Ascent of Holland Peak on 1992-09-22

Climber: Greg Slayden

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Tuesday, September 22, 1992
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Holland Peak
    Elevation:9356 ft / 2851 m

Ascent Trip Report

I woke up early from my quiet, undisturbed slumber in my car, which was parked almost under the Cooney fire lookout tower near Condon, MT. It looked like it would be a gorgeous day, and I had a long, hard hike up Holland Peak planned, so I ate my breakfast, changed clothes, got my daypack together, and set off, after memorizing the description of the climb in my Guide to Montana's Mountains and checking my maps.

I followed the road that had taken me to the lookout tower down a slope for a couple minutes and was glad to see a trailhead and small parking area where it ended. The sign there announced the start of the Foothills Trail and had warnings about camping in Rumble Creek Lakes, which I would be passing, so I set off up the trail in the cool shade of predawn. The trail ascended easily up through pleasant forest much like that of the eastern U.S. for a mile or so, then suddenly turned right. I was expecting this, and was now on the lookout for an unofficial trail leading uphill to my left after a brook crossing. After less than a mile I crossed a brook, and, sure enough, after that I easily found a very narrow, faint, almost overgrown trail that led off straight uphill. I started climbing.

The path I followed for the next couple hours was extremely steep as it basically went straight up the abrupt wall of the Swan Range. Fortunately I was in excellent shape, having been climbing for over a month now, and I cranked up it pretty well. The path was also very, very narrow as it passed through thick forest that almost engulfed it, but the footway was well worn and easy to follow. Sometimes it would pass through an open grassy field, where the views of the Swan Valley and the Mission Range were becoming more and more spectacular the higher I got. I was glad the sun still hadn't risen over the mountain bulk I was ascending, keeping things cool for my labor.

After an incredible amount of uphill the path began to level out a bit in more open woods, and after climbing a couple false summits it seemed to reach a real high point on the ridge, where dim views of craggy mountains ahead through the trees warned of more vertical ahead. Unfortunately, though, I lost my trail in the woods not long after this, and even after retracing my steps I still couldn't find a clear path. This really didn't trouble me too much, though, since I could see that the trees were starting to diminish on the ridge ahead, making the going easier. I headed for the ridge, finding some very faint game trails, and after minimal thrashing through the brush was able to ascend on slopes of mostly thick, deep grass.

The route to Holland Peak supposedly went past the two Rumble Creek Lakes, which were off to my right, and as I climbed higher on my ridge I saw the lower lake below me, with a high waterfall spilling over a cliff above it. I therefore started to slab along the right hand side of the slope, but it looked like a long way down to the lake, through deep forest, and I hate to loose elevation. So I returned to the crest of the steep and increasingly narrow ridge, now almost entirely above timberline, figuring that it would be a good route to the Upper Rumble Creek Lake, which I realized after a while was above the cliff and its waterfall. My map seemed to show that this was plausible. The sun was now out in the early morning, but I was still making good time.

The ridge grew more and more difficult, and after a few rocky outcrops I ascended a prominent cliffy bump, my first serious high viewpoint of the day, and saw that I was in trouble. Beyond the col just below the little bump the ridge became a massive cliff face, clearly impassable. I still couldn't see the Upper Rumble Creek Lake, but the awesome waterfall, the Lower Lake way, way straight down below me, and the crags of Holland Peak rising well above the shelf that hid the Upper Lake all made for a very dramatic panorama. This Swan Range was definitely a very serious and challenging bunch of peaks, despite its relatively low elevation, and the rugged terrain and its overwhelming verticality impressed me quite a bit.

I thought I might retreat back down the ridge and then try to get to the Lower Lake, which I should have passed, but I really didn't want to loose a thousand hard-earned feet of vertical. I also thought about turning back entirely, but it was still early and a beautiful, warm day. So instead I saw that I could probably contour along the broad side of my ridge from the col beneath me, avoiding the cliffs, and find my way into the high valleys between the two lakes, where I could then ascend to the Upper Lake. So I carefully lowered myself down to the col, and made the dangerous traverse across a crumbling talus slope, which required a couple of nasty short climbs on large crumbling blocky formations and extreme care on every step. A bad fall on this talus would have sent me down a long, long way. The crux of my traverse was a prominent corner, since I wasn't sure at all if there were cliffs around the corner or not. The slope was a series of titled strata, with semi-cliffs separating less steep rocky areas, and after climbing to a strata ramp that led to a prominent, lonely tree near the corner I stayed on that. To my relief, once past the corner, the slope was easier.

I could now see that the Upper Lake (which I still hadn't seen) was held back by a huge natural dam, and by traversing across the relatively gentle talus slope I could get to the base of the dam pretty easily, at a point halfway between the south (right) side of the dam, where the waterfall was, and the north (left) side, where the dam disappeared into the ridge I had been on. The dam looked climbable, and after reaching the rocky gully at its base and crossing some patches of bushes, I discovered that the dam was a series of terraces. I worked my way up, trying to find the easiest ways up the low cliff bands that separated the terraces, and rather easily surmounted the dam.

I now finally saw Upper Rumble Creek Lake, a beautiful sheet of water ringed on three sides by the towering cliffs of Holland Peak. There was a little bit of flat meadowed terrain, punctuated by long rocky outcrops, between the lake and the drop off of the dam, which I pleasantly traversed. My route, which I could see clearly, would take me across the outlet brook of the lake, and up the steep shoulder just opposite it, where the cliffs were just barely gentle enough to make a non-technical ascent feasible.

I was afraid that the outlet brook crossing might be difficult, since it was immediately above the massive waterfall that roared down the highest point of the dam, but it was surprisingly narrow and placid, with a couple rock stepping-stones. The shoulder, though, was a bastard--virtually a wall of horribly steep crumbling rock, with many patches of snow and clumps of bushes scattered about. Super steep stuff was old hat to me by now, though, so I just carefully and breathlessly made my way up on faint paths, often using gnarled bush branches to pull myself up miniature cliffs of dirt or talus. I also avoided snow whenever possible, but that was fairly easy. Once the slope became more gentle I paralleled a snowbank on the grass beside it, and after that I had emerged up onto a broad, windy above-timberline ridge.

This led, very easily at first, towards the south summit of Holland Peak, directly ahead of me, and I climbed up to the right of this peak on progressively steeper talus to avoid minor cliffs. Once up on the summit plateau of this peak the terrain was very gentle and flat, nice rolling above timberline meadow. However, I was still far from home free--I could see the main summit of Holland Peak ahead of me, with a nasty-looking ridge remaining as an obstacle. This peak was becoming a major ordeal.

I contoured easily around the south summit, and after more easy going my ridge suddenly turned into a jagged, narrow series of cliffs. I had to descend a small face using a rocky cleft, then force my way along a terraced ridge that soon became a knife-edge. To my left there was a catastrophic drop down to Upper Rumble Creek Lake, and to my right the smooth slabs, often covered by melting snowbanks, were pitched strongly downward at a 45 degree angle. At a crag on the ridge I contemplated a particularly scary traverse and strongly considered turning back and satisfying myself with the south summit, but after a rest and careful thought I realized I already had too much invested in this mother of a peak to turn back now. So I tiptoed along the exposed knife edge sections of ridge like a tightrope walker, glad for my good sense of balance. The footing was good--the vestigial snowbanks were easily avoided--and the only danger was in the extreme exposure.

My concentration got me over to the rocky main summit pyramid, and now it was (relatively speaking, of course) child's play to find a zig-zag route up the steep talus chutes and minor cliff bands towards the summit. I swung out away from the cliffs on my left, and then back to them, depending on where the going looked easiest, and even crossed a couple of tiny snowbanks when I had to. At long last, while near the cliffs, the ridge ended a little above me, and I triumphantly walked the last few feet to the largely snow-covered summit of Holland Peak, highest mountain in Montana's Swan Range at 9356 feet.

After seriously exulting to the vast panorama surrounding the summit, I sat down to rest. I didn't see a canister, but the snow was maybe a foot deep near the very rickety summit cairn, and I had read that registers were being removed from peaks in official Wilderness Areas--I was on the border of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. I checked my map to see if Holland Peak was the highest point in that huge tract, but it wasn't--a few peaks on the east and south edges of the Bob were a little higher. So I contented myself with my cold lunch, admired the view of the flat Swan Valley and the massive Mission Range rising beyond it, both to the west, and the Bob to the east, all under perfectly clear skies. Swan Peak, second highest in the Swan Range, rose to the north, and the Upper Rumble Creek Lake, 1500 feet straight down from my perch, was spread maplike in its tiny basin. After 30 minutes on top, though, at 1 P.M., I decided to start on what promised to be a long, hard descent.

First I climbed back down to Upper Rumble Creek Lake the way I had come up, down the talus summit cone, across the treacherous knife-edge ridge, over the south summit (which I actually climbed to the top this time), down the broad ridge from there, and then down the horribly steep shoulder to the lake's outlet. I had no major problems on this leg despite the nasty terrain.

While descending to the lake's outlet I had heard voices, the first sign of humanity I had encountered all day, and I decided to investigate to see if the people had any route information that would be useful. I noticed a very steep path that descended from the outlet of the lake parallel to the waterfall, but I didn't like the looks of it at all. I crossed the outlet and meandered among the tall rocks of the lake's natural dam, and soon saw two guys fishing in the lake a ways a way from my place atop a big rock.

I shouted over to the guys, who told me they had come up the path by the waterfall, and had blown off going for the summit because it looked mean. I confirmed this impression of theirs, thanked them for their information, and decided to head on down the way I had come up anyway, at least for getting down the dam. So I continued across the dam, and made my way down the terraces and small cliff bands to the gully at its base. On one cliff band I slipped and put a nice gouge in my left palm, but it was still fairly easy going.

Once in the gully below the dam I abandoned my uphill route, descending the blocky talus in the gully to beneath the waterfall, and then following the main valley of the brook below the waterfall down towards the Lower Rumble Creek Lake. I ranged across this wide, very rocky gully as I went down in search of the lower part of the waterfall path, and was pleased to suddenly come upon it once I had crossed the brook. It's truly amazing how much easier hiking down a trail is than routefinding constantly down steep slopes, and this trail was easy to follow and fairly gentle as it switchbacked down through the rocks to the Lower Rumble Creek Lake, where I re-entered the forest.

There were a bunch of fisherman at this lake I didn't stop to talk to, I instead just following the trail as it crossed this lake's outlet, a substantial brook, in a confusing maze, and then somehow picking up the trail again as it started steeply down the brook's valley. I was a little worried that this trail might take me to the wrong place as it plunged down steeply, but I was going down the right side of the damn mountain, so decided not to worry about it.

My fears were unfounded anyway, as after a bit the trail left the brook and started contouring around a ravine towards the very ridge I had ascended in the morning. I took a nice rest at an open, steep slope on this level section, utterly amazed at seeing Holland Peak looming seemingly inaccessible way up above the cliffs way up above the ravine I was in. From here the trail climbed slightly to gain the crest of the forested ridge, and at a small cairn in the trail I noticed that this was exactly where I had lost the trail in the morning. I had stayed on the ridge instead of slabbing over to the lower lake, and since the trail was quite narrow and in deep forest, I could see how easily I stayed on the wrong path. I always like to stay on ridges, too, which was also probably a factor.

Now I just hiked down the very steep path down to the Foothills Trail, taking my time and going slow to avoid blowing out my poor knees. The steepness of this section was still overwhelming. Once I emerged from this narrow track onto the wider, official Foothills Trail all I had was easy hiking through pleasant forest back to the trailhead, which now had three cars parked at it, and then up to the fire lookout tower, where my car was where I had left it.

Holland Peak towers above Upper Rumble Creek Lake (1992-09-22).
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4846 ft / 1477 m
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:4846 ft / 1477 m
    Start Trailhead:Cooney Fire Lookout  4510 ft / 1374 m
Descent Statistics
Ascent Part of Trip: 1992 - Holland Peak

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Holland Peak1992-09-22 a4846 ft / 1477 m
2Holland Peak-South Peak1992-09-22 b212 ft / 65 m
Total Trip Gain: 5058 ft / 1542 m    Total Trip Loss: 4342 ft / 1323 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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