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Tortilla Creek - Lower Loop, AZ

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Guide 20 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Superstitions NW
Rated
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3.6 of 5 by 9
 
7
Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
Statistics
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Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Loop 7 miles
Trailhead Elevation 1,760 feet
Elevation Gain 1,074 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,290 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 10 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 13.45
Interest Off Trail Hiking & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
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11  2018-02-10
Peters Lower Tortilla
hikerdw
18  2011-12-21 snakemarks
26  2010-12-19 Vaporman
47  2010-02-07 Vaporman
5  2010-01-07 T Harris
24  2009-04-12 suzaz
26  2008-12-10 kanode
44  2008-12-03 kanode
Page 1,  2
Author arizonaheat
author avatar Guides 4
Routes 0
Photos 342
Trips 45 map ( 518 miles )
Age 63 Male Gender
Location Mesa, AZ
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Preferred   Oct, Nov, Apr, May → 8 AM
Seasons   ALL
Sun  6:14am - 6:22pm
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1 Alternative
 
Water
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Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Superwishin Wilderness
by arizonaheat

In continuance of the quest for water after the recent rains, Cactuscat and Arizonaheat set off for Tortilla Creek, which was at flood stage a week prior to today and unhikeable. We parked my truck in a pullout about one tenth of a mile beyond Tortilla Flat. ( The parking spaces at Tortilla Flat are posted against hikers so beware of leaving your vehicle there, it may be towed.). We gathered our gear and dropped off the bank toward the creek. There was still a respectable amount of water flowing down Tortilla Creek and we knew we were going to have our work cut out for us.

We began to work our way up the Creek, first along the shoreline then hopping rocks. We hadn't gone far when Cactuscat found a nice folding knife with a 4 inch blade laying along the creek, blade unfolded. A few more steps and she found a brand new two person tent still in the box. Her lucky day! Someone must have been smoking to much wacky tabaccy or eating magic mushrooms or something to loose that much of their gear and not no it.

This hike is known as the Lower Tortilla Creek Loop, in Carlson's book, Hiker's Guide to the Superstition Wilderness. It is hike number 36. We hiked it up and back rather than make a loop out of it because the last 2.4 miles of the loop are on roads, and we opted to stick with the serenity of the running water.

The hike was much more difficult than it normally would be, since Tortilla Creek was flowing. The water definitely made navigation interesting and we had to call on many skills such as rock hopping, bouldering, climbing and bushwhacking. ( I really wouldn't call bushwhacking a skill, just a necessary evil, especially when it involves as much cat claw as we went through today) We also did some wading and came close to swimming both by accident and by choice. The water was nippy but refreshing.

We worked our way up Tortilla Creek to where it intersected with Peters Canyon and stopped and took a break before forging ahead. On our way we passed numerous large deep pools of water, most with small waterfalls cascading into them.

We soon entered a very narrow section of Canyon, through which Tortilla Creek flowed. It was like a totally different hike when we reached this point as the shoreline was overgrown with lush green grass and other flora. We even passed by a fairly large stand of bamboo growing in the middle of the creek. It is this section that required bouldering. Some of the boulders were huge, several times larger than a house.

We worked our way up Tortilla Creek until we came to a point where we were boxed in by water, our only option to work around was a wicked bushwhack that probably would of left us skinless, so we chose to turn around at this point.

On the way back we took several opportunities to stop and enjoy the sights and sounds of the flowing water. We found a nice sandy beach and removed our shoes and socks and went wading. The water would make your legs and feet ache after a short exposure time. I came very close to diving in our private pool, but couldn't quite make myself do it.

It was a very pleasant day and the challenge the water presented was well worth it. I feel very blessed over this last two weeks, getting to see Reavis Falls flowing at capacity last Saturday ( this will probably be the highlight of my hiking career for quite some time to come), and hiking both Lower Barks and Tortilla Creek while they were both flowing water. It is such a rare occurrence.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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2003-03-08 arizonaheat
    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 of 14 deeper Triplog Reviews
    Tortilla Creek - Lower Loop
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    Peters Lower Tortilla
    Did some hiking and exploring in Peter's Canyon and Lower Tortilla Creek. Peaked into Peter's Cave and it appears it may be occupied as we saw a sleeping bad and propane tanks. Went a little further up canyon to the point we had to either swim or continue climbing with some exposure so we decided to call it and retreat. Did get further than previous attempts. Climbed out of Peter's Canyon and dropped into Tortilla Creek to check out Hells Hole Spring which surprisingly had very clear and running water. On the way back to the parking lot we took a detour to check out Fragile Arch, which there was a signed trail maker. Great day of hiking :y:
    Tortilla Creek - Lower Loop
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    Had a few hours to burn on Sunday and went up to Tortilla Creek with Anna. Water was flowing pretty strong which resulted in some tricky creek crossings, boulder hopping and fighting the catclaw. Too much work for Anna. We went in a short way, took some pics, relaxed and then headed back.
    Tortilla Creek - Lower Loop
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    I didn't have a lot of time that day, so I just hiked to the entrance of Peter's Canyon to check out the water situation. Tortilla Creek was running well enough, but there wasn't much at all coming out of Peter's. The trail out of the Tortilla Flat lot doesn't look like it sees too much action and it's getting a bit overgrown. The brushy areas alongside the creek have more catclaw than I remember. I only saw one other set of footprints out there.
    Tortilla Creek - Lower Loop
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    Woohoo!!! Just hit 5000 miles in 5 years this weekend. :y:

    I hadn't done this cool canyon since last winter and been wanting to play in it again when winter came back around. :sweat: My buddy Scott joined me and we left that Tortilla TH along AZ88 and walked FR213 about halfway in before dropping into middle Tortilla Canyon and rock & boulder hopping our way slowly down the dry canyon. This canyon is MUCH easier to travel down when it's not flowing but it's also much more enjoyable & adventurous when it is and I hope I can catch it flowing later this winter. ;) Some easy down climbs are encountered before the technical section just as the canyon narrows up a bit & becomes more scenic. The first drop of 6ft or so that I've handlined in the past wasn't too tough of a down climb this time which was quickly followed by a 25-40ft drop depending on where you anchor from. I've rappelled from two different spots in the past and this time I choose a third location to rappel from since this way looked cooler. 8) We checked out the dry falls and boulder caves before proceeding to the next drop. This is a cool 25-30ft falls with an exposed ridge on the left that we decided to down climb though I've rappelled it in the past since I was solo and didn't want to take the extra risk. Some boulder hopping & easier down climbing after that and you reach the confluence and the sweetest view of the whole canyon as you're surround by tall colorful volcanic cliffs. :y: Some more rock hopping and you hit a boulder jam that requires a short rappel to proceed before reaching a section full of deciduous trees followed by Needle spires on the northside of the canyon. Just after the Needles is my midway bailout point so I don't have to hike all the way to Tortilla Flat and didn't have a shuttle in place. It's a little bit of a loose bushwhack to climb up to the ridge on the northside with a cowboy/indian wall running along the saddle and great views of the canyon below and four peaks & many more canyons to the north. From the ridge, we hiked down towards another canyon as we countered to the east around a large butte and eventually hiked back up to another ridge on the east of that butte to see a sweet view of the canyon we just trekked down. Hmm, that was more of a thrash than I seem to remember... :sweat: A little bit further east and we found that jeep road and intersects with FR 213 and followed that back to our cars.

    Now while it's not the most adventurous or demanding canyon in the area, it's still a cool canyon that's worth checking out if you're in the area and technically skilled and only requires a 100ft rope to descend. :D Photos look a little off because I accidently left the camera in its wet pouch overnight...
    Tortilla Creek - Lower Loop
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    I woke up this morning at 6am to it pouring, the doppler radar showing the valley covered in clouds, and 70% chance of rain thru the day so I went back to bed and slept in. I awoke again around 8am to no rain, the last of the clouds passing by overhead, and clear skies to the west. :y:

    So I quickly got ready and with a late start I hit the central technical section of this canyon again, but this time the creek was flowing fairly good instead of being nearly bone dry like it was 2 months ago. And instead of hiking straight thru to Tortilla Flat, I hit the best parts of the narrows/boulder section and exited up a steep slope to a saddle and then bushwhacked/contoured back to FR213. You hit the technical section by hiking along FR213 a couple miles and dropping in via one of the easier sloping sides. After a couple miles of rock hopping and/or wading you'll eventually hit some large boulders near the confluence. With the water flowing, there had to be a good dozen pools/falls to bypass if you don't want to get wet above your waist and of course downstream progress is much slower now that it's flowing than when its dry. I still hit the same 3 rappels as last time (a 100ft rope will suffice), but I had to rework the anchors since there's now waterfalls & deep swimmers where I dropped in before. :o The falls at the first rap are actually quite impressive as it drops into a sweet grotto. I was able to retrieve my quick links from before and re-used them for todays trips. :)

    For my exit, I climbed up the slope just downstream from the confluence & needles and occasionaly I'd run across some cairns along a faint path though it was tough to follow. Once up on the saddle, it was odd to find a cowboy wall along the saddle :-k , an alcove they must have camped in, and a dozen or so old rusty cans they didn't feel like packing out. :roll: From there, I contoured east along the north side of that ridge down into that southern upper fork of Apache Trail Canyon. From there I went SE up that ridge again until I found that jeep road up on top plus a sweet overlook down into Tortilla Creek and followed that jeep road back to FR213 and then back to the TH. This is by far the best exit route through the area I've yet to do and is probably the preferred route to do the technical section of Tortilla Creek as a loop hike. I got by without a wetsuit, but one would have made things a little easier with less bypassing... The loop just so happens to be about 8 miles as well. :D
    Tortilla Creek - Lower Loop
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    I actually did a Malapais Mt-Pistol Canyon-Peters Canyon Loop that's trip #37 from the Superstition Guide. Ever since I first descended this creek two winters ago I've been itching to come back, but this time as a loop hike instead of a shuttle. As you can probably guess from the topos and terrain this is quite an adventurous burly hike. Thanks to Joe's GPS track, I was able to stay mostly on course and made decent time on the cross country bushwhack thru a new area of the Supes I've yet to explore up to Malapais Mt to enjoy the amazing views up there. The descent off of the eastern slope was about as slow going as the steep climb up that canyon on the northside. :sweat: I ran across that old camp mentioned in Carlson's Book down near that unnamed wash with loads of white quartzite everywhere. I continued up and over a saddle into the western fork of Pistol Canyon which start out fairly open but then got brushy with some down climbs just before reaching Pistol Canyon. Pistol didn't have much of any climbing but was quite the bushwhack to navigate thru. So much for making good time... :roll: When I got to Peters Canyon it was flowing fairly good like is to be assumed after the recent storms, so I change into water shoes & neoprene socks and filter a couple liters of water. Though after filtering the water I totally forgot to clip my dry shoes to my pack and did nearly a mile of rock hopping down the creek before I realized my mistake. ](*,) I was on pace to finish near sunset, but I wasted 1.5 hours going back to the Pistol-Peters confluence to retrieve my $100 shoes... The upper narrows were pretty sweet and I got up to my waist in water but I wasn't in the mood to swim in that cold water and did some class 3/4 climbing to bypass the many pools/falls. It was about Peters Cave that I had to start hiking with the headlamp but thankfully its a mini spotlight so night hiking down the flowing creek wasn't too crazy. :whistle: The creek is flowing pretty good thru the narrows, so in total there's about a dozen large pools and/or waterfalls to bypass, swim with a wetsuit, or wait until it warms up. Thanks to the GPS, I was able to make my own bypass route out of Tortilla Canyon back to Tortilla Flat and I eventually stumbled upon the actual trail in the dark and got back to my car about 2 hours after dark... :sweat:

    I think this loop is about 12 miles though Carlson lists it as 14, but I added 2 extra miles for the sidetrip to get my shoes... Even though that's my second time thru lower Peters with it flowing both times, I've yet to have enough time/daylight/energy to stop and enjoy it. So I still need plan a trip just to lower Peters so I can fully enjoy this hidden gem in the desert. :D
    Tortilla Creek - Lower Loop
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    This canyon has been on list ever since I accidently got diverted down Peters Canyon while attempting a Tortilla Super Loop and popped out near Tortilla Flat and had to hitch a ride back to the Tortilla TH. That canyon was so much fun, I was soon wandering what adventures Tortilla Creek had in store. There's not a whole lot of beta for this canyon, but from what I could collect there's a few short drops that can be bypassed by some. My first thought as a canyoneer when I read that is: Sweet, there's some rappels in there! :D So I started from the Tortilla TH and walked FR213 1.5 miles before dropping into the canyon and then rock hopped a couple miles downstream until I hit the technical section. It may be possible to bypass these drops, but rappelling is some much more fun than bushwhacking & exposed downclimbs. :roll: I setup a handline for the first 6-8ft drop that others found a way to bypass via a tunnel in the boulders. After that there's that drop with a sweet ~30ft dryfall on the left, a downclimb on the right to a tree above a ~20ft drop, or further on there's a potential exposed downclimb. I decided to hit the dryfall on the left with a tricky start to get the most bang for my buck out of this canyon and dropped into a cool little alcove. Shortly after that is another ~35ft dryfall that could potentially by downclimbed with some exposure, but that rock over there looks like a perfect chockstone to throw some webbing around. :GB: Some more rock hopping and down climbing boulders and a half hour later I arrive at another drop that doesn't look easily bypassed, so I throw some webbing around a tree and do another ~20ft rappel. If you just want to hit the best part and then call it a day, you may be able to climb up the north side of the canyon around here and then traverse back to FR213. Today I decided to keep on going and passed some cool spires before hitting the springs where the canyon got rather bushy of course. I pushed thru it and got wet only up to my thighs and before I know it I'm in the lower narrows which were full of big boulders and some more pools to navigate around/thru. Some wading required, loads of down climbing and I think I setup a handline at once point, but nothing too difficult for a hardy canyoneer. :) The canyon gets rather plain after that as you pass the confluence with Peters Canyon & Mesquite Creek and pop out along AZ88 near Tortilla Flat.

    Mileage and time logged is just one way from the Tortilla TH down canyon to AZ88 near Tortilla Flat (which just so happens to be ~8 miles ) for reasons I'm about to explain and so that it makes it easier for others to get a feel for how long this route would take them. Most sane people would have a shuttle set up, or hitch a ride, or maybe even the risky walk up Apache Trail back to their car but I had something more adventurous in mind. :roll: I had scanned the map and saw a potential route back to FR213 thru the canyon country to the north of Tortilla Creek. It involved hiking up Mesquite Creek briefly (I hit some pools in those narrows and bypassed them via the highway), up an eastern fork over a saddle to that jeep road that is the old Apache Trail to the ex-bridge, dropped in Apache Trail Canyon briefly, up that eastern fork below the narrows, stay in that sdie canyon a tad before climbing up to the ridge to the north, and then contour that ridge all the way back to FR213. It was thru the beautiful rugged canyon country of the northern Supes and it almost worked too but I got short on daylight, the nice ridge kinna disappeared into a hillside, I got cliffed by an impressive 200ft deep chasm, and I was only 3/4 mile from my car as the bird flies. :x I got fairly spooked by what I was seeing and my lack of daylight even though I could have potentially climbed that hillside to the SE and found a way thru, but I decided to listen to my gut and take the safe route and using my GPS track & headlamp I backtracked my last two hours of hiking mostly in the pitch black night back to the highway and started walking the road a couple miles until some nice couple picked me up and drove me the remaining few miles back to my car. In hindsight via Google Earth, with more daylight/time it looks doable to head SE up that hillside and only about a mile until it'd hit a jeep road that connects with FR213 but it looked kinna sketchy in the waning light and I still think I made the right choice by turning around. :sweat:

    I'll log these other miles wandering around in the dark under another generic triplog. How fitting that I hit 1000 miles for the year on a failed attempt to loop back to my car. :sl: After making fun of others for getting lost, hiking back in the dark, and loosing the trail karma finally caught up with me and bit me in the rear... :roll: :lol: :roll:
    Tortilla Creek - Lower Loop
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    Took my son and a couple of his friends to play around Tortilla Creek. Water was stagnated in areas south of AZ88 where we were (where the creek crosses AZ88 next to Tortilla Flat) and there were TONS of tadpoles out there. They caught them by the dozens. Did find one pretty clear patch of water. It was ice cold, but once we got our feet in and got used to it, it was fun. But just getting our legs wet wasn't enough for me...I had to jump in and get wet from head to toe (what's wrong with me?!).
    Tortilla Creek - Lower Loop
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    This trip used the saddle overlooking Tortilla Creek (see my 11/18/08 trip report) and then west on Tortilla creek to the point where we turned around on the 11/11/08 hike from Tortilla Flat. That blockage isn't hard to get around (I added photos of the bypass to that trip report).

    There are several places on the descent where it's possible to cliff-out but the cliffs are scattered and there are probably half a dozen ways down. If there's a best way, it wasn't obvious. We took a path down from the top that tended to head west. On another trip, I'd probably try the eastern side. All the options are steep, loose, and full of prickly things.

    After descending from the saddle, at first we weren't sure we would be able to proceed. It's a jungle down there. Large and small trees, giant reed, flood debris, and miscellaneous other vegetation. I can't say there's surface water all year but the area doesn't get desert dry.

    We found that the low bench on the north side of the creek allowed passage. The "jungle" lasts for about a quarter mile headed west. The route to the east seemed even more clogged with vegetation but we didn't make much of an effort to explore in that direction.

    A car-shuttle hike (to avoid hiking the roads) from Tortilla Flat to the road at the ex-bridge would take me 8-9 hours with the water conditions we ran into. (That includes taking 200 or so photos.)
    Tortilla Creek - Lower Loop
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    This hike represents the segment of Lower Tortilla Creek from FR 213 down to just east of Mescal Spring and then west to near the point where another large branch of Tortilla Creek comes in from the south. We didn't reach this Y because of a 12 foot drop.

    Warning: Don't go in this area if there's a threat of rain. The canyon is narrow during most of the hike and the boulders show signs of extensive water erosion above head height.

    This is the most interesting section of Tortilla Creek that I've seen. It's possibly the best creek hike that I've ever been on with a great reward to effort ratio. It helped that it rained a week before the hike so there was water running and it was warm enough that occasionally wading through 12" of water wasn't an issue. (Although there was an ice skin over puddles on FR 213.)

    The bushwhack from FR 213 down to the creek is steep, loose, and requires long sleeves and pants. However, it's not significantly longer, steeper, or looser than the hike from the Tortilla Flat area into that segment of Tortilla creek. The section of Tortilla creek near Mescal Pit Spring is interesting the whole time! (Unlike the section near Tortilla Flat, there aren't any long boring sections of medium size rocks that are just hard on the feet and knees.)

    It's one boulder-garden after another separated by short sections of rocks and occasionally solid rock. It's probably not possible to hike this section without getting your feet and calves wet. You'll have more fun, make better time, with less effort, if you plan on hiking the easiest route rather than trying to keep your feet dry.

    Most of the boulder gardens offered a choice between an easy route and playing in the boulders. There were three spots that didn't have an easy route.

    The first is on the SW corner of the butte east of Mescal Pit Spring--it was easy on the trip out but hard to find on the trip back. On the way out, climb up some medium boulders to the left, slide down a boulder with a pointed upper edge, and then duck under a tree. (On the way back it's hard to find the right tree to duck under and the obvious route is blocked by a century plant. The boulder with the pointed top is just to the left above the century plant.)

    The second difficult spot involves crawling across a log over a narrow 10' drop and then an easy climb down. (There's a very brushy bypass 10' farther to the right.)

    The third difficult spot is about 150' farther on. It's where we turned around. There's a straight down 20 to 30' drop on the left. On the right, you can get partway down but the final drop is down a 12' boulder that we weren't sure we could get back up.


    Carlson in his description of the "Lower Tortilla Creek loop" hike suggests one alternate is starting from Tortilla Flat and hiking Tortilla Creek through to Tortilla Ranch. This hike proves that's NOT possible by HIKERS. A through hike, if possible, would require at a minimum bouldering skills or even a rope.

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    To Tortilla Flat Trailhead
    From Idaho Road & SR-88 follow SR-88 east 17.0 miles to Tortilla Flat. Continue just past the buildings and before the bridge-less flood ravine. On the south side of the road near the museum follow a road that rises up. This takes you up to an overflow parking lot where hikers are allowed to park. If you are parking overnight fill out a free permit as stated on the sign.

    Parking elsewhere has been reported by members as a $75 ticket from the Forest Service.

    From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 52.0 mi - about 1 hour 10 mins
    From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 145 mi - about 2 hours 27 mins
    From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 196 mi - about 3 hours 14 mins
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