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Old 11-01-2019, 10:42 PM   #1
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White Rim Trail in a 4x4 Van

The White Rim Trail is a 100 mile trail that circles the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park. The name comes from the white colored rimstone that is above the many canyons that lead down to the Colorado or Green River. It seems like 3 days is a lot for only 100 miles, but it took us that long to complete.

A few weeks before I put out an invite on the forum, to see if anyone was interested in traveling with me. Terry from Modesto, CA contacted me and asked to come along. We met at the Island in the Sky Visitors Center around noon and hit the trail by 12:30 pm. The first step was down the Shaffer Switchbacks.

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The next stops were at the Gooseneck Overlook and Mussleman Arch.

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We made it to our first night’s camp at the Airport B site around 4 pm. It was a nice site, just below the Airport Tower formation. It was nice and flat with plenty of space to park the vans.

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The weather was pretty good, but once the sun went down it got cold fast. Once it got cold, we went to our vans for the evening. The low that night was around 35 deg, but the forecast was for an arctic cold front coming for the next few days.
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Old 11-01-2019, 10:46 PM   #2
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Continued

I was up around 7:30 and started the heater to warm the van. We left camp at 10:30 am and continued down the trail.

We planned ~25 miles of driving to the next camp. Most of the trail was pretty easy, but very rough. This kept us from going more that 5-10 mph. Every so often, there was a more difficult obstacle that require a little more care on getting through it. I finally put van into 4WD for a few spots and also lowered the air pressure in the tires (45 front, 60 rear).

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We passed by several canyons and stopped for pictures. Monument Basin was particularly beautiful, with many interesting formations. Each canyon was enough different that I wanted to stop at all of them, but there was not enough time.

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We went down the side trail to the White Crack campground. This campground is approximately 1/2 the way through the trail from the top of the Shaffer switchbacks to the top of the Mineral Bottom switchback. The campground had a nice view and was near the historic road that was blasted through the White Rim capstone. There is only a hiking trail now, but this is what gives the campground its name. By that time the cold front had started to arrive and it was overcast, windy and cold.

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We continued north west on the trail, but it was pretty windy and cold. We made a few more stops and finally arrived at the Murphy’s Hogback. This is one of the two major climbs on the trail. The first “S” turn was a little challenging, but we made it through okay. After a short flat section, the main climb began. It was steep with a couple of large rocks to climb. There were a few narrow spots, but nothing that had me worried. With the van in low 4WD, I just climbed the hill. Coming over the top was a bit of a worry as you could not see the road in front of you. My biggest worry was someone coming down while we were going up.

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At the top of the butte was the Murphy campground. We had the A campground, which was on the edge of the cliff and had nice views. It was the best site we saw. However, it was still overcast, and the wind was really blowing. We walked around and took a few pictures, but we were in our vans by 6 pm. I had beef stew for dinner and read until I went to sleep. That night it got pretty cold and was windy most of the night.

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At 7:30 am it was 12 degree outside and 30 degrees in. But the wind wasn’t blowing and the sun was out, so it was not too bad.

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Old 11-01-2019, 10:52 PM   #3
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Part 3

We left camp at 9 am and the first challenge was driving down the Murphy’s Hogback. This was about as steep as the uphill, but had more turns and switch backs. I just put in 4WD Low and crawled down.

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We stopped at the Black Crack. This was on a cliff overlooking the Green River. The crack was 1700 feet long and only 1-2 feet wide. It was deep enough that you couldn’t see the bottom, after dropping a rock, I would guess 50-75 feet deep.

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The next stop was Holman slot canyon. The canyon is short, but we climbed down a ways.

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At this point we were down to just above the Green River. We stopped at the Beaver Bottom Cowboy camp, but could not find the inscriptions. A mile more down the road was the Potato Bottom Cowboy camp. In an alcove just above the river was an old wooden chest that is over 100 years old. All that remains are some pieces of wood and the metal straps, hinges and clasp.

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Old 11-01-2019, 10:55 PM   #4
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Part 4 (Last one)

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The final big obstacle was Hard Scrabble. This was a climb over a ridge. It was steep with a few tight corners, but overall, not too bad. We climbed up with no problems.

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Just past the top of Hard Scrabble we stopped at the Fort Bottoms Ruin hike. This was a 2 mile hike out and back to a 700 year old stone tower, built on a peninsula above a sweeping curve of the Green River. It was a good hike and and a chance to stretch our legs.

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After Hard Scrabble the road was much better. However, there were still challenging spots that required 4WD low to climb or drop off a ledge or rock.

We arrive at our campsite at Labyrinth B around 5:30 pm. The sun was already behind the cliffs, so it was getting cold. The campsite is just above the Green River and a very nice site.

It would be a great spot to sit on a cool summer evening and enjoy the views. However, with the sun down, it was already cold. We were back in the vans by 6:30 pm. I cooked grilled ham and cheese sandwiches.

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We left camp at 9 am and drove the few miles along the river to Mineral Bottoms. At that point we headed up the switchbacks. From there it was ~17 miles of dirt road to the end. We aired up the tires and I headed for home.

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The van did great. The trail was rough, so you could never go very fast for very long. I think we averaged 4-5 miles per hour over the entire trail (counting stops for pictures). The big climbs (Murphys and Hard Scrabble) were not that bad. I had good traction at all time and the van just crawled up the trail. My biggest concerns was someone coming down the opposite direction.

I think the more challenging spots were the 6-10 foot drops or climbs that dispersed through out the trail. These became a challenge where there was an off-camber drop, followed by another boulder or hole or some other obstacle. I was never concerned about not making it through the trail, but I was afraid of hitting the back end of the van on rocks. But I made it through unscathed.

It was a fun trip and nice to have Terry along.
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Old 11-01-2019, 11:37 PM   #5
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Great trip report. Nice for me to see the underside of what we viewed from the top in September.

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Old 11-02-2019, 05:49 AM   #6
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Awesome. Looks like a fun trip. Thanks for posting.

After completing the trail, would you stay with the 45 and 60 if you did it again?
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Old 11-02-2019, 08:05 AM   #7
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Awesome pics. I would drop pressure to 20 and 20 for a much smoother ride. Lots of places in Moab to air back up when you're done if you don't have OBA.

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Old 11-02-2019, 11:02 AM   #8
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Regarding tire pressure, dropping them by 15-20 psi, did make a difference on the ride.

I would maybe drop the pressure to 35/50 psi and try that. It would definitely improve the ride.

I would be concerned at 20/20. There is not a lot of sand, but there are a lot of sharp rocks. It seems that there would be a high risk of sidewall damage or pinching the tire with these heavy vans. But who knows, maybe it would be alright.

I know there have been a couple of articles posted regarding airing down the tires. I will have to review them again.
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Old 11-02-2019, 02:12 PM   #9
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Last time out I didn't air down in CO and think I will next time. I would try 35/50 which is about what I did on the Roaming Rally. I might try 30/35.

I'd have to experiment with 20/20 to see what it would look like.

Thanks.
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Old 11-02-2019, 02:33 PM   #10
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permits?

Did you get your camping permits well in advance of trip? I hear they fill quickly but ran into guy who got his day of trip. We were around Capital Reef 2 weeks ago when that cold snap rolled in. Got down to 24 and quite windy. Thanks for the report. Lance
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