William W. Bass was the most noteworthy of the early pioneers that came to the rim of Grand Canyon in the 1880s to carve a life and a lifestyle from the wilderness. The contribution of this man to canyon history is difficult to measure. A list of his accomplishments during more than 40 years of living on the rim would fill a book. Among the most notable is the construction of more than 50 miles of inner canyon trail, most of which can still be walked today. The South Bass Trail was the foundation of this far-flung system of pathways and today it offers modern backpackers a doorway to a fascinating part of Grand Canyon, steeped in the history Bill Bass lived.
Hikers arriving at the beach at the bottom of the South Bass Trail can’t help but notice an old boat chained to the rocks above the high water line. Abandoned by Russell and Tadge in 1915, the Ross Wheeler was built by Bert Loper, the grand old man of Colorado River runners, and named for a murdered friend. Loper died a romantic death in 1949 during a Grand Canyon river trip, suffering a heart attack at age 79 while at the oars of a Colorado River cataract boat. His remains were not recovered until 1975, 26 years after his death.
This trail is easy to follow. My trip was in October of 2007. There are many interesting features in addition to the "usual" gorgeous Grand Canyon scenery! There are cliff dwellings and granaries easily seen from the trail, as well as many relics left behind by William Wallace Bass, who lived at the Canyon with his wife, Ada, and four children for 40 years, until about 1923. William Bass did a bit of mining and prospecting, wrote poetry, built a road to Ash Fork and also took tourists down into the Canyon. At the river he had stone cabins, the foundations of which are still standing. Across the river he built another cabin and planted a peach orchard. He built a cable car to cross the river, and also built the North Bass Trail. The cable car was removed some years ago, as were the remains of his cabins on the Rim.
The Park Service will not give you a permit to hike down South Bass and float across the river on an air mattress in order to hike up North Bass Trail. You must do these two trails in separate trips! From our view at Bass Beach we figured it would be a quick, easy death from drowning in the rapids while experiencing hypothermia from the sub-50 degree water.
We camped the first night on the rim, where there are two car campsites with picnic tables. In order to camp here you must include it in your permit request! The road to the trailhead is dirt, about 30 miles of it, and requires both high clearance AND 4WD. You may not have to shift into 4WD in dry weather, but if it rains you will need it. The road passes through a corner of the Havasupai Reservation. If anyone is manning the gate there you must pay a fee of ~$25 to cross their land. Often, though, there is no one there. Save your receipt, also, or you may be charged ~$25 on your way out as well! I am told there is a way around this, but I have never found any directions, and the Park Service will not provide those directions to you as they want to be seen as helpful to the tribe.
Starting down the trail early in the morning we were alert to watch for the ancient granaries in the Coconino Formation. All are to your RIGHT as you are going down and are pretty easy to see, but only if you are looking for them. At a place where you pass by remnants of a barbed-wire fence you are very near to several of them, one behind you up the trail, one directly above you and one a wee bit further on, also along the same ledge.
We left one gallon of water each on the Esplanade, a large flat area about 3 miles in, so we could camp there on the way back out. We hiked all the way to the river the first day. When you can see the river follow the many cairns, watch for an especially large cairn. From there it is a short, steep scramble to Bass Beach, where there is a lot of room. An old boat, the Ross Wheeler, built by none other than the grand old man of the river, Bert Loper, was abandoned there in 1915, and still remains!
We spent two nights camped at Bass Beach. On our layover day we hiked back up to the ledge where the big cairn is and followed the river trail downstream about 2 miles to a point where we were directly across from Shinumo Creek. A large waterfall is in the small but deep gorge, the bottom of which can barely be seen from this vantage point. The only way to get over there would be to hitch a ride there and back with a friendly river rafter. The trail we were hiking sort of peters out, but according to our map and guidebook, one could easily make it over to the next side canyon, where Bass had a mine.
We hiked part-way out, up 5 miles, to the Esplanade for our 3rd night below the Rim, to where we had stashed the water. The camp there afforded beautiful views of the gorge. We took a side hike out to Huxley Terrace. We opted to not climb Mt. Huethawali, but decided that the south side of it is the easiest route. Our last hiking day we had only 3 steep miles to hike back to the trailhead.
In the Area:
Other hikes you can do from this trailhead include Royal Arch Route, Esplanade Trail, and Tonto loop trips going east on the Tonto to Boucher or Hermit, or west on the Tonto to its end. The problem is there is no perennial water except at the river. There are pools here and there, but in the fall most of them were dry. Springtime would be best for these other routes, but be sure to carry enough water to tide you over.Grand Canyon NPS Reports Hike:
A well-defined descending traverse gets hikers through the Kaibab and Toroweap formations. The trail passes an old fence and follows the rim of the Coconino a short distance north before starting down rocky switchbacks to the Esplanade platform at the top of the Supai Formation. The Royal Arch Route leaves the South Bass Trail and starts west where the trail comes to the Esplanade, the junction marked with a large cairn. Stay right at this intersection and follow the South Bass Trail north across the terrace east of Mount Huethawali. The route traverses near the Supai rim for about a mile to a steep break that allows passage to the slopes below.
Dropping below the Esplanade, the trail rounds a promontory and descends Supai ledges south toward the bed of Bass Canyon. Once established in the drainage the route follows the bottom of Bass Canyon through the Redwall. The path leaves the drainage and descends most of the Tonto Group rocks via the slopes east of and above the bed of Bass Canyon, eventually returning to the bottom of the canyon just above the Tonto Trail junction. The Tonto Trail is marked by large cairns. Below Tonto Trail the South Bass Trail continues down Bass Canyon, crossing and re-crossing the drainage as it winds around various obstructions. This section can be confusing, but the trail stays as close to the bed of the canyon as the terrain allows, so any disorientation shouldn’t last long.
An impassable rock fall blocks access to the river at the mouth of Bass Canyon. Watch where the trail leaves the bed of the drainage, going west a short distance to a large cairn marking a shortcut that allows passage down a rocky ravine to the river below. The ravine route can be tedious and this shortcut may be bypassed by continuing another couple minutes west until a gentler path descends to the river opposite a historic fire place.
The Colorado River is the only reliable water source. The river is often sediment laden and can be difficult to purify. Water can occasionally be found during or immediately after wet weather in potholes in the bed of Bass Canyon below the Tonto Trail or in sandstone pockets on the Esplanade.
The Bass Canyon Use Area (BQ9) allows “at-large” camping. Serviceable sites can be found on the Esplanade, the Tonto Platform, and the beach at the Colorado River.
There are several other trails located in and near Bass Canyon. Shortcuts to the Tonto Trail continuing west toward Copper Canyon ascend the slopes from points low in the drainage. The trail that heads west out of the bottom of Bass Canyon continues downstream beyond the routes to the river and after a couple miles comes directly across from the mouth of Shinumo Creek. A short scramble allows access to the river. In route downstream watch for the site of a cable crossing that linked the North and South Bass Trails. This historic crossing created the first rim-to-rim trail system. The cable is gone, but these and other sites north of the river attest to the remarkable physical energy Bill Bass brought to his various projects in this lovely part of the Grand Canyon.
Segments to Consider:
|Rim (6646 ft) ||to||Esplanade Trail Junction (5400 ft)||1.7 mi|
|Esplanade Trail Junction (5400 ft) ||to||westbound Tonto Junction (3200 ft)||4.2 mi|
|Westbound Tonto Junction (3200 ft) ||to||eastbound Tonto Junction (3150 ft)||0.1 mi|
|Eastbound Tonto Junction (3150 ft) ||to||Colorado River (2250 ft)||1.8 mi|
|South Bass trailhead (6646 ft) ||to||Colorado River (2250 ft)||7.8 mi|
This hike is listed as One-Way. When you hike several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example