Backpacking to Lake Ingalls in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness
9 miles roundtrip, 2500′ elevation gain
July 17-18, 2015
We headed out to one of our favorite hikes in Washington with our friends Dave and Leslie. We did this hike two years ago together as a day hike in early October when the Larch trees were turning. Brian led it again last year as group hike with our church that same time of year. We had yet to stay the night and decided it would be a great place to take Leslie for her first backpacking trip.
The drive takes about 2-1/2 hours from Seattle by the time you make it to the trailhead. Be sure to keep an eye out for the top of Mount Stuart as you turn off hwy 97 onto Teanaway River Road. We got started from the Esmerelda Basin trailhead at about 10 am. The hike starts out amongst the Ponderosa Pine Trees typical on the Eastern slopes of the Cascades and quickly breaks out into the open. On the way up we first caught a glimpse of Mount Adams in the distance. Just before reaching Ingall’s Pass, we had a spectacular view of Mount Rainier. Right around this point we also saw our first goats (a mother and a baby) that were just a few of the many goats we saw on this trip. Due to the good company we had, the 3.5 miles up to Ingall’s Pass flew by and we arrived at about noon to peer into Headlight Basin, our home for the night.
We took the alternate trail down into Headlight Basin to find a campsite. We were pleasantly surprised by the plentiful number of campsites, many of which would be large enough for a decent-sized group. The sun was out in full force at this point, so we did our best to find some shade. We found a nice spot for two tents in a cluster of trees with a beautiful view of Mount Stuart. We quickly found out that the local mountain goats also enjoyed our spot and they were in and out the rest of our visit. The bear box (or goat box?) we brought definitely came in handy since there weren’t very many good trees to hang food from. We set up camp, ate some food, then set out for the final mile to Lake Ingalls around 2 pm.
Before heading up to the lake, we found a flowing creek on the northern edge of the camps to filter some water from. This creek seemed to be spring fed since it was still flowing strong, so I would imagine it will be a fairly reliable water source for the remainder of the summer/fall.
We followed the cairns up to the lake, and there it was: the spectacular Lake Ingalls with Mount Stuart towering over it. It was crowded at the lake, but we didn’t mind. Leslie and Dave were quick to jump in before realizing it was still quite cold. We followed and, although cold, it was refreshing. Brian got the sleeping pad floatie out and lounged around on the lake for a but while everyone else dried off on the warm rocks. Someone had even packed in an inflatible raft so it was fun to see them paddle around. We saw a good number of (what we think were) rainbow trout in the lake. Other entertainment came from another (or the same?) mother and baby goat hoping around from rock to rock above the lake.
We left the lake around 4 pm and filtered water for the evening on the way back. The goats seemed to have moved on from our campsite when we got back. Dave and Leslie setup their hammock between some trees with an incredible view of Mount Stuart and we took a nap in our tent. Dinner was our usual but delicious stuffing with chicken and craisins and we all shared a few cartons of wine. After dinner, we made our way to some rocks to watch the colors change on Mount Stuart as the sun set. Our furry friends joined us again at this point and poked around as we enjoyed the view of the mountain. It was a no-tent-fly kind of night and the stars came out after the sun set.
Dave had breakfast duty in the morning and he prepared us some delicious granola along with some Starbucks instant coffee. We broke camp and got rolling on the trail around 9:45 am. We thanked our furry hosts on the way out of Headlight Basin as they were all gathered in a meadow for breakfast. The hike out flew by since we had such great company and we were back to the trailhead by 11:30 am. We enjoyed some hard cider that Dave had kept chilled in a cooler and cooled off in a stream just down from our car before making the trek back to Seattle. Twin Pines Burgers (just labelled “Burgers”) on hwy 97 did not disappoint for post-hike grub.
Overall, this was a fabulous overnight backpack and we highly recommend it. We especially recommend it for taking someone new to backpacking due to the moderate distance and elevation gain, plentiful campsites, beautiful views, cool alpine lake, and lots of wildlife! They are sure to enjoy it as we are sure Leslie did! A few items to note: no dogs are allowed past Ingall’s Pass, no camping is allowed at the lake, and please show the goats some respect since they are still dangerous wild animals (even though they appear quite friendly). Also, the backcountry toilet in Headlight Basin has one of the more spectacular views we have ever experienced while taking a poo.