Ingalls Peak, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
June 16, 2007
South Face Route
"Sorry, we don't make much coffee at night. Have a good evening."
So said the clerk at the gas station where I buy coffee before starting a trip. Normally the Union 76 has a row of 8 pots of coffee, usually all pretty good. But, it was 2:30 in the morning and he was just brewing a single pot. I took it and grumbled about the early hour and the fact that I had to get the House Blend instead of the usual Espresso Roast. It was, after all, still the night, rather than the morning. We were heading for Ingalls Peak and thought we might be able to sneak a climb in before the forecasted weather broke Snoqualmie Pass and smacked the Stuart Range.
Bob, Peter, Wayne, and I sped in the darkness over the pass and started up Teanaway road as the light started to break through the night. The weather looked promising when we hit the parking lot and started gearing up. About ten other climbers were there, doing the same, but we got on the trail ahead of them and powered up hill, hoping to make the base of the climb before anyone else got a chance to get on the rock. As we climbed, dark clouds began to roll through the mountains and when we crested at Ingalls Pass, we were in sun but the mountain was in the clouds.
Stopping to get our axes out and sunscreen on, we figured out which peak was which and settled on a route to get to the Dogtooth Spires, which sit at the base of the rock climbing portion of the route. The sun felt good, but we realized that our chances of climbing were rather slim. Still, we had come this far and it didn't make a whole lot of sense to turn around without at least having a look at the route. After all, divine intervention might take place. Wayne took the opportunity to point out Mount Stuart, enlightening all of us as to the presence of this obscure and rarely identified peak.
Spirits were running high, despite our spying of six other climbers ahead of us who had gotten even earlier starts than us.
We dropped down, following their tracks, and passed the first group of four rapidly as they rested in the snow. After crossing the basin below, we regained elevation on the firm snow and made a direct route for the spires, which the small teeth-like formations just behnd the large "Tooth" in the center right of the below picture. The South Face route begins at their base and runs up the ridge that heads up and out of the picture on the right.
As we progressed into the clouds it began to snow on us, though we kept smiling in amazement Wayne's alpine-monkey ice axe technique. To apply this technical feat of mountaineering, you must have at your disposal a full length trekking pole and a short ice axe. You then traverse with the trekking pole at full length in one hand, and in the other you bend down so that the short is in the snow, forcing your body into a lop-sided position. You then scoot across and make grunting sounds. The object is to make your partners fall off the mountain side in laughter, allowing you to scavenge their gear from their dead bodies. Wayne is still working on the technique and we all survived. Oh, and Peter kicked steps all the way up, which allowed me to practice my lazy-slacker climbing technique, which is also known as Lakewood Technique.
We made the base of the spires and found two climbers gearing up to make the climb. The wind was high and snow was blasting us and the rock, which was thoroughly wet. We could see about 30 feet up the route, but no more. It was cold and wet and generally miserable, but Peter thought he should at least take a look up the route as the others climbed. As he did, the other group of four, that we had passed earlier, approached in the whiteout.
They climbed into the little notch, smiling as we were, at the ridiculous conditions. Everyone was especially impressed with one of their party's purpose-built mountaineering tree limb.
Peter returned and agreed with the rest of us that we didn't want to end up in Accidents in North American Mountaineering, a journal that catalogues a host of unfortunate accidents along with bad decisions. We left the various group to their fate and headed down. I took the opportunity to snap a photo of majestic Mount Stuart.
Bob remained as stoic as ever, which was a feat of control given that he had driven all the way down from Vancouver to climb Mount Rainier with us. Weather had forced us here, and was now forcing us down. We had gotten whited out on Tomyhoi Peak a few weeks ago as well. My track record with Bob isn't exactly sterling.
We raced down to where it was warmer and less snowy, running into a group of seven Mountaineers from Seattle who were resting in the snow after deciding that a climb wasn't going to happen. A few jokes and we were gone, hoping to make the cars in time to get to Cle Elum and get loaded at a bar before noon.
As we made Ingalls Pass, a final look back at the peak convinced us that we had made the right decision not to climb, although we were all a little sad at the fact. The sun came out by the time we made the cars, though dark clouds swirled around the peaks above us.
From Lakewood, drive I-5 north to SR18. Take SR18 east to its junction with I-90. Drive I-90 east to Cle Elum. Hop on SR970 and take it north. Just after crossing the Teanaway River, make a left turn on Teanaway River Road and drive it for 23 miles to its end at the Esmerelda Creek trailhead. You'll need a NW Forest Pass or equivalent to park at this popular trailhead. The last 5ish miles of the road are gravel, but very nice (i.e, recently graded).
Hike up the Ingalls Way trail for about 4ish miles until you crest. From the crest, spot Ingalls Lake with Ingalls Peak above it. Contour around and head uphill, aiming for the Dogtooth Spires, which are smack on the ridgeline that you're going to climb. We didn't get to climb, but the route is reported to be very easy (5.2-5.4) with a 5.6 crack variation. 2-3 pitches make the top, according to guidebooks.