For us, a 5am start was leisurely. The sky was already starting to brighten as we rolled out of our car tent and onto the mile road walk to the Ingalls Peak Trailhead. With us was Carl, who had agreed to lead the rock pitches that would eventually stand between us and the summit. We had also recruited two other climbing pals – Jason, who was on our Boealps team with us, and Alex, another fellow Boealps-er. We set off down the road, packs filled with gear and trail runner padding softly on the forest service road.
When we finally reached the trail it was beautiful, sloping gently. What wasn’t beautiful was when we missed our turn and headed up another trail in the wrong directly for approximately a half an hour. Once we realized our mistake we hiked back in a rush, finally finding the turn off we had missed in the dusky hours of the morning. We turned onto the correct trail, laughing at ourselves. The new trail was also lovely, with mellow switchbacks, leading the way up the slopes. The trees became thinner and thinner until we were out in the open where we could really see the story of time in the geology, huge patches of red crumble rock interspersed between darker solid chucks. We traversed upwards, crossing over more and more snow, until we gave up on the trail and just headed towards the obvious pass.
I always love walking through a pass and suddenly seeing a whole new little world on the other side. All three of Ingalls’ summits flanked our views to the left and Stuart loomed, huge and black like a giant ominous shadow, to our right. A clear boot pack lead across the contours of the ridge towards the south ridge of Ingalls, which was our destination. I was trying out approaching in my trail runners for the first time, so I paid extra special attention to my feet as the peak drew nearer. Despite a slightly steep slop up to the start of the route the trail runners were completely sufficient.
At the bottom of the route we roped up and stashed our packs. Looking up the route it appeared to be a very shiny and smooth slope with some nice cracks running through it. It was a wide steep ramp, leading to the summit, with exposure on either side. Our route took us straight up the middle, keeping us on easy 5.4 climbing. Carl lead the way and Kyle and I followed, tied into the same end of the rope, some twenty feet apart and using an interesting sling system to protect Kyle if I fell below him.
The climbing was fairly easy, even though it was both Kyle and mine’s first time climbing cracks. Outside of the crack however was such highly polished in spots that not even the sticky soles of my new alpine rock shoes could grip it. Staying within the crack was often the only way. The route is comprised of three pitches, the second one being the hardest. Kyle and I had to climb in tandem (maybe we should rename ourselves tandem climbing!) since we were tied into the same rope, so there was a sense of urgency to keep up with him. In what seemed like no time we were topping out at the third anchor!
From there it was a simple little scramble to the summit. The views were incredible. Stuart seemed so close and so clear you could touch it, and yet it lay on the other side of the valley. Peaks surrounded us in every direction. To the south an optical illusion made it look like Adams was rising out of the Goat Rocks area, causing a bit of confusion over what peak it was. For a split second we wondered if there was another giant volcano out there that we didn’t know about! But then we placed Goat Rocks into the picture and everything made sense. Rainier sat slightly closer to us, huge as always. Glacier was to the north and Baker off to the east. Everyone had come out to play and we just sat there, staring around with our mouths hanging open and the incredible beauty of the place.
We had the pleasure of hanging out on the summit for a while waiting for Jason and Alex. They had a slightly shorter rope than us and so they had to set up their own belay station on the second pitch instead of using the bolts – that had added some time to their climb. But we had been the first folks on the route so we had made great time. It was lovely to rest on the summit, joking and snacking. Jason and Alex finally popped over the ridge and joined us for some lighthearted pictures and their own snack break. We decided to start rappelling to help speed up the process.
The rappel was fairly straight forward. Our rope wasn’t quite long enough to get us to the bottom of the second pitch so a little bit of a down climb was necessary but it was extremely straight forward. Carl taught us all sorts of cool new techniques we could use to lengthen a rappel and get ourselves out of sticky situations. Pretty soon we were back at the bottom of the route, watching Jason and Alex rappel above. We proceeded to dry out socks and shoes, re-rack gear, pack and snack. Below us we could see a large group crest the little saddle right below the route. They looked up and saw us and proceeded to sit down on a nice rocky ledge, presumably to wait where there was more room. When Jason and Alex arrived we waited for them to pack up before proceeding to the snow.
It was warm day and I knew snow conditions were going to be soft. I could see that the snow was melted out underneath and that I would have to step out pretty far onto it to avoid post-holing through to the rocks. The slope was steep, but there was a pretty good footstep to aim for so with a deep breath I stretched out for it… and after a split second of solid snow it all gave way and I sunk in up to my hip. The sudden loss of ground threw me off balance and I spun around and landed on the slope on my back, head downhill and began to slide. Without even thinking I stabbed my ice ax into the snow next to me, flipping my feet around so that I was on my stomach and pressed my weight onto the sharp point so that it sunk into the snow. The boys all yelled “Arrest!” from above and I just giggled the whole time.
Strangely I had felt no fear. The snow was so soft and the runnout so safe that I had never actually felt a sense of panic or concern for my life. Instead it immediately struck me, in the way that things can in split seconds, where you have only moments to think it but somehow your thoughts seem to fill minutes in time, that this was a perfect opportunity to actually practice an arrest with very little consequence. I actually enjoyed it. And was pleased with the way my body reacted. I hopped up, laughing at my folly and wondering if the crowd down below at the saddle was laughing too. The boys, having learned from my mistake got onto the snow flawlessly and we hiked our way out of the snow and off the mountain.
When we got back to cars I was amazed at how happy my feet were. Trail runners for the win. And Carl, Carl for the win for leading us up our first multi-pitch climb and for sharing knowledge and skills with us. We are lucky to have such good friends. Especially now that we got our first taste of alpine rock and damn, it was good.