A Taste of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness: North Ingall’s Peak Climb
July 28-30th, 2017
“In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed. I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.” ― Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
This last weekend, I went on a climbing trip up to North Ingall’s Peak, which is north of Ellensburg in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area in central Washington. We had a group of 11 people that joined for the camping and hiking experience while only 6 of us climbed the peak.
We left Salem at 6:00 a.m. on Friday, and my friend drove in his mini-van. It’s about a 5 ½ hour drive, east on I-84 and then north on 97 past Ellensburg. We started the hike around 12:30. The last mile of the forest service road had been previously washed out, so we had an additional mile to walk before getting to the Ingalls Lake trailhead. The hike was hot, as the temperatures were well into the 80’s despite the gains in elevation. We had started in the trees, but after about 2 miles, we were out of the tree line. The hike was a steep narrow and rocky path of 3,000 feet of elevation gain in 4 miles. Despite the sweat, biting flies, and incline, I smiled at how incredibly beautiful the area was. All around were trees, wildflowers, and we saw our first couple of goats munching away at grass off the side of the trail. I stopped several times to catch my breath, sip water, and take photos. I paused several times to just reflect on how lucky I was to be spending a Friday out in such a place.
Once at the top, we had our choice of a lower campsite (with more spots) or the higher campsite. A few people in our party had already arrived and had chosen the lower campsite, which also had a toilet, so our decision was easy. Our group separated into several campsites that were all near each other and began to make our home for the two nights around 4:00 p.m.
The camping area is quite rustic with only a few signs and one wooden toilet that overlooks the valley and mountains. It was incredibly beautiful up there, with Mt. Stuart in the distance, the peaks, wildflowers, a stream, rock slabs, and a bunch of mountain goats (with babies).
As a newer backpacker, I was excited to learn how to use my new water filter to get water from the stream that was beside our camp and to get more used to using my new light camp stove. I made some mashed potatoes for dinner with pita bread and cheese. The mosquitos were circling by evening so I retired to my tent by 7 p.m. but with the rain fly off, I had a good view of the rock and stars overnight.
On Saturday morning, the 6 of us hiked up with our climbing gear (harnesses, helmets, shoes, ropes, carabiners, etc.) to the base of the route on Ingall’s Peak. “It’s time to go play”, I said in my head. It was an interesting approach, with lots of scrambling, boulders, some snow, and scree. Seeing Ingall’s Lake in the shadow of Mt. Stuart for the first time was breathtaking. I’ve always had a bit of a love affair with mountain lakes and this one does not disappoint.
The climb itself is pretty easy, and we did it in 3 teams, with the first person leading the route and setting gear while the 2nd person cleaned the route and belayed. There were bolts after the second pitch for an anchor and decent ledges to belay. It was 3 pitches to the top (using a 70 m rope) and took about 3 ½ hours to the summit.
The first pitch is rated at a 5.2, then a 5.6 (with a 5.4 option that didn’t seem logical) and a final 5.4 short pitch. At the top, the summit itself was another short scramble, and from the top we could see Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, Glacier Mtn, as well as a bunch of other peaks in Washington.
There were views from all angles and I felt really fortunate to have such a view. There was a small army of red ants and flies on the summit so we didn’t linger after a few photos.
We got ready for the 3 rappels back down which included some down climbing because the ropes weren’t quite long enough. It was good practice for future summits. By about 2:00, we were ready for the descent back towards camp. On the hike down, we took an easier route over a boulder field that didn’t have snow, and made our way to Ingall’s Lake. It’s a small alpine lake, but absolutely beautiful with clear blue/green water and Mt. Stuart in the distance.
We soaked our hot feet and legs, but the water was too cold to jump in. There were quite a few day hikers that had come up to enjoy the lake as well. On the hike back, we had to stop to wait for a goat and the baby goat to move off the trail. The mom goat was munching on grass while the baby just laid down in the trail.
We laughed and then grew a bit impatient, but after all, we were only guests in their territory. They didn’t seem to really care at all that we were around, they were pretty calm (unless you got real close to them). The goats moved along and we ended up back at camp by 4:00. I sat for a while on the rocks just looking at the mountains and enjoying the peaceful views.
We hiked out Sunday morning starting at 6:30 a.m. and were back to the cars after about 2 hours with the 5 miles of fairly easy descent. On the way back, we stopped for lunch at a place called, Miner’s Burgers in Yakima, Washington. This place has been around since 1948 and is a big diner with huge amounts of food. My friends ordered their regular miner burger and it was the size of their head. It was definitely enough food for at least 2 people. I had a veggie burger, which was also way too big, and had two veggie patties, a bunch of veggies and mayo. I finished most of it, but was stuffed.
It’s probably a place you should only go to once a year and maybe only after a very long hike.
Some things I learned: The shelf stable hummus packs I bought are a delicious backpack snack along with some pita. I needed to buy a smaller/lighter sleeping bag. I should be more cautious about setting up my tent on a slope, because slowly sliding down all night on the sleeping pad isn’t too fun. There are so many more peaks and alpine lakes in Washington to explore! It’s definitely a place I would love to return to.