be awhile before it is needed again.

Continue down canyon, dodging brush, catclaw, and obstacles until you reach a cliff band with a huge boulder. To your right is a tunnel through the rock. The rappel here would be about 40 ft through the tunnel, but there is no anchor rigged. Head for the right side of the canyon and bypass this drop and the next drop of about 100 ft in total.

Find you way down to the bottom of the canyon and continue hopping downhill. You will cliff out at what appears to be a difficult 20 ft down climb followed by a rappel of indeterminate height into a pothole full of water (You cannot see the pothole from your vantage point). Do NOT down climb here, instead backtrack slightly, climb up 20 ft and go across the canyon to the left side. Find a ridge you can climb down onto and from the ridge, obtain the canyon bottom by proceeding down a slope off the left side of the ridge.

Back in the bottom; proceed down canyon until you reach a spot with difficult 15 ft downclimbs on the right wall of the canyon. Pick the down climb you like the best (some may like the tunnel option) and hug the right wall of the canyon to find a slung chockstone. Rig your penultimate (third) rappel here for about 10 feet. Be cautious as this rappel is a very difficult start.

Immediately ahead of you is the final rappel, 70 ft, the last 40 ft of which is free-hanging. Rig from the slung boulders and enjoy this final rappel into a dry grotto where there is ample evidence of bats. Once all are down, pack up your ropes and harnesses, as you are done with the technical stuff.

The rest of Tango Canyon involves some fun down climbing before you, too soon, reach Fish Creek. Turn left and head upstream in Fish Creek until you reach your vehicle.

Water sources
There were isolated seeps found in Tango Canyon, and lower Fish creek will have some water. Depending on the season Fish Creek could also be flowing strong. However, after 4 months with almost no rain, only a few isolated pools that looked moderately decent were observed on this trip. You would need a filter.

Although I consider it unlikely, participants on this trip could dry camp anywhere on the Horse Mesa flats, as well as the ample at-large campsites in portions of Lower Fish Creek.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your canyon trip to support this local community.

2009-11-15 nonot
    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
    Tango Canyon
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Having collected a few scrapes on the old legs the day before and the heat wave coming in, I thought today would be a good day to see what this canyon had to offer. She was great, she took plenty of flesh from my legs and arms, didn't seem to let up once I dropped in, and offered complete solitude.

    I got out to the parking area around 8am and off I went after getting a brief history lesson from a guy in the parking area as well looking for old horse shoes since the stables from the old fish creek house was suppose to be near or where we were standing? I wouldn't see another soul until I got back to the Jeep where people were taking pictures of the surrounding area. The only thing I did wrong today was forgetting the map of the area which could have turned into disaster but I was able to avoid that by climbing all the way to the ridgeline and traversing that to find the right drainage to drop in, or what I thought was the right one. It worked out with only adding over a mile of extra traversing but was rewarding with some pretty spectacular views of the area.

    I got to where I was sure was the drainage and started to descend and realized that it was the right canyon once I got to the first drop. There was some good sized pools in the canyon and it was funny to see the water go from clear to stagnant the lower I went. After the first rappel in a narrow channel I was able to stay dry with my stemming technique that seemed near perfect in my mind but luckily nobody was there to take pictures to prove otherwise. Once in the basalt narrows the first three raps come pretty quickly, then after that you will have to negotiate your way down a brush filled canyon that certainly doesn't want to help you out showing you the right or best way to go down. I think it was the fourth rappel where the webbing was too worn with the quicklinks rusted out sitting in some water. I broke that down and found a new spot to anchor from. Once I got to the final rappel into the alcove just above fish creek I was worried my rope wouldn't reach the bottom since I couldn't see the bottom due to the spectacular overhang you will free hang from. Luckily it was enough no problem, a 200ft rope will get you through this canyon just fine. Boy I love handling rope all by myself.

    Once down the final rappel and in the alcove, I thought I would be home free, but sure enough more brush awaited along with some good downclimbs into fish creek. Once I got into the gateway I couldn't wait to walk in the water and cool down my newly torn up legs. I wasn't expecting the hike out to be so brushy and amazing at the same time. Some more flesh left behind and of course the worst thing that happened to me today was walking through one of the last pools of water where I slipped on the rock and landed straight on my behind. I could only sit in the water for a minute and laugh since I knew I didn't have a change of shorts waiting for me. I was about 15 minutes from being done, so I wouldn't dry off anytime soon. Thanks Fish Creek. But all in all, this was a pretty good day. I don't like to wear pants, but if I ever do this canyon again I might have to break that rule? :)
    Tango Canyon
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    So I didn't fully believe the weather forecast as it slowly decreased the chance of rain on this weekend, so by Sat evening I watching to go hike a wet hike in the Supes and just take my chances. ;) I couldn't get anyone else interested in this crazy adventure, so I woke up early and made the drive towards Canyon Lake. I was rewarded with sweet views of Flatiron covered in clouds & snow, loads of snow surrounding the Canyon Lake & Tortilla Flat area, and even much more snow as I slowly made the snowy, wet & slippery drive to and down to Fish Creek Canyon. :o It was so amAZing so see everything above 2500ft covered in at least 2-3 inches of snow. :y: The approach hike up that ridge out of Fish Creek Canyon was def much slower than usual as I'm battliing the slippery snow, soaking in the sweet views, and taking loads of photos. Even up on the bench of Horse Mesa was rather slow going and I dropped into upper Sierra Canyon and up and over into Tango Canyon. :sweat: Again, the views up there with it completely covered in snow was so absolutely breathtaking as I watched a wall of rain slam into Superstition Mountain. :o Upper Tango Canyon is usually dry as a bone but at that confluence the two upper drainage we both flowing rather well. ;) I had to wade a waist high chilly pool to get to the top of the narrows, which were full of chilly deep pools and falls. Hmm, yea... :roll: This is usually a 3A canyon so I didn't have wetsuit with me and instead bypassed the upper narrows and found a side drainage to build an anchor and rappel 40ft back into the main drainage. That usually dry 50ft falls was now flowing very nicely and thankfully I was able to rappel between the many falls and the pool below was only waist high. :DANCE: Below this falls the canyon opens up with some cool slickrock sections, the water slowly goes underground, its sunny & warm again, and the snow slowly disappeared... Eventually after some light down climbing & falls bypassing you reach the chute with the final 70ft rappel. Seeing that previously falls flowing nicely, I was afraid this lower falls would really be rocking but thankfully it was only lightly flowing. This is by far the sweetest rappel of the canyon and during the 40ft free hanging section I was treated to a refreshing cold shower. :D Dropped the gear, did some more rock hopping down to Fish Creek Canyon and was treated to a beautiful sunny warm afternoon for the creek hike back up to the highway. :sweat:
    Tango Canyon
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Todd & I had set out to drop into Sierra Canyon, but there was a fair amount of water in its upper pools and we soon hit a waist-chest high wader that made us think twice. We hadn't even hit the technical section yet and I remembered Steve's warning about the potential for this canyon to hold deep pools. From memory, I didn't think Tango had much pool potential and what it did have we should be able to avoid so we decided to check out Tango. We bypassed that first pool which was still full of course but the first rappel was still dry as a bone below, so we dropped in and the second didn't have any pool potential so we were good there. Since I've recently done this canyon, I knew all the bypasses and we saved loads of time by not have to look for them. Last time this canyon seemed rather rugged with all its down climbing and thorny bushwhacking but now that I've done a handful of other desert canyons to break me in more, this time thru didn't seem nearly as brutal. :sweat:
    Tango Canyon
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Met up with Brian early to get a jump start on this canyon. Was worried that the beta in the book was wrong but found out it is fairly accurate, although the map needs a little work and the second rappel height is a bit off.

    On the climb up I tried to follow the book route but Brian found the better way. I had to backtrack to reach the top. Once on top it was interesting as we disagreed over the best way (or even which way) to go, but we worked together and found what is likely the best route to approach Tango.

    Once in Tango I was a bit worried since there was no anchor at the first possible rappel, however upon reaching the second drop I realized that we were indeed in the right place. The canyon is brushy but all in all an interesting place. It has some opportunities for improvement as one could easily add 4-6 rappels rather than all the bypasses. It was over all too soon.

    After all the horrid triplogs and badmouthing this canyon has seen recently it felt good to add this one to the resume and to finish it with way too much sunlight left in the day. We didn't rush at all but I enjoyed the pace. A very quick party could perhaps halve our time.
    Tango Canyon
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Steve and I met up for the first time for this potentially tricky technical canyon and thankfully were able descend it at a leasurly pace and finish it with plenty of daylight left. :D I found Todd's route description and topo to be fairly accurate... My only change would be on the topo as you're ascending that 1st canyon, to aim for that ridge straight ahead of you up canyon instead of bending to the right like his path seems to indicate. From there, there's some route finding as you're heading north down and out of the 2nd canyon and crossing a ridge to drop into the 3rd canyon (Tango Canyon). Upper Tango is rather bushy & rocky as you head downstream to the first narrows. We bypassed the first drop with a pool below it, rapped the next 15-footer, and were soon faced with the '40-footer' that seemed more like 50-55ft. Afterwards the canyon opens up again with loads of rocky hopping, some tricky down climbing, bush whacking, and a few potential rappels that can be bypassed. :sweat: After that not so pleasant experience, you finally made it to the 70-footer with a short 10ft drop above it that we rapped. This drops in a sweet alcove with the last 40ft being very overhung. This ended up being a great place to stop and eat lunch. The hike up Fish Creek was rather dry yet scenic and before we knew it we were back at the car. Thanks again Steve for joining me on this little adventure. I didn't seem to be enjoying this canyon as much as I'd hoped while doing it, but after that final sweet rappel, pleasant hike up Fish Canyon, and now that it's over I seem to be enjoying it much more. :sl:

    We had heard recent reports that this canyon needed a lot more webbing than the guide says and found it kinna funny that all the webbing in there was rather aged. We inspected it and ended up just re-using it instead of replacing it. I'm thinking that other group dropped into the 2nd draingage and found another technical canyon to add to the list. :lol:

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To canyon trip
    From Phoenix, head east on US60, past the 101 and 202, until you reach Idaho Rd. Go N on Idaho Rd until you reach the Apache Trail. Turn right and drive along the pavement. Eventually the road turns to gravel. Before the end you will reach the Rest area and Fish Creek Vista. Past this is Fish Creek hill, which is a fairly steep narrow road. Once at the bottom of the hill, cross the bridge and continue ~0.7 miles further N until a large pullout on the left.
    page created by nonot on Nov 15 2009 7:51 pm
    help comment issue

    end of page marker