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Ascent of Round Mountain on 2007-06-16

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Eric N.
Date:Saturday, June 16, 2007
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Round Mountain
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:5320 ft / 1621 m

Ascent Trip Report

I met Eric at a Park-and-Ride lot in Lynnwood at 6:15 AM, and he volunteered to drive in his 4Runner in case we hit some rugged roads. The day was very overcast as we drove north on I-5, and it even rained as we headed east on Route 530 towards Darrington. Still, we were committed—this was the only day we had free. We turned left on Swede Heaven Road, then soon after that right on gravel FR 18. This road was in pretty good shape, but a bit muddy in the rain and with several large potholes. We saw the construction vehicles that during the week had been adding culverts and doing other maintenance—at least this was one road not fading away into oblivion.

At Deer Creek Pass on FR 18 Eric turned left on FR1850, which I recalled from my attempt in 2004 was very narrow, with tree branches scraping the car. Now, however, it had been widened, with all the growth on either side seriously cut back. Still, it was very rough, with lots of big sticks covering the road and some big berms, and ironically no longer passable by passenger cars. We drove about a half mile, and parked right before the road became narrow, where they had stopped the brush clearing. Uphill from us was a large old clear-cut, now choked with head-high trees and brush.

After getting organized in the steady but light rain, we started hiking at about 8:20 AM. We were armed with a very nice route map and description provided by Ken, who we had both been hiking with the past months—he had been up Round in 2005. He told us to find a faint trail just inside the forest, and to avoid nasty bushwhacking on the east ridge of Coney Pass Peak. So we hiked down the road a short ways, looking for faint trails uphill to the right, but we could not really tell where the clear-cut ended and the forest began. I saw a nice low-angle alley leading uphill between brushy trees, so we just started uphill on that. Since it was still relatively early season, the brush was not too bad here on the edge of the clear-cut, and at first we made good progress.

When the clear-cut got too brushy, we angled left into the forest, hoping to find the trail. Of course, this led us directly into the terrain Ken had labeled “Nasty Bushwhack” on his map. It was raining, the brush was dense, there were lots of giant logs we had to clamber over or under, and we got soaked to the skin. It was very slow, miserable going. By 9 AM we finally reached the crest of a ridge, with a clear-cut on the other side. Here we got a bit confused, thinking this was the top of the clear cut we had just come up. I fired up my GPS (which all day had trouble getting satellites in the deep forest), and after consulting maps Eric and I decided we were on the east ridge of Coney Pass Peak, and we had to turn right to head west towards that peak.

Staying on the crest of the ridge was extremely rugged bushwhacking, so, taking Ken’s advice, we angled right, below the crest, trying not to lose too much elevation. The terrain was a bit more open, but giant slippery logs blocked out path constantly. This was a wild, jumbled forest, and we were getting drenched with the light rain and brush. Our progress was excruciatingly slow. I checked the GPS, and we were getting closer to the unnamed peak just east of Coney Pass, so at least we were heading the right way.

Finally, as we were scouting for the best route, Eric spied a faint path. I saw it too, and right afterwards saw that a large log had been sawed away for it. Eurkea! A trail! We happily started following it uphill as it gently switchbacked, being careful not to lose it. It was very faint, and often blocked by recent blowdown, but frequent sawed logs that showed its route were our helpful guides through the woods.

The trail took us to the top of 4100-foot Coney Pass Peak, then gently down to Coney Pass, then along a long ascending sidehill traverse towards Round Mountain. The trail was blocked by logs and branches every now and then, but it still was a life-saver. About halfway along snowbanks appeared, making a bit hard to follow the trail, but it was generally straight and easy to find on the other side of the snow. When the snowbanks became more frequent we had to get out our ice axes, since the snow was hard and icy, despite the layers of moss and pine needles on it.

The trail crossed a couple of open slide paths, and we lost it briefly between them, but footprints from a previous party showed us where it went. The trail entered more open terrain, and then came to a little knoll that overlooked a large snowy basin at 4500 feet. It was totally socked in, and we could not really see anything above us. Here we took a nice rest. It was a shame that we could not see the summit of Round Mountain above us—Ken had told us the best route was the direct southwest face, not up to the east ridge, but it was hard for us to really see what he meant at all.

We set off, and I led us up the basin on the snow slopes. The rocks and heather were wet and treacherous in the rain, so my goal was to stay on snow as much as possible. Trouble was, the main snow slope led up towards the col to the east of the peak, towards the Class 3 east ridge, which Ken said was difficult. So I tried to stay as far left as possible while staying on the nice snow, perfect for step-kicking. I could very dimly see cliff faces to my left that I wanted no part of, and not much more, so I was steering by GPS in the virtual white-out.

The snow got pretty steep—out ice-axes were indispensable. I left the main basin by crossing a short snow-less area of talus, then up more steep snow, trying to keep left towards Ken’s route. I tried to kick good steps for Eric, but I was not 100% either. We found ourselves sidehilling a bit to skirt dim cliffs towering above, and then on more very steep snow. Eventually the snow reached a finger up into some heathery slopes, apparently ending. So we carefully came off the snow, and then climbed a hundred or so vertical feet up some very slippery and loose rocks.

I knew from my GPS we were getting close, and after the ugly rocks we happily we came to another snowfield in a bit of forest. A hundred or so more vertical feet of step-kicking brought us to the summit ridge, and that led shortly to the broad, treeless summit area. We arrived at 12:10 PM, almost 4 hours after leaving the car. Given a gain of only 2000 feet and a distance of only about 2.3 miles, this was much later than we had hoped.

We were in a total white-out, and we only knew we were on top because the ground sloped down on all sides (especially to the north, where there were big snowy cornices), and because the GPS said so. The rain was very light, at least, and there was not much wind, so we were able to rest comfortably on some rocks and eat. I congratulated Eric on his determination on this tough climb—this was the most prominent peak in Washington he had every climbed.

After eating and resting, we took some useless summit photos and got ready to head back down. We were not sure that our upward route was the best possible, but, given the total lack of visibility, we had no choice but to follow our footsteps down. The chance of getting cliffed out was too high to risk the inviting snowfields leading off to the south, even though footprints from another party led that way. We accidentally did follow those for a few steps before I realized that we had better follow our fresh prints and not the old ones.

The downhill on the soft snow was not too bad at first, and we easily plunge-stepped to the short section of rocks and heather. This was the crux of the whole climb, and we were extra careful as we downclimbed the treacherous terrain. I had hoped that once back on the snow we could cruise again, but it was so steep we had to carefully step down a lot of it, sometimes even facing in to the mountain. Also, our route had a lot of sidehilling, which did not lend itself to easy plunge-stepping. Both Eric and I slipped a couple times and had to arrest in the snow—we both did easily before sliding into the sparse trees a bit below us.

Eventually the steep snow sloped moderated, and we could step down the fall line. I was able to do some standing glissades, and after crossing the short section of talus we were in the main basin, where we both glissaded down easily, and then did the short hike over and up to the little knoll. Here we took a long rest, happy to be off the alpine terrain. This peak had proved to be tougher than we imagined, mainly due to rain and fog.

We easily found the faint path that led back through the forest—we lost it briefly near the same spot as on the way up, but quickly regained it before it crossed the second slide path. Our ice-axe holes in the snow from the way up were nice route markers for us as we hiked down, since the snow was so dirty with forest junk our footsteps were invisible. We reached Coney Pass, then hiked up a hundred or so feet on the easy trail to the top of forested Coney Pass Peak.

Just past the high point we had to negotiate around a large fallen tree with branches, something we were used to by now. However, this one was pretty big, and after bushwhacking around it to the trail something felt funny, and I mentioned to Eric that maybe we were on the trail we had just been on. But that seemed silly, so we hiked on down anyway. The trail descended a bit down the ridge, which did not seem right, then started climbing a bit. I tried to get my GPS to work in the woods, but it was not happening. After about a quarter-mile we came to a familiar looking log to duck under and I suddenly became convinced we had somehow made a U-turn back at the fallen tree. I finally got a GPS signal and confirmed this suspicion.

Sheepishly, we turned around, quickly passed Coney Pass again (for the 4th time!) and hiked up to Coney Pass peak. I had the GPS on the whole time here, to make sure we didn’t mess up again. In our defense, the trail did look very different depending on your direction of travel. We arrived back at the fallen tree, carefully made sure we did not make a U-turn while bushwhacking around it, and then the trail made more sense, starting to descend with a series of faint switchbacks that I recalled from our upward route. Our embarrassing mistake cost us a half mile of hiking, 200 extra vertical feet, and maybe 20 minutes of time.

Our goal now was to not lose the trail, and we carefully followed it down through jumbled forest, past the point where we picked it up. However, we finally lost it for good at about 3680 feet, just above an open swampy area. The swamp was not yet very swampy—we barely sunk in a half-inch in the spongy moss—so that provided a nice route for a while. A little more bushwhacking took us to the swamp’s outlet stream in a deep, brushy ravine, so we skirted that, crossed another small swamp, and came out at the top of the clear cut above the car. At this point we didn’t care any more and just bulldozed through the thick, wet brush (it was still raining) downhill, finally popping out of the vegetation onto the road exactly where Eric’s 4Runner awaited us. It was 3:30 PM, after a three-hour descent.

We were tired and wet, and we changed clothes in the misty drizzle as mosquitoes swarmed around us—the only place we ever saw any were at the car. The final obstacle this peak threw at us was on the short drive on FR 1850—a large stick got wedged under the car as Eric drove over the piles of logging chaff that littered the road. I had to get out and extract it before we could continue. Aside from that, we had an uneventful drive back to Lynnwood, arriving at 5 PM. We parted ways, and I was home shortly after that.

I think that this time of year is best for Round Mountain. The snowline was at about 4200-4400 feet—any lower and you would have a hard time finding and following the trail, and any higher and the summit area would be rocky and the brush down low more dense. On a clear, dry, day this would be a very nice scramble, the main challenge being finding the start of the trail in the brush and the clear cut.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:2340 ft / 712 m
    Elevation Loss:2340 ft / 712 m
    Distance:5 mi / 8.1 km
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe
    Weather:Drizzle, Cool, Calm, White-out
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:2000 ft / 609 m
    Extra Loss:120 ft / 36 m
    Distance:2.3 mi / 3.7 km
    Route:Coney Pass
    Trailhead:FS Road 1850  3440 ft / 1048 m
    Time Up:3 Hours 50 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:2220 ft / 676 m
    Extra Gain:340 ft / 103 m
    Distance:2.7 mi / 4.3 km
    Route:Coney Pass
    Trailhead:FS Road 1850  3440 ft / 1048 m
    Time Down:3 Hours 0 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


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Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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