Ingalls Lake

Last weekend I was too sick to join Gary and John for a larch backpacking trip to Stiletto Peak in the North Cascades. First time I've been under the weather in several years. With the end of dry weather coming and larch at their peak I had to get in a trip. It required taking a day off work. On the positive side, Ingalls is mobbed on the October larch weekends. We had no such crowds. Kim was free and joined me. We headed out of town early and reached the trailhead by 8:40 am. Ten minutes later we were on our way. I was surprised to see only two other cars in the lot. Easily the least I have seen at the Ingalls trailhead. Blue skys overhead on this last of 90 consecutive dry days. The coming rain does is needed. The fires east of Highway 97 may finally be put out. We had some smoke in the air early but it cleared out for the most part.

It was quite cold at the start but as we climbed out of the valley it warmed up. We also were out of the shade fairly fast. Lots of colorful leaves down low but in the shade they were muted. The trail to Ingalls Pass is very gently graded. It takes the better part of four miles to gain less than 2000'. We could see one snow patch left down low on the north side of Esmerelda Peaks. It will last right up to the new snow fall. That might only be a week or two away at higher elevations. The general deer season starts in only another two days. We saw a number of hunter camps being set up along the Teanaway Road. No need for orange on this day.

We saw nobody else on our hike to the pass. There is one tree down across the trail about a half mile below the pass. Unfortunately folks have been cutting around it. Ground cover does not grow easily at 5600' this far east of the crest. That bypass trail will be there for years to come. Only one cut is needed to remove the small tree. Some reports from the prior weekend suggested that the larch peak was still one to two weeks away. The photos seemed to show it would be earlier. When I reached the pass I was happy to see that we hit within a day or two of the peak. Still a few green. A few dropping needles . The bulk of the larch were right at their peak color.

Most of my Ingalls larch visits have been after a light snow fall. Mt. Stuart highlighted in white and enough snow to cover some of the ground in Headlight Basin. Not so this year. No rain in three months and no signs of snow. The peaks are a little less impressive with no snow but it was comfortably warm day. Short sleeve warm for much of the day. As expected our pace really slowed down beyond the pass. The sun was low even nearing mid day. The larch seemed very muted until they were between us and the sun. Then they really lit up. On the way to Ingalls Lake the trees ahead of us were muted but behind us they were on fire. I had to constantly keep looking backwards.

While at the pass the first group caught up with us. A number more passed us as well. Everyone enjoyed the larch colors. We spend far more time photographing the trees and much less time at the lake.  So many trees so close to their peak made for a very enjoyable day. The little creek in the meadow was still flowing with plenty of water. It was full of larch needles. They showed the patterns of the water current in an unexpected way. They also created black shadows on the bottom of the creek. Beyond the bulk of the larch we followed the trail as it winds it's way over to Ingalls Lake. Some cairns are useful to help folks stay on route. It has really gotten out of hand since last year. In places there are cairns every five to ten feet. At one spot I had on just behind me, one just ahead, and one on either side. With my pole I could touch four cairns from one place.

We arrived at the lake to find the several groups who passed us earlier. Nothing remotely like the 60+ people at the lake on my October weekend visit last year. Mhuch on recognized me near the lake. That does not happen very often. Always nice to meet a hiker I only know from the Internet. Kim arrived at the lake just after me. Above her on the rocks were a mother goat and her kid. They came on down and proceeded to meander around the hikers. That was one of the longest and best goad encounters I have had. We headed back at about 2:00 pm. Kim tweaked her knee and the rocky trail back to the basin was not much fun for her. I think the views largely made up for it. Looking back to the pass the larch were all back lit. A little too much glare but a great sight none the less.

On the hike in I had mentioned to Kim that the current photo at  the top of the Washington Trails Association ( site was one I took of Paul in Headlight Basin several years ago. As we hiked back to the basin I was recognized a second time this day. It was Paul. The same Paul I photographed very nearby. It is a small world. That was the first time I had ever ran into him on the trail. Paul and his wife were also taking advantage of the last dry day and the peaking larch.

We spent quite a bit of time meandering around the basin. Larch season would be exactly one day long for me this year and I was in no hurry to see it end. The conditions were nearly perfect. Bright sun to light up the trees. A cool fall day at 6000' but unseasonably warm. To top it off, Kim met her friend Steven who we knew would be in the basin this day. It was about 3:45 when we finally headed down from Ingalls Pass. Most of the other groups had already gone down. The trail is so gentle that it is easy on the knees. We set a slow steady pace. Still great views out to the peaks around us. Mhuch passed us near the bottom. He had gone around to the back side of Ingalls Lake. I also caught up with Paul just before the trailhead.

We had a quick dinner at the trailhead picnic table and headed out at 6:00 pm I was surprised to see that there were still eight other cars in the lot. Not sure where they all went. They are still doing evening blasting along Keechelus Lake. We arrived at 7:00 pm to find a two mile backup that was just starting to move again after the 6:00 - 7:00 pm highway closure. It took about 25 minutes for us to get moving. I was not home until 8:45 pm. That made for one long day hike.

All in all, this was an exceptional day in the mountains. Great weather, great larch colors, and great company. Not even remotely similar to the 24 person group on last year's hike. I was surprised to see that there is no longer a sign at the trailhead or at the Ingalls Way Trail junction mentioning that dogs are not allowed. There is a small sign of prohibitions at the pass that includes dogs but that is it. We saw one dog at the lake and I found it hard to blame anyone in a group that hiked all the way to the pass and then found out. That one point aside it was a great hike. Almost enough to make me forget about missing the backpacking trip to Stiletto. Almost.

Fortune Peak
October Scarlet Gilia?
Leaf Color
October Harebell?
Hawkins Mountain
Larch Before Pass
Mt. Stuart & Larch
Muted Larch & Ingalls
Sun On Larch
More Larch & Stuart
Blue Sky & Larch
Kim At Ingalls Pass
Crooked Tree
Kim Silhouetted
Bright Trees Near Pass
Kim Near Pass
Trees Below Pass
Back Lit Larch
Framed Stuart
Kim In Forest
Peaking Larch
Heading Forward
Fantastic Conditions
Trail Through Larch
Ingalls Creek Valley
Picket Fence
Larch & Stuart
Looking To Pass
Shaded Background
Larch Afire
Lone Larch
Needles On The Water
Larch On Bench
Blue Sky & Larch
Edge Of Meadow
Color Along Trail
Goat Family
Baby Goat
Looking To Pass
Color Below Lake
Lower Headlight Basin
Sun Lit Trees
Back At Meadow
Looking Across Meadow
Dark Background
Back In Forest
All Sizes
Really Nice Color
Outhouse View
Multi Colored
Gold & Sky Again
Great Contrast
Darkening Slope
Really Really Nice
Paul In Forest
Slim Trees
Framed Ingalls Peak
Ingalls Peaks
Smoky Ridges
Final Color Shot
Ingalls Lake Panorama
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2012