Ingalls Peak: South Ridge
by Charlie Grant
It was a day of firsts for my A1 roommate and climbing partner; a first multi pitch climb, a first cleaning trad gear, a first simul-climb, a first simul-rap, a first alpine ascent. With Chris being gone for much of the summer Carly and I spent afternoons and evenings together scheming adventures that could serve as good introductions for Carly to the world of alpine rock climbing. We had continually come back to the West Ridge of Stuart, an enduring NW classic. While long, it would provide an excellent training ground for how rock systems work when one pushes past the first pitch. Alas, our own adventures got in the way and the summer slipped by without Carly and I setting aside any time for a shared outing. Looking ahead on my schedule I noticed I had a weekend in late September free with nothing scheduled… I texted Car to see if she were in for an adventure and thankfully she was! This, however, came with a caveat that we would have to stay in Portland until mid-day Saturday so she could follow through with previous engagements. This limited timeline forced us to adjust our route from the West Ridge of Stuart to the South Ridge of Ingalls and from Portland to Portland in ~30 hours, which included 10 hours of driving and 7 of sleeping… Crazier things had been done!
We threw bags with gear, clothes and food in Carly’s whip (which could not be pulled over because it wasn’t registered… yikes!) and hit the road at 5:30pm on Saturday. After a necessary Chipotle stop and A LOT of 90s bangers we pulled into the Esmerelda Trailhead. We turned on headlamps to brush teeth, get packs ready for morning, and cozy in to bed before setting alarms for 5 the next morning.
We awoke to each of our alarms going off. Slowly we pulled ourselves from slumber and stumbled out of the car to get dressed, and in my case, down a few donuts before heading out on our dark hike up to Ingalls pass and on to the base of our route. It took us 1.5 hours to gain the top of the pass and another 1.5 or so to scramble from the trail that circumnavigates the basin below Stuart and Ingalls and up to the col between Ingall's south and north peaks, the point that marks the start of our route. Once light, our walk in was magical. The sun began to rise from the horizon just as we crested Ingalls pass and bathed the basin in red morning light that seemed to emanate from the base of Mt. Stuart. We laughed and took plenty of photos in an effort to capture the beauty of the morning. Pictures could not do it justice, though not for lack of trying... The scramble to the base of the climb was steep, often forcing us to navigate our way through fields of large boulders or scree slopes.
Pitch 1 (Approach Pitch?): 4th class/5.fun
As we neared the dog-tooth spires that indicate the start of the route Carly felt there was business she better take care before heading up, so I told her I’d meet her at the base of the route. I scrambled up a short but rather slick slope and then across some broken rock to reach a large ledge and a HUGE serpentine boulder; what I thought was the base. Minutes pass, I gear up, flake the rope, make sure my pack is tidy, and soon I see Carly’s head at the top of the slab I came up.
“Is this the way you came?” - Carly
“Yeah” - Me
“Then you crossed the gully to get to where you are now?” - Carly
“Yeah” - Me
I ended up throwing the rope across the gully belaying Carly off of some tat that had been left. Unintentionally we had climbed pitch one.
Pitch 2: 5.6 variation
Before leaving the ground Carly and I triple checked our systems (seeing as this was in fact her first time on an alpine rock climb, and with no one behind her we made sure she understood what should be happening). We talked about what it means to clean pieces that I leave in the rock, to make sure that you are tied in at ALL TIMES, to be extra communicative and let me know when the rope is running out, and that to make significant headway she will need to stick her hands and feet in the crack…
The climbing was awesome! Another short slab section led to another large ledge (perhaps where we were meant to belay from) and beyond that was a choice of cracks. I had read on the proj that the crack on the left was the traditional 5.4 route, while the crack on the right offered slightly harder, yet more fun 5.6 climbing. This was unknown to Carly. I chose the right, 5.6, crack and began jamming my way up. The surrounding rock is serpentine which is known for being hella slick and offered very little in terms of holds for hand or foot. So it was true crack climbing for us! The hand sized crack remained quite consistent for 80 or so feet before veering right and allowing me to finally grab some bomb hands about 10 feet below the bolted anchors. At this point the crack climbing did fade and face holds finally presented themselves.
The belay ledge was small. I clipped in and put together our anchor quickly and began pulling rope up. I was only able to pull 15 or so feet up before “that’s me” came up from below. Good thing we brought a 70! After putting her shoes on Carly cruised up with little pause, mainly to pull my pieces. With a little umph and elbow grease all the pieces were out and we reconnected on top of the pitch. Above us loomed a small roof with what seemed like a slab to final 15 foot corner to the anchor.
Pitch 3: 5.4
It was a cold, albeit not rainy, day and while it wasn’t wet, the cold pervaded to our core. When climbing I felt fine and warm, but pausing to wait allowed the cold to catch up with me. Before leaving the belay ledge I saw that Carly was shaking from the cold. “This is normal” she kept saying. We continued on in lieu of cold hands and bodies.
The third pitch was simple and short. The roof was straightforward with huge hand and foot holds, and the final corner was easy with an opportunity for laying back. Both Carly and I made short work of this pitch.
Pitch 4: 4th class
When Carly topped out and joined me, it was clear we were at the top of the technical climbing and were just a couple hundred feet of scrambling from the summit. To make sure we were safe, we continued to on roped together, simul-climbing the 4th class scramble. Occasionally I would put a piece in and Carly would clean as I led on. We topped out at 10:15! We took some photos (proof of our roomie adventure) and spent a few minutes taking in the views of Stuart. Once the cold caught up to us again we simul-climbed back to our last anchor.
Carly rapped down first. We threw the rope down and went over rappel systems before she took off. It wasn’t until she was midway to our next ledge that I realized we could be making double time down this mountain if we simul-rapped. So at the next station we rapped down together. With three rappels we were below where we started. Putting gear back in bags and heading back down the scree we sifted over the morning and were impressed with our time. It had taken us less than 5 hours to get from the car to the summit, pretty good for a first day of alpine climbing!
We took an alternate route down to the car, passing by Ingalls Lake and encountering most of Washington on our hike down from the lake to the car. We finally munched on an apple and some gummy worms. On our hike down it began to snow and we both were jolted with excitement as we thought about winter and the skiing to come! A little pre-drive yoga and yogurt covered pretzels got us ready for the road again. It was 2:15pm or so when we left for Portland. Staying true to form we cruised back, bouncing to Techn9ne, T Swift, Toto, MC Hammer, and Lil Wayne. We were back by 7:30 so I could have dinner with homies from Jackson who were passing through.
It was a day filled with unreal scenery, learning, clouds, snow, rock, fall colors, outdated tunes, laughter, crappy food and worse coffee; everything I could have hoped for in a day in the mountains!
Amazing day of firsts. Stuart, we're coming for you.
Ingalls Peak - 7,662’ - South Ridge (5.4/5.6)