Mountain Biking Trip
Sunday, August 17, 2003 through Tuesday, August 26,
- 12 trail rides
throughout MT, ID, and WA
- 267.6 miles
- 26.9 hours
- 34,100 feet climbing
- 9 distinct riding
- 1 night-time ride with
- 1 day-time ride with
- 1 hike in Glacier National Park, MT
- 5 miles
- 1.3 hours
- 600 feet climbing
- Highest elevation:
7,500 feet on Alpine Trail in Swan
- Deepest under ground:
1000 feet on Hiawatha Path rail trail
- Biggest net gain
climb: 4,500 feet from Swan Lake to Warrior Mtn summit
sightings: Many mountain goats and
deer, but no bear
- Pre-shipped Dean
Colonel racing mountain bike via FedEx ground to Glacier Cyclery in
Monday, 8/18/03 Big Mountain,
getting over being extremely sick night before.
Business meeting ends mid afternoon, leaving just enough time to ride
nearby Big Mountain. A couple business colleagues came along and
rented MTBs. Big Mountain is a ski area,
and the gondola runs in the summer for tourists and folks wishing to ride down
only. The mountain has an awesome 7.6
mile singletrack trail that switchbacks all over the mountain, in and out of
the woods, to the summit. Net gain is
about 2200 feet per TopoUSA, but Big Mtn claims 2500 feet. Trail is well manicured and carefully
graded. So smooth 5.4% grade can be
handled by most fit riders in either direction.
There are additional “expert” downhill oriented trails for those with
the proper equipment. Despite being sick
for a week, I made it to the top. Views
were limited at top due to heavy forest fire smoke in area. This trail is a pure adrenaline rush descent. Speeds of 30 mph on narrow singletrack were
very easy to hit, slowing only for switchbacks.
So much fun in fact, I did this climb on two subsequent visits. I let my friends drive the car back to the
lodge in town so I could get a few more miles and a bunch more descent in. The base of the ski area sits 1500+ feet
above town, so the 4000 foot total descent was nice. Everybody enjoyed the climb.
Summit Trail #1
An outside turn you wouldn’t
want to blow.
Flathead Valley below barely visible
Big Mountain from Grouse Mountain
Lodge in Whitefish, MT.
Tuesday, 8/19/03 Lion Mountain,
Finished business banquet around 8pm, just in time to
catch the last of the sunset. Strapped
on HID light, headed to Lion
Mountain, of which the
lodge sat in its shadow. Map showed Jeep
road to summit, but area was getting built up.
Saw some ATV trails but wasn’t sure where they went. Asked a young guy hiking with his dog if any
of the trails went to summit, he said all of them do, but they get steep and
rocky. I said cool, but thought yeah,
whatever. I picked the closest one and
started cranking up. Trail headed up
spline of mountain (ridgeline from right to left in photo), turning into
impossibly steep and rocky singletrack near top with shear drop-offs to
west. Very nice view of remnants of
sunset. Had lights on by that time – was
dark in woods. Sunsets were brilliant colors
due to all the smoke in the atmosphere.
To the east was a major lightning storm.
Little did I know it was starting a dozen new forest fires in the range
I wanted to ride on Thursday, my planned “capstone” ride for the trip.
From the southwest
on Rt 93, taken on Wednesday evening.
Wednesday, 8/20/03 Reid Divide
Trail, Flathead NF, Talley Lake
Meetings were finished around 2pm, so just enough daylight
left to get a good ride in. Starting to
feel much better from being sick too.
Headed out towards Talley
Lake, about 15 or 20
miles east of Whitefish, MT. Many, many
miles of ridable singletrack in this area.
I do not shuttle, except riding back to car with my bike, so I had to
make this point to point trail a big loop using forest service roads. Ride starts with about a 2000 foot climb over
10 miles on good dirt roads. Most of the
trail lies in between 5000 to 6000 feet elevation. Nice buff stuff too, only slightly technical
in places. Perhaps best part of this
13-mile section of the trail was the switch-backed descent down to Talley Lake,
dropping something like 1500 feet in just a couple miles. Very steep grade is traversed, and some
switchbacks were too tight for me to navigate.
High up on ridge
line. Haze in sky is forest fire smoke.
Doesn’t look very
dry here, but it is. Trees grow very
tall and skinny.
One of many very
steep, very tight switchbacks on descent to Talley Lake.
to Talley Lake.
Heavy smoke in area limits visibility to just a few miles. Talley
Lake is Montana’s deepest, nearly 500 feet.
Thursday, 8/21/03 Alpine Trail,
Flathead NF, Swan Lake District,
First full day of mountain biking nirvana. Planned this to be my capstone ride day, but
where I wanted to ride was on fire and closed due to Tuesday’s lightning
storm. This is the same trail in the
same Swan Mountain Range, but about 40 miles south of the fires. This was the only piece of Alpine Trail that
was not closed, but in fact the trail was on the border of the closure
area. Ride started with mostly flat
forest road, some heavily overgrown.
Once reaching the Soup Campground, serious climbing began to Napa
Point. A 10% grade was maintained for
about 7 miles. At Napa Point, trail #31
is taken to Alpine Trail #7. Trail 31
had some very steep hike-a-bike sections, but most of it was ridable, and the
views were stunning. Upon reaching
Alpine Trail, increasing amounts of hike-a-bike grades were encountered. It was warm, 22.3 miles registered on
odometer, and water was very low. I
reached about 7,500 foot elevation on Warrior Mtn before deciding to turn
back. Even though it was less miles to
keep going, the ridge line was chocked full of numerous 200 to 500 foot
hike-a-bike ups and downs. Estimate to
complete was 4-6 hours, and I had only 1 hr of water left. I left with 128 ounces. After hiking and riding back to Napa Point,
the 4500 foot descent was fully satisfying.
The ride to Trail #31 alone was worth it. Truly unique singletrack with views and
exposure (near cliff steepness edge riding) to go with it.
Hard to watch where
you are going with scenery like this.
Grades to side were so steep in places that you would almost certainly
go for a slide or very long tumble if you slipped off trail. At these higher elevations, air was much
clearer and the sky started to look blue.
around above timberline at 7000+ feet elevation.
steep section. Wildflowers as far down
as you could see. Smoky.
in background, where I turned around and headed back.
Ride #1: Lone Pine State Park,
44 miles day before wiped me out good.
Lone Pine State Park
was just a few miles from my motel in Kalispell. It sits on a good size 600 foot hill, with a
cliff drop view of town below in the Flathead
Valley. Park has a few miles of singletrack open to
riding. It’s steep, so it makes a tough
climb or a rocket descent. Did mostly
pavement there and back, with about 6 miles on dirt. Nice to have this close by. I revisited this area one more time just
before jumping on plane back.
Ride #2: Big Mountain Ski Area,
The short, mostly pavement ride didn’t quite hit the spot
in the morning, so I headed back to Whitefish (only 15 miles away) to do the
easy 7.6 mile singletrack to top and back.
Easy climb, but wicked fast bomb back down for good adrenaline buzz.
Lone Pine SP Summit
A very smoky day,
perhaps worst of trip. Swan Range
in background hidden by veil.
Feet Straight Below
Ride #1: Silver
Mountain Ski Area, Kellogg, ID
Did not plan to ride here.
Was planning on riding Canfield in Coeur
d’Alene, ID. But when I drove through Kellogg, my eye
caught a gondola running up this huge mountain.
I looked again, ...and mountain bikes!!
The gondola base was right at the off-ramp of Interstate 90, so I had to
get off and check this out. Sure enough,
a big mountain that can be biked up on service road, singletrack at top. This is an upper elevation ski area. You can’t ski down to gondola – no runs at
lower elevations. Gondola is used to go
up, where many other lifts service the ski runs. The literature says this is the longest
gondola in the world. It’s longer than
any I’ve seen, and rises maybe 3400 vertical.
Min to max of Silver Mountain (Kellogg
Peak) is almost 4000
feet. I climbed it on a 12.5 mile dirt
service road, so very modest grade.
Singletrack up top was nice, but very limited. Only a few miles. There are two or three forest/service road
routes back down. I chose the same way I
came up since I was familiar with it and felt the need for some speed. Somehow, I beat four guys on downhill rigs in
body armor down. We talked tires briefly
up top, then they split. I ate ice-cream
bar, then split. When they arrived at
the bottom, one said “dude, you’re fast!”
Guess he didn’t know what to make of a skinny guy in spandex on a hardtail
getting there before he did. I don’t
really know how it happened either. They
took same road. Early on I could see
them below me on switchbacks. Anyway,
smoke wasn’t too bad here, so nice views from 6300 foot summit. Ranger in lookout at top was interesting to
talk to also. Big tourist mountain, just
like Big Mountain in Whitefish. Was quite cold up top.
Ride #2: Beacon Hill, Spokane, WA
Didn’t plan on riding here until Sunday morning, but had
many hours light left and legs weren’t trashed yet. So I squeezed second ride of the day in. If you’ve ever been to the trails at a place
called Vietnam near Milford, MA,
then you know what this place is like.
Virtually identical, powerlines up middle, big rock-ledge stunt drops,
swoopy roller coaster descents, burned out areas, and climbs. Only difference is this place has at least
twice, maybe three times the vertical.
Lots of singletrack, place originally built up by dirt bikers, just like
also. Lots of fun, and right in
town. I parked in golf course parking
lot. I did have a nasty pinch flat with
my tubeless wheel setup. I paid big
bucks so I wouldn’t have to suffer pinch flats like I did 5 minutes into the
Watershed Wahoo race. Don’t think much
of tubeless anymore. Plus, you have to
pump your tires up each time you ride.
Gradual Climb Up
Air here was more
hazy than smoky. Mostly overcast
skies. Was raining in Kalispell.
Kellogg and I-90
Below from Near Kellogg
Was very windy and
cold up here.
Doug at Kellogg Peak Lookout
Kellogg Peak Service Road
Was a blast to bomb
back down this to town in background.
Beacon Hill, Spokane, WA
Zero smoke and
clear skies here. Only ride with these
Hill Roller Coaster Singletrack
Lots of this stuff
here, often on bare rock, making it extremely fast.
Hill Burned-Out Area
Huge area, was hot
fire, soil was like talcum power.
Ride: Route of the Hiawatha Rail
Trail, Taft, MT/Pearson, ID
Did not plan to ride here either. When I drove out to Spokane,
I had no maps of Washington or Spokane, so I stopped at a visitor center in Coeur d’Alene along the
interstate. Turns out it was in a
shopping mall, and I was in spandex. Oh
well. Got really good maps, even
brochure listing good places to ride off road in WA and ID, all for free. The Hiawatha Rail Trail was one of them. I was looking for another place to ride while
in the area. Now I don’t normally think
much of rail trails, but this one was in the mountains, straddled two states,
required night riding lights for very long tunnels, and offered many side
trails. So on my way back from Spokane, I stopped here. After paying $8 trail fee, the ride starts
off by passing from MT to ID through 1.8 mile long tunnel. Although tunnel is perfectly level and
straight, in center it is totally black and you cannot see light from either
end. It is also very cold and very wet
with water dripping down everywhere.
Near the center (state line), TopoUSA tells me there is nearly 1000 feet
of rock overhead. After emerging in ID,
the ride becomes very scenic beginning 13 mile descent from the mountain pass
at 1.8% grade. Firm gravel surface made
for easy, fast descent. Eight more
tunnels, some requiring lights, and seven high steel trestles were
crossed. Coming back up, I must have
passed hundreds of riders. Very strange
to see all equipped with lights in bright daylight. I took forest service road good part of the
way back up to pass to get away from crowds, then took FS #506 up to Roland
Summit, a 1000 ft climb in 2 miles. No
singletrack, but one of the most unique rides I’ve been on.
St. Paul Pass,
8771 Foot Long Tunnel from MT to ID
Reflectors kept you
out of gutters which carried rushing water to entrances.
Valley View from
One of the Trestles
Looking Down at
Stream from Trestle
Trees are probably
>100’ tall. Made me queasy.
Follows MT/ID State
Line on Ridgeline at 5000 to 6000 Feet Elevation.
Hike: Glacier National Park, MT
Was able to get into Glacier
National Park on the
least smoky day of the trip. Wind
conditions were just right that there was no smoke being imported into the Flathead Valley from 100 miles away, and smoke
produced by the Robert and Beta/Dorris fires was not carried into the most
scenic areas of the park. I did drive by
the Robert fire on the Going to the Sun Road, however. No stopping allowed, so couldn’t get
pictures. You really can’t appreciate
how big a 46,000 acre fire is until you spend an hour driving along side one. Once heading up to Logan Pass,
I was amazed by the scenery here. Unlike
anything I’ve seen, and it has to rival sights in Yellowstone or Grand Canyon national parks. I parked at Logan Pass,
about 6600 feet elevation. I did some
hiking both sides of the road, on Garden Wall and Hidden Lake
trails. Lots of free roaming, almost
tame, mountain goats here. It was near
sunset when I parked, having ridden the Hiawatha trail earlier in the day.
Going to the Sun
Very tight, little
guardrail protection with shear drop-offs.
along the Garden Wall from Going to the Sun Road
Going to the Sun
Road 100-200 feet straight down from narrow hiking ledge.
narrowness of trail and cable to hold on to.
The wind blows with considerable force here, and I had to lean against
the rock to be steady enough to take photo.
along the Garden Wall Trail
Didn’t quite like
the way she was looking at me. The
young’n was nearby, and these things are quite big with sharp horns. Quite tolerant of tourists though.
The Robert Fire,
from Going to the Sun Road
On ride back down,
saw huge flare-ups of big trees going like blow torches. Would shoot a narrow column of flame 100-200
feet into air for several seconds, then tree would be spent. Was some of the most impressive natural
phenomena I’ve seen.
Parking Lot Looking East
Had to get a shot
of me framed by the pass.
Trail Looking Down from the Continental Divide Above Hidden Lake
Ride #1: Mt.
Marston, near Eureka, MT
Rode here on recommendation of the good folks at Glacier
Cyclery in Whitefish. Since my planned big ride in the Swan Range
was closed due to several new fire starts, I told Jan I was looking for a big
climb, some ridge riding above 7000 feet, and a nice singletrack descent. Mt Marston fit the bill perfectly. Nearly 4000 foot gain in 14.7 miles on gravel
forest service road, about 5 miles of mountain-top ridge riding, then a 5 mile
hold-on-and-pray descent. This was the
clearest day of my stay in MT, so the visibility here was maybe 50 miles. Could see plumes of smoke going up all over
and Canadian Rockies. Mt. Marston
is only about 15 miles from the Canadian border, and is one of the highest
peaks around at 7342 feet. The descent
offered several areas I considered “no-fall” zones, where the terrain was so
steep that if you slipped off the narrow ribbon of trail, you could easily
slide down slope and fall off a ledge.
From bottom, you can’t see a path down the face you descend, it’s that
steep. This ride is easily rated my
“capstone ride” for the trip.
area. Looked a lot like Mt. Washington
Road Up to Mt. Marston Summit
Followed stream in
valley bottom until last few miles.
Ranger lives up
here for whole season. Her dog really
wanted my Clifbar.
Towards the North
forest fire plum visible off my right shoulder.
maps never agree with these things.
It is way more
radiant turquoise than photo captures.
Some scary steep
stuff here. Views every way you looked
were just incredible.
Trail on Steep Descent
were impossibly steep for me to navigate.
Slope at steepest part of switchback had to be 100% (45 degrees). I couldn’t even walk on slope-side to take
this picture without using my hands. If
you started sliding, you might never stop.
Ride #2: Big Mountain Ski Area,
With visibility so good, I just had to swing by Big Mountain
on my way back to Kalispell. Was glad I
did. Could see everything I was missing
on my previous two visits. Could see all
the big peaks in Glacier NP, the Flathead
Valley, and the Swan Range
with Beta/Doris forest fire plum. Still
a little smoke around, but could see at least 20 miles, 10x better than most
prior days of my trip. Had just enough
in my legs to do the 7.6 mile, 2500 foot climb to the summit one last time for
the trip. Even with 5200 feet of
climbing in my legs, still managed to climb it in one hour flat in middle
ring. Hung around for a while up top
this time. Bought Cathy a T-shirt,
soaked in the views.
The Flathead Valley
Whitefish is at
base of mountain in foreground, Kalispell is at base of mountains off in
distance down Rt. 93 heading straight away.
Much of the valley was and still is ranch land.
The Swan Range
The plume of smoke
going up is from the Beta/Doris forest fire complex. My planned capstone ride for the trip was to
ride up Strawberry Mountain on the right side of image, ride the length of the
ridgeline shown in photo (about 20 miles), then come down Columbia Mountain
where the smoke is going up. Would have
been about a 45 mile ride, including road back to car. Unfortunately, a dry lightning storm moved up
the length of the range, starting over a dozen new fires on Tuesday evening. By Wednesday morning, the forest service had
closed the whole area to all use. Not a
big deal. Mt. Marston
to the north presented a similar challenge with similar views. At
last check, the fires on the back side of this range have consumed over
10,000 acres and threaten a hydroelectric dam.
Lone Pine State
My final ride of trip.
Smoke was back after a near perfect day on Monday. Went back to Lone Pine for a short, time-wise
safe ride before having to box up bike and head to airport. Hit some different bits of singletrack this
time. Small park, but just fine for
short ride right from town.
Despite heading out while still sick and riding
opportunities being limited by fire closures, the trip was as good as any of
the others I’ve been on such as Moab, Tucson, SoCal, and the Badlands. There’s a chance I might get out there again
(company business, of course), so what couldn’t be ridden this time will get
ridden next time. This happened in
SoCal. When I went out in November, the
entire Angeles National Forest was closed due to
extreme fire risk. When I went out again
in February on different company business, enough rain had fallen to allow
lifting of the closures. If I make it
out to Montana again in the summer, I hope to
hit trails in the Robert Fire closure area, the Swan Range,
and ride Going to the Sun Road, which is also closed to bicycles right now due
to close proximity of fires. I could
always XC and DH ski in the winter. So I
can now color in three more states on my US map of states where I’ve
mountain biked. This brings the total to
27 states, past the half-way mark of riding all 50 states.