July 20, 2014

A smoky run up Stuart Peak

My feet atop Stuart Peak

Wildfire smoke filling the valley last week didn't deter a friend and I from getting out on a long run Saturday morning - in fact, an early start provided a short, clear window on our way up 7,971-foot Stuart Peak in the Rattlesnake Wilderness.

Looking up from the main Rattlesnake National Recreation Area trailhead we could see blue sky, but on the way down summer's heat and smoke from out-of-state fires set in.

We started out somewhat early following the main trail, Trail 515, north for 2/3 of a mile. From there, we followed the shadier Trail 517.1 up the east side of Spring Creek for about 1 2/3 miles, then crossed over to Trail 517 on the west side and continued. After the Wallman Trail veered off at about 3 miles, the trail began a steep section, reaching at junction with Trail 24.1 from the west at about 4 1/4 miles.

Rattlesnake Wilderness sign on the Stuart Peak trail

From the junction, we continued northeast on 517 up a couple of long stretches and a couple of series of switchbacks, the forest thinning and beargrass increasingly blooming as we rose. At 7 3/4 miles we reached the top of the switchbacks and the Rattlesnake Wilderness boundary. From there, we continued 1 1/4 miles on a flat to slightly uphill stretch to an overlook of Twin Lakes.

The final stretch followed a steep, rough trail along the ridgline to the southeast from Trail 517 about 1/2 mile to Stuart Peak, bringing our elevation gain to more than 4,200 feet. Most days, you can see south to Missoula and the Bitterroot Mountains or north across the wilderness to the Mission and Swan ranges. With the smoke however, we could see only the lakes below and other mountains in the immediate area.

Smoke and sun on my run up Stuart Peak

After stopping at the top for some photos and to eat, we backtracked to the trailhead, finding it hotter and smokier than when we left about 4 hours and 15 minutes earlier.