Ingalls Lake

Larch season is a short period from late September to mid October each year. The needles of the Western and Lyall's larch trees turn golden and then soon fall off. They go from green to golden to bare in a short time. I try to get out once or twice each fall to enjoy the color. We had hoped to get up to Carne Basin near the Chiwawa River this year. A lingering fire had the area still closed down. The larch only grow on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. It is a good long drive out and back to see them on a day trip. What is really required to light up the needles is sunshine. I have had a number of trips on cloudy days when the larch are at their peak but the color is dull. The forecast was for sunshine on Wednesday, then partly sunny, then cloudy with some rain for the weekend. A mid week day off work was in order. Gary was free and John took a day off to go. I also took a day off for the trip. We met early in Issaquah to beat the morning traffic and to get the 122 mile (from my house) drive done and all hike up to Ingalls Pass while the good morning light was still available. We met at 6:35 am and headed east. It was my turn to drive.

As it turned out the highway near Snoqualmie Pass was scheduled to be closed for up to three hours at 8:00 am to cut down damaged trees near the highway. We sailed through well ahead of that. East to Cle Elum then north on Highway 907 to the NF Teanaway Road. Thirteen miles of pavement then ten more miles of dirt. The dirt road is in pretty good shape. Last winter there was a washout that kept the road closed early this summer before it was repaired. As it turned out, there were five or six washouts. They are fine to cross though my sedan did scrape bottom in one spot in one direction. Just go slow. The last one is right before the parking lot at the end of the road. The lot holds about 30 cars. On a weekend day in larch season there may be up to a hundred or more. Most of them end up parking along the side of the road for a significant distance. We arrived at about 8:20 am to find about a dozen.

Photos from a week earlier showed the larch were still mostly green. Ones from a few days earlier showed a lot of yellow. We knew they were not yet at the peak but we hoped for some good color. They had really started to turn fast. Most of our trips are in mid October. This and last year's visits were at the same time at the end of September. Definitely earlier than usual. Most mid October mornings at the 4423' trailhead are at or below freezing. Not so in late September. It was probably in the high 40s when we got started. A light long sleeved shirt and no gloves was most unusual. The trail to Ingalls Pass is about 3 miles with 2000' of elevation gain. The grade is moderate and steady most all the way up. We started out in forest with some good leaf color. There was no sun to light them up however. Within a mile I was down to a short sleeved shirt. By the Longs Pass trail junction my zip off pants legs came off. We had much more overcast at the start than forecast. We just hoped it would clear up by the time we reached the pass and the larch trees.

At the Longs Pass junction we met two backpackers coming down. One of them turned out to be Janelle (Hiking Queen) who I know from the hiking community. She and Andrea had spent two days up in Headlight Basin. From the junction on up we were mostly out of forest. Great views over to the Esmerelda Peaks, Fortune Peak, and Koppen Mountain. We arrived at Ingalls Pass at 10:12 am. We were greeted my several grouse at our break spot. At a distance while driving in we saw part of Mt. Stuart shrouded with clouds. Now it was clear. Unfortunately, there were still a lot of clouds overhead though there was now blue sky too. The larch at the pass were more golden than I expected. Some green but mostly golden. We had a few moments of sunshine that lit them up but mostly the colors were more muted by the lack of sunshine.

After a break and photos of the larch trees with Mt. Stuart for a backdrop, we headed down to upper Headlight Basin. The trees looked more green in the lower basin and we did not visit there on this trip. Throughout the day we would periodically see some hikers but it was never remotely crowded. Our goal was to go to Ingalls Lake but to spend most of the rest of the day concentrating on photos not on mileage. The short rocky trail led quickly into the basin. We were in no hurry. After several decades of fall visits Gary and I have favorite places to see in the basin. This was John's first visit to Headlight Basin. We made very slow progress and that was a good thing. Most folks zoomed on through on the way to the lake. The larch are the destination not the lake, at least for us. At first we sat and waited for sunshine. A narrow band of dark white clouds was right in line with the sun. On either side was a lot of blue sky. We had mostly muted color. As time went on, we had as much sun as shade and later it was mostly all sunshine.

My favorite fall conditions are blue sky and a dusting of snow on the ground. The bright blue, white, and golden yellow make for a dazzling display. Moderately warm weather and sunshine is a close second. While the larch were not all golden, the combination of bright gold, pale yellow, and some bright green needles provide nice contrast. The peak is probably less than a week away and there was much more golden than green. Not bad timing at all. We stayed in the upper basin until about 12:00 pm. Then we headed on to Ingalls Lake. As usual the route is very obvious in most places and not so obvious in some others. Even after the many visits Gary and I have made we made one wrong turn. We quickly corrected that. We reached the lake at abut 12:40 pm. By now the sky was most all blue. Mt. Stuart provides a great backdrop to the lake. There were about half a dozen small parties at the lake.

We had a nice lunch break with plenty of photos. At about 1:00 pm we headed out. Gary and I had been to the back side of the lake a number of times. We had not gone beyond the shore. Gary had done a clockwise loop around Ingalls Peaks some years ago so he had seen that area. We decided a visit was in order. The back side has big rock slabs with colorful berry leaves. We planned to check a route to Stuart Pass. A trail headed that way and we followed it. We did reach a viewpoint to the northwest. We also looked down on the Ingalls Creek Trail in a meadow below Stuart Pass. Our route had to descend then climb to the pass. We chose to stop where we were and save the time for more photos back in Headlight Basin. It was warm and sunny behind the and we did not have a lot of desire to leave. Fall days are getting short so after a break we headed back.

Around the lake then down then the traverse back to the upper basin. It was 3:35 pm when we were back amidst the larch trees. The sun was now low in the sky above the ridge. The larch were really lit up. The problem was the glare shooting almost into the sun. A lot of the photos did not turn out well. Some did. As we moved through the basin the angle to the sun improved and the photos were better. On the drive in we heard that the highway near Snoqualmie Pass would be closed from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm. We were not in a hurry to get back just to sit in stopped traffic. We lingered in the basin. We reached Ingalls Pass at about 4:20 pm. Twelve minutes later we headed down. We took far fewer photos coming down and made much better time. It took only 1:25 to descend the three miles. Esmerelda Peaks blocks out the sun well before sunset this time of year. The lot had been in shade for some time. We made it into Cle Elum before dark for a quick dinner. The highway was moving at the speed limit by the time we reached the closure. I was home by about 9:15 pm.

We had very good conditions for our larch trip. I would have liked for the clouds to have cleared out while we had good morning light but all in all the conditions were very good. John has been on larch trips before but I think he liked Headlight Basin. I hope we can get in one more larch trip this year but if not this was an excellent fall day in the mountains.

Ingalls Trailhead
First Color
More Leaf Color
Fortune Peak
Esmerelda Peaks
Grouse At Pass
Larch & Mt. Stuart
Golden Needles
Lone Larch
Looking To Pass
Lower Basin Larch
Closer Look
Muted Colors
Larch Fronting Stuart
One More
Clouds Block Sunshine
Shaded Stuart
Hiking Through Basin
Drab Colors
Now Lit Up
Against The Sky
Lower End Of Basin
Gold Against Green
Yet Another With Stuart
Terraces Of Larch Trees
Not Very Straight
At The Meadow
Heading For The Lake
John At Work
Red Rock & Stuart
Polished Rock
Distant Ingalls Pass
Ingalls Peaks
West Ridge Of Stuart
Gary At East End Of Lake
Glacier Peak
Eastern Shore
Great Leaf Color
Peaks To The NW
Color By The Shore
Gary Near Lake
Nice Lighting
Happy Gary
Red & Granite
Back In The Basin
Small Larch
Dark Background
Terrific Color
Patience Pays Off
Continuing Back
Close Up Needles
Big White Snag
Dark & Light
Fluted Ingalls
Back At The Pass
Shady Trailhead
Panorama Shot Of Ingalls Lake
180 Degree Panorama Shot Of The Meadow
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2016