Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Autumn Hiking in the Pacifc Northwest: Golden Larches at Ingalls Pass

Each October in the dramatic, craggy North Cascades mountains, golden alpine larches light up the landscape in an otherworldly, incandescent glow. Many hikers here in the Northwest are passionate about seeking these trees that shimmer brilliant gold a few weeks each autumn.

Call us larch groupies.

Yesterday I pretended to be a government employee and took off Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples Day to catch the glow before the next storm in a few days. My window to see this year's larch show was narrow, and I couldn't bear to miss this once-a-year magic.

Like I said, a passionate groupie. 

On a Monday (albeit a minor holiday), the parking lot at the Lake Ingalls trailhead was full and overflowing. We started up the well-maintained trail at the end of the North Fork Teanaway Road (FR Road 9737) and soon encountered the dusting of snow that fell overnight.

Surrounded by rugged peaks laced with fresh snow here in the Teanaway region, the views all along the steady but not-too-steep trail are splendid.

A couple miles along, we passed a junction for Longs Pass and emerged above the forest.  Even with freezing temps up at Ingalls Pass, I was warm enough to ditch my jacket and hike in just a T-shirt and long-sleeved shirt while slogging upward on the south-facing slope.

Nearing the top, I spied a few stray golden larches, but when I arrived at Ingalls Pass (just a tad under 6,500 feet in elevation and about 3 miles from the trailhead), I turned a corner to a magnificent panorama.  Golden larches were sprinkled all over the slope and down into Headlight Basin below, a fresh coat of snow added contrast, and jagged Mt. Stuart towered overhead, mist shrouding its summit.

An awesome sight indeed.

Cresting Ingalls Pass

Mt. Stuart
Ingalls Peak

Here at the pass, over a dozen hikers gathered, taking photos and gaping at the view. It felt like a party we all earned through stamina and sweat. Everybody was exhilarated. Well, almost everybody...

While many trudged onward to Lake Ingalls and even more amazing views, on this day Ingalls Pass was enough for my hiking buddy, so I obliged.  We got a late start, anyway.

So we ate lunch and stayed at the pass for a while, taking pictures and reveling in the sun, snow, and general gorgeousness all around.

Zoom shot of Mt. Stuart summit.
More Headlight Basin
In the waning autumn afternoon light we scrambled down in about half the time we took going up. At one muddy spot on the upper trail just below the pass, I slipped and suddenly ended up splayed flat on my back on a rock. Thank goodness for my day pack full of extra clothing that cushioned me from injury. Be careful on the slick trail!

As we were driving back down the Teanaway River Valley (after about 10 miles of very rough, washboard dirt road), I would have liked to stop every few hundred yards  to shoot the glorious fall colors along the Teanaway River. Next trip with an earlier start.

So golden larches bagged for this year, but I hope to see more this coming weekend, weather probably not permitting. I'd love to hear of your golden larch hikes/stories in the comments below!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.  

When You Go
From Seattle, it's about a 2.5-hour, 140-mile drive to the trailhead. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park. Be forewarned that this late in the season, snow and possible slides/rockfall from fall rains could obstruct the road/trail as the days slide into winter. While the 6-mile round trip, 2,500-foot elevation gain hike to Ingalls Pass isn't difficult, some might feel the elevation like my hiking buddy did. The trailhead is at about 4,000 feet elevation. 

And another blogger says "I wouldn’t bother hiking to Ingalls Pass unless you’re going beyond to Ingalls Lake.  The view isn’t very good compared to Longs Pass." Wow!  Do you agree if you've been?



Lainey Piland said...

GORGEOUS photos, Jill! I love the contrast of golden larches, white snow and blue sky against the dark rock.

I missed seeing larches this year, but last year I saw them for the first time while hiking to Blue Lake in the North Cascades. Those colors are breathtaking to see in person.

Suezy Proctor said...

My dearest larch groupie..

You summed it up beautifully in one word - GORGEOUSNESS!! Thanks for all the stunning images, Jill. We do not have larches here...or at least, none that I have seen, but the Alabama landscape is stunning this time of year as the deciduous leaves color up!

I'm so glad you did not get hurt when you fell on your back...good thing you had that pack on. OUCH!!!

I hope you get a couple more opportunities to take in this splendor!!

Happy trails!!


jill said...

Hey Lainey! Thanks for the comment, it was a wonderful day. Glad you got to see the larches last year. Blue Lake has one of the most stunning displays at peak season.

Suezy, :) I bet Alabama is stunning! Hope to see it, maybe next fall? Planning a larch hike this Saturday at Rainy Pass (Maple Pass Loop); however, three wind/rain storms are heading this way and Saturday is supposed to be the worst - tail end of a tropical typhoon. So might not be the best day to hike.

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous! Wish I could have joined you, but I had to work. Is there a larch hike closer to Seattle?

Anonymous said...

Fantastic Jill! As always! Thanks!