Stuart Peak is the second highest point visible from the Missoula Valley and a long hike by any measure. The main way up the peak is from the main Rattlesnake Canyon trailhead: start early, bring a jacket, and pack a lunch. Trail maps at the start of the hike will help you figure out the braid of trails that carpets lower reaches of the canyon, and the most direct route up the peak is well-signed as well. Though total length depends on which route you choose, you're generally looking at 18 miles round trip. The summit is within the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area, but bikes can be taken to within about 1.5 miles of the summit then stashed. The peak can also be skied, though the descent is generally not as nice as you might think as the summit proper is either relatively flat and heavily treed or terrifyingly steep.
Now this is rare -- I've got free tickets to Snowbowl and the avalanche danger is low. I pick up Kevin at a leisurely hour and 25 minutes later we pull into the Snowbowl parking lot. I snag my free tickets and we take the Grizzly chair up, traverse a bit, and load on to the LaValle chair. From the top of LaVelle, it's a short schuss to the ski area boundary, where we gear up and start climbing. You can easily go around Point Six and save yourself a bit of effort, but the top has a great view of both the Rattlesnake Mountains and the Missoula Valley. Actually, it's not just those two you see, but on a clear day everything from the Great Burn to the Anaconda-Pintlars to the Swans and of course the Mission. This peak bristles with radio equipment and the National Weather Service's dopler radar -- which some brilliant person dubbed the Death Star. We ski off the north face, into the wilderness.
In the winter, it's easy enough to get here -- buy a lift ticket at Snowbowl, ride to the top, skin up Point Six, then descend and begin to poke along the ridge toward Murphy. Murphy Peak has some exciting terrain, but it's steep; the main runs on Burgundy -- the north-south ridge connecting Point Six to Murphy -- has more moderate terrain. Come spring, however, Snowbowl closes, and to get to this gem you first have to climb the entirety of Snowbowl -- about a two-hour effort -- then launch on to Point Six and points north. To me, that makes the destination more special, and certainly less crowded. I made it back there on Sunday after a day of spring storms. By chance I ran into two friends on the way up, but they turned back before Point Six. I found an inch of sloppy spring snow on a firm base, made two runs, had a short lunch in the stout wind, and headed for home.