Having seen the Fall colors surrounding Lake Valhalla, Susan and I, along with our willing Couchsurfer, Rebecca, decided to head out to another Fall color destination – Lake Ingalls.
Lake Ingalls lies deep within the Snoqualmie Region of the Cascades. We left early to avoid crowds, only to find hordes of hikers eager to to hit the trail. Regardless of the crowds, we started up the trail.
The total distance to the lake is just over 9 miles with over 2500 feet elevation gain. The trailhead is adjacent to Esmeralda Peak, a massive mountain with four peaks and two summits.
Esmeralda stayed by our side for the first part of the hike. As we ascended higher, we walked through through a wide range of ecosystems.
At first, thick pines were complemented by a lush forest floor full of golden ferns and red fire bush. Climbing higher the pines became more sparse allowing for frequent vistas of Esmeralda.
The trail ultimately intersects with Long’s Pass, a side trip that offers an alternative route to the lake. As you move higher, the trail becomes more narrow and hugs the mountainside.
Though a bit precarious, Susan and I have encountered steeper hillsides before.
We continued up to yet another ecosystem dotted with Shasta ferns, Scarlet gilla and the rare and blooming Thompson’s pincushion.
On a clear day, as you near Ingalls pass, you can look back and see Mount Rainier and Mount Adams.. It’s a mountain extravaganza!
The last bit of this hike is tough, due mostly to the continued druggery of the elevation gain and then a bit of rocky scrambling, but the views, once on top of Ingalls Pass is worth the effort.
Once atop Ingalls Pass, you have an unobstructed view of Mount Stewart and the Ingalls Peaks nearby. Down in the valley below was the sight we were waiting for – hundreds of golden larches dotting the landscape.
We took this opportunity to further enjoy the view, eat our lunch, and re-energize for the push towards the lake.
Having eaten, we made our way down the trail that winds into the valley where we were soon surrounded by larches. From the bottom of the valley Mount Stewart towered above us.
We made our way towards the lake, with an eye out for the popular residents – the mountain goats that make this area their home. We made our way past numerous hikers who were setting up camp for the night among the larches. Susan and I both agreed we needed to return next year and do this.
We started the climb up to Lake Ingalls which slowly became more rocky than perfected trail. In fact, it is easy to lose sight of the trail, which at times is only marked by collection of cairns guiding one along the way.
Ultimately, we reached the point where the trail ends and the real challenge begins.
We scrambled up the side of the mountain, climbing over tall boulders and positioning our feet gingerly. Once on top, we could look down to the lake which thankfully was just a short walk down. Hikers amassed around the lake, eating, laughing, some even getting into the crisp and brilliantly blue water of Lake Ingalls. Off in the distance, a goat made his way down for a drink as well.
After a bit of relaxing, we knew it was time to go. The sun was starting its slow descent behind the mountains and we wanted to insure enough time to make our way out.
We made our way down the rocky cliff, even more precarious than the way up. Our knees were aching and Susan and I were driven by three main things in our future: great food at the Brick in Roslyn, a cold beer (also at the Brick), and lathering Icy Hot on our sore muscles once we had showered.
As we descended back towards the larches. we noticed a small family of goats making their way up the hill, actually, right towards us.
We stopped and took some photos only to notice their trajectory towards us had not altered.
It was at this point we decided to walk up the trail to give them their space – something not all hikers do in an effort to get that perfect goat selfie. (Goats need their space!). After saying our goodbyes to the goats, we continued back into the valley of larches only to reascend back to Ingalls Peak.
I was relieved at this point because the remaining hike was mostly downhill and we could make some good time.
We made our way down, taking in the spectacular colors of the trees and undergrowth as the sun lowered itself on the horizon. With the car in the distance we made the final push.
The day concluded with a cold beer and a veggie burger for me (The Brick has amazing veggie burgers) and burgers and salads for the ladies. What an amazing day and likely our last of this Fall season. If you missed this hike this Fall, make sure to put it on your Fall 2016 schedule, you won’t be disappointed.
For even more information of this lovely location, take a gander at our previous post. BTW, our Subie has added 18K more miles since this post. We love that car!