In the late summer of 1999, a friend, Joe, and I headed up to Seattle to do some rock climbing. I never wrote a trip report, but chatting with my friend, Michael, a devoted alpine climber living in Germany now, inspired me to write this trip report. Keep in mind that it is from memory only, so all facts may be distorted by the lens of time.
Joe and I had climbed for a while in Texas, and were quite good at short technical sport climbs, but we had no experience in alpine style climbing. My friend, Michael, agreed to give us a place to crash while we hit several good climbing spots in the Cascade mountains.
The first climb we attempted was a well known trad route up to the summit of Ingalls Peak. We packed our back packs the night before, and weighed them on the scale. I don't remember what the actual number was, but Michael's eyes nearly popped out of his head, when he saw it.
"What do you have in your packs," he asked?
"Just the bare essentials," we responded.
The bare essentials included four 1 quart nalgene bottles of water. Toothpaste, still in the cardbard box. A complete medical kit, hydrogen peroxide, bandaids, tweezers, the whole bit. This is in each back pack mind you. The first thing to go was the toothpaste, then the medical kit, except for some minor bits of it, and lastly the water. Keep in mind we had been climbing 5.9 and 5.10 sport climbs in July in Texas. Water was life to us. We just couldn't comprehend getting water from the land. Michael finally convinced us we could do it, and threw in some iodine treatment pills to assuage our ghiardia fears. We still manged to keep two bottles a piece. I am sure there were other things we did not need we abandoned, but those are the items I remember.
With our packs newly lightened we slept poorly. More from the excitement of the unknown than anything else, then we headed out early to Ingalls peak. The hike to the summit was on a beautiful trail, and was extremely easy. We were screaming up the trail as fast as we could, because we wanted to summit on the same day, camp, and head out. We made extremely good time, and then we got to were we could actually see the summit. We knew we were close, so we slowed down our pace, tremendously, and took our time. Only after many hours did we realize the peak wasn't getting all that much closer. Distance has a different meaning in the mountains. We arrived at the base of the peak, near Ingalls Lake, and it was starting to get late. We knew the climb was only 4-5 easy pitches (5.5 and 5.6 if I remember correctly), so we threw down a base camp, and headed up to the base of the climb.
To get to the base we had to climb up about 200 yards+ of scree, at almost a 35 degree angle. It wasn't hard, but it was very tiring. We followed the directions we had to find the base, and found it. Or at least we thought we did. We weren't too sure at the time, but it matched the description closely. Joe took the first lead, and I slowly played out the rope. Soon he was out of sight and earshot. I waited and waited, and finally felt what seemed like a go ahead and climb tug on the rope. So I followed the rope up, and the slack was being pulled up with me. That was a good sign, so I went over a slightly tricky bulge (5.8ish), seemed a little harder than the description, but climbs vary. This lead into a crack climb with water pouring down the crack. It was at this point that I saw Joe at the belay station, and when I finally noticed that there was no protection in the rock. Joe had basically free soloed 60 meters. Fortunately for us the climb was way below the hard technical climbs we were used to. Still it was unnerving. This was made worse when I finally reached Joe and he said, "Thank god you didn't fall." I then noticed that his belay station consisted of two of the smallest pieces of protection he had, both looking as if they could fall out at any moment.
The next pitch was actually just some rigorous hiking, and then we climbed a chossy mass of rock. As I was belaying Joe, he was pulling rocks out the size of my fist, which were whistling past my head. I was thankful I had chosen to wear a helmet. I followed again, and thankfully the climb itself was fairly easy, and Joe has knocked free most of the loose rocks. The rest of the climb to the summit was fairly uneventful. When we reached the summit we were relieved, but noticed it was not the summit. We had managed to false summit. Only then did we realize we were on the wrong route. In fact what we climbed was not even marked as a route (when we later looked it up). Since we had first ascent, at least as far as we knew, we dubbed the route, "Do not climb this."
Realizing our mistake, and knowing the rappel stations from the way we came would be poor if not non-existant we looked for another way down from the false summit. We found a promising route and rappelled down easily, with only the small sacrifice of a sling. We then searched around for the next good belay station, and noticed that there was not one. It was then we found a white sling attached to a small out cropping (1 x 2 feet or so) of rock. If you know anything about climbing you know that they do not sell white slings. Slings turn white when they are bleached by the sun. The plan was remove the old sling, sacrifice another new sling, and rappel down. There were a few problems with that plan. We were unable to remove the old sling, as it was too wedged in the rock, and we did not have a knife. Secondly even if we could place a new sling he outcropping was greater the 30 meters down to the next ledge unless we swung into and underneath the outcropping. 30 meters of course being the length of our rope doubled up for the rappel.
So we used the white sling as our only anchor. Joe, brave soul and good friend that he was, went first and I swung the rope in with my hand to get him to the higher ledge underneath the outcropping we were on. Once safely on the ground he held the rope in place for me, so I could quickly rappel down. By this time the sun was setting fast, and we had at least one more rappel before we got to the top of the scree field. It turns out there were two rappels, but the first one was straightforward, only costing another sling, but the last rappel almost earned Joe a trip to the hospital (assuming I could get him off the mountain that is). Normally when you rappel you throw both ends of the rope down, in our haste to beat nightfall we forgot to do that. As Joe was rappelling down he was pulling the rope down with him, which of course wrapped around a rock twice as big as his head and pulled it over the cliff to him. I was too far away to stop it in time, but managed to yell out "ROCK". Thankfully it missed him. At that point I cleared the rope from all other rocks and threw the ends down.
We reached the top of the scree field just as the sun set. On the way up we noticed that to the left of the scree field was solid rock, and we knew the solid rock connected to our base camp. The only problem was, that there was a small cliff, 25 feet or so tall, that route. We decided we would walk down the solid rock, to the cliff then walk around it. We had the foresight to bring our headlamps with us, so down we went. We found the cliff, and started scouting around, but now it was pitch black, and we had misremembered the extent of the cliff. We were too tired, or too stupid, to go back up and around, so we just free soloed down the cliff in the dark with nothing but head lamps.
Amazingly we did it without incident. Just as we arrived at base camp, Joe's headlamp burnt out. Totally unnerved at this point, we just went to sleep.
The next morning, feeling refreshed, and having chased away the ground squirrels who chewed through our backpack to get our gorp, we decided to tackle Ingalls Peak again, but this time on the correct route. We went back up the scree field, noticed where we screwed up on the cliffs the night before, and found the false route base again. With fresh eyes, we noticed just a few yards up the real route. The features were very similar, but amazingly the real route base matched the description exactly, not just closely.
After the wrong route the day before, the correct route was a cake walk, and we summited in no time. Rappelling down was also easy, since there were sane bolted rappel stations all the way down. We then walked back to camp, packed up, and headed for Michaels house, ready to tackle Mount Adams next.