With the 4th of July weekend approaching, I headed out for one more day in the mountains before I hunker down at home during the busy holiday. And what a day it was! Goats, views, more goats, and just enough snow to keep the crowds away.
I parked my car at the road closure approximately 1 mile before Esmeralda trailhead, and biked the rest of the way. (I’ll use any excuse to ride my gravel bike.) From the trailhead, I headed up towards Ingalls Pass. The trail was mostly snow-free until approx 1/4 mile before the pass, at which point the trail became mostly snow-covered, with no discernible bootpath (although that might change after this weekend). There was a goat waiting to greet me at the top of the pass.
The route from Ingalls Pass through Headlight Basin and to Ingalls Lake was primarily snow-covered, and I was glad for microspikes and trekking poles. I didn’t feel the need for an axe or crampons, but I stayed relatively low in the basin. Route-finding skills were helpful, and I referred to my map/GPS to stay on track. Although Headlight Basin and Ingalls Lake are still holding a fair amount of snow, the terrain is at that awkward phase where it’s melting out in places, so I watched my step and tested the snow frequently with my trekking poles, particularly near rocky outcroppings. As I made my way towards Ingalls Lake, I also crossed a few snowbridges that were solid when I crossed, but will likely require careful assessment as each day passes.
Ingalls Lake was gorgeous, as expected. There was only one other person at the lake, another woman on her own who had been hoping to summit Stuart. Her plan had been to travel on snow up Cascadian Couloir, but apparently the couloir is already too melted out for that. Not wanting to deal with all the loose rock and scree, she headed for Ingalls Lake instead, and was planning to go out the way I’d come in. Essentially we were each doing the same loop, except in reverse. We chatted a bit and then I went on my way. She’d mentioned that there were cairns to lead me down to Ingalls Creek, but I found it easy enough to drop down off-trail and pick up the trail at the bottom of the drainage.
Ingalls Creek trail is in great shape, and I had a lot of fun trotting along, enjoying the warm sun and scenery. The turn off to Longs Pass is not signed, but it is marked by a large cairn. As long as you’re paying attention you shouldn’t miss it. More good news: there is a big log across Ingalls Creek. (It actually looks like it’s been there awhile, so perhaps this is old good news.)
After crossing Ingalls Creek, I started the steep climb to Longs Pass. The route is more bootpath than trail, and it was hot in the mid-day sun. It’s mostly snow-free, except for the last 1/4 mile as you approach the pass.
The woman I’d met at Ingalls Creek mentioned she needed crampons for approx 100 meters when she dropped down Longs Pass at 5 am, and when I got there I could see why. By the time I reached the pass it was after noon, the snow had softened in the sun. and I was hiking up (not descending), so my spikes and trekking poles were enough. But crampons and an ice axe wouldn’t have been ridiculous, especially earlier in the day.
The views of Stuart from Longs Pass were incredible. From there, it was an easy trot on gently graded switchbacks all the way back to the trailhead. My bike was waiting for me right where I’d stashed it, and it took just a few minutes of easy pedaling to get back to my car. All in all, it was a really great day in the mountains.