A Montana Mile

Riding high-alpine singletrack. 

By the time summer gets around to the 45th parallel, avid mountain bikers are looking to tick off a few big, definitive rides before the snow starts flying againDefinitive, in our circle, equals a full-day outing with lots of mileage and vertical relief. The climb(s) must be sustained, nearly anaerobic lung-busters, and yet just barely do-able. The switchbacks should be tight, yet ride-able without a dab. Not seeing another soul (outside of your carefully chosen posse) accentuates the remote, must-be-self-reliant space we seek. Add an element of primal fear, like the possibility of encountering a large toothed, sharp-clawed predator, and the allure bumps higher still. Finally, the singletrack must be narrow and buttery. We’re not talking trammeled double-track; we’re talking artfully engineered, sustainably built, serpentine trail that flows with the natural landscape. In short, Mile Creek.

Located just north of Raynolds Pass in the Henry Mountains, near the Montana-Idaho border, Mile Creek begins in a lonely grass parking lot at 6,800 feet. Built in 1995 by artisan trail-builder Terry Johnson, this section of the iconic Continental Divide Trail heads for a notch in the mountains where the serious ascent begins. Switchback after switchback—50+ in all—winds you upward from the muffled roar of the creek bottom (“here bear, coming through Mr. Bear!”) to an eventual alpine plateau where the altimeter strikes 10 grand. Granted, the ride up is taxing and not for everyone. But the views and the wild, head-clearing alone-ness make it worth it for some of us. Oh, and the ride down is pretty sweet, too.