Jul 28, 2001 by The MounTAIN Woman
McClellan Peak via Ingalls Creek ,Crystal Creek - The Alpine Lakes
Jim and I enjoyed a "country-club start", leaving the Ingalls Creek Trailhead shortly before 10:00 am. The trail was in great shape - the only blowdown was around mile 7, consisting of a 1-foot diameter log preceded by a downed spruce whose branches made a curtain across the trail. On our way out, we noted that apparently some horseback riders got to the blowdown and turned around, as there were not signs of recent horse passage upstream of the blowdown.
Our goal was to climb McClellan Peak, in the Enchantments, using the Crystal Creek approach. We watched the time and the trail junctions to know when we were at the 7.5-mile point where Crystal Creek crosses the Ingalls Creek Trail. It was supposed to be about ½ mile past the junction with the Cascade Creek Trail. At one point we saw cairns on the right side of the trail, but not having passed the junction, we just blew by. Well, we should have investigated, because that was it! Unfortunately, we kept going until we reached the Hardscrabble Creek junction 1.3 miles further! Nothing like an extra couple miles on an already long approach! I guess the Cascade Creek Trail has been abandoned'
The cairns were right on the money just to the east of Crystal Creek. The cairns marked the beginning of the Crystal Creek informal trail, but we lost it in the undergrowth, but regained it shortly thereafter. The travel was not difficult, except for the fact that the hill was steep, and our feet were already tired from 10 trail miles with overnight climbing packs. After a grueling ascent to the first basin at 6000 feet, we eagerly anticipated finding a camp spot. The basin was dry. Lush undergrowth belied the fact that there was currently no running or standing water, despite Crystal Creek that gushed down the hillside just 1000 feet below. It appears that shortly after exiting Crystal Lake at 7000 feet, the water heads under the glacial boulders some 50 feet or more below the ground surface only to emerge on the hillside below.
Our hopes of unshouldering our burdens dashed, we dug in and scrambled up relentless talus and boulders to Crystal Lake. Mere words cannot do justice to the beauty that unfolds as one emerges over the pass. Couple that with the exhaustion 12 miles and 5200 vertical feet bring, and you have the recipe for euphoria!
We planned to bivy, but with the occasional sprinkles and constant breeze, we deployed our new Mountain Hardware Kiva. It performed superbly! The next morning we were treated to blue skies. Our summit lie 1400 feet above, but soon after we started heading up, the valley clouds boiled up and engulfed the surrounding peaks. Picking our way through the talus, we ascended to a notch in the summit ridge just east of the Chessmen. From here it was a delightful scramble to the precipitous summit. The clouds began to lift, and we had glimpses of the entire Enchantment basin and the surrounding jagged peaks.
Our hike out was uneventful, save for some very sore feet. We managed to stay on the climber's path most of the way down, except for the last 100 feet of vertical. It is well marked with cairns and tread most of the way.
On a sad note, we had the unpleasant experience of encountering the remnants of a sloppy camp on our hike in. What I saw in that abandoned camp made me sick. A red-hot campfire still smoldered. A kindling pile was stashed within a foot of the fire ring. A piece of burnt aluminum foil containing the remanants of last night's dinner (a large chunk of red meat) was splayed out over a log by the fire. Three empty glass bottles of Mike's Hard Lemonade were stashed behind the log, along with a red plastic bullet casing. The melted remains of a fourth bottle lay inside the fire ring. A spent 44-magnum shell was perched on an adjacent log. A newspaper, still in its plastic sleeve, was stashed behind a tree. A few Marlboro butts littered the bare dirt.
I made eight trips to Ingalls Creek with one of my Nalgene bottles to drown the red-hot coals. It was breezy that day. I hate to imagine the conflagration that may have happened had we not been so vigilant to check the camp. I don't know if the dirtbags were stupid, ignorant, or just plain arrogant. Probably some of each. We packed out their trash on our return trip.
Note: Mountain woman recently passed away after a valiant fight against cancer (brain). Even during her illness, she was still bagging peaks and spending time in the mountains. She was an awesome human being and will be sorely missed.
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