Oct 23

Outdoors: with the Montana Dirt Girls and Rocky Mountaineers

by Diane Cochran

Julie Huck grew up with five brothers, and she has never hesitated to play sports or recreate with the opposite sex.

But a lot of women do, and that’s why, a few years ago, Huck helped launch a women-only mountain biking and hiking group in Missoula.

“It’s non-competitive,” Huck said of the Montana Dirt Girls. “If someone needs help, it’s no big deal. It’s just a comfortable environment.”

The Montana Dirt girls are one of several Missoula groups that focus on outdoors activities. Another club, called the Rocky Mountaineers, formed more than 50 years ago and maintains a cabin for public use.

“We try to incorporate all types of non-motorized adventure sports,” said Rocky Mountaineer Steve Niday. That includes rafting, hiking, skiing, climbing and cycling.

Members of the Thursday Night Ride group, which started as a cycling group but recently added winter hiking, range in age from late 20s to early 70s.

“A lot of us have become good friends,” said member Ed Stalling. “It’s a network. Everyone’s really different, but it’s the love of mountain-biking that brings all of us together.”

The Montana Dirt Girls is open to women of all ages and abilities and meets on Tuesday nights year-round.  In the spring and summer, members bike for 8 to 10 miles on trails in and around Missoula. In the fall and winter, they night-hike for two hours.

Each ride or hike typically splits into two groups based on ability, and women don’t have to commit to an entire outing. Potential members often want to know in advance if they will be able to keep up with the others, but Huck said the best way to find out is to try it.

“You don’t have to do the whole thing,” she said. “We have a lot of people come for the first hour and then head back.”

Thursday Night Riders get out their mountain bikes when the snow melts, and that’s the best time to join the group if a person is not an experienced rider, according to Stalling. As the spring and summer progress, members’ skill and endurance increase.

“We start out pretty easy,” Stalling said. “But if you join in July, you need to be in good shape.”

Members ride for three or three-and-a-half hours and then head to The Bridge restaurant, which they call their clubhouse, for pizza and beer. In winter, they hike or ski by headlamp.

The Rocky Mountaineers formed in 1960 as a hiking and climbing group that put out a newsletter to inform other outdoorsy types of places to go. Now its longtime members are a repository of information about recreation opportunities in Western Montana.

“We’re a great resource,” Niday said. “That’s the good thing about us being old is we know the area.”

The group hosts speakers on outdoors topics on Tuesday nights during fall and winter at The Trailhead outdoors store. Members also organize outings through an e-mail network and put on the Glacier Classic, an annual weekend of events in the Glacier National Park in August.

The Rocky Mountaineers’ cabin is in the Bitterroot Mountains. It’s rustic – no running water or electricity – but there is a woodstove and room for 12 people to sleep. The group hosts a maintenance trip to the cabin every fall, and then opens it to the public for the winter.


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