Last time I hiked Round Mountain was like a 2/10 on a scale of 1-10. We were socked in by clouds with no views, I forgot my favorite snacks, and I got dumped a few hours later at a park n ride after overeating mediocre chicken alfredo on the way home. Something about my crass language and favorite phrase “god dammit” cued the guy I was dating at the time into realizing maybe I wasn’t very religious, despite my very biblical name. I laugh now because obviously he was totally right, but at the time it took me a while to remember my life was awesome. Fortunately, two coworkers had also been dumped that week, so we took turns moaning and groaning and hogging the one bathroom in the office in case someone was about to cry. We even went to a cage fighting match between humans and computers which was a hilariously Seattle experience I will never forget. Complete with body slams and chair hits. Somehow, I didn’t meet any new dating material there.
So when Rob mentioned he was putting together a crew for Round Mountain, naturally I wanted a redo. Round Mountain is known for its prominence, it’s the 8th most prominent peak in WA with almost 4800ft of prominence despite only being 5300ft tall. Prominence = views. It rises up straight from the valley floor outside of Darrington, with phenomenal views of Whitehorse to the south and the entire cascade range to the west and north. You’re in a fishbowl of peaks. It’s generally quite safe on high avy days thanks to the entire route being forested and along a ridge. The forecast called for clear skies, views, and suckers I’m single there’s NO ONE to dump me at the bottom. Let’s do this.
- Distance: ~6mi (slightly under)
- Elevation: ~4100ft net, 5320 highest point (you lose some elevation that you have to regain on the way back)
- Weather: 50’s and sunny
- Commute from Seattle: ~2hrs
- Did I Trip: I don’t think so
- Peakbagger link from Daniel here
We decided to be on the trail by 8am. I am turning into a Seattlite who shows up 5-10min late to everything, so Rob told me 5:40 when he wanted to meet at 5:30 (it worked). We stopped at the pilot gas station and I’ll have you know I didn’t buy a cinnamon bun. We got to the trailhead around 7:15, I had enough time to crush a banana before Daniel showed up and we were plodding down the forest road around 7:40. You know how there’s the saying “be bold, start cold” because you know you’ll warm up once you start moving? Round Mountain is more like be bold, just start naked. You walk a forest road for a while and then cut straight into the forest uphill, and within 200 vertical feet of the road you’ll be sweating profusely and LET ME TELL YOU there is no end in sight until the summit. It felt like spring despite being February. Warm, sunny, and I stupidly wore expedition weight wool base layers because I don’t know follow seasonal transitions.
We went up and up, picking our own paths through the steep woods. The terrain is very open with no bushwhacking at all, surprising for the north cascades. I looove sunlight through the forests here. I don’t think we even hit snow until around 3500ft. We were carrying snowshoes that we never put on. There was some unavoidable postholing, but such is life, it’s not a real snow adventure without some postholing. Rob broke trail, finding each and every hole for us. Every time I turned around Daniel was right behind me absolutely beaming with smiles. We talked through summer goals and lists to pursue and it was like getting the mental gears moving again, until I remembered I suck at goal setting. I just wake up on a Thursday and see where weather is good and try to find last minute free people. I don’t have a list, or a goal, or anything. I guess I have a list called “the selfish ten” that are peaks I will bail on anyone and anything for but even with that I’m being hypocritical because I have a few friends climbing a peak on that list the same weekend another friend has a wedding… and I’m going to the wedding.
We finally crested the knoll where you gain the last ridge to the summit. I say “finally” but really it went by surprisingly quickly! Good conversation with new people always helps, and I think we were moving at a decent clip. I can only speak for myself but I was hilariously overpacked for this balmy pseudo spring day. Two summit puffies, snowshoes, avy gear, great way to get in shape?
Go up and over the knoll! Sidehilling around it would be miserable. It looks like you can’t walk off the far end of the knoll but you can (well, maybe not in snowshoes). Getting to the saddle took longer than expected, but finally we were climbing up again, and into the sun this time. Don’t be fooled, you still have a ways to go here. There were old boot prints we followed and we started to leapfrog a pair of two others that had caught up to us. At this point Jon started to lead, and I swear everyone in front of him and from prior days was also >6ft tall because I started having to kick extra steps in between their ginormous strides. I stashed one pole by a patch of trees where the prior party had stashed some gear and continued up with an ice axe.
It’s crazy how different conditions change the experience. The first time I did Round Mountain snowshoes were essential and I still remember swimming uphill through powder. This time we got to kick steps, the snow was mostly solid, there was exposed rock for a scramble-y move or two.
The views were ridiculous. I could tell by how tall Higgins seemed that we were nowhere near the summit of Round yet. Higgins and its entire ridge looks SO cool from Round Mountain, it’s extremely steep and jagged and from the highway side it has these incredible diagonal striations like a little piece of Glacier National Park or Banff. The views were almost enough to distract me from the fact I was fucking starving.
The summit is aptly named. At least in winter, it is quite round. Huge plateau with plenty of space and views in every single direction. I didn’t even know which way to face for a panorama. Even the Olympics were visible. Rob whipped out his car windshield visor as a sit pad which had us cracking up. Daniel asked if we wanted spicy mango candy or chocolate covered espresso beans. Rob asked if anyone wanted chocolate or whiskey. I don’t remember what Jon had to offer, but it was definitely better than my snacks – anyone want, uh, soft boiled eggs, or lentils? A resounding no.
*edit: Jon had maybe some Hawaiian pizza to offer, unless he had already eaten the 8 slices he carried up the mountain
Whatever guys, I devoured my snacks. I just started Invisalign, and I wildly underestimated how much of a pain in the ass it would be with my lifestyle. I have a single crowded tooth that you can’t even see when I’m smiling, but after two years of starting at my own face on Zoom I can’t un-see it every time I talk or laugh. But. You can’t eat ANYTHING with them in! And if you take them out to eat, you have to brush them AND your teeth AND floss before they go back in. So I ate like a full meal on top of Round Mountain, and then had a little dental hygiene clinic. No pocket snacks, no quick bites, just one big committing break and I guess that’s how the rest of my climbs will be until I’m done with the liners. My best idea so far is cutting shot blocks into small pieces and taking them with water like sugar pills but I like to ENJOY my food.
The way down went by so quickly. Rob started singing songs that only require one line to get stuck in your head. Like “it’s the fiiinal cooountdooown.” I had more examples but now that’s already in my head and I can’t remember anything else. I was worried I’d overshoot where I had stashed my pole since it was no longer obvious with all the gear the other party had stashed, but we found it. We glissaded a 12ft stretch, and another 12ft stretch. Downclimbed some of the rockier parts. Snapped 1000 more pictures. Wove our way back up the almost knifey yet forested ridge to the knoll, and from there we knew it was the home stretch, but a misleading one. It’s. SO. Steep. And just so sustained. It’s honestly better with snow. Without snow, you’re trying to creep down this slippery mossy dirty slope, hoping your feet will stick to something. It’s extremely tedious. I think the part just below the knoll was the worst, and it gets less steep as you get closer to the forest road. Going down doesn’t feel much faster than going up because of how tedious it is. At least it’s soft so it’s not a total knee banger.
We were back down by 3pm, making it somewhere around 7hrs round trip with a very long summit break. Our moving time was just under 6hrs. We stopped by the Rhodes River Ranch in Oso for lunch/dinner (dunch?). It’s open again, and it’s just a very cool location with great food. You can watch horses in a ring below the restaurant seating, the burgers are delicious. And they give you chocolates with your receipts, so don’t put your invisalign back on until after you’ve paid 🙂
Great day with a great group, still can’t believe we got so lucky with weather in freaking February. Hope we get on some more adventures and I HIGHLY recommend Round Mountain to anyone looking for a lesser known peak with a fairly safe winter route and really just phenomenal views. I think it’s being discovered though, we ran into multiple other parties up there. It certainly deserves it. Can’t say it’s worth lugging skis up there (I considered it) but I’m sure someone’s tried it…