On July 3rd, 2011, two friends and I took a day hike up the trail leading to the Rumble Lakes and Holland Peak, the highest in the Swan Range at 9,356 ft (2,852 m). This may not seem like a very high elevation, but we gained 3,500 ft of elevation in roughly 5 hours with lunch and some exploring. Not terrible for a few out of shape hikers with the added factor of snow.
Getting to the Starting Line: On Highway 83 in Condon, Montana at about mile marker 40 plus or minus one mile, there is a church, the Condon Community Church. Directly across from the church is a road named Rumble Creek Road. Follow this main road until the very end. Toward the end, there is a lookout tower that the road winds around. After this, it gets pretty rough so drive slow unless of course you enjoy coming back from a hard hike to see a flat tire. There will be a trailhead sign that will only show Trail 192, East Foothills Trail. They no longer maintain the Rumble trail, and it is also not on the newer topography maps. Just follow 192 watching out for the landmarks that I’ve shown on the map. As of this hike, there is a downed tree about 5 feet up the beginning of the Rumble Trail so don’t think that it isn’t the right one if you see it. Rumble Trail is the only obviously used trail that leads off of 192 for quite a while.
This was our first high elevation hike of the season, and we were clearly not in shape. After crossing two bridges, and turning left, just before a clearing, the next few miles up was a goat trail that felt straight up. Switchbacks, what switchbacks? There was plenty of brush and trees blockading the trail, some requiring detours because they were so thick. This was likely because it was early in the season, and it doesn’t actually have a sign or a trail head to signify where to go, meaning the forest service likely doesn’t maintain it often, especially when much of the destination is covered in snow this time of year.
After getting to the top of the ridge, things became a little easier, but we were still plagued with cramps around our kneecaps with muscles we didn’t even know existed. Difficult, but highly rewarding. After breaking through the main treeline we were face to face with the absolutely incredible Holland Peak (not shown below) and the wall of mountain rock surrounding it.
We then traversed up the ridge in hopes of finding the trail to the lower lake, but we did not. Soon finding snow to slip on was easy so it was time to break out the ice axe as well as my new Scarpa boots.
From as soon as we broke through the treeline until we arrived at the highest point nature would allow us, it was an incredible view.
We then descended the ridge until we were above Lower Rumble. Then a glissade was in order for a fast descent to the lake. One of my group members used the same avalanche shovel I reviewed to “glissade” down the snow covered scree. Not only did it look fun, but also painful when he went into a hole in the snow. From a high speed to a dead stop apparently did not give him the most invigorating feeling. But after he recovered, he slid down past where the snow had melted and ran out into bear grass. It seems that bear grass does not slow down the fast and the furious on snow shovels because he had to get off before nearing a small cliff. As I watched him continue his “glissade” beyond the snow, I had to worry but also laugh because I didn’t expect him to continue with such haste through the grass.
After the glissade, in order to get to the lower lake, we hiked through an old burn which looked very unique with snow blanketing the ground surrounding it. It looked very picturesque. I wish I had a high quality video camera to show its ambiance.
Sidehilling on the snow was considerably easier than on grass and dirt due to the ability of making one’s own level steps as they compact the snow. Also I had been reading about how snow conditions change drastically throughout the day. By this time it was too easy to manipulate the snow. When I dug my pick into the snow and dragged it, it offered little resistance. I was surprised at how much harder self arrest would be later in the day which is often when mountaineers fall because they are descending. I suppose the best advice is, “Don’t fall, or dont fall far!”
After taking a break to absorb of the beauty, I spotted a thunderstorm rolling in so it was decided that it was time to depart.
With snow covering the trail, we followed the creek down until we hit bare ground. While trying to maintain elevation because we were too tired by this time to enjoy much more climbing, we sidehilled until we saw the trail.
Here you may be able to spot the mudslide beyond the rocks. We didn’t at the time until we went over them. I was only thinking of taking pictures until we were actually in danger.
Beyond this rock face was the biggest threat all day despite cliffs, snowy ridges, and cornices. A sheer face of dried and consolidated mud with sharp shale rocks glued to the surface lied ahead. There was nearly nothing to hold onto, and we had to cross about 30 feet of it. If any of us would have fallen, it would have meant severe scraping down a 60 foot run out of this stuff. Just by feeling it with our hands, we could tell that the remains of the landslide would rip us to shreds.
After Johnny, the shovel rider, crossed very carefully, I followed his line and had a move that made my blood pressure rise. I was so near slipping that if I had leaned even a few degrees backwards, I would have fallen and slid down the sandpaper of a mountain.
Once I found some vegetation to hold onto, I looked back at the last member of our group, who was frozen in place because there was no advancing holds to reach. He is at least 4 inches shorter than both Johnny and myself, making the moves we made too risky for him. Thank God I brought about 20 ft of 6mm accessory cord. I took off my pack, grabbed the rope, found a secure position for myself and threw it to him.
We managed to get across the landslide, but not without a reminder of how easy it is to get into serious trouble.
After regaining our nerves, we progressed through some fairly dense forest with snow, again making it challenging to follow the trail. We managed to get beyond the snow, change socks and get out of those mountaineering boots. Then we basically ran down the ridge until we made it back to the truck.
It was a great first elevation hike. After bagging that one, I felt ready for more within a few days. The next mountain I have my eye on is Lindy Peak…