Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Holland Peak ski descent

Kicking the last few steps to the summit of Holland peak.
Leah and I have a storied past trying to ski Holland Peak. On our first attempt, we bailed on what would have been a harrowing climb of the North ridge in favor of a fine run on limestone ledges below the North Face. Terrible visibility and poor routefinding lead to our demise during a second attempt with Don and Kyle Scharfe.                                                                                         
Bailing in 2010.
Bailing in 2012.
So, on a day with a 70% chance of precipitation, it felt like a stab in the dark to give Holland another attempt, but the weather forecast was even worse elsewhere, so why not? Joshua and Leah were both game, so we rolled out of town at 4 am, ready for anything. Fortunately, the storms never materialized, and we were treated to a fantastic day of mountain adventuring. Aside from a fresh set of grizzly tracks, the normal approach to lower Rumble lake went smoothly, and a long bootpack had us on the crest of the range.  After almost an hour of hemming and hawing over the sketchy ridgeline traverse to the summit snowfield, we ended up just skiing east off the ridge and ascending the southeast face directly. This strategy worked well, and we were able scamper to the summit of the highest peak the Swan range without difficulities.  It was my sixth lifetime summit, and first summit with skis. Everyone was excited.  
Leah working through runnels above lower Rumble lake.
The crew nearing the crest of the Swans.
We skied the skier’s left edge of the face to the lower bench, then took a long break as Joshua regaled us with tales of land surveying, Denali, and other interesting topics. The mandatory climb out of the Bob Marshall Wilderness went easily, and we spilt up to ski separate routes to the lower lake before making the grizzly bear infested return to the car.  We even found our shoes without resorting to  the techy GPS, harkening back to the days when men were men.  Back at the car, I couldn’t help but smile at how we were able to cheat the weather and pull off another fine mountaineering adventure in Western Montana.
Skiing Holland Peak.
Joshua exhibiting his characteristic bravado.

    Leah skiing below the exit couloir to lower Rumble lake.
Stream of consciousness thoughts on Holland peak: In summer, Holland peak is one of the finest moderate day scrambles around Missoula.  Skiing is another story.  The 3rd class south ridge approach is much more exposed with ice and snow, and hanging glide cracks make the summer route an engaging proposition at best. In addition, all of the ski lines face east, so one has to make a second climb to the crest of the range, making Holland a 6,000 vertical foot day, at a minimum.  The terrain around Rumble lakes is fairly extensive, with many interesting couloirs, bowls, and steep faces in three distinct cirques, and it would take several long days to explore everything.  I will be back for sure, hopefully soon...

The climber's trail: There is a good climber's trail which provides access to Rumble lakes. From the trailhead, take the Forest Service trail up to the foothills trail, and follow the foothills trail south for about half a mile.  The climber's trail takes off approximately 100 yards south of (after) a series of trail bridges. It climbs a ridge north of Rumble creek before traversing into the drainage about 500 vertical feet below the lake.  Of note, there is a major game trail that ascends an old clearcut north (before) the trail bridges that has derailed more than one Holland peak attempt. This is the wrong trail - don't be fooled. 


  1. Brian, you mentioned ascending the N ridge in hopes of skiing the North face, into Big Salmon drainage? I've poked around Albino basin before, but have never had a direct line-of-sight on the N face, think it goes?

    1. Michael, I skied the NE face of Holland peak in 2015. It is a difficult ski objective. Use that blog post for reference. Hope that helps.