Trip Reports

These pages are for in-depth guides and descriptions of the incredible mountains and lakes I’ve climbed and hiked to.. Full of stories and great pictures as well as links to full 360° panoramic images of high elevation views, letting the reader immerse him or herself into the true beauty of the intense mountain scenery.

To view the list of trip reports, roll over stories and click on trip reports.

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Upper Rumble Lake Area, Swan Range, Montana

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.

The incline

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.

Full Panorama

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!”

Several waterfalls pouring out of Upper Rumble Lake

This melting lake water looked like tasty blue koolaid from higher up

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.

We should have went up and around instead of crossing the landslide.

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.

The raw power of nature is apparent by looking at this trenchlike fold of topsoil.

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…

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Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe Review

I’ve researched ice axes for several months before I committed to buying one. I didn’t want to be the beginner who had to learn from his mistakes on this occasion. So far it seems I’ve made the right choice.

Why I chose the Raven over the Raven Pro or any other ice axe: First we can rule out the Grivel, Petzl, and all the others that aren’t Black Diamond. This is why.

Out of all the candidates, Black Diamond had the best ergonomics by far. When I hold my axe, it is most comfortable for me to wrap at least my pinkie and ring finger around the pick. With every other brand of piolet, the “proper” name for a mountaineering axe to not be confused with ice tools- it’s French, the shape of the heads were deeper with no smooth contour, making it difficult to wrap fingers around them. This is just the way I prefer to hold my axe, but some people may prefer the deeper shaped picks.

I bet it’s getting hard to not ask aloud, “What about the Raven Pro?” Well I compared them hand in hand in my local REI, and I noticed something I never read about in my many hours of research. Both the pick and the adze on the Raven Pro are smaller. By memory I’d say about 15-20% smaller. That is considerable. So does that mean it will take 15-20% more chops to cut out a step or a snow bollard? (A snow bollard is a teardrop shaped trench in which one places a rope around for use as an anchor) I am not exactly sure, but it is possible. It takes quite a long time to move snow with the adze anyhow. I do know that the Raven leaves nothing to be desired. I encourage a more experienced mountaineer to comment on this size difference.


  • Pros- has longer pick and adze; feels more heavy duty, but this could just be an illusion with the heavier weight; it’s cheaper too
  • Cons- heavier weight, pro or con, we’re talking 452 g compared to the Raven Pro at 392 g with both at 60cm in length. That is about 13% difference.

Raven Pro

  • Pro- Lighter weight
  • Pro?- uses a 7075-T6 aluminum shaft instead of the 7075 aluminum that the Raven uses. This is based off REI’s website which could have just left out the T6 part when they wrote the description of the Raven. Regardless, one could guess that the differences are minimal.
  • Pro-If you are worried about the pick and adze grabbing trees and brush on the way up, you might consider the head size difference, but I had first hand experience on a very lush and narrow goat trail straight up the mountain. I assure you that you will be too worried about the spike and shaft catching branches to even notice what the head of the axe is doing if you use a 75cm like I do.

Now that I’ve eliminated the other candidates, I can tell you about the other features and qualities of the Raven that push it farther ahead. An all stainless steel head and spike. This makes a difference in a world of snow and ice. Some of the competition may boast that they use chromoly steel that doesn’t rust, but from coming from the gun world, I know that stainless steel is always better than any blend of chromoly a company can come up with when it comes to firearm barrels. Don’t settle for less than stainless steel when it comes to this. Even if the Raven is not for you, make sure you get one with a stainless head and spike.

The Raven features an aluminum shaft that feels light, but strong enough for anything you can put it through before T, standing for technical, ice climbing. This axe is rated B for Basic.

Some people have a tough time deciding to get a piolet with a rubber grip at the bottom for holding on steeper terrain where piolet traction, holding the shaft and using the pick to climb(similar to vertical ice) is necessary. I oppose this idea because on most expeditions one finds him or herself on will be using the shaft solely for plunging it into the snow, and it will have more resistance going in if it has a rubber grip around the bottom.

If one has found himself in very steep terrain,  he needs a leash to ensure a safe climb anyways. And apart from that, if he is found wearing wet gloves with a rubber palm, the texture on the shaft has a way of still gripping the rubber. Light liner gloves do have a more difficult time getting a solid, friction grip, but it isn’t anything I would worry about because the leash that is mandatory for those situations. With ice tools having a palm shelf, a little stopper or hook on the bottom of the handle to keep the hands from slipping off, I am neutral about the leash and lanyard debates. That is another article in itself.

So far I have taken this axe on a few day hikes with moderate amounts of snow, and I had no complaints. This seems like a great axe. I would like to get on the mountain with one of the other axes that seems less comfortable in the store compared to the Raven. I won’t say that my opinion is the right one because we all have our own preferences. I will leave this review as is and assume that I won’t have any issues with it in the future. If I do though, I will definitely be making an update.

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Lifeline First Aid Aluminum Sports Utility Shovel Review

I recently purchased a pair of these shovels on Costco’s website for $30. Because they came as a pair, I agreed with a friend to part out with one for $15 because I only needed a single one. The purpose of buying this shovel for me was to use in an emergency situation on a hike or traverse where I do not have a tent or sleeping bag and my only option is to dig out a snow cave. Also it can be used to dig a buried person out of the result of an avalanche, and with its 4 lashing holes, it can be used as a great dead anchor by burying it in the snow with cords and a runner attached. (I haven’t quite figured out the best way to attach it yet) It is advertised as an all purpose snow shovel to put in the back of the truck for an emergency such as a car accident. (Lifeline First Aid specializes in emergency kits for vehicles and such.) My hopes were that it would serve as a great all around mountaineering shovel.

My first impressions were very good. The finish on the aluminum appeared to be very good, and everything seemed to lock in quite well for a mere $15.

As I assembled the pieces, I noticed a slight wiggle in the mating of the pieces. I realized that unless special spacers made of acrylic or another plastic were placed on the end of each piece, one could not ask for better tolerances. Despite the small amount of slop, the shovel appeared to have a very sturdy construction.

Everything is made of aluminum except for the polymer handle. A word of advice is to never buy an avalanche shovel with a plastic scoop because even though they claim that it’s made of unbreakable Lexan or something similar, plastic simply doesn’t cut into the snow like metal because of its high flexibility. Back to the grip, it appeared to be quite sturdy with a rivet going through the shaft to attach it. It looks like it will hold its  grip even full of powder or slush because of the deep holes and grooves used to texturize the grip on both the top and bottom of the handle. The plastic looks strong enough to do what it needs to.

The shovel is adjustable from 25″ to 32″(63.5-81.3cm) weighing in at 1.3lbs(0.59Kg). There are 3 ways it can be put together and I prefer full length for more leverage. If I had to dig out a snow cave with this shovel, I would be confident that it could be done without too much hassle. The scoop appears to be quite strong with a decent thickness and a slightly pointed edge for getting through the hard packed snow and layers of ice.

I haven’t been able to test the shovel yet, but it seems very promising. It is light enough that it is good insurance to have on the mountain, like an avalanche beacon (which I do not have.) Storing it doesn’t seem like it would be difficult. I just put it facing the back part of my pack and filled the space between my camelback and it with my other gear to make sure that it wouldn’t have any chance of puncturing my hydration bladder.

It might not be a Black Diamond Avalanche Shovel, but I have a good feeling that it will do the job just as well considering the difference of about $35. I will post an update soon on a field test to prove its worth.

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