ingalls country sojourn

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We named the goat Blackbeard for the delicate fan of dark hairs on his chin. He came to our camp, as goats often will, for the salts in our urine. When he came too close we shooed him off, scolding him like a neighbor's child. Whose is this troublemaker? I think I often view animals as children, as oblivious and benign and innocent. All their behavior is aimed at meeting their basic needs, and they are unafraid of breaking human social rules in the process. But Blackbeard is an adult, a mature, taxpaying citizen of upper Ingalls Creek. I'm the one who must appear to him as a child, or a mutant, or an outsider. I am the one who does not speak the language. Ten years after my first visit to Ingalls country, I find it more compelling than ever.

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Scott came from Albuquerque to take a long course in alpine climbing. His first week saw him climbing around Washington Pass and to the summit of Shuksan via the Sulphide Glacier. He proved a quick study and conditions seemed good, so we we drove over Snoqualmie Pass and up the Teanaway River road. The trail to Ingalls Lake is magnificent; I can't think of a place with more idyllic meadows and larch stands so close to a road. Already I find myself plotting an autumn trip. The peridotite of the Ingalls basin recalls the baked sandstone dunes of Red Rock in Nevada. I half expect to find Joshua trees over the next rise.

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I had never done the East ridge of Ingalls Peak, and the long ridge run seemed like a good warm-up for Stuart. We hung our salty packs and shoes up out of reach of Blackbeard and headed up the moonscape above the lake. We found a slippery serpentinite chimney draped with the evidence of someone's retreat. From beneath the massive chockstone at the ridge, we scurried over long enjoyable stretches of easy rock with short steps of trickier climbing. The last time I stood on top of Ingalls, I was twenty-one and blissfully ignorant. I was the child that I wrongly take these animals for--I wonder if I passed a young Blackbeard in the meadow on that trip. I wonder if he scoffed as I tromped by: there goes another silly kid.

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Under the half moon we rose and left camp at four o'clock. Rolling over Stuart Pass and down into Jack Creek, up the rock glacier below the West Face, to Goat Pass where we found no goats but a guide friend and his client. With the North ridge cutting the sky above we crossed the Stuart Glacier, suncupped and icy and cracked open. Then it was the pleasure of the ridge, the familiar architecture of fins and towers and slabs, the cracks and footholds long since scraped clean by generations of alpinists. Was it any less clean ten years ago? My memory isn't good enough. We passed a few parties and hurried back to the sun at the summit.

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The meadows of upper Ingalls Creek welcomed us as we trudged toward camp. It's a place that makes you stop, no matter how bent on sleep you might be. It makes you stop and wonder how you might contrive to come back, to stay a while, to enter the secret life of a wild place.

In the morning we awoke to the bleating cries of a young goat outside the tent. Searching for coffee in the dawn light, I saw a family of four retreated to a slab nearby, and Blackbeard in his throne beside the old fire ring. On the slabs overlooking the valley I found spatters of drying blood, a trail of drops leading off toward the new family of goats. I looked at Blackbeard's sharp horns, his perfect disdain.

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Animals aren't the children I often mistake them for. But neither are animal children what I myself was as a child. Only a few years old, Blackbeard's neighbor kids are eligible for stabbing and murder. I think of my ignorant and carefree days in the mountains, and I am glad for the long, forgiving adolescence of my species. But I wonder again how to understand the ones who live their whole lives here in the alpine, who are not visitors but the evolutionary die-cast of the mountains. I look forward to more years in places like the Ingalls country and the Ptarmigan traverse, where the bears and the martens and the goats show me what it is to be made--and not simply re-made--by the mountains.