Ingalls Lake

Ingalls Lake is an October hiking destination many years. The forecast looked poor every day this week except on Wednesday. To really make the golden larch needles glow sunshine is needed. Tuesday was a storm that dropped some snow on the area and had wind gusts up to 40+ mph. Wednesday would start clear with clouds coming in late in the morning and afternoon. With that in mind and with awful Seattle area traffic, we chose to get an early start. Gary was in on short notice and John signed on too. They carpooled to High Point near Issaquah. We met at 5:45 am. Gary drove as we headed east. Fog and clouds were thick near Cle Elum and things were not looking good. We headed up the NF Teanaway River Valley and the  sky cleared. We caught up with one car just before the Ingalls parking lot. There were two icy trucks in the lot plus the car just ahead. We arrived at the 4260' trailhead at 7:30 am.

I spoke with one guy who was taking down a small one person tent. We talked about the sleet raining down the night before that changed to snow. He mentioned the 30 mph winds that gusted to 40 mph. Just as it was forecast. At 7:37 am we were on our way. The car thermometer read in the high 20s. The trail climbs immediately allowing us to warm up. By the first junction the ground was white with a light coating of fresh snow. The red berry leaves were mostly snow covered on the way up. As we rose, the surrounding peaks came into view. East Esmerelda Peak is right above the parking lot. Most was in shadow but the top was bathed in early morning sunlight. The West Esmerelda Peaks soon were visible. Just enough snow to nicely highlight them. Fortune Peak looked especially good with fresh snow.

Much to our surprise there were no footprints in the snow. We were the first folks up the trail this day. After the junction with the Long's Pass Trail the route is mostly out in the open. Much of the last evening's precipitation must have fallen as frozen rain and sleet as we hard snow/ice on the trail. There was also snow, mostly off to the side of the trail. As the trail is quite narrow with significant drop offs we were careful. Though Gary and I had Yaktrax we did not need to stop and put them on. Higher up we started to see some clouds wafting in. The forecast looked to be correct. We continued up at a steady pace with a number of photo stops. It was a surprise to us that no fast hikers caught up and passed us. Nearing Ingalls Pass Mt. Rainier came into view and it was crystal clear. A benefit of an early start.

Just before the pass we saw the first larch trees. A little green but not too bad at all. The last few years we have seen goats just before the pass, at the pass, in the basin, and at the lake. Perhaps the storm sent them lower but we did not see a single mountain goat all day long. We arrived at the pass at 9:27 am and took a short break. With clouds moving in we wanted to get into the basin quickly. Larch trees look best and brightest when they are between you and the sun. This backlighting really brings out the colors. From the pass Headlight Basin is opposite the sun. The trees always look drab in the morning. We had some food and water and took the obligatory shots of Mt. Stuart. The fresh snow and blue sky really made for great views.

From the pass to the basin the route crosses a talus field that had just enough snow to make it slick and cover some of the voids. There is not much elevation loss. There are some trees near the pass that are lit by the sun as you look back. More camera shutter delay. We reached the basin to find no footprints in the fresh snow. The sun was still low and made shots looking back at the pass difficult. Sun right in your face. The basin is the best part of a larch hike. Ingalls Lake is beautiful but it is away from the larch show. Since we were in no hurry, we checked out a number of nooks and crannies in the upper basin. Another trail goes down to the lower basin and meets the upper trail just below Ingalls Lake. We often do a loop. The larch in the lower basin are later in turning. With the upper basin not yet at peak we did not go to the lower basin this time. From a distance, the trees in the lower basin did not look to be far behind in turning color.

 As we slowly moved through the basin a lone hiker caught up and passed us. The first person seen since the parking lot. At first we had mostly blue sky. The blue with fresh white snow and golden larch trees is the best combination. We were feeling better about pre 4:30 am alarms. The peak of the colors will likely be this coming weekend or even a day or two later. The crowds will be monumental. We were more than happy to have some green needles but few people and fresh snow. At the big meadow two more hikers arrived. They were the folks who reached the parking lot when we did. Turns out they recognized me. we met a few years earlier on Kendall Peak. They have followed my website since then. I do not get recognized often but it's fun when it happens.

At 11:10 am, nearly 1 1/4 hours after reaching the pass we left the basin heading for Ingalls Lake. One other party passed us while we were in the basin. Snow did not provide and problems on the hike to the lake. We did see the big rocks at and below the basin coated width icy snow. The patterns were very beautiful. I had not seen anything quite like it before. Perhaps the snow and high winds blasted it onto the rocks. We arrived at the lake right at 11:45 am. Time for lunch. It was just us and the two couples we had seen earlier. The lone guy was not seen. The lake had that thin snow cover around it and with Mt. Stuart right behind it it was among the best views I have had from there. We sat down for a nice long break at the lake.

On the other side of the lake John spotted a long guy with a mostly hidden yellow tent. Camping at the lake is not allowed. In this case I doubt anyone else noticed. He must have been the person with the icy white pickup truck. Now we had accounted for all the cars and people. With just a jacket I was warm enough at the lake. The wind had been still most all the way up and we had only a few cold intermittent breezes there. More people began to arrive in a small but steady stream. We packed up and started back at 12:45. A nice round one hour at the lake. Hiking back to the basin we began to pass groups of hikers. Groups of four and six mixed in with solo hikers and couples. In all, Gary counted 40 people on our way out. We beat the crowds and the total people seen was a fraction of a weekend larch crowd but the trail is still busy mid week.

As morning turned to afternoon the sky turned white. There were thin spots and some sunshine but not much. Back in the basin we did have some sun breaks that helped light up the larch trees for some more photos. We hung around in the basin for another hour. It was 2:25 pm when we reached Ingalls Pass. Now just a 3 1/2 or so mile hike down. Since our hike up the sun had melted much of the snow. That was especially true on the south facing trail down. It was almost entirely snow free. No problems with slick and narrow trail. Towards the bottom we found the red leafed berry bushes were snow free and quite colorful. We reached the car at 3:50 pm. Probably the earliest return we have had on an Ingalls larch hike. We would be able to stop in Cle Elum and still get home before dark.

Final count was 15 other cars in the lot and 10 more parked down the road. One other car left ahead of us. It will be that crowded before 8:00 am this weekend. We took a bit of a chance with this trip. The high winds might have blown off the needles. They did not. The sky might have been more overcast than hoped for. It ended that way but we had blue sky in the morning. Crowds might have looked at the forecast and also taken a day off work to see the larch with sunshine. For the most part, they did not. I'd like to get in another larch hike in the next few weeks. If not, this day more than covered my larch "fix" for another year. I think Gary and John fell likewise. A fun day filled with golden needle trees.

Almost Empty Lot
Snow On Trail
Light & Shadow
Fortune Peak
Esmerelda Peaks
Narrow Snowy Trail
Koppen & Esmerelda
Mt. Rainier
Near The Pass
Larch & Mt. Stuart
Ingalls Peaks
John & Larch At Pass
Larch & Blue Sky
More Stuart & Larch
Drab Colors
Very Good Colors
Looking At Pass
Snow, Sun, & Larch
Sun Lit Larch
Rock & Snow
Green & Gold Trees
Another Mt. Stuart
Larch & Evergreens
Rocky Slopes
John & More Larch
Smaller Trees
Snowy Needles
Almost Frozen
Farther Up The Basin
The Bends
Tall Larch
Needle Photography
Outhouse With A View
Colorful Forest
Edge Of Big Meadow
Icy Rocks
Icy Patterns
Heading For Lake
Headlight Basin View
Red Berry Leaves
False Hellebore
More Colors On Trail
Lake Is Above
Ingalls Lake
Heading Back
Bright Small Trees
Back In Upper Basin
Larch Needles
Close Up
Larch On Ridge
Mess Of Needles
Half Framed
Leaving Basin
Nearing Pass
Berry Leaves Color
Pika On A Rock
Ingalls Lake Panorama
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2018