Stuart Peak long held its spot at Number 4 on my “Day Hikes to Conquer” list. So, this past Saturday while several Missoulians cheered for the Griz to win, I packed up my dogs and headed into the Rattlesnake for what was to be an adventurous and rewarding journey.
To my surprise the trailhead was packed with cars at 8 a.m., but I did not see a soul until the descent. The trek to Stuart peak begins a half-mile off of the main Rattlesnake Trailhead and meanders along Spring Gulch for about three miles. The dogs were gallivanting around the woods and I was thinking this was the best Saturday morning activity I had done in awhile. Rain dripped from the leaves, creating a very mystical ambiance. The forest always seems somewhat magical when blanketed with fog and heavy with water.
After making my way up Spring Gulch, I followed the trail as it wound its way around a mountainside. I have been told that one can see a large portion of the Rattlesnake and Missoula, but the thick layer of clouds prohibited such views. Up, up, up, I went and continued to be enveloped in fog and rain. I will note here that the majestic, magical quality I mentioned before now took on a whole new meaning as I was pelted with hail brought over from the relentless eastern wind. Regardless of the changing weather conditions, I continued following my dogs, who were still having the times of their lives despite being soaking wet.
At last I reached the wilderness boundary, where hastily I took a photo and continued onward. I hiked for about two more miles until my spirits were tested. There is no direct path up to Stuart Peak, so navigating up the side of the mountain is something you should know you are going to do before beginning. I slowly conquered the steep climb up to the peak and was blown away by the vie--or lack thereof, in this case. On a cloudless day, Stuart Peak affords a hiker the view of the adjacent peaks and the Missoula valley, but on a day such as this, it looks like you are the only person left in the world. As far as I could see there was nothing but clouds. Twenty feet below the peak, clouds crept in and covered everything. While seeing the landscape would have been breathtaking, being atop a landscape of clouds was breathtaking in its own right.
Overall, I am overjoyed to have made the 18-mile hike to Stuart Peak and back. I began my trek at 8 a.m. and was back in Missoula by 3. Yet, I am none too eager to cross Stuart Peak off my list--instead I am moving it to Number 9 and saving it for a cloudless, sunny day in the future.