White Hot White Rim

| June 12, 2013 | 3 Comments

The 100 mile White Rim trail outside of Moab, UT is one of my favorite mountain biking adventures and I’ve done it clockwise, counterclockwise, in a day, over three days and at night. There are far burlier rides out there, but I like the White Rim as it is such a classic slice of the American West desert country and has fairly simple logistics – you start and finish at the same place.

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Titus getting ready to head down the Shaffer trail at about 7:00am after roughly 18 miles of riding and twoish hours.

That said, the exact starting and finishing points, as well as the direction of travel and the best time of year to do it are all open for endless debate. Theoretically, as a closed loop, you are going to gain and lose the same amount of vertical no matter how you do it, so it really shouldn’t make any difference, except that it does.  Ideally, you want to bust out as much vertical as possible early in the ride while your legs are still fresh and you are riding slowly enough to climb in the dark with a headlamp.

It may be just rural myth, but supposedly Jeremy Nobis (the skier) has the loop record at something like 6:30 hours. I have no idea if this is true, what the start/stop points were or if it has been beaten, but it hardly matters to me as I’m personally in the 10-12 hour range. I just like riding the loop as it is always such an unfolding adventure of crossing through wide open desert, down wildly impossible roads, skirting by huge towers and catching glimpses of the Colorado and Green rivers.

As a day ride, I’ve almost always done it in the fall and started/finished at the bottom of the Shaffer trail as it avoids climbing up the Mineral Canyon dirt road, which if you save it until the end, can be the longest ten miles of slightly uphill wash-board hell on earth.  But, for our most recent outing, we tried it in June and went clockwise, starting at the bottom of Mineral/Horse Thief and climbing out.

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Small person, big landscape. The Shaffer trail.

June is admittedly pushing it on the weather as it starts to get scalding hot down there, but it seemed like it could go either way – from warm and unpleasant all the way up to skull-popping hot and dangerous.  The temps were forecast to be 97 degrees, but being a cold-weather optimist, it didn’t occur to me that it could actually be hotter as well, which it was.  One of the big issues with the White Rim is that there is little to no shade, so staying hydrated is one of the major concerns.  At these temperatures, we carried roughly two gallons of water apiece, which was enough to keep us from dying, but also assure we’d be very, very dehydrated at the end. The air and the temps are so dry out there that even after soaking ourselves in river water, everything was bone dry after a mile of riding.  It was perhaps a classic misunderestimatation of how hot the desert can be.

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Hmmm, maybe there aren’t as many opportunities for shade as I thought…

Clockwise vs. counterclockwise was a bit hard to evaluate due to the heat misery factor, but one noticeable advantage was that the clockwise direction (bottom of Horsethief and up) had less uphill sandy sections in the middle, which made it easier to ride.  The downside is that you have a slower, flatter finish, which at mile 95+ can seem to take forever.

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Category: Trip Reports

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber and Mountain Unicycle rider. He and Polly Samuels McLean are the parents of two very loud little girls.

Comments (3)

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  1. dug says:

    june is tough. a friend and I did it on the summer solstice once, went clockwise, starting from the top of mineral bottom switchbacks, and we did the first half to white crack in 4 hours, and the second half back to camp at the top of the switchbacks in 12 hours, and i spent the night throwing up bile into an empty cooler in my tent. my little keychain thermometer said 115 degrees in the potato bottom area.

    we rode with elvis on our handlebars that day, the skinny elvis in the morning, the fat drug addled elvis in the evening.

  2. Nice one Dug! I’m in awe of your inspired madness. That must have been incredibly painful. I tried to hold off on the negative thoughts, but once I started visualizing my blood being as thick as ketchup, my stomach being a dried up walnut and my tongue being a slab of fence-slat cedar… it was all over. But of course, in a good way. ;) Dry heaves are fun, but heat induced dry heaves are the BEST!

  3. Jeremy says:

    I have just found this. I have heard all kinds of times and myths. The truth is i did it in 6 hours 20 minutes.
    I had a friend ride backwards for proof. Lou warner. Had the record at 6hours 37 minutes be fore me
    He didnt believe me til i won the 24 hrs of moab with my team and i had the fastest lap times.
    The white rim record i presume has heen broken. However in my time in the 90s we did it self supported. It was on your honor. I did it 2 days after racing the ironhorse in durango. It was june 1st and it was 100 degrees if i did it again which i did I would have broken 6 hours. The next time was with my girlfriend 15 years later and it took 10 hours
    It hurt worse to ride that long
    Thx

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