ilanarama: me on a bike on the White Rim trail (biking)
[personal profile] ilanarama
Our friends Ryan and Steve organized a White Rim trip again this year, and this time we were the only other people on it. (We did it with them last year, and also in 2013. We also did it twice in the 1990s with friends from Boulder, where we lived then.)

Ilana at top of Mineral Bottom switchbacks

As with all of our trips except the 2013 version, we rode the ~100 mile jeep road loop counter-clockwise. While hardcore mtb'ers with no interest in side trips can do it in a (long) day, we opted for, as always, the 4 day/3 night version, which meant that each of us had to take a turn or two driving Steve and Ryan's pickup truck carrying all our water, food, and camping gear.

Here is the Park Service map showing the "Island in the Sky" district of Canyonlands NP, and the roads around it which form the White Rim ride. After loading our gear into the support truck Britt and I left our truck at a small parking lot at the dot by the intersection at the top of this map on the left side, our start/finish point, and began riding down the Mineral Bottom Road, which gently rolls toward the Green River - or at least, to a point above the Green River. The photo of me above was taken just at the point where the road begins to descend to the river via a series of snaky switchbacks:

Mineral Bottom switchbacks

It's an exhilarating ride down! The road continues all the way to a boat ramp, but we turned downriver short of that point and rode along a rather sandy jeep road and officially into Canyonlands National Park. Eventually the road paralleled the river for a short time before turning into Taylor Canyon on a rock rim where we stopped at our first campsite, Labyrinth, for a total first day's ride of 19.4 miles. (Campsites are pre-assigned, as overnights on the White Rim are by permit only. You must carry all your water in, and all your trash out, but there is a vault toilet at each one.)

Green River Labyrinth camp

The next morning we had one of the nastier climbs and descents of the ride, Hardscrabble. There's a steep and sandy climb up a few switchbacks to a dramatic shelf road, followed by an equally steep and sandy descent on the other side. I had a gentle fall in one of the uphill sandy spots, and had to stop and walk a few of the steeper bits, but it wasn't too bad, and I rode the descent without problems. (The first year I did this ride, I walked most of both the uphill and the downhill on this one!)

Britt on the rim road Hardscrabble descent

Traffic jam Green River overlook

We had lunch at our usual lunch stop on this part of the ride, Holeman Slot, which is a beautiful slot canyon that begins right at the road's edge opposite the Wilhite Trail. A woman who had hiked down the trail from the Island in the Sky showed up just as we finished lunch and headed for the slot, so she came with us to explore. Some years you have to wade through water to get very far, but it was dry this year, and so we were able to hike through the slot to the point where the sensible person needs ropes to progress further.

Holeman slot Holeman slot

Ilana in Holeman Slot Ilana in Holeman Slot

After Holeman Slot, I took my turn driving, though I warned Steve that I didn't want to drive the last climb to Murphy Hogback, our camp for the second night. It's a steep and rough climb, and last year the wreckage of a truck that had failed to negotiate the road was strewn on the hillside below. I ended up driving about ten miles, stopping to take photos along the way.

Canyon walls Desert varnish

Then I waited for Steve and Britt, who were riding together, so I could retrieve my bike from the back and turn the truck over to Steve for the last part. (Ryan, who is training for a half Ironman triathlon, ran the entire distance after lunch, about 13 miles. This after 17 miles of riding, including the big hill at Hardscrabble. She is a monster!) I stopped the truck after topping out on one steep climb and hiked back down a bit so I could take pictures. This is Britt climbing to the top of a typically steep hill:

Britt on a short climb on the way to Murphy's

Murphy Hogback is an excellent camp with terrific views that make the long, snaking climb worthwhile. After dinner we took drinks and chocolate to the western edge of the mesa and watched the sunset.

Murphy switchbacks Sunset on Murphy's Hogback

I had brought my running shoes, and the next morning I ran out the Murphy Trail to the point where it starts to climb a steep and rocky wash to the Island in the Sky. Last year I'd done an out and back to this point; this year, I'd asked Steve to drop the truck off at the bottom of the descent off the back of the Murphy Hogback, and I took the wash trail down back to the road. It was more of a wash than a trail, and I alternated picking my way down rockfalls with laboriously running through deep sand, but it was fun to try a different route. Then I drove to White Crack campsite and met the others for lunch and a short hike.

Desert patterns

In the afternoon I got back on the bike and rode with Ryan and Steve while Britt drove the 20 miles to Airport campsite. This part of the route is well above the Colorado River, and traverses around big side canyons filled with pillars and arches, red rock topped with the white sandstone of the rim. The snow-capped La Sal mountains are also visible from the White Rim here beyond the red sandstone mesas, a spectacular combination of different types of terrain.

Pillars and arches Red rock and mountains

Along the way we passed the formation known as "Washer Woman Arch" (the arch isn't visible in this photo, but the washerwoman is!):


The next morning began with a steep uphill to a notch I'd remembered as a tough climb, but sometime over the past year it had been regraded, and for the first time I was able to ride it without stopping, yay. Then it was a long and gentle downhill to Musselman Arch, where we met an older man riding the White Rim in the opposite direction, over three days and two nights, solo and unsupported. A pretty impressive undertaking, and I hope he made it!

On the road Musselman Arch

Finally it was time to climb out on the Shafer Trail, about 1500' of vertical in five miles of narrow switchbacks. Looking up at the road disappearing into soaring cliff walls, it's amazing to realize that this is the way out.

Looking up Shafer Trail Shafer Trail route

The actual ride was quite hot, and windy, and made considerably less fun by a truly astounding number of jeeps that were also going out at the same time as we were. I had to stop every once in a while to, um, take pictures, that's it! Certainly not to rest. Um. I was further humbled by Ryan, who not only had gotten to the top first (after Steve, who'd driven), but had then left her bike with the truck, changed into her running shoes, and run a couple of miles down and then back up again. But eventually I got to the top, and we all had a picnic lunch on the upper rim, enjoying the view we'd earned.

Looking back down the Shafer Trail Shafer Trail switchbacks

Then it was a fast eight miles down the paved road to the parking lot where Britt and I had left our own truck, and the circle was complete.

Or just look at the Flickr album.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-04-22 09:11 pm (UTC)
thalia: Delirium from Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic (Default)
From: [personal profile] thalia
You know, Matt and I are trying to figure out where to move after he retires, and your photos are always a good argument for Colorado. That looks like a gorgeous trip. I think I'm too used to oxygen, though. [g]

I wish I were in half as good shape as Ryan--I'm getting tired just reading about her trip!

(no subject)

Date: 2017-04-23 01:09 am (UTC)
yhlee: Texas bluebonnet (text: same). (TX bluebonnet (photo: snc2006 on
From: [personal profile] yhlee
These are so gorgeous--thank you for sharing. =)

I get winded just doing gentle hikes up hills, so this would be impossible for me even at sea level (I have basically lived my entire life at sea level), but I love looking at the photos and reading about it. =)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-04-23 09:10 pm (UTC)
yhlee: recreational (peaceful) tank (recreational tank)
From: [personal profile] yhlee
It's true--I got so much better at hiking up slopes when I lived in Ithaca. :p Alas, Louisiana is, as far as I can tell, flat EVERYWHERE. Well, except where you sink up to your neck deep in swamp! One of my hopes is that the next place we live, even within Baton Rouge, will be more pedestrian-friendly even (or, if I'm really lucky, bikes!). The part of town I'm in is super-unfriendly to pedestrians, so walking anywhere even during the nicer times of year is risky because of scary drivers.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-04-23 08:59 am (UTC)
luzula: a Luzula pilosa, or hairy wood-rush (Default)
From: [personal profile] luzula
Oooh, so exotic. And such a dry landscape--looks like not much grows except around the streams.

Will post dogsledding photos soon! A very different kind of exotic. : )

From Greenlee

Date: 2017-04-23 09:43 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
These pictures are so amazing, and what an experience. It really makes me want to see that part of the country-- I have never been.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-04-28 01:05 pm (UTC)
blnchflr: Captain America Civil War (Default)
From: [personal profile] blnchflr
Those switchbacks! I'm imagining all the spills I could take going down ^____^

It's such a crazy (for a Dane) and beautiful landscape, and as always your pictures are incredible.

I should look into bike trips more, but my feet "fall asleep" when I bike far, though I maybe gather that can be helped by "click pedals"?

How hardcore is Ryan?!

Ok, would definitely just walk my bike up the steep hill Britt is climbing ^____^

What were the temperatures like? Bare feet! We're supposed to get below 0° C this weekend…

I'm on my phone - is that a flat stone bridge supported by thin air (if connected on both ends)? That looks crazy, but maybe I'm seeing it wrong.

Good read, thanks :)


ilanarama: me, The Other Half, Moab UT 2009 (Default)

August 2017

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My running PRs:

5K: 21:03 (downhill) 21:43 (loop)
10K: 43:06 (downhill)
10M: 1:12:59
13.1M: 1:35:55
26.2M: 3:23:31

You can reach me by email at heyheyilana @


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