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Ascent of Mount Rolo on 2020-05-30

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Saturday, May 30, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Rolo
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:8096 ft / 2467 m

Ascent Trip Report

Mount Rolo (8,096ft) and Wildcat Mountain (7,958ft)

24 miles, 7,000ft gain
May 29-30, 2020, Eric

Friday 6:45pm – Saturday 9:00am

There was a tight weather window over the weekend with bad weather supposed to start saturday morning in most places, though latest in the northeast. Friday night was clear, though. So I figured I’d shift my sleep schedule a bit to hike at night and sleep during the day when it was raining, and to tag a few top 200 peaks in the Pasayten near Harts Pass. I hadn’t seen any reports from this area on any forum since the fall, so was optimistic I would be the only one there. Bad thunderstorms were supposed to arrive by 9:30am, so I definitely wanted to be back to the car by then.

Friday after work I drove out to Mazama and made it up FS 5400. Deadhorse point had some very narrow sections with fresh rock slide pinching off the road, but I could squeeze through. I’m very glad I didn’t encounter an oncoming vehicle there. I managed to get to about 5,900ft before a big snowdrift covered most of the road, with only a narrow spot melted out next to a cliff. I chickened out there and backed up to a pullout at 5,700ft.

By 6:45pm I was packed up and started mountain biking up the road. I biked for 1.5 miles to the pass completely on dirt, though it was only a narrow strip on the edge of drifts that will take a while more to melt out. From the pass it was deep and continuous snow. I pushed my bike up a bit farther then locked it to a tree and continued on foot. I could see snowmobile tracks heading up to Slate Pass, but unclear how recent they were. I ascended steeply directly up to the pass and got a view of my peaks in the distance down the Middle Fork Pasayten River valley.

As I saw in the satellite images the ridges between Wildcat and Rolo were mostly melted out. I didn’t know, though, whether they would be easy hikes or class 4 scrambles, and it looked like I would be figuring that out in the dark. I sort of regretted not bringing skis, since it had been continuous skiable snow up to Slate pass and looked like an amazing ski descent down into the valley below. But doing my planned ridge run between Wildcat and Rolo in the melted out conditions I saw sounded unpleasant in ski boots. And the satellite images showed the lower valley melted out, thus likely passing my threshold of >50% of the route unskiable, which is why I left my skis at home.

I did see some old ski tracks dropping down the north side of Slate Pass into the Pasayten Wilderness, and unfortunately some snowmobile tracks as well (snowmobiles are not allowed in the wilderness). I soon plunge stepped down the headwall and into the trees. Luckily the snow was consolidated enough I didn’t need my snowshoes. I continued along the east side of the river through mostly open forest, which got denser as I got lower. Around 5300ft the snow melted out to be patchy with bushes and bare ground exposed.

By 9:30pm I met up with the trail near the Robinson Pass turnoff and finally turned on my headlamp. I continued up the Fuguson Lake trail and back up into the snow. Around 6,200ft I lost the trail in the snow and made a beeline up the steep west face of Wildcat Mountain. (This peak is officially one of the washington top 200 as recognized by the Bulgers group, though is not on the peakbagger.com list.)

I kicked steps up to the north ridge, which was melted out. I then scrambled up the ridge to the summit around midnight. The moon was bright enough that I could see most of the surrounding peaks lit up. It was pretty neat to see a view like that, which I would normally only see during the day. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a summit register, and I bet this is not a popular peak. I turned around then and scrambled north along the ridge toward Rolo Peak.

Above Ferguson Lake I downclimbed a narrow exposed section, and then encountered deep snow at the 7600ft saddle. I continued up the ridge to Pussy Cat Peak, then farther north. In general the ridge was class 2, though I needed to downclimb some steep snow to get to the saddle below Rolo. Then I did a bit of third class scrambling up the south ridge of Rolo, summitting at 2am. Rolo had a summit register with many sign ins, though none since last september.

The temperature was very warm and I hadn’t even needed my gloves all night. It was a bit windy, though, so I dropped to the west side and took a short food break. I contemplated descending the standard north ridge of Rolo and maybe even tagging Osceola for sunrise. But then I remembered the bad weather I was hoping to avoid. It had taken me 7 hours to get to Rolo, and I expected about the same back, which would put me back just before the storms. I don’t mind getting a bit wet, but my route required me to climb up and over Slate Pass, which would be a bad place to be in a thunderstorm. I had already climbed Osceola also, so decided to head back.

To save time I decided to drop all the way down to the valley bottom and take the trail back instead of doing the tedious ridge run with all the unnecessary extra elevation gain. I recalled from satellite images the direct west face of Rolo was quite steep and exposed, but it got less so a bit farther south. Unfortunately it was impossible to tell in the dark. So I scrambled back to the col south of Rolo and headed straight down from there.

I found a snowy rib with trees and did a combination of plunge stepping and downclimbing until I got cliffed out. I then traversed a steep snow gully to another rib and continued down. In the daylight I would probably walk straight down the snow gully, but I was a bit nervous in the dark not knowing if it cliffed out and got icy, so I felt safer staying in the treed slopes.

Eventually the snow melted out and I scrambled and downclimbed into steep trees. I had to do a bit of thrashing through slide alder and some more bushwhacking, but popped out on the trail at 3:30am. Alpenglow was forming in the sky and I wished I would have stayed above treeline to see sunrise from Wildcat. But I knew that would slow things down and make me more likely to get caught in a thunderstorm.

Luckily the trail was melted out down there and I made quick progress. It soon got very muddy and snowy with lots of fresh melting in the warm temperatures. (I saw Winthrop was forecast to hit almost 90F that day!) I continued up the trail, turning off my headlamp around 4:30am. I soon reached the Ferguson Lake turnoff and followed my bootprints bushwhacking back up the east side of the river. As the route steepened it finally made sense to put on my snowshoes, and I snowshoed steeply back up to Slate Pass by 8:30am.

To the north the skies were clear and sunny, but the skies were dark and ominous to the south. Storm clouds were rolling in and it looked like I might just beat them. I plunge stepped down and followed the road to my bike near Harts Pass. I managed to bike a bit on the firm snow, then pushed my bike the rest of the way to the dirt. I had an amazing and quick bike ride down 1.5 miles back to the car. Interestingly a truck had managed to make it through the snow that turned me around, but it only made it a few hundred feet farther before also giving up and retreating.

By 9:00am I reached the car and loaded up, and within 10 minutes I saw lightning, heard thunder, and heavy rain started. It would have been hard to cut it much closer than that. I wanted to take a nap right there, but was a bit worried about getting around Dead Horse point. There was a good chance heavy rain could cause more rock slides, which might make the already narrow and exposed road impassable. So I headed down immediately . I passed one passenger car coming up, but luckily it was before the exposed area and I found a pullout to let him by.

I made it safely down the road and pulled into the Robinson Creek trailhead by 10am. I took a nap for 2 hours as the rain intensified, then drove back home that afternoon.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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