Riding at Growlers
Riding at Growlers
Growlers Gulch is a network of trails that have developed over the last 15 years or so. I don't have a lot of background on the development other than to say that the most prominent individual and primary supporter, the go-to-guy, is Jim LeMonds.
Jim, or Jeep as many of his close friends call him, co-ordinates the activities at Growlers. He is the Board of Director. He organizes five events over the course of the year and also organizes work parties.
Jim and his brother, Dave, along with other Growlers regulars, establish new trail lines and work on the trails throughout the year. Jim keeps everyone informed of the work parties and who is riding when and where, through an e-mail list and his website:http://writeteknorthwest.com
The trails at Growlers cover the full spectrum from beginner to advanced, although the beginner level trails are much smaller in number. Most trails in the area I will be referring to as the "lower section" are intermediate trails.
Most of the trails in the upper area are intermediate to advanced. I don't know how many miles of trails there are, but I have been told the estimate is in the 35-mile range. I recently saw a list of all the trail names
and there are 42 trails in all.
This is a great skill development area. In addition to being a lot of fun, riding at Growlers will build a foundation for handling most any trail.
The first thing to know for someone who has never ridden there is how and when. To find Growlers, go to Google Maps, or some other mapping application, and search for Growlers Gulch, Castle Rock, Washington.
On any Saturday between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. follow the directions and drive to the end of Growlers Gulch Road (the speed limit is 30 mph here). Parking at the end of the road has been provided by one of the neighbors and blocking his driveway would be very rude and result in lifetime banishment.
There will be someone there, or soon will be, getting ready to take off on a ride. I have never met anyone at Growlers that was not willing to show newbies around, on at least some of the lower trails. If, for some unimaginable reason there is no one there, the lower trails are very easy to find.
Be forewarned about what they refer to as "Growlers Time." When these guys say they are riding at 9:00, they mean it. They expect people to have their riding clothes on, bikes assembled, tires aired, and packs ready.
To get hooked up with a guide or group, contact Jim
If you are an advanced rider, you might want to contact Jim. He has the skill set and knowledge to take on any of the trails. Jim just turned 60 this last year. He is now a sexagenarian, but don't let that fool you. For his birthday he decided to ride 60 miles of epic trails in a single day.
Jim and his riding buddies started before sunrise with 15.5 miles and 2,800 feet of climbing on the Ape Canyon trail.
Then they went over to the Blue Lake trail head and did a route that took in the Toutle Trail, through Red Rock Pass. The crew rode on past McBride Lake and down the Kalama River section of trail, to put on another 8.8 miles with 750 feet of climbing.
Next stop was the Lewis River Trail where Jim added another 22.2 miles and 2,200 feet of climbing by doing this section as an out-and-back from Curly Creek to the Lower Falls.
The final leg of this extraordinary epic was Falls Creek Trail. Starting at Old Man Pass, Jim and his crew rode another 17.1 miles and climbed yet another 1,200 feet to rack up an unprecedented 63.6 miles and 7,000 feet of climbing in a single day.
If you are an experienced mountain biker who is familiar with these places, you know that any of these epic trails would have been a full day excursion for most riders.
60@Sixty (full details)
, read the account of the ride in Jim's own words.
You can also view a video from the ride day at writeteknorthwest.com...60-sixty-video
The Growlers Gulch lower trails area has two main gravel roads. The 9312 heads up from the gate and runs east to west. When you reach an intersection, you will see the 9319 on the left running north to south. All of the trails in the lower section eventually lead back to these roads. That being said, a lot of the trails junction with others and it is easy to ride for 30 minutes to an hour before finding your way back to the main road.
It's also easy to get turned around and when you do find the road and not know which way to go. My first time riding here was on a group ride called the Tour de Gulch
, and I was so turned around that every time we crossed the road I thought it was a different road.
Lift your bike over the yellow gate and ride up the gravel road until it crosses beneath the power lines. As soon as the road enters the woods, keep an eye open on the left side (south) of the road for a trail intersection (the trail really starts at the power line but this is an easier place to pick it up). This trail is called Predator
and it parallels the road along here. This a great beginner trail with lots of short up and down sections with no real obstacles other than roots and mud. I love starting on this trail as a warm-up and have found after riding it a few times that I can handle it in a single mid-range gear. There is about a half-mile of trail to a junction that turns up hill to the right and back to the road.
Continuing on a few hundred feet down Predator, the trail takes a sharp left. This is a junction and can easily be missed. The fork on the right is No Problem
, a trail that was developed as a skill-builder. No Problem has 8 to 10 log piles (or log overs) to ride over. The trail is very short and ends just a short distance from the end of Predator.
The best way to ride it is to stay hard-left. Predator continues downhill to the left and heads further into the woods. You go about a half-mile before starting a moderate climb next to a seasonal creek. Continue to another junction, a hundred feet or so from the road. On the left is a trail called Cousin Eddie
Cousin Eddie twists and turns, heading generally east, back down toward the seasonal creek but on the other (south) side. This is a fun trail that runs at a moderate grade down through the woods, eventually turning back then heading up the hillside. After making the climb up and traversing across the hill side the trail drops very sharply for about 10 feet. This is one very sharp down slope that seems to get more than its share of new riders going over the handle bars. The trail crews have been working on this section and have put a nice banked corner at the bottom. Just get off the saddle and get your center of gravity back over the rear tire. Jim has just recently put in a new feature that is a split log crossing over a couple of downed trees. Finally this trail exits out on to the road. If you want to test yourself, ride Eddie for time. At the 2009 Growlers Gulch Time Trial, winner Al Hansen covered it in an incredible 6:29.
All three trails - Predator, No Problem, and Cousin Eddie - exit onto the 9319 road within a couple of hundred feet of each other. Just before the exit of Cousin Eddie is another skills area called Mr. Rogers
. Mr. Rogers runs parallel to the road and contains lots of challenging features.
Just across the road is a flat area with a log ride in the center of it. This is kind of a meeting area. There are a couple of trails here that are good for beginners. Beauty
both run up and down the hill, one inside of the other. They are good short trails that are a lot of fun for newbies, with a couple of short log rides and some stumps and logs to ride over.
At the top of this hill, check the line left that runs next to the road. This is a downhill section called the Slalom
. It has big banked corners, a few tabletops, and some rollers. I have ridden this a few times down to a short spur road. The Mini DH
extends across the road and continues on down the hill but I have never ridden it all the way out.
There are two other trails down here next to the mini downhill. One on the left side of it, still close to the road, is a portion of the Trail of Tears
. I am not sure why it is called Trail of Tears. I have only ridden it once and loved it, but the regulars tell me that if you ride the entire thing as an out-and-back it is a great interval workout. It junctions with a connector trail that crosses the mini downhill and connects to Frosty Balls
. The connector trail has some short steep slopes on it.
From the top of the Beauty and Belly hill, heading away from the road, is another connector trail that also comes down to Frosty Balls. It has been named Shooter
. It also contains some very steep slopes coming down.
Finally, the Frosty Balls trail starts out with some challenging terrain, dips and rollers to keep you on your feet. Then it runs into an old skidder road that parallels an abandoned spur road that came off the 9319. Ride it until it does a right hand switch back then just keep turning left. This trail ends in the flat at the bottom of Beauty and Belly.
In front of this area, the main road, the abandoned spur road and a skidder road all converge. Down the skidder road about 20 feet to the north is a short connector trail called Walk in the Park
. This is a very good beginner level trail and takes riders up (north) to emerge on the 9312, just past the big intersection with the 9319 that leads to the south.
On the north side of the road and directly across from Walk in the Park is the start of the Road Trails
. Note that there is also a return trail called Mr. T
that parallels the spur road and runs on the opposite side of the road from Predator heading back (right/east) toward the parking area. Mr. T is a fun trail that has some spots that are just a little more technical.
The first of the road trails has a couple of nice rollers, runs along through the woods and drops down into a deep swale. The short ascent here is narrow and runs across a sidehill, followed by a short stiff climb. I have only lost it once on the climb, wet muddy conditions where my back tire spun out on a root. Once the crest is gained, there is an out to the road or the trail continues on paralleling the road. The reason I mention the out is because across the road is another trail called Carnage
that leads to the Creek Trail system.
There is also a trail line to the right at the top of the crest. This is the start of Alley Oop
, which loops right back onto the Road Trails. Beginners will probably have a tough time here. The down is fast and very steep in one section, and the climb back out will make your quads talk.
Continuing on down the Road Trails, bumping over a couple of small logs, the trail rolls a ways and hits another grope of mounds (5) that are sandwiched between some trees, then ends as it rounds a bend along the edge of a gully and affords another out. There is another trail that junctions here along with the end and start of two road trails.
In fact there are a number of other trails I have not mentioned because they are advanced trails. Big Wow
are both trails that drop off along here and have steep, intense descents. An old quad line called the Ridge Trail
is clearly visible. Big Wow parallels it to the right (east) and Rush to the left (west). The Ridge Trail can be used for the climb out. The Big Wow and Rush are not advised for beginners, especially when conditions are slick. Big Wow and Rush both head north and are used to access the Secret Garden
All the road trails run very close to the 9312, always right on the ridge above the road. If a trail starts going down over the back side of the ridge, it is not one of the road trails and will require a higher skill level. Besides, finding a return trail without a guide could be challenging. There are a couple of more road trails, each having their own unique features but all very similar. The road trails are best ridden from east to west, with the 9312 road on the left side of the rider.
Back at the end of the first road trail I had commented that there was a trail head on the other (south) side of the road. This is the beginning the of Creek Trail system, which consists of four lines that run pretty much parallel to each other and the 9312 road.
The first trail, Carnage
, starts a few feet down the skidder road that runs westward away from the main road.
Carnage is best ridden from east to west, same as the road trails. The trail has a couple of challenges. The profile could be described as rolling, twisting, and braking followed by quick down-shifting and rapid climbing. Carnage serves up some hard turns before and after sharp descents, some very challenging log-overs, and a 20 -foot canoe log that requires some skill to dismount.
The end of the trail does not kick you out at the road but instead junctions with other trails. To return to the 9312 road, turn right and go uphill.
Just before the end of Carnage is a left turn to Piece
, which heads back to the east and roams through a great section of timber and will be lost soon. Piece can be ridden in the mid-gear range with lots of rolling, twisting and short bursts. There is one very short climb where the trail goes between a tree and a stump that I have never been able to clear. When you reach the back end, there is a small bridge that crosses a tiny ravine, about 8 feet wide and maybe 5 feet deep.
I was riding with a friend that was new to mountain biking and I had stopped here to tell him he should walk across the bridge, I turned away to look up the trail and when I looked back around he had disappeared. Instead of walking his bike, he had straddled it and about the time he hit the middle of the bridge, his foot slipped and he tumbled into the ravine. He was not hurt, just a little shaken. Since then I have had other people tell me they do not walk the bridge because it gets slimy; they just shoot across on their bike. This is one of my favorites of this flat rolling style of trail.
Once you cross the bridge, the trail is known as Pound
. It runs slightly up hill back to the west. Pound has some small logs and one good sized over and will give you a good workout.
Take a left when you hit the junction of Carnage, Piece and Pound and you will roll onto is the Creek Trail
. This is another great run through a beautiful forest with an incredible number of ferns. The trail parallels the Monahan Creek and has a couple of tributary creek crossings. It is mostly smooth and flowing. Toward the end of the trail there are a couple of small climbs. The trail ends with a short walk up some benched side hill trail and a third-mile or so ride up a cat road called the Jeep Trail
back to the main road, just east of the entrance to the Carnage trail.
That covers the Lower Trails. There is an extensive upper trail system to the west that has plenty of challenging trails for intermediate and advanced riders.
There is also a significant amount of trail to the north in the Secret Garden area. These lines are also best suited to intermediate and advanced rider.
The best way to ride both of these areas is with a guide.