Thursday, May 5, 2016

Swans - Holland Peak to Lake traverse

Last few steps to the lookout.  We were tired, but barring
consumption by bear, another excellent new traverse was in the bag.
I was once again able to convince Andrew and Jeffrey to join for an adventure into new ski terrain, this time along the high crest of the Swan range.  I have completed this and longer traverses in the summer, but was excited for a day of stringing together striking runs on skis.  We left a dreary and cold Missoula in the evening evening, and did the straightforward car shuttle before nodding off for the night. We started hiking by headlamp at 5 am after an adequate night of sleep. I wasn't feeling the pressure to charge in the pre-dawn, but even with my slower pace, we crested the range at 8 am, just three hours after leaving the car.  Thanks to Andrew for putting a track in from the car to the crest of the range.
Jeffrey climbing above lower Rumble lake in the morning.
Beta - My preferred snow route is up this open couloir, which bypasses upper Rumble lake entirely.
Andrew gearing up in front of Holland.
From the crest, I prefer to ski a short run to the east and avoid nasty hanging glide slabs on the summer South ridge route.  The snow was firm but enjoyable, and we were soon on our way up Holland peak's SE face.  It was pretty cool to see an old set of two ski tracks on our route.  Folks getting after it - I love it.  Andrew and Jeffrey were still setting a stout pace, so I settled in and tried to stay close.  We were on the summit around 9:30.  The SE was just soft enough for great skiing.  We took an abbreviated run to the tarn, then did a long traverse below the NE face of Buck mountain.  We crossed several impressive sets of grizzly tracks on the traverse.  I blindly lead us over two low cols onto the SE face of Buck.  Fortunately, the route flowed well, and we skinned easily to the summit.  This route was much easier than climbing the N ridge of Buck.  We skied good corn for 1,900 vertical feet all the way to upper Terrace lake.  It was a great, casual run.
Jeffrey at the bottom of our first access run.  Note massive (bigger than it looks) glide avalanche activity behind him.
This is common, and we gave it a wide birth.
Andrew starting down Holland peak.
Andrew and Jeffrey coming up Buck.
First few turns off the summit of Buck mountain.  Photo: Andrew Mayer
I had originally planned to climb through a steep col to peak 8,485, but threatening cornices and a touch of apathy had us deciding to bypass the peak on the east and head straight to Rubble lake, then peak 8,450. It was a good decision, as the bypass was efficient, and the entire climb was delightful.  We summited way ahead of schedule, and as a result it was decided to ski an aesthetic North couloir all the way to Woodward lake.  The couloir was excellent. First descent (not that it matters)?  The snow deteriorated well before the lake, but we skied the full run anyway.  I would like to return to 8,450, since there are good looking ski runs on each of its N, E, SE, SW, W and NW aspects!
In the upper North couloir on 8,450.  Photo: Andrew Mayer
With just one climb to go, we took another nice long break at the lake, which included an extended water getting mission.  It is a long way to the Holland lookout, and I didn't really have a route in mind, so we nosed our way up the line of least resistance.  The last push (roughly up the summer trail) had a lot of sloppy snow, but we pushed through without too much discontent.  From the lookout, we were only able to ski a thousand vertical feet before running out of snow. Fortunately, we were able to hop directly from snow to the summer trail, and an hour of easy running got us back to the car.  The day checked in right around 11,000 vertical feet, done in about 11.5 hours point to point moving at a stout pace with long breaks.  Great day.
Don't fall in!  Tricky water getting.
Holland lookout, with the missions in the background.
It was surprising how well this line linked up.  Every ski run was good (except the short run from the lookout), and the climbs were for the most part very straightforward and efficient.  One could make the outing shorter by not climbing Holland, and by skiing Southwest from 8,450, either directly to the foothills trail (bushwack of unknown heinousness required), or about half way to the valley before traversing to the summer trail.  With good weather and stability, a simplified outing would be less than 8,000 vertical feet and doable for an "average" touring party.  One could also do an excellent Holland SE/Buck SE/8,485 NW loop all from the Rumble lake trail head.  And, it is hard to not wonder if a Smith Creek pass to Holland lake on skis is realistic.  For gear, I used my heavier TLT 5/BD Revert setup.  This was a huge mistake, as I struggled all day to keep up with Andrew on his light setup.  At least I was able to get new school and butter my turns on the downhills.

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