It’s been a while since my last “hiking geologist” post. It’s not because I haven’t been hiking! It’s one of two reasons – 1) I’ve been hiking in the same area that I’ve written about previously or 2) I had an amazing trip in the Olympic Mountains and I haven’t wrapped my head around its geology yet. But over Labor Day I checked out a new-to-me area on the doorstep of the Enchantments and felt like a kid in a candy store. Green glassy rocks! Ribbons of igneous dikes? Rocks that look like sandstone from afar but igneous up close. Lots to make me curious, so here we go. This is the hiking post, geologist post to follow.
On Saturday morning I rolled up to the Beverly Trailhead in the Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest north of Cle Elum. Although I had left Seattle’s rain behind when I crossed Snoqualmie Pass, low clouds still sat over the Wenatchee Range. They hung like a roof over the North Fork Teanaway valley once I passed Cle Elum. I parked next my silver Subaru’s twin (minus the Caution: Geologist Driver bumper sticker), hoisted my backpack onto my shoulders, and headed uphill. Here’s a regional map for context, and a map of my hike so you can follow me around on my hike.
I hadn’t backpacked in a while and my cardiovascular system was protesting. The breaks gave me a chance to survey the view once I got out of the trees. It looked quite a lot like the approach hike to Mordor in my opinion. The dark peaks crumbled down their slopes in gully-carved run-outs. A few hardy trees stood their ground. It looked very different than the granite landscape I was used to exploring off of Highway 2. At least I heard some pika chirps to encourage me.
The sun came out once I had hauled myself 2.7 miles to the junction with the Fourth Creek trail. Lunch was a welcome pick-me-up, eaten once I felt I couldn’t hike any further without having a minor meltdown. The rest of the climb to Turnpike Pass was easy! It wasn’t any less steep, but I was drawn on like a magnet by increasingly shiny exposures of green-tinted rock. It looked like glass and was broken in convoluted folds, nestled into white stone like butter in croissant dough. It lead me up to the top of the pass, with views of the head-water marshes of Beverly Creek to the south and a tantalizing glimpse of Mt. Stuart to the north through the trees.
Honestly, the Turnpike Trail is not great. It descends through an accidental creek full of loose cobbles. It has one view going for it – the trail opens up above the last descent to Turnpike Creek into treeless switchbacks through talus slopes of orange rock and more of the green glassy stuff. I stopped for a snack and to watch jays argue in the ponderosa pines below in the valley. After the steep descent the trail was mostly flat until a smaller drop down to Ingalls Creek. Just before that drop I encountered shallow domes of light orange rock. I confidently assumed it was sandstone. Research would prove me wrong, but more on that later.
Once I had crossed Ingalls Creek and thrashed my way up through meadows of bloomed-out wildflowers, I sat down for a break on some familiar rock. Bright fresh granite, white with black flecks. The bug sounds in that top meadow were so peaceful. Those moments are the reason I backpack. I hung a left on the Ingalls Creek trail and headed to the Ingalls Creek campsite like a horse towards its barn. That is, if I could find it. It wasn’t where I expected it to be. I pushed too far uphill on the Ingalls Creek Trail through dense thimbleberry bushes until I was properly cranky and had to sit for a moment to get my head on straight. I decided to head back downhill to the trail junction, which turned out to be correct as the campsite is actually on the Longs Pass trail. I arrived in time to claim an absolutely primo campsite of pale granitic sand nestled between boulders right by Ingalls Creek. Later in the evening, climbers rolled into other campsites in order to climb Mt. Stuart the next day.
I woke up to an absolutely perfect morning on Sunday and headed up the Ingalls Creek trail to Lake Ingalls. The last red paintbrush flowers bloomed by the creek. After passing 2.5 miles of berry-less blueberry bushes and granite boulders, I finally found a patch on the Ingalls Way trail to snack on, growing on the same orange rock that made up the otherworldly domes to the south of Ingalls Creek.
Note: the Gaia GPS app shows three “trails” that split as “alternatives” to get to Lake Ingalls from this direction. A lower elevation route, a middle elevation route, and a route along the tops of the ridge west of Stuart Pass. Only the middle one is legit. The high path along the ridge is an unmarked scramble and the lower route through the meadow is a boot path that damages the landscape by cutting through marshes and overly steep terrain. Plus only the middle route has blueberries.
After a fun scrambly half-mile I made it to Lake Ingalls and had it all to myself! I found a beautiful spot by the blue water to make my day camp and break out chocolate and a book. Reason # 2 that I backpack. Then I headed off to clamber on the irresistible rock formations. Truly a playground for all ages, if you hop between rocks to avoid trampling the vulnerable alpine plants. I met a marmot with the best view of Mt. Stuart who was sunbathing and not caring at all about me. Little chipmunks were less bold and scurried away as I jumped from rock to rock.
Interlopers in the orange rock formation caught my eye as I rambled south along the lake shore. Elongated mounds of gray rock nestled among the orange domes, and a long ribbon of gray zigzagged up the southern side of Ingalls Peak. As I went to investigate them, I ran into a darling family of mountain goats – Big, Medium, and Baby. They were ambling down the trail so I went rock-hopping to give them their personal space. They’re so fluffy, but the horns on Big and Medium looked wickedly sharp.
By this time more people had showed up, but almost all had come from the Esmerelda trailhead on the southern side of the lake and stayed there, or on the west side of the lake. I wondered if I could join them from the eastern side and climbed up a huge playground of sloping rock formations. I was stymied by a sheer cliff on the western side of it. I went to go back down but the goats had blocked the gully I had climbed up so I took a reading break to wait for them to clear out. From my perch I saw a bold hiker decide to skinny dip in the lake, and then run screaming out from the cold.
Around 3pm the wind picked up and a light rain started. I scrambled down the side of the big knob of rock to avoid the lingering goat family. Several more marmots shrieked at me as I made my way along the eastern lake shore past the skinny dipper now wearing a puffy jacket. A big billy goat blocked the trail again, giving me a happy excuse to climb the rock playgrounds. The downhill hike back to camp was a romp. I ate my boil-in-the-bag dinner and chatted with tired climbers heading back from conquering Mt. Stuart.
A rowdy flock of bushtits work me up the next morning and I decided that I wasn’t going to return by the steep Turnpike trail. Instead, I would hike another mile down the Ingalls Creek trail and hang a right on the Fourth Creek trail which looked like a more gradual climb on the topo map ( I use both the Gaia GPS app and a paper map). It was sunny and perfect hiking weather, especially when I caught a bit of a breeze. That mile between the Turnpike trail and Fourth Creek trail junctions was a hot mess of downed trees but the Fourth Creek trail itself was absolutely ideal. There’s a big horse-camp site where it crosses Ingalls Creek, and the Fourth Creek trail itself is maintained for horses with minimal blow-downs. Adorable Douglas fir squirrels scolded me from the trees and I saw an elusive Clark’s nutcracker with his bold white and gray coloring. The trail crosses rocky Fourth Creek a couple of times. Fourth Creek Pass overlooks a big bowl of meadows and the craggy Mordor-like Bean Peak and Volcanic Neck. I would love to come back here in the early summer – I bet the wildflowers would be spectacular!
Once over Fourth Creek Pass, I met up with the familiar Beverly Creek trail. The landscape was much less depressing in the sunshine. I was properly tired out when I made it back to my car. I stopped to full up my water from the creek at the North Fork Teanaway Dispersed campground , where a trail lead down to an outrageously clear blue creek. Seriously, it was the platonic ideal of a swimming hole with bedrock walls scoured into sinuous shapes. I soaked my feet and pumped water through my filter in a tiny inlet shaped like a hot tub. I drove back south to meet I-90 on a beautiful winding back road through the Teanaway valley and golden fields.
In my next post, I’ll dive into the rocks that distracted me and their origin. A hint: These rocks are ALL interlopers – part of an accreted terrane. But this terrain came from a deeper source. I was hiking through an ophiolite, a piece of the mantle beached on the continental crust like a whale on a beach. More on this next time!