My daughter Catrina and I usually do a trip of some sort every year. She moved to the wet side of the state a couple of years back and we have not been able to continue our tradition since. This year we brought it back. Our original plan was to have been something on Stevens Pass to cut down on her driving time. But with the recent rain and nasty weather, we opted to move it a bit east. I had done a trip a few years ago from Ingalls Creek and down into the Icicle via French Creek in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (ALW) of Washington State. With the opening of the Icicle road again this last weekend, we decided to revisit that area, coming out Jack Creek.
We met at the Big Y cafe for lunch since she had to work on Friday morning, then Max the dog, her and myself headed to the Ingalls Creek trail head while my wife took Catrina's car home for a few days. The three of us were heading up the trail by 1:30 under clearing skies. There were only two other cars at the trail head. We passed one couple coming out and another group camped perhaps 2 miles in, then felt we were alone in the valley. We were wrong, but it felt that way. The creek was flowing strong and there were colors changing in the vegetation as we pushed up valley. We passed the geocache along the trail (it had rolled down the hill from it's original location, so we returned it to that spot and recorded our names). I had visions of making it to the huge horse camp between Turnpike Creek and the Longs Pass trail, but reality caught up with us at Porcupine Creek. We passed another group drying their gear over a fire just east of Hardscrabble Creek, then pulled into Porcupine Creek camp in the dark. With the shorter days and lazy hiking days, "headlamp camps" were in our future.
We had a leisurely breakfast, enjoying the morning sun before continuing up valley. The horse camp finally came into view, empty and inviting but way farther than our October half day hiking time yesterday would have allowed. One day I will make camp there. The closer we got to the Stuart Pass area, the more things began to open up. Our views of Stuart and Ingalls were teasing us with sugar coated crags of fresh snow. The approach to Stuart Pass is long. We trudged along, finally breaking out in the wonderful basin just southeast of Ingalls Peak. On my previous circuit through this area, it had been Memorial Day and there was extensive snow on the ground. We enjoyed the views at the basin, and followed the well used trail towards Ingalls Peak. I quickly got an uneasy feeling in my gut. This did not seem correct. I was pretty sure the pass lay behind us, further towards the west buttress of Stuart. Still, the trail was well traveled with cairns and everything, so we continued. I had wanted to side trip to Ingalls Lake anyway, so if it took us there, we could just backtrack to the pass. As we climbed the rocky trail Stuart opened up behind us, coated in an early dusting of snow against a crystal clear blue sky. Suddenly, we heard voices above us. A group of hikers were above us on the rocks. I said hello and asked that they not drop rocks on us, to which I got no response. About the same time we hit a trail junction with one sign: No Dogs. I looked at Max and decided we would wait for a look at Ingalls for another trip. I have seen it before anyway. Feeling a bit unwelcome, we turned right and headed to Stuart Pass. A mountain goat watched us from above, completely at ease with our presence it seemed. And why not?
From Stuart Pass we descended into upper Jack Creek on melting snow. It became obvious after just a mile or so that this part of the trip would involve much wet brush and downed trees. Being a north-south valley with massive peaks on all sides, it got little sun this time of year. We plodded back into the trees. Jack Creek was flowing high for October, a result perhaps of our short summer and cooler recent weather. We made a pair of wet fords of the creek, and finally settled on a camp spot in the deep woods. Once again, we stepup camp by headlamp, me in my hammock/tarp and Catrina using my Silshelter. Max slept with me in the hammock like always. He was, by now, a tired puppy and took every oportunity to curl up and sleep.
Evening was warmer than Ingalls Creek, perhaps because we took a few precautions this night. I rigged my tarp in storm mode, reducing the exposure to the night air, and Catrina put a hand warmer packet in her sleeping bag. I remember a slight pitter of rain in the night. We awoke to overcast skies, but no rain. Our breakfast this morning was a bit earlier as we had to make the trailhead at Jack Creek by 2pm. As we headed down the trail, it became apparent that this day would be wet and more difficult. There appeared to be little trail maintenance in the past in upper Jack Creek as the brush was heavy and wet and there were a handful of nasty stretches of extensive blow downs, some up to 3 feet in diameter. Still, it beat sitting in front of a TV watching other people doing stuff. We made good time after Meadow Creek and amazingly exited the trail just as my wife pulled up in Catrina's car!