Rim to rim: Hiking the Grand Canyon is a challenge that pays big dividends

By Chris Walker

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Published: Saturday, June 16 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

The drier South Bass Trail offered overnight side trips onto terraces of different elevations and environments. Below the Redwall cliffs, the Tonto Trail leads east above the river through vast gardens of low desert scrub to Serpentine Canyon, with 2-inch thorns threatening your ankles with each step. Camping under a full moon, we were visited by a bighorn sheep.

The entire hike could be done in five or six days, but our trip of nine days made the pace easier and allowed for those side trips. As Moffett said, "It takes thousands of years for something to happen there, so you have to slow down and appreciate it."

If you go ...

Backpacking on the noncorridor trails of the canyon demands experience, stamina and routefinding skills. There are no trail markers on the North and South Bass Trails, no campfires, and water is scarce.

Hiking in spring and fall will help avoid the canyon's notorious heat. Required permits become available four months before your desired month, so plan to apply beginning in June for an October trip or Dec. 1 for an April trip. They can only be mailed or faxed. Permits are limited and go quickly.

Both trail heads for the Bass Trails are remote and require four-wheel drive vehicles. The North Bass trail head is on the North Rim at Swamp Point. A North Kaibab National Forest map is needed. The South Bass trail head is about 30 miles northwest of Grand Canyon Village. Use a map of the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest.

There is no water available at the trail heads, so drive it in.

Information Grand Canyon National Park: nps.gov/grca

The Backcountry Information Center, permits and advice: 928-638-7875, nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm

The Grand Canyon Association, for books and advice: grandcanyon.org.