White Rim Trail 2012

April 14th, 2012

The White Rim Trail has been on our To Do Ride list for years and we aren’t quite sure why it took so long to get to it. This route is well suited to a guided camping trip because the logistics of self- supported would be a bit of work. We took a 4 day/3 night trip with Western Spirit and had a great time. Spring can mean dicey weather in Moab, but we timed the weather perfectly. It was cold the second morning, in the mid- 30s, but otherwise the nights were pleasant and the days were in the low 80s. The WRT loops around the Grand Overlook in Canyonlands National Park, starting at 5000’, dropping to the river at 4000’ on the first day and then climbing back to generally 4500-5000 for the rest of the trip, until the last climb: up 1400’ in about 3 miles. The WRT is a jeep trail, about 80 miles long. It isn’t very technical, although there are short sections of sand, and some very steep pitches. None of the days really tired us out, but we each had to walk at least some portion of the trail, usually because of deep sand or long very steep sections.

We were doing this as a minimally planned trip, so we rented camping gear and bikes from WS. All we had to do was show up and ride. We flew from SFO to Denver, where the plane to Moab’s tiny airport (2 flights a day) was 90 minutes late. This would not have been a big problem, except that Canyonlands Airport is 20 miles from town and there are not a lot of taxis at 8:30 at night. We got lucky and the taxi company we were able to reach picked us up in about 40 minutes. That’s when we realized that getting back to the airport for the 7AM flight home might be a challenge. Since there was nothing we could do about that on the trail (no cell coverage) we decided not to worry about it and enjoy the ride.

After a quiet night in the Hampton Inn (decent coffee 24 hours a day in the lobby), WS picked us up promptly the next morning and drove us over to their world headquarters, where we met up with the rest of the group. We’ve done this sort of thing before, so we knew the drill: camp gear and main baggage into dry bags just for us that get strapped onto the Mother Ship. A day bag into a dry bag with other peoples’ bags for easy access at lunch if needed and hydration packs loaded with what we would need on the trail: mostly a hat, jacket, camera, snacks, etc. The Mother Ship is a custom F-450 that is loaded with everyone’s gear, all our food, huge coolers, plenty of water for everyone, stoves, etc. It generally trailed behind the last riders on the trail, so we only saw it in camp and at the lunch stops.

Normally there are two guides on a trip, but this trip was loaded with guides (and proto guides). In addition to Sean and Tim, we added Matt as a mechanic. WS requires that all guides do a trip before they can guide it, so Matt was on the team to keep the bikes running smoothly and scope out the trail. Then we had Lucy and John, taking the trip as an extended interview with WS to see if they would be hired on as guides. Finally we had WS’s General Manager, Travis, along for the ride. I’m not sure what his excuse was, but I know that if I was “in charge”, I’d take every trip I could.

Day 1: 17 miles, 800 feet of climbing

We took the van shuttle to Mineral Bottom Road, where we jumped on our bikes for the quick descent to the Green River. The GPS says we dropped about 1,000 feet in 3 miles. We had to take it kind of easy because we had rented bikes, didn’t know the terrain or surface conditions and had to watch for traffic coming up the hill. Even so, it was a fun quick ride. We followed the river on very rideable double track until lunch (sandwiches and an Asian Slaw salad). After lunch we first traversed some deep sugar sand and then crossed over Hardscrabble: a tough 400’ climb with some more sandy sections. This was the least fun climb of the trip, in part because we were still getting our mountain bike mojo. We hadn’t done any off road riding in at least a year. On the back side of Hardscrabble was an even steeper descent to Potato Bottom, where we camped for the night. This was our first chance to visit with the other guests. As usual, every level of riding ability was represented. Some riders found the trip pretty easy, with a few hard sections, but other guests weren’t really bike riders and found the long climbs to be quite a challenge. On a road trip, guests often have the option to jump in the van if they want to. On a trail trip like this, there is only one extra seat in the Mother Ship, so you have to ride most everything. In spite of this, everyone seemed to have a good time. There was a bit of huffing and puffing on the climbs, but no whining.

Camping near the river made the first night very cold, so after a dinner of stir fried chicken and chocolate fondue with strawberries and Nutter Butters, we hit the sleeping bags because it was too cold to hang out and visit. The sleeping bags were warm enough, but standing around drinking coffee in the morning was cold. As soon as the Sun cleared the canyon wall, the temp started to inch up and by the time we hit the trail again it was a beautiful day.

Day 2: 21 miles, 2200 feet of climbing

After some French toast and bacon, Day 2 started with a meandering course that trended up all day, ending with the climb up to the Murphy camp site. This was the toughest climb of the day. There were lots of feet on the ground as the group moved up this tough climb. As with most of the ride, the trail is completely exposed, with only a couple of very short sections in the shade throughout the day. A warm front had moved in and the evening air was quite pleasant. The camp site offered great views down into the park, with the river (out of sight) 1000’ below us. After the dinner of steak fajitas (with fresh guacamole) and cheesecake, there was plenty of time to visit and star gaze.

Day 3: 27 miles, 1300 feet of climbing

Eggs and sausage (plus the always-on-the-menu cereal and yogurt) fueled today’s activities. The tough climb up to Murphy was rewarded with a steep, but well surfaced, descent first thing in the morning. That set the tone for this day, which trended down most of the day. The climbs today were quite manageable and we zipped through this the longest, but probably easiest day. The camp site at Airport Tower didn’t offer much in the way of views, but the food (lasagna and brownies) and company were good.

Travis had heard that we were going to have to figure out some way to get back to the airport at the end of the trip. Here, we had just enough cell coverage for him to text back to the office that we needed a ride to the airport. Problem solved. Thanks Travis and the WS office staff.

Day 4: 16 Miles, 2400 feet of climbing

Today offered the most consistently rolling terrain with long swooping sections of clean double track, right up until the last climb back to the top of the canyon. We stopped at Musselman Arch and took some time to wonder across the 120 foot long, 5 foot wide arch. Veronica did a head stand on the arch and then some other park visitor did a back flip. It was very cool. From the arch, we headed toward the last climb. Shafer Trail Road is a steady 9-10 % for almost 3 miles. At the top of the climb, we met up with the van for the ride back into town.

In the last couple of years we’ve put in some serious effort to improve our fitness levels. As a result, this trip was easy. Yes, there were short steep sections where we had to hoof it for a few feet, but at the end of each day, we were not exhausted or beat. The distances were easily manageable for an avid cyclist. Because we ride our road bikes so much more than our mountain bikes, the last climb with its smooth surface and steady (if steep) grade, was hard but well suited to our style of riding. It was even enjoyable. Thom got to the top and thought about all the weight he had lost in the last couple of years. It is the equivalent of 13 full water bottles. If somebody had said, “Here, carry these 13 extra bottles of water up the hill”, the climb would have been a tad less enjoyable.

The Western Spirit guides were great. They did any bike maintenance, (even changing flats, yeah!), cooked and cleaned. The only thing we had to do was pitch our tent and repack it in the morning. The food was always much better than you would think possible while camping and there was always plenty of everything to eat. The other guests were also great, and Tom and Laura generously shared their wine each night.

We have all the gear to camp and certainly know how to cook trail side, but if you just want to go and have a lot of fun, with no worries about planning, logistics, bike maintenance or emergencies, a guided tour with Western Spirit is just the ticket.

The full gallery of pictures is here

Tags:, , ,


  1. Curtis Corlew says

    Wow. What a great bunch of photos in your link! I really enjoyed them. Quite a trip. How was it riding rented bikes? And what the heck are you doing fooling about on that bridge of death?

    April 18th, 2012 | #

  2. Thom and Veronica says

    The rentals were great- Brand new Specialized FSRs. We figured that the 2 million pounds of rock in the arch wouldn’t even notice us.

    April 18th, 2012 | #

Most Recent Photos

Tandemhearts' photo
Tandemhearts' photo
Tandemhearts' photo
Tandemhearts' photo
Tandemhearts' photo
Tandemhearts' photo
Tandemhearts' photo
Tandemhearts' photo
Tandemhearts' photo