Canyonlands National Park, UT

Riding the White Rim in a Day

by | Feb 12, 2014 | See the West | 1 comment

I was invited by a dear friend to join her and two friends to ride the White Rim in a day (WRIAD).  I was plenty intimidated – the White Rim Trail is a 103-mile loop on mostly jeep roads through Canyonlands National Park. Our plan was to do 85 miles by cutting off the boring pavement section that completes the loop and get a shuttle instead.

Per, most riders spend 3 or 4 days riding this trail and use a support vehicle to haul their gear to campsites. They categorize the ride in two days as “Monster” and one day as “Lunatic.”

We were going for Lunatic, but the support vehicle that we used for a shuttle met us for lunch and resupplied our water. Not completely lunatic – allowing for a little luxury and a safety net for water.  It was September and the forecast called for temps in the 90’s. We were concerned about carrying enough water for the heat.

Suzanne and Emma. Me and Kristin (sporting our tats from the pre-ride drinking party the night before. Cracker-jack tattoos.) My contribution to the trip was a bottle of Wyoming Whiskey.

The route isn’t technical.  Still, I had to train for it. So all summer, bit by bit, I increased my mileage and time in the saddle. Even after training I was still intimidated but I went for it because a very courageous and adventurous woman that I admire said to me, “you are only young once.” Crissy was a close friend of my mom’s and she was wheelchair-bound due to a horse accident in her 40’s but she had the most cheerful attitude of anyone I know. So you see….

But cheese and rice, I’d never ridden more than 50 miles on my mountain bike in day (and the 50-miler was when I was 22 years old)!

The first part of the ride is the descent of the Schaffer Switchbacks. We started the ride before daybreak and rode these in the pitch dark. Kristin’s headlamp died and so I had to be her wingman on the descent. It was a little hairy.

As for elevation gain, the bulk of the ride is pretty easy. The average grade is only 2%. Most of the climbing is tackled with three major climbs (Murphy’s Hogback, Hardscrabble Hill, and the Mineral Bottom Switchbacks).  The killer is at the end with the Mineral Bottom Switchbacks netting 1,400 feet in elevation gain in the last mile and a half. The major climbs add up to 4,000 vertical feet, but if you count every little up-and-down it’s more like 6,000 feet total.

I love this picture – at the bottom of the Schaffer Switchbacks. You can see the barest hint of a headlamp on the right, and two morning stars.

Easy miles – while it was cool out.

Kristin, sun starting to come up over the hills.

It wasn’t technical but most of the road was varied enough to be interesting.

Unbeatable view!

Close to the edge.

Emma – who never once walked her bike – not through sand or silt nor up the steepest hill.

Murphy’s Hogback was the first major hill of the climb. We hit it right before lunch at about mile 40. It was so hot on the back side (with no breeze) that I felt like throwing up.

The bathrooms were about 10 miles apart and the only shade. We took advantage of them.

It was great when we finally dropped down next to the Green River. It felt a little bit cooler, but it was probably psychological.

Emma, climbing everything.

The last 20 miles or so had a series of sand and silt pits, which would be perfect for a fatbike.

Shade at lunch.

I highly recommend hiring one of the local guide companies to bring lunch and water. Fresh veggies and cold watermelon!

There were some fun sections, too. Punchy little uphill and downhill.

Suzanne, me, Emma. Midday potty shade.

Big climb at the end of the day – Mineral Bottom Switchbacks

Everyone rode full-suspension except me – I rode my stumpy 29’er hardtail.

When I finished I felt like I had joined the bad-ass girls’ club. These women are amazing.

It was a beautiful trip.

I love the desert and the country is so vast that it’s unfathomable. The area is by permit only so we only saw about a dozen people the entire day.  And at the end of the day, I felt pretty darn good.  We stayed hydrated in the heat and stopped often enough to slather on the butt butter that I came out only a little saddle sore. My triceps ached, maybe from hanging on to the brakes on the first crazy descent!  I would do it again — but next time I’m riding my fatbike — Peace, Love, & Bikes.

For more details on riding the White Rim, see the Canyonlands National Park – White Rim Road website.


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