So You Want To Do White Rim In A Day? - Isaac's Guide To And Recounting Of The WRT In One Day

So You Want To Do White Rim In A Day? - Isaac's Guide And Recounting Of The WRT

Written by Isaac Boyden, on May 24, 2023

What is the White Rim Trail? 

Located in Canyonlands National Park near Moab UT, the White Rim Trail is one of the most famous and gorgeous marathon mountain bike loops in the country. 100.56 miles of stunning red rock topography and raw desert. In terms of grueling mountain bike loops, this is the real deal. With speeds nearing 40 mph on the first drop in, loose and rocky climbs that reach gradients of 19%, sand pits and numerous technical sections, anyone riding the White Rim needs to be on top of it at all times. 93 of the 100 miles are on dirt, and 81 of those miles are not just packed dirt, but rough jeep road and some slick rock. On top of all this, you’re treated to a 1000 foot vertical, 2 mile climb 87 miles in. 

As daunting as it may seem, this is one of the most rewarding, absolutely stunning loops you can do. The views are breathtaking, with many cliffs, canyons, and arches to be seen. There are plenty of ways to do the ride, the most popular of which seems to be a 2-3 day bike packing trip, with 35-50 mile days. Within the MTB marathon and XC community, there is this holy grail of finishing the White Rim in one shot, in one day. This has been something I have been pretty interested in over the last two years, and finally decided to do it. 100.56 miles on a mountain bike in one go.

The Plan: 

The ride starts off in the northernmost point of the loop, at a parking lot at the start of Mineral Bottom Road, right off Utah highway 313. You head counterclockwise to start, the first 12 miles rolling on a flatter desert road. After mile 12, you hit the drop into Mineral Bottom, taking 6 switchbacks down towards the Green River, losing over 1000 feet of vertical in 2 miles. You then border the river until mile marker 23, where you hit the crux known as Hardscrabble. In the next 0.85 miles, you climb up on the side of the river, clicking off over 400 vertical feet in that short distance. 

Sandy, loose, and hitting a gradient of 18%, Hardscrabble definitely earns its name. One of the hardest things about this loop are the three main climbs. When you look at the overall profile of the trail, the climbs don't seem too bad. In reality however those climbs are very steep, dagger like sections. They tend to pitch you over the front of the bike, leaving you bent over the bars hauling, but you don’t want to have to go that hard on an effort that long. 

Shortly after climbing Hardscrabble, you head right back down on those same super steep pitches, hanging on for dear life. For the next little bit, from mile 28 to 44, you slowly climb 600 feet until you reach Murphy’s Hogsback. This is the second crux of the trail, from mile 44.8 to mile 48. You are tugged up a 800 foot vertical climb, split into two sections: a 0.5 mile section of climbing, then a 2 mile plateau, then finishing on a 1.1 mile climb (over 750+ feet climbed in a mile and a half!). You then drop down the other side of that climb into rolling terrain, constantly going up and down on a long winding jeep road, fighting sand pits for half the way. 

From mile 56 to mile 87, you continue to slug it out on this jeep road, until you round the last corner and see the third and final crux of Schafers Hill just ahead of you. Schafers is a 2.5 mile switch back climb up the side of the mesa, with steep cliffs on the side of the climb. In 2.5 miles, it climbs 1300 vertical feet with an average gradient of 9.4%, and even hitting 17% grade at one point. With 87 miles already in your legs when you get to this climb - to put it simply - it sucks. It’s the last grind to get out of the basin, and you are overjoyed to be done with the climb when you reach the top. Once you top out after Schafers Hill, there is a 8 mile rolling road section that takes you back to the parking lot. Then, you're done! 

My Attempt 

The plan was to start around 7:30 am, with a list of timestamps that correlated with every 10 miles. I was pacing to ride the first 20 miles as a low zone 3 effort, miles 21-70 at a high endurance ride pace, then kick it into gear (race-pace) from mile 70 to mile 87. The plan was to then struggle up Schafer’s Hill, then use whatever energy I had left to just pin it on the road and blow it out by the parking lot. The time stamps were organized for a 6-6:10 finish, maybe less based on how the first part went. 

 White Rim Split Times 

Miles 

Time (min.sec), (hour:min)

10

24 

20

50.5

30

1:27

40

2:03

50

2:42

60

3:18

70

3:48

80

4:28

90

5:32

100

done, 5:55-6:10


After dropping into Mineral Bottoms I was moving at a good pace, on track for a 6 hour finish. Around mile 25 my pace was still looking very good, but I started to fight my stomach a bit after that (Moab Brewery is sooo good, but it might not have been the best idea for me to eat there the night before a MTB century TT). I was slowing down due to that, then lost my lunch over the side of the bike on Murphy's Hogsback (was a sight to behold). After losing the majority of my water and calories in one go, the battle had gone from fast times to a fight to survive.

One of the scary things about the White Rim Trail is the remote and rough location. If you get sick like I did, or need outside assistance you have to have a satellite GPS phone to communicate with people outside the trail. If you need to be picked up, cars are a minimum of 7 hours out and it is tough terrain for any car. So, this became a battle just to make it out. After feeling sluggish and tired, I pushed to mile 75 before I lost my cookies again. Pushing through, I made it out of the desert and back around the loop in 7 hours and 38 minutes, an hour and a half later than intended. But dang, that was a good sandwich the night before!

Want To Try It For Yourself? 

If you want to try the White Rim Trail for yourself, it is a gorgeous loop to try. Make sure you plan ahead, plan accordingly and take the necessary precautions. You'll also want to know if the ride is within your fitness abilities. I think the most ideal way to do it is to plan for 10-11 hours. This should be enough time to stop and enjoy the views, appreciate the desert  and stop for lunch. This loop is gorgeous, and I wouldn't take it for granted. Make sure you have a support vehicle and you communicate with friends and family, letting them know where you are, when you are starting, when you’re planning to finish and such. White Rim is not the place to mess around. 

What To Bring And Plan For

There are plenty of things I would recommend bringing. Here is the list:

  • Permits (cars and bikes requires these from CanyonLands park)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Map
  • Garmin/Wahoo/Karoo GPS device 
  • Satellite phone 
  • Sunglasses & sunscreen
  • Gloves/kit/shoes/helmet
  • Extra batteries/chargers
  • At least 3000-3700 calories (depending on the size of the rider)
  • 2.5-4 liters of water
  • Repair and tool kit 
    • Extra tube (maybe even 2)
    • Co2/inflator and/or pump (I brought 2 cartridges)
    • Tubeless plug kit 
    • Multi Tool w/chain tool and all fix-its 
    • Tire lever/s
    • Extra chain links (I brought 2)
    • Zip ties 
    • Duct tape
    • Extra chain lube 
  • Windbreaker

The Bike 

The chosen steed for this adventure was the Santa Cruz Blur 4, their signature light-weight XC bike. Set up for long marathon, specs are as follows: 
  • Frame: Santa Cruz Blur TR, size LG
  • Fork: Rockshox SID Ultimate 120mm Gloss Blue
  • Wheels: Reserve 28 XC 
  • Stem: Intend Grace XC, 77mm, -7 degrees
  • Bar: NEW Ultimate EVO, flat, cut to 710mm 
  • Brakes: SRAM G2 Ultimate, 180mm rotors 
  • Seatpost: Syncros Duncan SL
  • Saddle: Repente Quasar Aeron Saddle
  • Cranks: SRAM XX1 170mm
  • Chain: SRAM XX1, black
  • Chainring: Wolftooth Dropstop, 36T
  • Power meter: Power2Max Ngeo 
  • Cassette: SRAM X01 10-52
  • Shifter: SRAM XX1 AXS 
  • Rear derailleur: SRAM X01 AXS 
  • Tires: Pirelli Scorpion XC RC, 2.4
  • Pedals: Shimano XTR SPD
  • White Rim extras 
    • SQ Lab InnerBar ends
    • Blackburn Co2/Plugger bottle cage mounts 
    • Blackburn saddlebag 
    • Arundel Mandible carbon bottle cages  

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