Esmeralda Peak-East Gully Route

Andy Johnson and I arrived at the all too familiar Ingalls Lake Trailhead around 9:00am to find it busy. We weren't surprised given that the east side forecast was considerably better than that for the west side and this is an often visited area to begin with. Not long after parking another car pulled up. A guy dressed in the latest from REI popped out and then three women. The women were all in dresses, some with gaitors underneath. I decided to save my best pickup line for later. I was guessing that the three women were all married to the guy and something was telling me they weren't my type, but I had to ask, "So, where are ya heading?"

"We went to Long's Pass last weekend and today we are going to Ingalls Lake. Next weekend we're going to climb Mount Adams," answered wife number 2.

"So what's with the dresses?" I asked, thinking it seemed like a bad combination to be climbing in a long dress and crampons.

They said something about some strain of Baptist, but by this point I already had my camera out and was too busy waiting for a photo op to listen to the response. Finally, they were all distracted and I got my chance!

What in the Name of Esmeralda is Going on Here?

Andy and I were planning on climbing the gully on the east face of Esmeralda but don't ask me why. The route is briefly described in the Beckey guide as class 3 and 4 with the most difficult climbing at the bottom. After staring at the gully for a while I still wasn't convinced. One person we met at the trailhead said "A couple of my friends climbed it last year and they said it was a fun scramble... they didn't even rope up." I am now somewhat skeptical about that report.

We crossed the North Fork of the Teanaway River near the trailhead on a jam of small trees and took a BW1 route then continued up the talus/snow slope below the gully. We decided to rope up here...just in case. Debris covered class 2 and 3 led into the gully. We began scrambling up placing a piece or two. Not far up the gully were a few difficult class 4 moves with poor holds and a trickle of water. Once past this the class 3 resumed. In another couple hundred feet we reached more 4th class then more 3rd.

The East Face of Esmeralda and the Gully

Andy Johnson Climbing in the Gully

After about 500 feet up the gully we reached more difficult climbing. You might call it class 4... after trying a few different options we decided to get out of the gully. It was becoming steep, loose, unprotectable and wet. A short chimney allowed us to exit the gully and climb along the right side.

Me Climbing in the Gully

Perhaps we should have stayed in the gully but every time I got a glimpse of it I was glad I wasn't in it. We continued up on less than perfect rock (low fifth). A few green belays and a few pieces of rock pro on the loose rock got us to about 1000 feet above the bottom of the gully.

Me Getting the Hell out of the Gully

Me climbing Along the Right Side of the Gully

At a small horn, where another gully from the right merges with the main gully, we returned to the main gully. It was now easier other than a short section of friable rock with small holds and ice cold water running down it. Once above this it was considerably easier but still loose and or solid but covered with cascade ball bearings. We reached the top of the gully and followed the ridge to the left. The highest point of Esmeralda Peaks is the +6480" point at the east end. Apparently, the two +6740' peaks at the west end of the ridge are not "Esmeralda Peaks".

Andy Johnson on the Summit of Esmeralda with Ingalls Peaks Behind

Mount Daniel and Cathedral Rock from Esmeralda

We descended to the south for 400-500 feet then made a gradual descending traverse to the ridge immediately north of the De Roux Creek Trail. At c.4600' we left the ridge and descended south to reach the trail about a mile from the trailhead. Near the trailhead there is a trail junction were an unmarked trail/road parallels the Teanaway River Road for c.2 miles ending near the Ingalls Lake Trailhead (the trail is shown on the USGS map).

All things considered, the route is far from a classic. I think once is enough for me. However, it may be the more interesting route to the summit of Esmeralda Peak, a not so interesting peak. We used only one stopper along the way, and it probably wouldn't have held. Bring cams in the 1 to 1.5 inch range and a several slings. Andy led as much of the route as I did, I just didn't take as good of photos as he did.

Cascade Alpine Guide, Volume 1, 2nd Edition; Fred Beckey; Pages 290-291