Day 1 … Grizzly Gulch … Riding with Evan
This entry is called Grizzly Gulch, as the trails we rode hugged the sides of the gulch just south of Helena.
Before I got on the plane headed for Helena I was given an itinerary (By Patrick Doyle – Bike Helena) which listed each day of my stay … and a local rider who would be my mountain biking guide. I was glad to have local riders take me out into Helena’s South Hills, but the specific names on the list were mystery faces to me.
First on the list … Evan Harmon.
Within an hour of landing at Helena’s Airport I was already helping down at Vigilante Bike Park by shoveling dirt to build a berm. While most of us didn’t really know what needed to be done, a guy named Will took charge and explained the project. I listened to Will as he sounded like he knew what he was talking about. I also listened while he was telling one of the other guys that his son was racing Cat 1, and had done pretty well racing in Idaho the previous weekend. I halfway paid attention to the details until I heard one of them mention the name Evan. Then I began to think … where had I just read that name?
Length: 11.81 miles
Evan … Evan … Evan … was that the guy I was supposed to ride with tomorrow? A Cat 1 racer? Could that possibly be true? My suspicions were confirmed when Pat Doyle later told me I would be riding with Will’s son on Tuesday (the following day).
Patrick Doyle had given me Evan’s phone number so I could set up the time of the ride on Tuesday, Evan’s day off from work. I did not want to call him too soon as some people like to sleep in on their day off, especially young people … and I also didn’t know when The Garage, a local bike shop, would have my bike ready to ride (I had shipped it to them and they were supposed to put it back together for riding).
I finally decided to call Evan at 9:00 the next morning and tell him the bike shop didn’t open until 10:00 and I would call him as soon as I got my bike and could make plans for the rest of the day. Patrick Doyle and I met for coffee at 9:00 and then Patrick suggested we walk around the city for about an hour and that is exactly what we did. Patrick gave me a geographical and historical tour of Helena, and then we went down to the Garage and picked up my bike.
I finally got to meet Evan in my hotel parking lot (Holiday Inn) at 12:30. Seeing how young Evan looked and knowing he was a Cat 1 racer gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach … was I going to be Evan’s anchor for the day?
Grizzly Gulch … Interactive Map.
- The blue balloon marks the location of the Holiday Inn (my hotel).
- The blue “P” marks the Trailhead.
Have you done some rides in Grizzly Gulch? What did you think of it? How about sharing your thoughts on our Visitor Stories page?
I told him right away how much I appreciated him sharing his day off with a stranger and how I hoped he wouldn’t have to wait too much for me. He said he was happy to be going out riding with me, and he wouldn’t mind waiting, if he had to. He also mentioned he was not the greatest climber and I might have to wait for him at the top of some trails. I told him that I was a pretty good climber but have had a lot of trouble with high elevations. When he didn’t say anything I kind of figured he was thinking Helena was not at a high elevation so I explained, “I live at 260 feet and Helena was a lot higher,” (later checking showed it at 4,068 feet) “so I wouldn’t be so sure I will be going up those hills faster than you.”
Evan’s Favorite Trail
He asked me where I wanted to go and I told him I wanted to try his favorite trails in the area. He said the best trail was called Show Me the Horse and that most the locals just called it Horse. We would have to ride up Grizzly Gulch Road a bit before we got onto a trail and I said, “Lead the way.” Riding side by side up the Grizzly Gulch Road allowed me to find out more about Evan. He works at a bike shop in town and liked to travel during the winter. He also had spent some time the previous summer in Indonesia.
We rode up Grizzly Gulch Road, passing by some kind of large fireplaces.
We both thought the structures were a part of one of the many mining operations in the area. But later I learned they were lime kilns … used in making cement).
About a mile up Grizzly Gulch Road Evan guided me into the Dump Gulch Trailhead. From there we climbed up a part of the McKelvey Trail and then all of the South Dump Gulch Trail. Evan told me to look out for glass … this area really was used as a dump in the past. Riding both trails required climbing out of Grizzly Gulch, and sure enough, Evan seemed to glide right up while I struggled with breathing and leg cramping.
But there was one stretch (near the top of the Dump Trail) even Evan couldn’t clean. Of course I didn’t ride it all the way either … but I did make most of it.
South Dump Gulch Trail eventually ends when it hits the Mount Helena Ridge Trail (or just Ridge Trail) in a large flat area. Riding up the Ridge Trail was mostly floating along through fields of gently swaying golden grass. We did have a few steep climbs and passed through a couple of wooded sections before coming to the sign for, “Show Me the Horse.” When I arrived at the sign Evan said, “There it is.” I took a photo of the sign, we lowered out seats, softened out shocks, and away we went.
Evan was waiting for me just before the Horse got a lot steeper and then disappeared into a ravine, cloaked in a thick forest. He warned me about a few things, made sure I was doing alright, then attacked the downhill, pedaling hard even when the grade was steep … and disappeared into the trees.
Show Me the Horse ends in a thick forest as it dumps onto Grizzly Gulch Road. Evan said he has seen bikers shoot right across the road without checking for traffic. He also said he thought Show Me the Horse was his favorite run, but he wished it was longer. I told him I thought it was great, and if he ever got the chance to ride the Plunge Trail (southern Sierra Nevada) he could do about 25 miles of that same kind of riding.
Next, we rode down (north) the Grizzly Gulch Road less than a mile and turned right onto Wakina Sky Road. Evan told me his second favorite ride involved riding up past a couple of houses into undeveloped areas. I told him we do that all the time in southern California.
But instead of riding all the way up the road he suggested we use a trail that parallels the road, called the Wakina Sky Trail. I am usually all for getting off a road and getting onto a singletrack. On this singletrack we climbed about 400 feet to get to the top of Highway to Hell, Evan’s second favorite trail. He had to wait for me, of course, as I was the slow climber again.
Highway to Hell
Before starting the run, Evan previewed the trail we would be biking to explain any tricky sections or bigger drops. He told of some rocky sections, and how there were some pretty bad trenches, but mostly about a pair of one-foot drops that occur one right after another.
Below you will find a short video of Evan rolling over a rocky section of Highway to Hell.
To view all my videos go to my YouTube channel at MountainBikeDiaries.
For the most part Highway to Hell is very straight and very fast. I could see why there were such deep grooves. Since the trail runs straight down the mountain in many areas then that is also the way the water flows when rain or melting snow occur. And, since the trail runs straight down the mountain many people drag their rear wheel to maintain a comfortable speed.
Shooting off the end of the Highway to Hell put us right back onto the Grizzly Gulch Road … so we just coasted back to town. Before parting Evan invited me on a 6:00 group ride that evening with the Garage, a bike shop just a few blocks from my hotel. I told him I would think about it, but ended up doing a little of my own exploring on Mount Helena instead.
The following information was collected by my Garmin 800 Edge … taking readings every second. Feel free to upload the track to your GPS unit by clicking the View Details at the bottom and then Export in the top menu bar.
As I lay on my bed that night I thought of how lucky I was to be riding the wonderful trails to the south of Helena and how I was even more fortunate to share the experience with a nice young man like Evan. He took me up Grizzly Gulch and shared his favorites … a perfect start to my stay in Helena.
Where To Go From Here
Day 1 … Grizzly Gulch.
Select Day 2 … Timmy as My Guide for another ride in the Helena area.
Select Day 3 … Mount Helena Ridge to see the signature trail in this area.
Select Day 4 … South Hills Adventure to read of an incredible journey in the South Hills.
Select Helena Mountain Biking for an overview of rides in this area.