Lake Ingalls, 08/03/08

After a one-weekend hiking hiatus (which actually amounts to about fourteen days, and felt like every minute of it) we were determined to make the most of our common day off, and get out and hike.  Since we’re still left with just Sundays–a temporary situation, we hope–we weren’t looking for an overnighter, and it had to be something marginally nearby.  I’d seen a trip report or two for Lake Ingalls lately, so I kept that in my mind as Nicole and I set about our routine of searching websites and guidebooks for other possibilities.  I wouldn’t call it wasted time, but in the end, we decided on Lake Ingalls anyway.  I think I can speak for the both of us when I say that we’re glad we did.

Panorama at Lake Ingalls.

Panorama at Lake Ingalls. Click if you care to embiggen.

Lake Ingalls sits just inside the Alpine Lake Wilderness boundary, in the Teanaway area of Washington State.  In years past, almost all of our hikes ended at an alpine–or, more likely, at that time, sub-alpine lake.  Mason Lake, Lake Valhalla, Rachel Lake, Watson Lakes…  We loved rewarding ourselves with a cool dip or cold plunge and some time spent resting before the return down.  This year, somehow, we’d yet to take a hike with a lake for a reward; the Pacific Ocean doesn’t count.  Lake Ingalls, which sits at an elevation of about 6500’, sounded perfect.

Late in the week, we’d toyed with the idea of driving up the North Fork of the Teanaway River Road late Saturday afternoon, hoping to find a place to pitch our tent for the night and an early start Sunday morning.  In the end, due to equal parts uncertainty and laziness, we decided to keep a day hike a day hike.  From all we’d heard (i.e., read), this was a very popular trail (overflowing trailhead, 75+ cars parked down the road, etc.) so in an attempt to avoid the crowds, I insisted upon a very early start.

I woke up at about 04:15, well before the alarm, and took the opportunity to make [fake] breakfast sausages, [real] scrambled eggs, and [white] toast.  I turned on the coffee and woke up Nicole just before the food was ready.  After some early-morning starts without a solid breakfast, I can say that this was probably the smartest thing I did the entire hike.  Good breakfasts make good neighbors.  Er, hikes.

We were in the car and on our way out of West Seattle at 05:15.  It almost can’t get any easier to find your way to the Teanaway area: I-90 to WA-970 to Teanaway Road.  The trailhead to Lake Ingalls (in addition to trailheads and/or access to Esmeralda Basin and Longs Pass) sits at the very end of the road, some 20 miles in.  About half of that is gravel, but it’s a very popular (and therefore, well-maintained) road.  Just watch out for wandering livestock.  Moo!  We reached the trailhead at 07:21, and found easily two-dozen cars scattered alongside the road and in the parking lot; most of them looked like the cars of overnighters.  There were still quite a few spots in the parking lot proper, so we pulled in, used the toilet, and hit the trail at 07:30.  That’s a door-to-trailhead time of about 2 hours and 15 minutes.  Only negative of the drive at that time of the day: sunrise in the east, and in the eyes.

No matter what your destination, if you’re leaving this parking lot on your own two feet, you’re starting up trail #1394, elevation 4200’.  The trail begins as a wide, dry path alongside a stream, pleasantly gaining elevation for the first 10-15 minutes.  At about that time (and 0.4 miles in) trail #1390–Ingalls Way–branches off to the right and heads up towards the ridge to the east.

When I’d glanced at the Green Trails Map #209 (Mount Stuart, WA) in the days before, I’d just assumed that the first half of the hike would be difficult, on account of the presence of switchbacks.  Nicole and I are both happy to report that this trail, end-to-end, is beautifully maintained, and graded perfectly.  At least for us.  It allows for a great pace to be set, and a steady gain of elevation, without being overly taxing.  Looking back, and looking into the faces of those we passed on our way down (i.e., those heading up in the heat of the afternoon), I’d say that the fact that we started early enough to be wearing our fleeces was an important factor in our comfort level, as well.

For 2 miles the trail works its way up the west side of what I’ll call the Ingalls-to-Iron ridge.  The trees are sparse, and so then is the shade, unless you’re early enough to be hiking in the shadow of the ridge itself, which we were.  Esmeralda Peak dominates the views to the west at the lower elevations, and there’s the beautiful red rocks of the ridge to the north.

Esmeralda Peak, as seen early on.

Esmeralda Peak, as seen early on.

The red rocks of Ingalls-Iron ridge.

The red rocks of Ingalls-Iron ridge.

At 08:18, after about one hour and 2.4 miles of hiking, we reached the intersection with the Longs Pass trail (#1229).  The elevation at this point is 5600’, which put the gain so far at 1400’.  [It looks like Longs Pass is only 0.6 miles from this point, with another 700’ of gain.  In comparison, we had 3.0 miles to go and only 900’ more to gain.  That, at least, is according to the map.]

We’d been pleasantly surprised that we’d seen relatively few people so far.  Only two pairs of backpackers had passed us heading down, and we’d seen no one going up–yet.  For the next 1.5 miles the trail traverses the side of the ridge, still pleasantly, perhaps a bit rockier.  The rocky surroundings are beautiful, and wildflowers¬–though probably past their prime–still dot the landscape in purples, reds, and yellows.  It’s in this section that the trail gains enough elevation to reveal nice views over-and-through the Esmeralda Peaks to Mt. Rainier.  Mt. Adams is also visible in far distance.  You’ll see Mt. Adams before you’re rewarded with bigger and nearer Mt. Rainier.

With water near the trailhead and more in store, hydration shouldn’t be an issue if you’re carrying enough water for a few hours.  I had the inevitable 7 liters on my back, and we were hiking so well, with such cooperative weather, that we’d so far split only one liter between us to this point.  We realized–regardless of groove–we should be drinking water, and so at around 09:10 we stopped near a large rock to the left of the trail, refilled, and enjoyed the views, still to the west.

Mt. Adams, Esmeralda Peaks, and Mt. Rainier.  I promise.

Mt. Adams, Esmeralda Peaks, and Mt. Rainier. I promise.

As tends to be the case, we stopped to do this just before reaching a landmark: at 09:25 we reached an unexpected intersection.  At this point (1.5 miles from the Longs Pass intersection), the trail splits into two: Ingalls Way #1390.1 and Ingalls Way Alternate #1390.2.  The Green Trails map doesn’t show this, but there’s a map posted at this point on the trail that shows the diverging trails and the ~10 designated campsites alongside them.  Camping is only allowed at these sites, which are scattered around Upper (#1390.1) and Lower (#1390.2) Headlight Basin.

We chose to take the main trail on the way in, leaving the alternate trail for the way back, should we want a change of scenery.  And I should say now that while we did choose to take the lower route on the way back, it wasn’t because the Upper Basin left us needing any more scenery.  Headlight Basin is gorgeous.  Just as you approach it, Mt. Stuart makes a grand entrance to the east.  Headlight Basin itself is an eastern-facing, downward-sloping crescent of rocks, snow, trees, and meadows.  At the north end stands Ingalls Peak, Lake Ingalls hidden at its base.

Nicole looks over a meadow in Upper Headlight Basin.

Nicole looks over a meadow in Upper Headlight Basin.

Nicole, Headlight Creek–I think, and Mt. Stuart.

Nicole, Headlight Creek–I think, and Mt. Stuart.

We wandered slowly along in wonder, stopping often for the pictures above, below, and stored safely on my hard drive.  Note to self: buy an external hard drive.  Early on–the trail through the basin to Lake Ingalls is 1.5 miles long–I heard Nicole whisper my name as I stared out over the Ingalls Creek valley, which we’d hiked partway up earlier this year.  I could tell by her excited whisper that I could expect something special.  It was a mountain goat, standing on a rock just a dozen feet in front of us, oblivious to our existence–perhaps, and only briefly.  It spotted us, and walked behind rocks only to appear on the other side, with a kid in tow.

Mountain goats.  Who would've thunk it?

Mountain goats. Who would've thunk it?

As we worked our way through the basin, we passed a few groups of backpackers, some at their tents near the trail, others on their way out.  “Just more beautiful scenery ahead,” a particularly jovial pair warned us.

As we continued on, Nicole lamented the fact that’d we’d never seen a marmot.  And, not twenty minutes from when we’d seen the mountain goats.  Behold: marmots!  We saw a few right on the trail, and as we approached, it became clear that they were doing their own version of trail maintenance.  One of the marmots was industrious to the point of ignorance.  We walked within five or six feet of his burrow, but he continued to work.  He’d disappear down to the point where we could barely see his behind, reappear in a moment with a pretty sizeable rock in his mouth, drop it on the trail, and repeat.  We carefully tiptoed around the area, myself with a camera to capture and Nicole with trekking poles to defend, expecting an attack at any moment by this ferocious beast:

What's that you've got in your mouth, Mr. Marmot?  A rock?!

What's that you've got in your mouth, Mr. Marmot? A rock?!

As the trail approaches the northern end of Headlight Basin, it becomes rockier and difficult to follow from time to time; but a cairn is usually there to set you on the correct path.  Still, even with a cairn in sight, we sometimes put out a little more effort than we needed to, but nothing too difficult.  You will be using your hands once in a while, but there’s no exposure, and nothing scary.  At this end of the basin, you’ll begin gaining elevation, up through the rocks toward Ingalls Peak.

Working our way up out of the basin.

Working our way up out of the basin.

The view south across Headlight Basin, from near Lake Ingalls.

The view south across Headlight Basin, from near Lake Ingalls.

At 10:40 we climbed the last few feet up and saw our first of Lake Ingalls.  For years, I’ve been dying to reach a lake like this.  High in the mountains, surrounded by rock and ice.  I drool at pictures of the nearby Enchantments, but until I get us a permit (which must be done months in advance) and the time to do it, Lake Ingalls is not a poor substitute.

Down to the lake.

Down to the lake.

It took us just over 3 hours to cover the 5.4 miles and 2300’ of gain.  We hadn’t seen a bug the entire time.  But at the lake, the mosquitoes were horrendous.  We worked our way along the west side of the lake and got ourselves situated on a nice rock a bit back from the water, hoping to catch what breeze there was.  After applying the rest of our 100% DEET, which proved effective, we sat down to eat our lunch, which consisted of cheese sandwiches, trail mix, beef jerky, and an apple.  We were hungry!  The trail mix was good even though we didn’t make it, but the apple was blah–it had no flavor.

When we’d arrived, we saw several other people in the high rocks around the lake, but they were far enough away that it seemed like we had it all to ourselves.  We ate, drank, and snapped many many pictures.

Mt. Stuart reflected in Lake Ingalls.  The first of many.

Mt. Stuart reflected in Lake Ingalls. The first of many.

The waters of Ingalls.

The waters of Ingalls.

Mt. Stuart, meet Lake Ingalls.  It's just a little breezy...

Mt. Stuart, meet Lake Ingalls. You may notice a slight breeze.

Nicole had spotted a mountain goat across the lake; that mountain goat turned out to be ~10 mountain goats.  It was a large family with multiple kids, and as time went by they worked their way clockwise around the lake, passing nearby and through other groups of hikers.  By now there were a fair amount of people up at the lake, most of which were standing right at the trail’s end.  This, unfortunately, ended up being directly between the majority of the goat family and a lone, stranded kid.  The kid was crying and couldn’t find a way down from the rocks to its mother.  It was a pretty heartbreaking scene, and we were kicking ourselves for being intrusive humans.  But the other people didn’t seem to understand that they were, perhaps, making things more difficult for the kid by standing where they stood, and so the crying continued for quite a while.  Eventually, the kid found its way down and the crying stopped.  Meanwhile, other members of the family had made their way over to us…

This kid's got balance.

This kid's got balance.

Nicole vs. Goat.

Nicole vs. Goat.

Having just witnessed the aforementioned scene, we were anxious to get out of the way of the goats, and so at 11:45 we snuck between the four or five surrounding us, and left Lake Ingalls behind us.  This gives me an opportunity to muse: why Lake Ingalls and not Ingalls Lake?

On the way back, we came again to the proverbial fork in the road.  That is, the Upper Headlight Basin trail (which we’d already taken) vs. the Lower Headlight Basin (which appeared to lose and regain a few hundred additional feet).  Nicole and I were both feeling our knees and feet, but I’d seen some photos at of Mt. Stuart reflected in a small tarn, and since I hadn’t seen it along the upper trail, I hypothesized that the location was along the lower one.  And there was also this trip report to come home to.  So for the sake of completeness and photographic plagiarism, we took the low road.  Our knees graciously accept your thanks.

The low road (aka Ingalls Way Alternate #1390.2) does indeed take you down a few hundred feet, through a greener portion of the basin.  There are several amazing campsites off of the trail, with stellar views of Mt. Stuart.  There’s also a toilet in the area, and though we didn’t investigate, I hear even it has commanding views of the mountain.  In a short amount of time, we came across the small meadow tarn that held quite a nice reflection of Mt. Stuart.  I snapped only several photos, and then moved on; there were some bugs in this part of the basin, too.

Mt. Stuart from the Lower Basin perspective.

Mt. Stuart from the Lower Basin perspective.

The Stuart-reflecting tarn has been found.  Deploy cameras immediately.

The Stuart-reflecting tarn has been found. Deploy cameras immediately.

At 12:45 we emerged from Lower Headlight Basin and found the intersection we’d seen on the way up.  It actually took us a little less time from lake to intersection via #1390.2 than it did from intersection to lake via #1390.1.  I think the lower route is slightly more direct, but there’s a bit more elevation change.  That said, we did stop for mountain goats, marmots, and more along the upper trail.  My advice: do what we did–you’ll want to see it all both ways.

Nicole emerges victoriously from Lower Headlight Basin.

Nicole emerges victoriously from Lower Headlight Basin.

From that point onward, it was all downhill, generally, gradually.  We made pretty good time, even though we both had a bit of knee pain.  The afternoon sunshine seemed to wake up the wildflowers.  We descended while conversing, and said Hello to all the hikers heading up.  At 14:30, we were at the trailhead.

Yes, I took the green out of this picture.  I'd had enough!

Yes, I took the green out of this picture. I'd had enough!

I’d stopped right near the trailhead to take a few photos of the stream that ran alongside it, and Nicole went ahead to use the toilet.  A few minutes later, when I walked into the parking lot, I saw Nicole talking to someone.  It turned out to be a woman we knew.  She and her partner (we actually know them both) had just finished a hike up to Esmeralda Basin.  We laughed because Nicole and I knew that they were heading to the general area, but it was a pleasant surprise, and amazing timing, to run into them both then and there.  We talked for a few minutes and then retreated to our car to take off our boots and socks.

Nicole and I both agree that this is one of the best hikes we’ve been on.  The trail is in great shape, and engineered to our tastes.  The views are excellent the entire time.  Wildlife.  Beautiful campsites.  A lake that we’d love to dunk toes (or more!) in on a warmer day.  It’s an area we need to come back and spend some more time in.  A day hike just isn’t quite enough.  Highly recommended.

Distance: ~10.8 miles round-trip from the Ingalls Way trailhead to Lake Ingalls.  The lake itself sits at 6463’ and the trail gains 2300’+ en route.  It took us ~3:10 to reach the lake, and ~2:45 to get back down to the trailhead.  Including each and every photo op and a leisurely lunch below Ingalls Peak, this hike took a total of ~7 hours.  Pizza was delivered before 18:00 and we were in bed by 21:00 and 22:00, respectively.

As always, there’s more photos at Flickr; comments and questions are welcomed.


3 Responses to Lake Ingalls, 08/03/08

  1. mtadventures says:

    awesome photos…we love them! we did this trip last summer and camped a night up there, such a beautiful place and awesome trail!

  2. jennifer s says:

    Gorgeous! Now I want to go there too!

  3. jeremy says:

    @ mtadventures: Thanks! It’s cool that we’ve both been up there.

    @ jennifer s: You should! It looks like you’re getting a lot of hiking done this month! I’m jealous.

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