A.K.A. “How To Avoid The Crowd at Lake Ingalls.” Well, sort of. We’ll get there. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that I moved out here for trail running, since I basically didn’t run at all this year or last year (sorta due to injury). The year before that was hit and miss. Well, I don’t want to jinx it, but the injury hasn’t been as nagging as it has been the past three years, and I’m taking advantage of it. So with all of the sun this weekend and only one day to play, I figured I should get my trail running ass back in gear.
I didn’t want to do the Enchantments again since I did it with Cooper last year around this time, and I don’t like repeats even if they’re awesome. And the Enchantments would be crowded. “But doesn’t Ingalls also mean crowds?!” you exclaim. Yes, but you can make a loop that avoids everyone and is still mostly on trail, which was another requirement because I am lazy. I didn’t want to deal with breaking trail or navigating cross country blah blah blah I just wanted to space out and run. So I strung together a loop in the Teanaways with a little inspiration from Jessica Kelly’s blog.
- Distance: 12mi
- Elevation gain: ~5,000ft if you count the ups and downs (7,382 highest point)
- Weather: 20’s and sunny to 40’s and sunny
- Commute from Seattle: 2:30 (it’s shorter in my head)
- Did I trip slip: Slip count, ~6; posthole count, ~20 million
I got to the trailhead around 9am after being stuck behind pilot cars in every lane of i90. They’re painting the white stripes on the highway, which apparently requires closing 2-3 lanes and having trucks drive 5mph in the 1-2 “open” lanes. After much whining and bitching, I finally reached the trailhead and took off towards Lake Ann, eager to get moving. And also freezing cold. I had a puffy, a windbreaker, and a wool base layer. And fleece lined Sugoi wind resistant leggings from my winter Chicago running days. I haven’t worn them in probably two years. And mesh trail runners, armed with microspikes. No gaitors.
The footprints dropped me off at the pass above the lake a bit further west than the actual trail, but a nice path of postholes led me to the correct saddle, where I met the most wholesome family ever. Two parents with their two kids. One kid was so proud of how they had broken trail in the snow all the way to the lake to camp the prior night, but then he “almost died of hypothermia because the wind was so bad in the morning!!!” The kids were having a blast despite the frigid temperatures and howling wind. They had camped at the lake the previous night, and no other parties had made it to the lake. So I guess I’ve discovered my parenting goals. I don’t know many kids who would be thrilled to break trail in snow all that way.
I turned right and carried on my way up the ridge towards Fortune Peak, unsure of what conditions I’d run into. I’d say I was awkwardly like one week too late and one week too early. A week prior it would have been a talus walk up. A week from now it’ll be a snowy walkup. But I got snowdrifts, and barely covered talus, and fresh tree and rock wells. Yuck. I found a bootpath that took me in and out of snowdrifts, which I started to go well out of my way to avoid. Thigh deep powder with a crust on top is not enjoyable. This meant some steep sidehilling and some steep snow (kicking steps in trail runners gets old on the toes) and some third class scrambling once I couldn’t feel my toes anymore and desperately wanted to avoid snow as much as possible. Also, my gloves were not waterproof, so my fingers were MIA after like three snowdrifts.
And the wind kept howling. Every time I hit that ridge it was like being blown over. So would I rather stay on the shady icy side, or the sunny windy side? Shit, I don’t care, they both suck ass. I debated bailing but I didn’t really want to go back because I’d be at the car at like 10am and that’s a waste of the day. So I plowed on and I finally topped out after postholing into talus for what felt like forever. I yelled at the wind to just give me a second so I could take a picture with my numb fingers (it didn’t listen) and high tailed it down the Ingalls side of the peak as quickly as possible, which meant more postholing but I was out of shits to give, I needed to start moving. Yes, my brain wanted to go do South Ingalls Peak, but I had done zero research and my body would be dropping f bombs if it could yell at my brain.
I worked my way down to the basin, where the snow changed from crust over powder to slush. So now the postholes are wet and sloppy instead of “pull your leg up quickly and you won’t notice the snow” and I finally put on microspikes hoping they’d grip the mud under the snow if not the snow itself. It worked, they did. I stuck to rock as much as I could to avoid the surprises hidden beneath the snow, and finally was back on trail, where somehow no one noticed me appear out of nowhere.
I merged with the Ingalls Way trail, which was tougher to find in the snow than expected (needless to say the snow slowed things down a lot). I found a sweet basin with a gnarly view of Ingalls that I’ve never seen before, so I took a break to snap a quick pic. The Ingalls Way trail is a beautiful mellow trail (my section was mostly downhill, too!) that runs for I think 17 miles if you follow the entire thing, but I jumped off at the Longs Pass junction. I had originally been planning on going further and bagging Iron peak and maybe Teanaway/Gene’s Peak, something I had done years ago, and connecting back to the road via the Iron Peak trail. But after all of the snow up high, I a) was not sure how much time it would take and b) did not want to get myself stuck breaking trail/navigating with zero hint of trail and I figured it was more likely that Longs Pass had seen traffic than the backside of Iron Peak.
Well, turned out Longs Pass hadn’t seen much traffic either. The trail was promptly covered in snow and every rivulet running down the side of the valley looked like it could be the trail. I started taking out the GPS every few minutes to make sure I was on track. Footprints appeared out of nowhere and stayed consistent until I finally broke above the trees, where they mysteriously disappeared again (not so mysterious, probably covered by windblown snow) but it didn’t matter because it was line of sight from there. Back to kicking steps. In knee deep snow this time. In my mesh shoes. With numb stumps for feet. On a snow slope that warranted an ice axe and would be avvy terrain real soon (I was banking on no glide avalanches because the dirt was talus). Just go fast, there’s not much you can do about it now. Roughly in order, I would have liked company (breaking trail alone blows), waterproof boots (my feet were MIA), waterproof gloves (my fingers… yeesh), and poles or an ice axe. Instead I had none of the above, so I wrapped myself in my surly eff-this-noise attitude and scowled at how beautiful the views were, as if they were mocking my grumpiness. And Stuart, that sly fox.
I topped out and greeted a few folks who had watched my sufferfest. I headed southeast to bag a few high points along the ridge and enjoy the views one last time before cruising back down the Longs Pass trail, which was a phenomenal feeling. The trail is on and off an old road. I’m not sure how long ago the road was in action, but you can still see sections of it even when the trail leaves it. The trail is perfectly sloped for downhill cruising, all soft dirt and slush (kept the microspikes on until the car) and most people go to Lake Ingalls, so it’s pretty quiet until you merge with the Ingalls trail just a bit from the trailhead. I only got a few glares from parties I was passing, most people were happy and one person had even run into the guy I met on the way up Fortune Peak. He had asked if anyone had run into me! It’s a good feeling knowing others remember you and are watching out. You hope there are slim chances anything goes wrong, but you never know. So there I was, soaking in vitamin D and endorphins and knowing a random hiker had my back and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I forgot I liked trail running. It’s good to be back.