Hiking Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness
by Erik Molvar (Falcon Guides)
© Erik Molvar/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.
Definitely go to Upper Holland first. You will want to go down the steep descent from Saphire Lake back to the trail head (gorgeous views), and going this way will save a lot of time and energy. We actually went to Koessler Lake (see my review), but also ended up doing this full loop in the process. The best campsites at Upper Holland are on the far side of the lake after you first see it, and so don't settle for the first one you see. We also found a forest service cabin that is meant for emergencies....we did end up using it to stay out of the rain on part of the day on Friday, since there was a huge storm going through the area. I would really recommend going to see Koessler Lake if you have the time to do this, as this lake is much more spectacular than Upper Holland and Sapphire Lakes (which is why I gave this trail a four and Koessler Lake a 5). We did catch quite a few fish at Upper Holland Lake (mainly with fly fishing), but there didn't appear to be any fish in the Sapphire Lakes when we were there. However, we did have a moose charge the lake right by our camp while we were at the Sapphire Lakes. After coming from Koessler, the Sapphire Lakes really looked dull and boring, but it was still fun and the scenery going down from the lake was worth it.
A friend and I decided to do an overnight hike of this loop. The trail guide suggests taking the loop counter-clockwise, but since we wanted to camp at Sapphire Lake, we decided to take it clockwise. Be warned: If you go clockwise, the way up is VERY strenuous. We are by no means experts, but we're both pretty healthy guys in our early twenties, and we were exhausted when we finally reached Sapphire lake.
We got a late start hiking (about 5:30) and didn't arrive at Sapphire Lake until about 9:30, so we had to set up camp in the dark... So you'll definitely want to give yourself ample time.
The hike itself is gorgeous, once you get high enough up for the scenery. Going through the mountain pass as we neared Sapphire Lake, there was still snow on the ground in mid-August. Sapphire lake was really gorgeous, and we camped at an amazing site right on the lake. Although we were both totally exhausted, it was definitely worth the effort.
We left on a Friday, and didn't see a single other person on the trail until our way down the next day, when we saw about 20-25 other hikers and people on horseback.
All in all, a very difficult, yet very rewarding hike.
This would be a VERY strenouos day hike and in my opinion not worth it - in one day you can't get out and back and see all the points of interest. I camped at Sapphire Lake (picking up about 3500 of the 4200 vertical feet on the trip the first day), hiked to the Necklace Lakes and the fire tower the next day (day pack only), and then out down all those switchbacks the following morning. This hike is notable for its variety - forests, meadows, spectacular falls, a glorious alpine basin (Upper Holland Lake), seclusion (very little traffic once you climb above Upper Holland Lake), and spectacular alpine scenery. The first night there were thunderstorms in the distance and the light show was incredible. I especially remember the traverse below the pass on the way down, with the Mission Mountains across the valley at eye level, like I was walking on air. Be warned - it's a steep climb and steeper, knee-rattling descent. You might consider a longer stay to reward yourself for all that work. There's no shortage of day hike options.
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