Offroad in Moab
We are standing in the Visitor Center in Moab and are holding various books with described offroad trails of this region in our hands. Moab is THE destination for outdoor enthusiasts and offroad fanatics. Whether by foot, by bike, by ATV or by jeep - here everyone gets his money's worth. Actually, we are only looking for information about a very specific trail that has already been recommended to us by many sites and that we had been looking forward to in Switzerland - the White Rim Road.
The White Rim Road is a nearly 100 miles long stretch in the Island in the Sky District of the Canyonlands National Park and meanders all the way along the edge of the canyon. In the book I am currently reading, the trail is classified as moderate, which means that it can still be driven with a "normal" vehicle, but already requires some technical skills. Any track that is more difficult than the White Rim Road can only be done with an ATV (= All Terrain Vehicle).
All of a sudden we are no longer sure if our offroad knowledge is good enough for the White Rim Road. Unfortunately our doubts are not removed when we read reports from other travellers on the internet the evening before the planned start. There are words like "fear of death" and "hell ride". What have we got ourselves into? But reading off the whole thing is out of the question as we already reserved one of the highly coveted permits weeks ago, which allows us to stay overnight along the route.
In the morning of day X I wake up with a queasy feeling. But it's not just me. Mathias is also nervous, which becomes apparent early in the morning in an unusual irritability. Around 09.00 o'clock we drive to the Visitor Center in the National Park and get last information about the road conditions. From the ranger we get the answer that the whole route is "passable" and that we can drive it without any problems, if we have first high clearance, second 4x4 and third low range. We have all of it.
Well then, let's go!
Mathias puts the key into the ignition lock, turns it around, the engine starts, but dies again two seconds later. What's going on now? Another attempt. Mathias turns the key again ... but now neither the lights of the dashboard light up nor the engine starts.
We look at each other in disbelief. 10 minutes ago everything was fine. Now of all times, when we want to go out into the wilderness, where it becomes difficult to get help in case of a problem, the engine is haunted. But a look under the hood gives us certainty. A battery terminal, which was probably loose for a long time, has detached itself from the pole. This must have happened when we crossed the threshold in front of the Visitor Center. Now the clamp is next to the pole on the battery. During the first ignition there was an electric arc which caused the starter to howl for a short time and caused a part of the pole to melt. Mathias quickly recognizes the problem and can fix the terminal to the pole again, which fortunately still has enough material.
We hope that this incident was not a bad omen and drive off.
The route begins spectacularly. Over the Shafer Switchbacks we drive down into the canyon. The view into the depth is impressive, but we feel very safe all the time. The road is wide, the ground dry and since we don't suffer from fear of heights, we have a relaxed start into the White Rim Road and can fully enjoy this first part. Already at this point we know that this will be an unforgettable experience. An unforgettably exciting experience!
After we arrive at the bottom we drive full six hours through the red shining canyon landscape. Always along the only road that winds back and forth along the edge of the canyon. We are exposed in a barren landscape of stone and sand and make slow progress on the bumpy road. Our average speed is 10 mph.
Shortly before sunset we arrive at the first challenging spot that has been hanging over us like a sword of Damocles all day long. We stand at the foot of the Murphy Hogback. We are only a few meters away from our destination today, the Murphy Campground, which is located on top of the big scary hill in front of us. The place we have to master at the end of the day is not called "hogback" without any reason. This will be a hairy affair.
We have never driven up such a steep road before. To make things worse, the road is not flat. No - there are heels and footsteps that are well and gladly half a meter high and the ground is very sandy and therefore slippery.
If this place had come earlier today, we would certainly have turned around. But now that the sun is about to set and we are already halfway through the route, we have no choice.
We air down again, put in the low range and breathe deeply one last time. - And then: Ready, set, go!
When Mathias drives, he keeps his eyes open, of course. But I can't look and cling to the handle above my window. I feel Baloo pushing its way up the mountain one metre at a time with all its might - and it seems to be no problem at all! At the biggest heels it shakes us enormously, but otherwise Baloo climbs up here like a mountain goat and I am totally fascinated.
At the top we will be rewarded for all the effort with a sensational sleeping place (Murphy C). We have an incredible view over the landscape and fall asleep after a stunning sunset, exhausted and proud.
The next morning we leave early, because we have a long way to go again. Without any problems we drive down the Hogback first. The way is longer on this side and therefore less steep. We make good progress and soon notice that the western part of the route - along the Green River - is even more varied and we like it better than the part of yesterday. The soil becomes more and more sandy, which means that we can drive a bit more relaxed and don't have to brake and watch out all the time, because there's a heel again.
The second key point of the White Rim Road - the so-called Hardscrabble Hill - is already waiting for us shortly before the end. That's another promising name! And indeed, this hill demands all of our attention again. The conditions concerning steepness, underground and heels are about the same as at Murphys Hogback. The difference, however, is that the path is narrower, more exposed and more windy than the Hogback. While yesterday we could only drive straight ahead and only had to step on the gas, here we have to have the curves under control if we don't want to fall to death. What's particularly nasty is that some huge heels (0.5m+) are exactly in one curve. At Murphy we could drive practically coincidentally over the steps - here, however, the driving line must be exactly correct. We only have one chance. Stopping is not a good idea, reversing is impossible!
This time I get out and take a close look at the tricky spots so that I can guide Mathias by radio. We take all our courage again, but start confidently into the mountain with the self-confidence we gained yesterday. The motto is the same as yesterday: drive comfortably one meter after the other and keep calm.
Mathias makes smooth progress with Baloo ... until this one curve with the big heel. There Baloo has too little power and the front wheel doesn't come over the stone. It slides easily and I can see the worst in my inner eye. Immediately Mathias accelerates more, the wheels spin briefly, but then bump squeak over the heel. I can see from the outside how the books from the head console hit his head and I almost have to smile a bit. The rest is just a formality.
We enjoy the last kilometres along the Green River to the fullest, drive back over the Mineral Bottom Road and drink the first beer in Moab in a long time. We more than deserve that!Driving the White Rim Road was definitely the biggest challenge we have ever faced on our journey. But it was also the most beautiful and impressive road we have ever driven. And it was one of the most beautiful experiences in our lives. We were extremely proud of ourselves, that we dared the challenge and that we could count on each other in the stressful and tense situations and finally master the situation together. Although such days and moments on our journey are scarce, they are the lifeblood for it and the reason that our motivation for constant ongoing travel will be kept alive.
WHAT MAN SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE WHITE RIM ROAD:
- 4x4, low range and high clearance are mandatory
- The entire route has only two key points that are challenging to drive (Murphy's Hogback & Hardscrabble Hill). The rest of the route is relatively easy.
- You should calculate at least 10 hours driving time for the whole distance.
- We drove the track in 2 days with enough time for food and photo stops on the trail. However, if you want to explore the area further away from the track, you should plan at least 2 nights and 3 days.
- We had the impression that it doesn't matter in which direction you drive the track. We drove clockwise (starting with the shafer switchbacks).
- In case of rain the track can become impassable because the ground turns into a slippery mass (information about road conditions can be obtained from the Visitor Center)
- In order to use the route, you need a day permit, which is free of charge and can be obtained from the Visitor Center (this is also required if you only want to drive a part of the route, such as the shafer switchbacks)
- If you want to stay overnight along the route, in addition to the Day Permit you also need a Backcountry Permit, which costs 30 USD once (even if you reserve several nights). However, these are very popular and often booked months in advance due to the limited number of campsites. On this page the permits can be reserved.
- We stayed overnight at the campsite "Murphy C" and were very satisfied with the choice. On the one hand we found the site to be one of the most beautiful, on the other hand it is located pretty much in the half of the whole route.
- Staying overnight outside the official campsites is forbidden.
- Animals are not allowed on the track.