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The Rattlesnake and Stuart Peak

August 20, 2010

First, kudos to my entomologist friend Mark M, who informed me that what I probably ran into yesterday on Ch-paa-qn was a “reproductive swarm of flying ants.”  Or, as I prefer to call it, a “flying ant orgy.”

Missoula is surrounded on all sides by incredible scenes of nature, and in the last few days I’ve traipsed up Mt. Sentinel (south/southeast side above the university), up most of Lolo Peak (Southwest of town), Ch-paa-qn (flying ant orgy on the northwest side), and today, I traipsed to the most prominent peak northeast of Missoula, Stuart Peak.

Stuart is close to Missoula, but also not very close.  It is nestled in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, a splendid 28,000 acres named, possibly, after another Salish word, Heh-oo-leh-wh, which means Rattlesnake.  The irony here is that there are virtually no rattlesnakes in Montana, and of all the flora and fauna to worry about in Montana, poisonous snakes are all the way at the bottom – Montana has virtually none.  Worry about bison, bears, mountain lions, moose and clumsy mountain goats more – all are more likely to injure you.

Like all hiking areas close to Missoula, there are tons of parking spaces and free maps available at the trailhead; and narry a piece of trash to be found anywhere. Seriously.  I’ve been on the lookout for trash to pack out of national forests and wilderness here in Montana for the past week, and I haven’t seen a single piece of trash.  There are lots and lots of signs to read though!

And then, more signs and lots of stuff to read!

And then, trout lessons!

Wacky,huh?  Any rate, the first couple of miles of trail to Stuart Peak are very tame, rising maybe a hundred feet per mile as you work your way towards the headwall of Spring Creek.  Being the first on the trail (as always) it was my duty to run through the taller grassy parts first and get all the dew on my legs instead.

With the aid of the map, the trail is very easy to follow, and wanders through huge fields of thistle, mustardseed and pine – a very aromatic hike!  After three miles or so, though, the trail begins to climb, and does so at a fairly relentless pace until hitting a large series of switchbacks, where the trail levels off a bit, trading distance for steepness. There were some signs that there was something else I should be worried about:

Ayup.  The Rattlesnake has bears, and upon topping out at the top of the first cliff, I hear something I never want to hear:  snuffling.  I call out, and eventually hear the bear start to move away, briefly catching sight of it down the hill.  Just a black bear,but still.

After eight miles of steady climbing without many views, you finally crest out at the top of the Spring Creek drainage and enter the actual forest boundary. From here, you can finally get your first view of Stuart Peak to the north.  Now, both of my books that cover this hike indicate that it’s a scramble to the top, so I head straight up the west face, which looks like this:

That is looking about as level as possible – definitely not the worst terrain to scramble, but it still takes me a good twenty minutes to climb the four hundred vertical feet or so to the summit.  No flying ant orgies up here, and I have this view all to myself for the next hour:

That is looking almost due north, and features four nifty lakes with crystal clear water.  Back slightly to the east are even more lakes:

Oh,and the north face drops off fairly quickly.  If you are my mother, you are not to look at the following photo.


The view to the north in general is just amazing, with the rest of the Rattlesnake, the Salish Mountains,the Missions, the Swans and, just barely, peaks in the Bob Marshall Wilderness visible.  Back to the southwest, trees generally block the view to Missoula, but you can see the entire city at once:

The trip back was anticlimactic; despite the 20 mile distance, I feel I should have done the six mile roundtrip to Mosquito Peak to the north.  Ah well, as my friend Kath said, I don’t have to climb all the peaks at once!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kath permalink
    August 26, 2010 2:20 am

    Ummm…you can’t say that there aren’t rattlesnakes in Montana….Eastern Montana is CRAZY with the things and I’m pretty sure in the dry drainages of western montana you’ll find them as well. Lots of rock+dry environment = rattlers. 🙂

    • samplingerror permalink*
      August 26, 2010 3:02 am

      Just trying to give me mum some peaceful thoughts. 😉

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