Round Mountain

February 10, 2018


Darrington, WA

Round Mountain in the west slopes of Central Cascades owns three dull aspects – low elevation, an uninspiring profile and a mind-numbing name. However, this is in fact a fairly significant one in the American’s peak-bagging community thank to its lofty prominence. At only 220 feet shy to be an “ultra” the summit of Round Mountain ranks #8 in Washington’s prominence list which also puts it in the Top-100 of Lower 48. You will see baggers coming from all over the continent to tag this lowly forested peak and you likely wouldn’t understand why unless you are also into this prominence kind of thing. There are two published routes. The summer trail is accessed from Deer Creek Pass but travels through some significant avalanche terrain while the longer, bushier winter route goes up south ridge.

For me myself peaks like this serve only as winter objectives but the idea of making this ascent was actually not mine. Vlad and Chris H had been planning on this outing for a while and I jumped in at the last minute. The low/low/low conditions and the guaranteed weather window combined with some cold temperatures meant I could, and probably should have done something bigger but I wasn’t in my mental element. The bonus is that I didn’t have to drive which is very much a rare thing. The drive to Darrington took a long while thank to the border line-up and some detours in Burlington but sitting in the backseat I wouldn’t complain too much about that. The final few miles up some logging roads was confusing but I did come prepared with a pre-drawn GPX track so that wasn’t a big deal.

Round Mountain winter route. GPX DL

We drove to and parked at the farthest possible place as the bridge ahead was blocked by some barricades. The rest of the road had degraded down to foot trail but not too overgrown yet. We only had to walk about 200 meters down the road anyway and then it’s time to enter the forest. The next stage was a 800-meter, straight-up kind of grunt to Round/Higgins col with a few sections being very steep and slippery. Thankfully the forest was open enough that bushwhacking wasn’t a problem but nonetheless this wasn’t very pleasant. We didn’t hit snow until about halfway up this stage and the snow was firm enough that flotation device was never required.

As often the trip started with road walking

Entering the forest now

A bit of bushwhacking at places but nothing severe

Sunbeams through the woods

We finally found snow…

Round Mountain – South Ridge from the col

This is looking at the imposing east ridge of Mt. Higgins

At the col was took a long break and had some discussions about the conditions. The first decision was to ditch snowshoes as it seemed totally useless on this day and the second decision was to don crampons. I really regretted for taking my “winter boots” instead of the trusty Nepal Evos but it’s a good test of their crampon compatibility anyway. I normally climb steep snow by almost exclusively step-kicking and front-pointing but those techniques are garbage with these soft shoes and aluminum crampons. The technique of flat-footing was more efficient but the crampons seemed always wanted to slip off. That wasn’t a huge deal with the amount of experience on snow I have, but the poor footwear choice did make this otherwise fun snow ascent a little bit awkward.

Vlad and Chris starting the south ridge.

A bit of views here-and-there

This is looking at the north face of Mt. Higgins

A sideways shot shows the slope angle. Despite the sun the condition was icy.

The upper portion of this south ridge route

It’s also worth commenting that the south ridge is fairly steep at places (35-40 degrees) such that a stable snowpack is definitely required. The steepest section is at about halfway up where we had to either scramble up, or bypass a few rocky steps. The summit is indeed very broad and rounded. The views were as expected, excellent towards all directions. I could identify countless peaks but Whitehorse Mtn. was the one stealing the show. After a while Chris H decided to slowly retreat while Vlad and I lingered another 10 minutes taking pictures.

This is another sideways shot showing the “SE Bowl”.

It seems that we got a bit too close to this cornice..

Summit Panorama from Round Mountain. Click to view large size.

The mist came and went. The north side of Mt. Higgins in the foreground

On the horizon we could see the jagged Picket Range

Whitehorse Mountain and Three Fingers

The striking spire in foreground is Skadulgwas Peak

Mt. Baker to the north

Glacier Peak

Dome Peak is a remote Bulger

Eldorado Peak catches one’s attention from everywhere

Three Fingers

One reason I came here is to get this shot of Whitehorse Mountain

Chris H. starting his descent.

Vlad and I wondered around the summit plateau. This is looking at “Orbital Peak”

Vlad and I on the summit of Round Mountain

Retracing our steps down the south ridge went easily thank to the softened snow and in fact we had to deal with constant thigh-deep post-holing. Lower down we actually did a couple short glissades to reduce the amount of post-holing. The rest of the descent down from Round/Higgins col was a boring slog with the worst being the transition from snow to bare ground. That part was stupidly steep and slippery and the soft shoes meant some extra careful work had to be done. And by the way we heard probably at least 100 annoying gunshots…

Vlad carefully down-climbing a steep stretch

One last view before diving into the woods…

As much of the forest goes…

Back to the parking lot.

Back to the Jeep we were relieved that those dudes didn’t shoot our vehicle for fun and the rest of the way back home was uneventful sans another long border line-up. Overall I would say this was a decent trip with some neat views but not something I would like to repeat. What actually caught my interest was Mt. Higgins and Skadulgwas Peak the two minor, but very cool-looking objectives that definitely do not get many ascents.