Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
A navigational nightmare?
Overview: A class 3AIII technical canyoneering trip in the northern Superstition Mountains.
Warning: 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.
Warning: 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.
Warning: 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.
History: 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.
Hike: 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.
Camping: 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.
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.