We had the lake completely to ourselves. If you are a hiker in Washington and have heard of Lake Ingalls, then you know what a shocking statement that is. Luck was on our side for sure, and in more ways than one.
I had grand plans for this last trip before I had to return to work after the long Covid lock down. Why not go for something “big” and take advantage of being able to go midweek? If I was going to tackle Lake Ingalls, then it made sense to hook it up with the end of Ingalls Creek (which I was unable to finish last time) and throw Long’s Pass in there as well. A three for one loop sounded perfect.
With my two girlfriends in tow, we made the turn onto Ingalls Way from the Esmeralda Basin Trail. I was excited to revisit this area, as it was where I did my very first solo backpack a decade prior. https://kellbell-whywouldanyonereadthis.blogspot.com/2011/09/my-first-two-nighter-alone-even.html
But right away everything felt different (amazing how 10 years can alter a place) and by the time we reached the sign directing you to Ingalls and away from Longs Pass, I realized I had things backwards in my head. The trail reports I had looked at took you up to Longs Pass and around counter clockwise, not clockwise as I imagined in my head. Though disappointed that we weren’t going to see the amazing view I remembered of Mount Stuart at the top of the Longs Pass, I was thankful to clear the confusion in my mind.
My clear mind didn’t last long, because within a mile from the left turn, the trail completely disappeared in the snow. Snow was expected, though this was much sooner than I anticipated. We were lucky there was one person ahead of us…though his declaration of “I don’t know if I’m going the right way” was not a confidence booster.
Probably foolishly, we followed anyway, and thankfully the next thing we heard was, “I see the trail.” And so it went for the next mile – a constant, stressful, “is this the trail?” search over many snow patches. Lady luck smiled again as Leigh opened her Garmin App in frustration (even though she had cancelled her subscription to her “In Reach”) and found it actually still worked!
It was a comfort to see we were indeed actually on the trail, until we reached Ingalls Pass to see the arrow point us over the edge into a vast expanse of snow. Getting down into Headlight Basin looked terrifying (where the camping spots are found) not to mention the sudden frigid temperature change that promised a miserable night. We could see the footprints to the left, skirting the basin and leading to the lake by way of a higher ridge line, but knowing that camping at the lake was not allowed, we were in a definite pickle.
With another stroke of luck, we backtracked a little and found a perfect stealth spot – BARELY big enough for our three person tent. The rock face behind us gave some protection from the wind, and so we hunkered down for what we presumed would be a miserable evening.
Except it wasn’t. The wind died down, the stars came out, and we all felt quite cozy in our little cliff-side nest. Far from miserable – it was actually amazing.
Not wanting to push lady luck too far, we ditched the loop idea in the morning, and did the mile and half to the lake without our big packs. Along the way, Mount Stuart was a constant presence, so any disappointment about not seeing him at Longs Pass completely disappeared. And leaving our heavy packs behind was such a good call, as Leigh slipped twice (even with her micro spikes on)…though thankfully she didn’t end up sliding down too far. Melissa hopped across all the snow like a little bunny – with nothing but trail runners, gaiters, and poles – while I slogged along like a terrified oaf in my crampons. Different strokes for different folks, but we all made it to the lake and back to our tent safely.
From there you’d think it would be easy to just head back down the way we came. And though we did find it easier…it was most definitely not easy. I can’t emphasize enough how quickly you can lose a trail when it is partially covered in snow. So please, don’t count on lady luck to get you to Lake Ingalls – come prepared – or wait until July… and then be prepared for the crowds. Happy Trails!!
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