Last week I made it to the summit of Stuart Peak after getting skunked on the mountain the previous two attempts -- once when I came across distressingly fresh grizzly tracks and once when I simply ran out of daylight. Stuart is not the biggest mountain around but is visible from the entire Missoula Valley and is a 16-mile trek. The trail to the summit starts in a leafy neighborhood, is flat for 3 miles, straight up for 3 more, and annoyingly flat for the last 2.
(Snowghosts on Stuart, Dec. 3, 2010)
This time, I was up at 4, hit the snooze a few times (LAZY!), had two espressos, and made it to the trailhead by 6. I hiked for 2 hours by headlamp then enjoyed full sunlight -- and cold temperatures -- the rest of the way. I made it to the summit just before 2 and was back at the car by 4.
The summit ski was made easier this time both due to the predawn start and the snowpack down low. When I attemped the summit last year on Christmas Day the bottom 3 miles of trail had less than a half foot of snow, and even halfway up the mountain there was barely enough snow to turn. This year the trail had perfect coverage the entire way, and the summit had more than 5 feet.
(From the summit, north into the Rattelsnake and Mission.)
The difference? Last year was one of the strongest El Ninos on record, which left Montana high and dry and Montgomery nearly as snowy as Missoula. This year is one of the stronger La Ninas on record; it started snowing the first week of November, things picked up with a Thanksgiving week blizzard, then the temperature went to minus 12, and things have not really let up since.
There's been more good skiing already this year.
Looking down 3,500 vertical on Sheep Mountain on Saturday after a delightful predawn start.
On Thanksgiving Day, Paul Smotherman and I found some surprisingly nice turns on Lolo Pass, that old standby.
Two days later Laura and I made a very important stop here:
(The new Florence Coffee on Brooks.)
Which helped us get here:
(Madison River, Yellowstone National Park.)
More to come!