Alpine experience biking along the Swan Crest

It’d be disingenuous to describe Alpine Trail No. 7 as a great mountain bike ride. Because let’s be honest, for most weekend warriors like myself, biking across the rugged Swan Mountain crest involves equally as much pushing of the bike as it involves actual pedaling.
Alpine No. 7 weaves and bobs along the open terrain of the Swans from Columbia Mountain in the north to Inspiration Point in the south. A multi-use trail, it’s open to hiking, biking and even motorcycle adventures.
My Canadian friend Justin McKeown invited me to ride a section of the trail last weekend that’s touted as one of the most beautiful mountain biking routes in the country. Starting at Napa Lookout and finishing with a long descent on the Wire Trail to Swan Lake, we would travel about 25 miles with 5,000 feet of vertical up and 8,500 feet down. Nearly all of it above treeline.
“It’s not really a trail you ride for fun,” McKeown said in convincing me to join him on the journey. “It’s more about the experience.”
I met McKeown in Bigfork at the crack of 10 a.m. to start the car shuttle required for this point-to-point ride. Two hours and a few wrong turns later we were saddled up for the ride. We both packed bear spray, plenty of food and water, a rain jacket, headlamps and a full repair kit. There’s no easy way to bail on this ride and the chance of running into another human is limited. In fact, we saw as many bear cubs (two) as people the entire day.
From the first mile to the last, the route proved to be a physical challenge. While some of the climbs are gentle enough to pedal up in a granny gear, many are steep hike-a-bikes. TrailForks grades the ride as a black diamond with an “extreme” physical rating.
Even the down is bruising. The final 9-mile descent of the Wire Trail will have your rotors smoking and forearms pumped.
Still, there’s plenty of rewards for all that sweat in the way of views, lakes, wildflowers and fun terrain.
A highlight of the route comes in the alpine section from 7,900-foot Thunderbolt Mountain to Crevice Lakes. Views are offered toward the peaks of Glacier, the Bob Marshall and down on the Swan Valley.
Not out to break any speed records, we stopped often to refuel and snap photos.
For a final tally, each of us went over the handlebars once and only one flat tire had to be fixed — not bad. Seven hours later we made it back to the pickup before dusk, exhausted but psyched to have experienced a slice of Alpine No. 7.
For more information visit www.trailforks.com/route/napa-to-wire-alpine-7-route/

A sign marking Alpine Trail No. 7 in the Swan Mountains.

A sign marking Alpine Trail No. 7 in the Swan Mountains.

Justin McKeown rides along a ridgetop in the Swan Mountains following Alpine Trail No. 7 north from Little Napa Lookout.

Justin McKeown rides along a ridgetop in the Swan Mountains following Alpine Trail No. 7 north from Little Napa Lookout.

A natural spring offers a chance to refill water bottles along Alpine Trail No. 7 in the Swan Mountains.

A natural spring offers a chance to refill water bottles along Alpine Trail No. 7 in the Swan Mountains.

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