|Washington State of Mind
19-21 July 2013
random trip report
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All photos by Dave G.
I fly to Seattle. Dave picks my up in his new VW Jetta TDI (50+ MPG) and we drive to Cle Elum, stopping in Roslyn for dinner.
I'm stunned to realize the Roslyn is where they shot Northern Exposure, my favorite TV show in the whole world (except for Fernwood Tonight). So we eat at The Brick, which has a prominent role in the show. Unfortunately the food at the real-life Brick is disappointing (although the beer is cold and tasty).
We stay at the Chalet Motel, where Michael, the delightful Persian owner/proprietor, tells us the inspiring story of his medical-school-bound kids, and the importance of paternal devotion. He also directs us to a nearby Safeway, where we buy provisions for tomorrow's hike, as well as a fifth of Glenlivet and a bag of guacamole-infused tortilla chips for that evening.
We get up early and eat some horrible microwaved breakfast egg/cheese food products, washed down with Starbucks Via coffee. We make the long, mostly dirt-road drive to the Esmeralda Lakes trailhead, and are on the trail to Ingalls Lake by 7:30 AM. BTW, we're in the Teanaway mountains, which are distinct from the Cascades and seem to have remarkable geology; there's all sorts of different rock.
The day is sunny and a bit warm. The rocky trail goes about 4 miles and 2,500' vertical up a long, mostly barren slope. As we gain altitude, Mt. Rainier becomes visible in the distance.
We pass a family of mountain goats, which we treat cautiously since there have been some goring incidents. The trail tops out at a ridge with some campsites. The ultra-steep, evil-looking Mt. Stuart comes into view, only a couple of miles away.
The trail traverses for another mile or so across the top of the valley on the far side. It's not obvious where Ingalls Lake is, but finally the trail goes up a short steep incline and the lake is on the far side.
Mt. Ingalls looms another 1,500' or so above the lake. Actually there are two peaks: the main one and the slightly lower south summit. Dave's guide book suggests that it's a straightforward scramble to the latter, but it's not actually easy at all. There are large areas of smooth, easy-to-climb red rock, but there are also areas of scree and, at this time of year, steep snow fields that we're not equipped to climb.
Dave and I scramble about halfway up. The rock is very strange - mostly it's the rough-surfaced red rock, with occasional patches of glossy, glittery green, which at first seems like a completely different rock but in fact is the same - I don't understand it.
We come to a 50' high vertical outcrop. We try to go around the right side but things quickly become dangerously steep. Then we try the left side. There's a snow field, and the "moat" between the snow and rock is narrow and deep. We slither up this moat for a while, but eventually it becomes impassable and we give up and turn around.
Back down at the lake, there's a goodly number of other hikers. We witness a man proposing to a woman, with cheers from nearby friends. Three women in full-length plaid dresses and matching hats are sitting nearby, evidently of some group such as Amish, Mennonites, Luddites, etc. One of them is checking her cell phone for signal, which may rule out some of these. We aspire to chat them up but it doesn't happen.
We see a pair of rock climbers, and Dave asks them about their route. The guy is a bit of an arrogant prick, and tells us that the ability to climb steep snow without crampons "depends on your skill level".
Philosophical aside: in mountains, the higher you go, the more beautiful everything (rocks, plants, frozen and running water) becomes. What principle is at work here? Do the extreme conditions distill things to their true essence? Or is it the Mountain Gods' way of rewarding climbers?
We descend, taking a very scenic alternate route on the way back to the pass. Dave gets tired on the descent, and I try to make the time pass by talking non-stop.
After stopping to get Dave an ice-cold Diet Coke, we drive north to the faux-Bavarian town of Leavenworth, where Dave hopes to secure lodging for the night. However, there are no rooms anywhere, and we have to drive 20 miles east to Wenatchee, where we stay at the Motel 6.
Our conversation repeatedly leads to topics where our knowledge is lacking, and Web research is required; we make plans to do Google searches once we're at a computer. Unfortunately, each topic displaces the previous ones in our memories, and in the end we're able to remember only the last topic, involving catenary curves and hyperbolic trig functions.
The Motel 6 is ragged looking, but the room is suprisingly modern, with bamboo flooring and Euro-look platform beds. However, the air conditioner isn't quite up to the task of cooling the room given the 96-degree outside temp.
We look for a place to eat. We want steak, but Yelp claims that the only good places in town are Mexican. We seek one of these - La Cabana - but it simply doesn't exist anymore. Instead we go to Las Fuentes, which is disappointing, especially Dave's syrupy and vegetable-deficient Chicken en Mole.
We intend to visit the motel's swimming pool after dinner, but Dave is exhausted and goes to sleep early. I sleep poorly - around 2 AM it cools off outside and the room becomes too cold. I turn off the AC, and then it's way too hot for the rest of the night.
We get off to a more leisurely start and enjoy breakfast at the Big Y Cafe on the road back to Leavenworth. We drive west into the Cascades. With some difficulty - the directions have no connection with reality - we locate the trailhead for Surprise Lake, and start out around 10 AM.
The trail to Surprise Lake is delightful. It follows a stream about 5 miles up a valley, gaining about 2,500', mostly going through old-growth forests of cedar and hemlock, occasionally crossing brilliantly sunny bands of lush emerald-green vegetation. In the lower parts, which are swampy, the trail has long stretches of elevated wooden walkway. Dave is feeling frisky and sets a blistering pace. I'm feeling a bit lethargic, and also sweat a lot because of the heat (upper 70s at least).
In spite of our late start we're the first hikers at the lake. We loll around on a spit of rock that juts out into the lake. (All the rock we see today, BTW, is light gray granite). Dave goes for a brief swim, and I dunk my head.
We descend very fast and are back at the car at 3 PM. Having drenched 2 T-shirts with sweat on the hike, I'm relieved to find that I have one more dry one left. The drive back to Seattle on highway 2 is nice, except there's a long traffic jam between the towns of Startup and Sultan, which apparently is always the case on weekends.
Dave gets a hankering for a milk shake, and we stop at a liquor store that happens to sell ice cream and milk shakes, so we each get one and experience near-total satisfaction.
We stop at Dave's house for a quick shower, dinner and game of ping-pong. I catch up with Chris. Dave drives me to the airport, where I learn that my flight is delayed an hour. But I don't really mind; I'm in a blissful post-hike state, and anyway there's free WiFi. I get home around 1 AM.
Injury report: On Saturday I had a hint of sciatic pain at the very end of the day. After Sunday's hike I felt great. I had slight foot soreness (arthritis-related) the next day. My new hiking shoes performed very well - no blisters this time.