Holland Peak - Montana Mountain Project

Lower Rumble Lake
North of Missoula and over the Rattlesnake Mountains is the imposing Swan Range. This seemingly never ending string of mountains runs nearly unbroken for almost 100 miles. An enterprising mountain enthusiast could travel from Seeley Lake to the north end of Hungry Horse Reservoir on the same continuous ridgeline. This line also made up a portion of Mike Foote and Mike Wolf's Crown Traverse.

The Swans not only create an imposing aesthetic buttress, but serve as the Western edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. Established in 1964, the Bob Marshall Wilderness is the 5th largest in the country, and combined with the adjacent Scapegoat and Great Bear Wilderness becomes the 3rd largest. Those 1.5 million acres provide habitat for grizzlies and goats, wolves and wolverines, hikers and huckleberries (more on the huckleberries later), and much more. That wall of Swan mountains contains a whole lot of wild behind the imposing ramparts.

Towards Upper Rumble with Holland Peaking over the top
The highest point on that unbroken ridge is Holland Peak. At 9,356 feet, Holland dominates the ridgeline and provides expansive views into the Bob Marshall. The route also offers a healthy dose of adventure without being truly technical.

Sara and I headed for Holland Peak during the peak of huckleberry season, and the day after we went up Mount Powell. Although we were wearing running clothes and carrying running packs, we didn't do much running due to tired legs, huckleberries, and the steep trail. After a mile of relatively mellow climbing, the route shoots straight uphill off an official trail and gains too many thousands of feet in not enough mileage. Despite being forced to hike, I do appreciate getting to the pretty stuff quick sometimes, and it wasn't long until we were able to glance over our shoulders to the Mission Mountains across the valley. About this time I also realized I left my ziplock bags in the car so huckleberry picking on the return trip looked to be limited to the amount we could eat and carry in our hands, but we started brainstorming other possibilities.
Closing in on Holland Peak

After the initial steep climb the trail put us into the beginning of a long valley/canyon above Rumble Creek and gave us our first view of Holland Peak. We hit Lower Rumble Lake and continued through the talus slope up towards Upper Rumble Lake. While scrambling up the steepest section I faintly heard a rock fall and glanced over in time to catch sight of the ever-present mountain goat herd that populates the Rumble Creek basin. I quickly grew disgusted (but not really) with how easy they bounded over the blocky cliff face while we struggled to make it up a short chute.

The wind picked up as we reached Upper Rumble Lake and we began to keep an eye on a distant bank of clouds, just in case. The view of Holland Peak from the lake is spectacular. A huge cliff band dives off the summit and plummets straight to the lake creating the massive wall that is typical of the western edge of the Swans. Fortunately for us we could just walk up the shoulder on our right to gain the ridge to the summit.

Looking back on the no-fall area
The crux of the route comes about 500' below the summit on an exposed slab. On the west side is the cliff that falls to the lake. The east side is a steep slab that leads under a snow field. Neither of which are places you want to end up. Navigating the section isn't so bad in itself, but the exposure adds and element of suspense, especially with heavy winds.

We made it across and quickly picked our way to the summit, trying to race the clouds rolling in. From the top we had excellent views into the Bob Marshall, across to the Missions and north and south along the Swan ridgeline. After a few pictures we booked it off the summit, across the sketchy ridge section, and back to the lake for some lunch and glissading on an adjacent snow field.

The way downhill was uneventful until we hit the huckleberry jackpot. In lieu of ziplocks we emptied Sara's two-liter water bladder, and spent a few extra hours filling it with huckleberries.

Huckleberries are a big part of summer in Montana for us. While hiking the Continental Divide Trail huckleberries were the first berries we saw, and ate, and loved when we entered Montana. We now have fond memories of huckleberries as a Montana first.

Vaccinium membranaceum, the most common huckleberry species in Montana according to Danny Barney's Growing Western Huckleberries, can be found between 2,000 and 11,000 feet in sunny areas, or not. Old burns, or not. Near water, or not. In sandy or loamy soil, or not. Basically attempting to determine the preferences of a huckleberry bush is like trying to put together a desk from IKEA without directions. This is why, despite the title of Barney's book, huckleberry domestication still has not happened. Some have successfully grown huckleberries in their backyard, but they can take 3-5 years to produce, and up to 15 years to mature enough for cutting. It seems easier to hike Holland Peak with a ziplock.

With enough huckleberries in Sara's bladder for a Thanksgiving huckleberry pie, we ran the rest of the way to the car with a new "secret" berry spot.