Enchantment Lakes

I have planned to backpack into the Enchantment Lakes for more than 20 years. With a strict quota it's not easy to get a permit and the time plus coordinate with others. When I found out Suzanne's friend had a permit and I was invited I knew this would be the year. The downside was that the permit was for one night at Colchuck Lake and two at Snow Lakes but none in the Enchantment Basin itself. We hoped to be able to upgrade to the basin at the lottery the morning of our trip.

Day 1

I rode with Kelly and Rick came with Suzanne. We left Seattle at 5:00 am to be sure to get to the lottery in Leavenworth on time. There were already cars in the lot when we arrived and many more came soon after. By 7:45 there were 10 groups with 30 people vying for permits for 5 people. The odds were not good. The first lottery winner was a party of one. Next was a party of two. That left two spaces. The next winner took all the rest. Darn it! There were two groups who had not picked up their passes and if they did not arrive by 9:00 there would be another lottery. With that in mind we went to breakfast and returned at 8:45.

The two permits were still waiting. At 8:55 a party came in to collect one of the permits. At 9:00 the other had not arrived and another lottery was set. This time there were four groups after one permit. Kelly was selected to pull the name out ot the can and she selected our slip! Somehow we succeeded in getting a permit for three nights in the Enchantment Zone. This is much better than having to day hike all the way up and down. When a group came in at 9:05 we ran out the door, taking no chances that the late comers were there to pick up their permit.

We were unsure about our route out but left one car at the 1300' Snow Lakes trailhead in case we chose that trail to exit. We then drove up to the Colchuck Lake trailhead at 3400'. Even at our 10:10 starting time it was very cold. The sun was out and the forecast was for partly cloudy and warming temperatures. In fact, we hardly saw a cloud in the sky until some high ones on the way our. I had not been to Colchuck Lake. In fact I had not done any of the trails along our route. It's a real treat to spend  four days on unexplored trails. My style is lightweight with freeze dried food. The women planned a little more diverse menu. The result is I had a little more weight than usual but we ate very well. Approaching Colchuck Lake we could begin to see golden larch trees higher up. That was a good harbinger of things to come.

We followed the trail around Colchuck, then cairns across boulder fields and finally trail through tall brush. The lake was low enough that we dropped down onto the beach at the south end of the lake for lunch. Directly above us loomed the route to Aasgard Pass. It is more route than trail, gaining 2200' in less than a mile. The lake is at 5570' and the pass is at 7800'. By the time we were done with lunch and on the move it was 2:30. The route up is mostly well marked with cairns. It is a mixture of boulders, talus, and scree. With full packs our progress was slow but steady. Suzanne and I went out ahead but made sure to keep the others in sight. Higher up we began to see more and more peaking golden larch trees. As we moved from sun to shadows it became much cooler. I saw a white creek above which as we neared showed itself to be frozen solid.

Suzanne's guide said not to cross a second creek but I thought the route did so and I was wrong. The route was obvious but there were no longer any cairns. Since we were so close to the top we kept on going. A couple hikers below us confirmed this was the correct route as they had done it a number of times. They were wrong. We reached the top and now had to hope Rick and Kelly would come up the same way. It was after 5:00, getting darker, cold, and windy. I went left and found cairns marking the correct route. We sat and waited at each spot for our companions. Rick and Kelly came up the correct route and after a little worrying we were all back together again. Now the pressing need was to find a campsite before dark. The first obvious sites near the upper lakes were all taken. We continued to descend, passing one acceptable though not great site.

We found a site big enough for our two tents just off the trail near the Brasingamen Lakelets at 7550'. Camp was set up, dinner cooked, and food hung before dark. The larch in the upper basin were at their absolute peak. Only a few were still tinged with green. We turned in at about 9:00 pm for the coldest night of the trip. I would guess it dropped to the mid 20's.

Day 2

We awoke to very cold temperatures and bright sunshine. I bundled up and made a quick journey around the lakelets. Since we were camped directly below Little Annapurna, we decided that would be our first objective. Nearly any route will work as long as you stay off the pitifully small remnants of the Snow Creek Glacier. We went more or less straight up the rock slabs. This reminded me of the slabs on Vesper Peak but with more elevation gain. The summit is at 8440' giving us just about a 900' climb. I avoided scree as much as possible and scrambled up the fun slabs. In short order the terrain moderated as we reached the summit plateau. I was amazed at how flat it is. We ascended the last rocks and reached the summit. There were several groups already around the summit area. The view is outstanding. I could look down on all my favorite Teanaway peaks close by to the south.

We were joined on the summit by Brent and his friend. Brent is a musician and songwriter as is Rick from our group. Rick toted his small guitar up Aasgard and also up Little Annapurna. The two of them put on an impromptu concert on the summit. I must say that is a first for me on a high summit. With the clear sky we could see Rainier, Adams, Baker, Glacier Peak, Sloan, Three Fingers, Bonanza, and many more peaks. It is also a great vantage point for seeing nearly the whole of the Enchantments. From that angle Mt. Stuart is a very sharp pyramid. After a nice long stay we headed on down. The northeast ridge has an easy to follow climbers path all the way down. It also offers some nice slab walking.

Back at camp we all proceeded to rest and relax. Finally, Suzanne, Kelly, and I decided to hike on down to Inspiration (Talisman) Lake. The route was more of a scramble than I expected but not a problem. As we passed the toilet we had our first goat sighting. Half a dozen of us gathered to watch as the goat just wanted to lay down, rest, and enjoy the sunshine. We took a short side trip to look down on Perfection (Rune) Lake. At Inspiration we found a nice open campsite near both a great toilet with a view and the lake. We trudged back up the 450' back to camp. On the way we found a goat laying right in the middle of the trail. It didn't seem inclined to move so we went around. It did stand up and pose before laying back down on the trail. It's hard to express just how spectacular the larch trees are at their peak. The upper basin is more barren but the trees were almost all golden. At the middle lakes about 3/4 of the trees were golden. Lower down there is still a week or two to the peak.

Suzanne and Kelly again cooked a dinner that was far superior to my usual freeze dried fare. It weighed a little more but it sure tasted good. For the second night we had a crystal clear sky. Living in the city I forget just how many stars are visible far from the lights. The second night was cold but much warmer than the night before. After exploring around the basin in the bright sun all day it was hard to imagine that there was snow the previous two weekends.

Day 3

For our last full day in the Enchantments we chose to explore the central lakes and the other side of Prusik Pass. We also decided to move camp lower and hike out via Snow Lakes. After breakfast we packed up and descended down to Inspiration (Talisman) Lake. The site we had seen the previous afternoon was still available. This site was small but better protected. The tents fit but were very close together. The days had been dead calm with some wind overnight. The middle lake proved to be windier but the rock surrounding our site kept most of it away.

After setting up camp we filled day packs again and headed down to Perfection (Rune) Lake. A trail leaves from there to climb a short .7 miles to Prusik Pass at 7400'. We saw one marmot on the way up as it was feasting to prepare for the coming winter. From the pass we had an outstanding view of lakes below, the upper basin, and Little Annapurna above a sea of golden larch. Shield and Earle Lakes lay below in the Lost World Plateau. The first thing we did was follow a climbers trail a short ways up to the east for a close up view of Prusik Peak. A very small and largely dried up Gnome Tarn was below us. The views were even a little better than from the pass. We dropped back to the pass for one more decision. We had considered heading to Enchantment Peak, The Druid Plateau, or down to Shield Lake. The lake won out and down we went.

The trail down to Shield was a bit more of a scramble than I expected. Hands were useful in places as we worked our way down to the larch forest below. The dirt trail through the larch to Shield Lake was wondrous. As we descended the bright yellow gave way to golden and partly green larch. The golden trees were nearly blinding in the bright sunshine. Down at 6695' Shield Lake it was much warmer. We hiked around the west side passing a group of fishermen. As we arrive several of them snagged small fish. We continued along the shore to a sandy beach near the north end for our lunch break. What a beautiful spot. We now had the backside of Temple Mountain and Prusik Peak above with white cliffs dotted with golden larch. Kelly had climbed the High Priest in the past and had a good look at it from there.

I could have relaxed in the sun along the lake shore for hours. Since our visit was so short we had no time for that. Kelly went a little farther north along the lake and found a nanny and two kid goats. We all went for a look. Soon after we met a man who had hiked up Toketie Creek to Earle and now Shield Lake. He was continuing on to Aasgard Pass and out via Colchuck Lake. He had a bike there for a ride back to his car at the Snow Lake trailhead. That is far more ambitious than I will ever be. We all congratulated him on his determination. After climbing 5400', much of it off a real trail, he still looked refreshed. I would have been crawling. We supplied a bag of Jelly Bellies and he was back on his way.

We continued on to Earle Lake. Beyond Shield we saw no other hikers. Earle was larger than I expected. Edward Mesa rose sharply down the valley. Earle was the spot for a longer break. All too soon it was time to head back. Now we had the sun in front of us, backlighting all the larch trees. The extreme brightness wrecked many photos but some still turned out great. As usual, the climb back up the rock and scree was easier than the downclimb. From Prusik Pass it only took a few minutes to descent back to Perfection (Rune) Lake. There was still some daylight left so the consensus was to head on over to Crystal Lake.

The trail along Perfection was again through larch trees. Little Annapurna soon loomed high over the lake. At the outlet we crossed between Perfection and Sprite Lake and continued along the shore. Beyond the lake we reached a view down to Crystal. It is in a dark bowl and the sun was already gone for the day. A short drop brought us to the lake. At the south end of the lake we had a view of Navaho Peak and the long drop towards Ingalls Creek. Suzanne climbed higher up the ridge for a clearer view. After a short stay it was time to head back to camp. We managed to pack a lot of lakes into one day.

Day 4

It was a little sad to wake up realizing that it was time to head for home. The first three days flew by all too quickly. There is still plenty more for me to explore on a future visit. Still,  we did manage to see a lot in a short period of time. I know we ate a lot of food but I swear my pack was as heavy as when we started up the trail on day one. As we prepared to leave two goat families showed up. The nannies each had two kids. They were a little impatient with us as we lingered. They did provide a nice photo opportunity.

Going out via Snow Lakes is a long route with lots of elevation to lose. 5800' in ten miles to be exact. The first 3 1/2 miles took about as long as the next 6 1/2 miles. The Snow Lakes route is not the knee pounder Aasgard Pass is but there is a lot of rock to descend. I can see where it would be nasty when icy or even wet. We had dry rock and sun so it was not hard, just time consuming.

We passed Perfection, Sprite, Leprechaun, and Viviane before dropping down to Snow Lakes. Upper Snow Lake is very low. The sandy shore drops far down before reaching water. At the dam there was no water nearby in the upper lake. Between Lower Snow and Nada Lakes we came upon the man made outflow of Snow. It is an impressive and loud shower of water not too far from the trail. I haven't seen anything quite like it. Down at the outlet of Nada I saw movement below the trail and we saw a solitary goat, knee deep in the water, munching on grass. I was surprised to see a goat this low. Below Nada lake it is a 5+ mile grind. The fun was over. Now it was just a march back to clean clothes and cold drinks. I was quite pleased to make it back. A quick car shuttle, a stop at Uncle Uli's in Leavenworth and we were on the road home.

I had high expectations going into this trip. Reality proved to be far grander than my imagination. Everything that could go right did. From our improbable last second permit upgrade, to unbeatable weather, to peaking golden larch, to goats galore, etc... What a great four days in the mountains. I need to be sure to include good company too. I've been fortunate enough to already have been on several of the best hikes of my life this year. This one topped them all.

Aasgard Pass
Colchuck Lake
Frozen Creek
Larch Near Pass
Suzanne & Larch
High Above Lake
Kelly In Upper Basin
Dark And Light
Little Annapurna
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Photo Page 2

Trips - 2005