Have you noticed the haze hanging over the Missoula valley this week? This low cloud of pollutants, trapped by the wintertime inversion, is just one of the air quality issues that Missoula battles throughout the year. The other major issue, summer wildfire smoke, is unfortunately a bit more noticeable and unhealthy. Despite the tremendous access to outdoor spaces and wild places, Missoula’s air quality frequently suffers.

For a community defined by its amazing access to public lands and exceptional outdoor recreation opportunities, it’s not surprising that poor air quality strikes fear into the hearts of even the hardiest of Missoulians. Nobody wants to be laboring up the steep flanks of Mt. Sentinel while inhaling a big gulp of wildfire smoke or pollutants trapped by a wintertime inversion.

Fortunately, local winter conditions have improved over the decades, thanks to crucial air quality standards and helpful government assistance (but please do your part - no idling cars and do jump on Mountain Line to reduce auto-congestion!). Unfortunately, scientists are finding that climate change is increasing the duration of wildfire smoke season and may well increase western wildfires and poor air quality in the coming years (see here, here, or here). It’s easy to feel helpless when faced with smoke-filled skies, but trail runners and hikers in Utah, Colorado, and now Montana have found a constructive, fun way to fight for clean air.

Salt Lake City, Utah, home to famously dangerous air quality during wintertime inversions, is also filled with outdoor enthusiasts. Ultrarunner Jared Campbell started an event in 2011 while running laps on a local Wasatch Range peak. Campbell wanted to raise awareness and money to address Salt Lake’s air quality issues. Soon it became a formal wintertime challenge, called Running Up for Air (RUFA) that engages hundreds of participants each year.

The Up For Air Series spread throughout the Wasatch Range and into Colorado over the past few years. RUFA events ask participants to rise to the occasion and climb a literal mountain, while also tackling the figurative mountain of air quality issues. For 3, 6, 12, or 24 hours, participants scale a local peak in February, climbing it as many times as possible in the given time limit.


Several years ago, I was on a snowy run up Mt. Sentinel. Below me was a valley obscured by a layer of smog. My wheels started turning, and I realized that Missoula would be a perfect fit for another RUFA event. Our valley is home to everyday adventurers and athletes that head up Mt. Sentinel on a regular basis. People love being outside and cherish their easy access to trails as much as they do their access to clean air. With all of this in mind, it wasn’t long before RUFA Mt. Sentinel was born, and over 80 intrepid trail enthusiasts – from 10 years to over 60 – had a blast during our 2020 inaugural RUFA.

The Runner’s Edge is excited to bring back our own RUFA event, RUFA Mt. Sentinel! Join us on February 12, 2022 to ascend Mt. Sentinel for 3, 6, or 12 hours and take a stand (and many steps!) for clean air in Missoula. All proceeds from the event will go to Climate Smart Missoula and their initiatives to address climate change, provide vulnerable individuals and groups with portable air cleaners, and help implement Missoula County’s Climate Ready Missoula plan.

Whether it’s your first time up Sentinel or your 100th, join us for a wintertime lap (or two, four, or ten) on Missoula’s favorite mountain. Casual hikers/runners trying to summit the mountain once can rub shoulders with those running and walking for 12 hours. Families, solo enthusiasts, groups of friends or colleagues - all are welcome!

It doesn’t matter whether you’re fast or slow, what matters is that our community comes together to take on the task of keeping the air clean in our community. All events will finish at the same time (6:00pm) in a celebration of clean air and time well spent outdoors.

Tackling air quality issues is an incredibly challenging endeavor. Climbing a mountain in the winter is too. Join us on February 12th for a hard, fun, and rewarding day on the trails of Mt. Sentinel to support clean air in Missoula, both inside and out.

For more information visit runnersedgemt.com/events/rufa

Jeff Mogavero is a Runner’s Edge employee and RUFA Mt. Sentinel race director.

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – most weeks by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. For more, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.

Missoula’s WINTER Farmers Market continues in Southgate Mall, Saturdays 9am to 2pm. Until April 23.

February 3, 5-6:30pm, Climate Conversations. Families for a Livable Climate and Climate Smart Missoula are co-sponsoring a virtual panel discussion on how to have climate conversations - using Don't Look Up as a jumping off point. RSVP to learn more and receive the Zoom link here.

February 9, 5:00-6:30pm Climate Conversations #2 at Imagine Nation Brewing (tentatively). Climate Smart and Families are planning to follow up the above virtual Don't Look Up event (above) with an in-person gathering where we can have more informal conversations.

February 12. Running Up for Air – Mt Sentinel. Runner’s Edge is sponsoring Montana’s participation in this 12, 6, and 3 hour event. And your participation supports Climate Smart’s effort for clean air. Learn more about this series here and sign up with Runner’s Edge here.

Remember - Materials donations to Home Resource keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Daysmonth by month breakdown of world day campaigns.