Sunday, June 23, 2013

Snow Biking the White Rim in a Night

An Epic Night Ride

One of the classic rides in Moab, the mountain biking capitol of the world, is the White Rim in Canyonlands. A lot of people will do this as a three or four day biking/camping trip, but the ambitious will do it in one day.

To minimize the amount of time I am away from my store we decided to do the trip in one night. According to the Park officials this is the first time it has been done as a one night ride. June 21-22 2013 was the perfect alignment of the stars, or well, actually of the sun, earth, and moon. June 21 is the summer solstice, a full moon, and what they call a super moon, the brightest full moon of the year. Add in perfect weather and it made a perfect night to ride the White Rim.
The route - we rode in the counterclockwise direction.

We started the ride at 6 pm on Friday evening. A lot of people claim that the best way to do the White Rim is to go clockwise. However I have done this clockwise and counterclockwise several times and counterclockwise is by far the better way to do it.

For an unsupported ride I prefer to start at the bottom on Shafer's Road and start out with the biggest climb. Leaving a cache of food and water at Mineral Bottom Road reduces the amount of weight you have to carry up the cliff, and lets you have enough supplies to complete the journey. However we had a vehicle following us this time so we started at Mineral Bottom Road.

Mormon Tea
Mineral Bottom Road is great, that is if going counterclockwise, it sucks when going clockwise. As I start the ride I am amazed by the beautiful high contrast of the bright green of Momon Tea and grasses, and the red rocks and dirt. This always amazes me, even though I see it all the time. So, we bomb down the road, me on my snow bike and my son on his mountain bike. I've decided to call it my snow bike, and not a fat bike, because even though it is over 90°F and there is no snow around, this is my South Pole expedition training bike, and in Antarctica all I will see for days is snow and ice.

Mineral Bottom
Anyway, the snow bike does great on the dirt, yeah I'm not quite as fast as my son on his mountain bike, and I'm a lot slower on the climbs, but I'm having a great time. We drop down into Mineral Bottom and at the fork in the road turn around for a look. When going the other direction and coming to this fork you want to believe you should go left, because the right direction looks like it dead ends into the cliff.

From here to the White Crack turn off there are numerous stretches of sand. Usually when doing the White Rim I'll hit one of these sandy stretches at high speed resulting is a great wreck. However the fat tires cruise over the sand with ease. There is a sandy dry river crossing that I have always gotten stuck in with a mountain bike, but the fat tires float nicely over the san. In the sandy sections I pass my son as the snow bike feels like it is at home, and my son's mountain bike is having a hard time sinking into the sand and he has difficulty riding in a straight path.

As is normal, the north side of the Hard Scrabble hill is sandy, and my son gets stuck trying to make it up the sandy climb. Once again the snow bike excels, and while it is hard aerobically to make the climb, the added traction and float makes the climb easier.

When we get to the Potato Bottom campgrounds we find some friends from Eagle Mountain sitting around camp. Somehow it seems that every time I do the White Rim someone else I know is also doing the ride. Anyway we talk to them for a while, refill our water and continue on.

Now is when the fun begins. The sun has gone down and the moon and stars start to dominate the sky. Not a lot of stars because the moon is so bright. I look to my left and there is a shadow of a guy on a bike cast by the light of the moon following me wherever I go. We took lights and a bunch of backup batteries with us so we could have enough light to last the night. However the moonlight was so bright we just continued biking by the light of the moon.

We had a lot of people question why we would do the White Rim at night, after all one of the biggest reasons for doing the White Rim is the amazing scenery. But, with the brightness of the moon we were able to see the scenery in a whole new light. It was every bit, and more, amazing than we thought it would be. It is just one of those things that words can not describe and camera can not capture, you just need to do it yourself to understand.

We climbed to the top of Murphy's Hogback where we needed to wait for the truck to get a resupply of water. The view from the top of the landscape below is spectacular, and even more so by the light of the moon. Eventually we find lights moving across the land. We will be here for a while. The nice thing about using a rock as a bed... no matter how much Myron wiggles it doesn't shake the bed and wake me up. The bad thing... every time I'm about to fall asleep a lizard walks across me. Oh well, a couple of hours later the truck and other bikers show up, we eat, drink and fill up with enough supplies to finish the ride.

The snow bike was great until after White Crack where the really sandy stuff is replaced with a lot of rough rocky sections. At this point the ridged fork and hardtail start to beat me up. I had my mountain bike on the truck and it was very tempting to wait for the truck and trade bikes, but I had made it this far and was determined to finish out on the snow bike if at all possible. It turned out it was possible but my shoulders and rear end took quite a beating in the process.

We were able to do the ride with no lights until about 4 am, at which time the moon was so low that the shadows from the Island in the Sky made it too dark for my old man eyes to continue without lights. So we finally turned on our lights. However by 5:09 am the light from the upcoming sunrise was enough to go back to riding with no lights. So, we were able to do the whole ride with less than an hour and half of lights.

It was a great ride. Worth doing at night, and worth doing with a snow bike.


  1. More was the first time someone did the White Rim overnight AND bothered to tell the park service about it.

  2. Right, which is why I said, "According to the Park officials".

    You are required to pay an entrance fee to ride the White Rim, so it is possible that some one has paid and the park officials didn't know it was a one night ride, or it is possible that someone just did it without paying. Anyway it was a great ride, and one we plan on repeating.

  3. Yeah, I was going to add that I have a few different friends who have ridden it overnight. It's a quietly popular thing to do in the summer when the daytime heat is at its worst. And those buttes must look spectacular in the moonlight. Nice ride.