Lost in the Swans

(The GPS of our route - affectionately named Tyson's Holland Peak Loop)

It is strange how forays into the backcountry begin.  They usually start as an idea thrown out when we are all sitting around together.... or browsing summitpost.com.  This particular trip began when my coworker Chris Dundon started emailing Justin Angle and I pictures of Holland Peak.  Justin was immediately in and so was I.  Despite living in Montana for two years, I had never ventured into the Swans.  Then, as with all trips, the night before we left - plans had changed.   Justin was now out but Chris and I were still in.  So I was a little surprised to see Justin waiting inside the Eurovan as I crept through the early morning shadows of the Ace Hardware parking lot.  Through a series of events during the night, Chris was now out but Justin was in.  The scenic 90 minute car ride north on 200 and 83, past Seeley Lake to the Rumble Creek trailhead, flew by.  As each mile passed by, I patiently waited for the smoke from the Idaho forest fires to lift and allow us to see the towering Mission mountain range to our West.  The smoke never did clear.  We rumbled into the Rumble Creek trailhead parking lot, just after 7am, where we met Tyson Warner, Dan Pierce and Dan's brother from Tennessee.

(Rumble Creek Trailhead) 

Another small group hit the trail a few minutes before us.  They were heading up to Holland Peak as well.  So we set out towards the summit with the confidence that Tyson had hiked this trail twice before and we had a group in front of us to lead the way.  What could possible go wrong?  Easy out and back, tons of trail experience between us, we got this.

(Tyson staring at Dan's iPhone in disbelief!) *Photo by Justin Angle

Tyson was 100% certain that we shouldn't cross the South Fork Rumble Creek drainage.  He recited how he and Mike Foote ran past the trail and had to retreat back north of the drainage to hit the correct trail.  So we walked up to the bridge over the drainage and turned around.  Justin and I would later find that we were no more than 50 feet from the correct trail when we turned around.

So we back tracked, found a "climbers trail", with two logs laid a-crossed it (first warning), and up we went.  This particular stretch of trail was very steep and we started to string out across the mountain.  Then in mid sentence - the trail disappeared.  I was leading at this point and stopped.  We debated whether we should go up the mountain or continue on alongside the mountain.  Tyson was still convinced we were on the correct side of the drainage, so we headed straight up the mountain.  At this point we all knew were were lost but we continued on anyway.  Who likes to admit they made a mistake and turn around?  Tyson, in a last ditch attempt to find a.. I mean.. any trail, tore off up the mountain.  From this point we mostly followed game trails and wandered aimlessly through the back- country of the Swans.  Our movements were now being dictated by Dan's iPhone and cellular data plan.  What had happened to that group in front of us?  We joked that they were probably across the drainage and nearing the base of Holland Peak at this point!

    (Looking South towards the South Fork Rumble Creek drainage and the Holland Peak trail)

Dan and Google Earth lead us to a clearing where we scrambled across rocky, side slopes while ingesting some much needed calories.  It was amazing how our attitudes had changed, for the better, since we had left the forest canopy and entered the open grassy meadows.  The views looking back into the valley were incredible, even with the thick gray smoke still blocking any view of the Missions.  At this point we were all concerned that we'd hit a ridge and be forced to return on that horrible route we had taken up the mountain...  Dan's iPhone indicated that a small alpine lake was not too far north from where we were cutting across the mountain.  There was still slight hope that we'd gain access to Holland Peak.

(Tyson disappearing into the shrubs and grasses near North Rumble Creek Lake)

We eventually ran into a dried-up creek bed and followed it up to North Rumble Creek Lake.  The jagged rocks surrounding the lake were incredible!  Tyson dove into the chilly, clear water as Dan and his brother caught up to us.  Spirits were high again as we climbed up another creek bed towards Upper Rumble Creek Lake and the base of Holland Peak.

(Dan and Tyson climbing up from the north Rumble Creek Lake)

(Me scouting a route to the base of Holland Peak)  *Photo by Justin Angle

The creek bed abruptly ended and spit us out into a beautiful meadow full of wild flowers.  Out of sheer luck we had managed to hit the base of Holland Peak.  While skirting South along the lake, we could hear that other group making their way up to the summit.  Every few minutes we would hear loose rock crashing down the ridge towards us and the lake.



Before I could get my pack off, Dan and Tyson were already fishing.  We could see several trout swimming lazily near shore.  Watching Dan and Tyson cast into this beautiful, blue alpine lake was surreal.  Minutes later Dan and Tyson had caught their dinner and were projecting the glow of kids on Christmas morning.  At this point none of us were interested in summiting.  The intoxicating atmosphere created by Holland Peak and Upper Rumble Creek Lake was reward enough for our early efforts.

(Dan posing with his freshly caught brook cuthroat trout (in its spawning colors) at Upper Rumble Creek Lake)

After absorbing the beauty of Holland Peak and Upper Rumble Creek Lake, Justin and I decided to head back down via the actual Holland Peak trail.  It is always difficult to leave such beautiful places. Fortunately, Montana has so many!

(Holland Peak - 9,356 ft)

Justin and I quickly down climbed the steep, rocky trail towards yet another rumble creek lake.  By this point, the clouds had slid north leaving us to bake in the afternoon summer sun.  The temperature had to be hovering around the mid 90s.

(Lower Rumble Creek Lake with Holland Peak towering in the background)

Alas, we finally stumbled upon our first wildlife of the trip.  A family of mountain goats had congregated on some rocks just off the north shore of Lower Rumble Creek lake.  It was strange that we didn't see any wildlife while off trail for two and a half hours but only during our short stint on trail.  


Looking back I find it comical that we turned this simple out and back into a loop but I guess that is what makes being out in the wilderness so much fun.  Montana's backcountry is unpredictable,  unrelenting and exciting.  This particular trail is moderately difficult with some steep early climbing and exposure near the summit.  Our route ended up being around 8 miles long with 4,500 ft of climbing.   Holland Peak makes for a great day hike for those who start early.  My first experience in the Swans really impressed me.  The Swans have a different feel than other mountain ranges near Missoula.  I look forward to spending more time exploring them.


  1. Great photos! I love this hike, those lakes are gorgeous. I was up there in July a couple years ago, and upper rumble lake was almost completely frozen over. The year before that, I went up the wrong ridge (one too far), and didn't make it. I got really steep - like you had to hold on to trees to keep from falling.

    1. Lance,

      I'm glad we aren't the only ones to take the wrong ridge. Justin and Dan enjoyed the Rumble Creek Lakes so much they went up three weekends in a row. Check out Justin's post about their FKP http://www.angleman.net/post/60754951842/upper-rumble-lake-fkp



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