38 years later.
In June of 1982 a couple friends and I hiked up to the St. Mary Lookout west of Stevensville. It was my first peak-bagging experience, and I’ve never forgotten how great it felt. Later that year I got married that and started teaching. Life got busy, and several decades passed before I rediscovered that top-of-the-world feeling that comes with standing on the summit of a prominent peak. This past weekend (August 1-2, 2020) my daughter Amy and our friend John accompanied me as I returned to St. Mary Peak for the first time since ’82. We hiked up to the lookout on Saturday (~8 miles round-trip with 2,500 ft. of gain), then drove down by Darby and did Trapper Peak on Sunday (8.5 miles round-trip with 3,700 ft. of gain).

Beating the heat.
The two outings were a good combination for what ended up being the hottest weekend of the year so far. Both hikes are steep but on good trails, although the last half mile to the summit of Trapper requires walking over big angular rocks, ranging in size from microwave ovens to refrigerators – sort of fun but you need to be careful. Temperatures in the Bitterroot Valley were in the 90’s but it wasn’t nearly as hot up where we were – both trailheads are above 6,000 feet*. The haze from wildfires was minimal, and the crowds weren’t bad either. We encountered about a dozen folks during the Saturday hike to the lookout and about 20 during our hike to Trapper. St. Mary gave us a better view of the Bitterroot Valley but the views from Trapper were drop-dead gorgeous – gotta love those craggy peaks! But don’t take my word for it – Check out the Photo Tour.

It gets colder as you go higher into the atmosphere at a rate of 3.6 degrees F per 1,000 feet. This is called the environmental lapse rate – not to be confused with the adiabatic lapse rate (5.4 degrees F per 1,000 feet), which applies to air that is rising. As air rises due to convection, like “thermals” do, that air cools at 5.4 degrees for every 1,000 feet that it rises (as long as there are no clouds forming in the rising air). The air we were hiking up through was not rising – We were simply hiking higher into the atmosphere, therefore the environmental lapse rate applied. The fellow in the lookout tower said the temperature was 69 degrees F there. Based on the environmental lapse rate, we could expect that it was over 20 degrees warmer in Stevensville, which is 6,000 feet lower than the tower.

Sorry if I got a little “teachy” on you there. I start back to work as a science teacher soon – just trying to get back in practice. 😉

Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on bigskywalker.com so far, including several in Glacier Park – Select full screen to expand, zoom in for more detail, or click on a marker for a link to the post.