On March 29th I finally knocked Stark Mountain (7339’) off the bucket list. If you’ve ever wanted to ski Stark, NOW is the time to go! I drove up Nemote Creek Rd (FR454) from Tarkio, about 35 miles west of Missoula. Signs say the lookout is 15 miles from the turn onto Nemote, and junctions are well-signed the entire way. I was able to drive within 1.3 miles of the locked gate, and only hiked gravel for a couple hundred yards and was able to skin and ski the rest of the way. The road is melting out fast, however, so if you want to do it on skis, do it now!
From the summit, I could see the Mission Mountains in their full winter splendor, the Rattlesnake, downtown Missoula and the M, the Bitterroot Mountains, and the Bitterroot range along the stateline. The east face of Stark is far more formidable than it looks from Missoula, and due to avalanche danger, poor snow conditions, being solo, and the late hour, I left slaying that bowl for another day. You can ski off of every aspect of the summit however, and the approach route is shallow enough there is no avalanche danger. The snow was pretty sloppy when I got to the trailhead in the afternoon, but firmed up sufficiently for quick egress all the way back to the car! There’s only a couple of very short flat spots in the road, but if you keep your speed up, this is even doable on a snowboard!
Sadly, the door to the upper deck of the lookout is locked, providing no protection from the wind (such as the lookout on St. Mary), however, I managed to kick the snow out of the way of the summit porta-potty, thereby finding an easy way out of the wind on the summit. (This is one of the best views I’ve ever had from a porta-potty!) After switching over from skins to ski, strapping on the helmet and taking all the obligatory summit photos and selfies, I cruised over mostly firm, fast snow back down the ridge to the road, and then zipped along at breakneck speed, reaching the car just after sunset. Although I saw numerous snowshoe hare prints and others, I didn’t see any wildlife on the entire trip except for a skunk running down the road on the way out.
Notes: Parked at 5300 feet; 1.3 miles to gate; 3.6 miles total to summit, 2000 feet elevation gain. Nemote Creek road is in remarkably good shape and I only drove my Subaru Outback through/around two deep patches of snow before being stopped. Snowmobiles are the only vehicle that could potentially travel beyond where I parked, as the snow is drifted/very deep the rest of the way. In another month you will *probably* be able to drive to the gate, but by then you will have to walk/cycle a considerable distance on gravel before reaching the snowline.
Never a bad day on skis!!