Thursday, June 18, 2015

Turning 47 in The Enchantments

Last year, after I got a taste of "The Enchantments", I promised myself that the upcoming year I would jump through whatever hoops I needed to see the "real thing" and do the entire 20 mile loop through the core of the Enchantment Lakes. The problem is, I have a hard time remembering to flush our toilet, much less submit forms of any kind. I still need to renew my (expired) driver's licence for heavens sake! And to add to the hopeless nature of this pursuit, even if I remembered to submit in time, the odds of actually getting a permit are not very high.
Ten minutes in; always a climber
Along with this lofty goal, in years past I've tried to conjure up various spectacular birthday hiking excursions, to no avail. Too bad the permit season for The Enchantments doesn't start until a few days after my June 10th birthday, or I could try to combine these objectives. Wait a second...permits are not needed until June 15th!!!...and this has been the mildest winter in recent memory (making the Alpine Wilderness accessible much earlier than usual)...BEST EVER TWO-FER BIRTHDAY ENCHANTMENT ADVENTURE, HERE WE COME!!!

I am so thankful my husband also saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity and agreed to come with me. We discussed the pros and cons of going the "correct" Snow Lakes direction vs the "easy" Aasgard Pass way, and both agreed we couldn't give a flying fart what grumpy ol' Harvey Manning thought about hiking "esthetics"; we were a couple of cheaters! (If you think climbing 1,900 feet in less than a mile is cheating, that is. It sure in hell ain't easy, I can tell you that!) Ken had day hiked up the Snow Lakes trail countless times to the Snowcreek Wall back in his climbing days, so he was looking forward to going the opposite direction to see his old stomping grounds from another perspective.
A little sketchy snow crossing at the top. Ken bought me crampons, just in case
Upon arriving at the Stuart Lake trailhead to begin, Ken was a little shocked at the amount of cars. (Ha! Wait until we were leaving on Sunday!!) We knew, of course, we wouldn't be the only ones to come up with the brilliant idea of avoiding permit season; but the full lot was making us wonder if we'd even be able to find a spot to pitch our tent.
Found one! Not too bad, either!

Thankfully, we passed many people coming down as we headed up. (Ken was counting and announced, "that takes care of about half the cars") I know the four miles to Colchuck Lake were not exactly easy; but honestly, the brutality of the hike up Aasgard Pass on the following day has erased all memory of it.
Headed up Aasgard, in the shade at least
Always got to add to the cairns

It did take us awhile to find a spot, and it appeared to be just about the last one--but plenty more parties came in after us, (one with headlamps at about 2 am!) so where they rested their heads, I have no idea. The next morning (my birthday!) I was telling Ken that I'd "better see a goat!", while thinking "I'll probably be the only person in history not to see one in this area" (yes, I tend to be a defeatist when I'm afraid I won't get something I really want)...then, I'm not even kidding, just seconds later the biggest goat ever came bounding straight through our camp! Just about gave me a heart attack! I know I should have been grateful, but the truth is, he was gone so fast I barely saw him; making me worry I had missed my one shot for an an awesome goat pic. Ha, was I ever wrong!
Had to bring birthday cake!

First spot after the pass. We could see Mt. Rainer;
but couldn't get a decent picture
Like I said, Aasgard Pass was merciless. I didn't expect to be such a baby going up...but alas, I really did crawl up the thing--sucking air the entire way. Ken let me know the elevation effects your breathing, God bless him; but I don't think it makes you groan in agony with every other step you take. (I may have forgotten the 4 miles to get to Colchuck, but my legs sure didn't! They were PISSED) It took us (meaning me) four hours to go three miles to our next camping spot. FOUR HOURS...that is less than a mile an hour!!! That has got to be a new record.

Testing out the new crampons
I think the pictures do the talking when it comes to describing if it was worth it or not. We actually set up camp twice, because it was just so hard to choose! Beauty overload--what can I say? I can't, so I won't; but understand the pictures really don't do it justice either.

View from the "new and improved" spot at dusk. Perfection.
I will talk about the goats, though. At first we were shooting off pictures machine gun style, thinking how lucky we were at their proximity. By the fourth day it was more like, "get out of my way, stupid goat!";). I read how they liked human urine, but my God; when we got out of our tent it was as if they heard the ice cream truck jingle. After being followed around all morning, Ken says, "No wonder they call it a in, 'I herd you were going to pee' ". (ba-dum-chssh...elevation might also make things seem funnier than they are, because I laughed pretty hard at that one)

Had enough goats yet? Here's a two-fer; goat and marmot!
It was like Wild Kingdom out there!
Going down from Lake Viviane to the first of the Snow Lakes was almost as hard as Aasgard. If my legs were pissed on day two, they were down right ENRAGED on day three. At just about the time I told Ken to expect tears soon, we passed a blind hiker coming up. I'm serious. We wouldn't have known, except the guy trying to keep up with him asked us, "did you just pass a blind guy?" (okay, later at camp we found out he is "legally blind", but still!!! The dude is a rock star!) Yeah, I stopped complaining after that.
Impressive, right? Hopefully you don't watch Monty Python
Speaking of being back at camp--I am disappointed that I didn't make more of an effort to meet and engage with the people around us; but I was too damn tired to care. Hearing people's stories is one of my favorite parts of hiking, so next time I hope to be more social if given the chance. 
I got nothin'

The final day from Nada Lake to Icicle Creek Road was uneventful, except for of course getting caught peeing. (never fails...though, at least now with my "You Go Girl" I'm not squatting!) And we did get a good gander at the famed Snow creek wall, complete with stories of climbers falling to their deaths. (thanks for ending our magical trip on such an upbeat note, Ken! ;))
Coming up on Snowcreek Wall from the back

Trying to zoom in on climbers, but they are itsy bitsy.
Ken's been up it a zillion times.
Birthday in the mountains and completing the Enchantment Loop--I have officially marked two goals off my list, (Actually 3, if you count seeing a mountain goat) and now that I have turned the ripe old age of 47, I have only three more years until my grand goal of 500 miles on the Appalachian Trail. I'd be lying if I said the reality of it getting closer and closer is not starting to freak me out. All you hikers out there; young, old, fast, slow, strong, weak...heck, even all inspire me and give me hope that I can do it. And so, here's to pushing on and fulfilling our wander lust and adventure dreams. Cheers to us!
Did it!!!
Drink in Leavenworth? YES!!!


  1. Hello,

    It was wonderful to read your enchantments experience! I am attempting the hike in mid July therefore I want to pack light.I was wondering what would a ideal sleeping system for this hike would be, was it very cold did you need a 10 deg sleeping bag?

  2. Hi Rohan! I have a 20 deg bag. I also use the therm-a-rest neo light Xtherm sleeping bad, which I highly recommend. (light/small/comfy/helps you keep warm) It's expensive, but worth it.It did freeze that night, but I was not cold. I also always bring handwarmers that I warm up my bag with an hour before I get in; then I keep them in my underwear. :) It really helps.

  3. As you probably guessed, I meant sleeping PAD. Oops, ha ha.

  4. Hello,
    Thanks for your fun and insightful blog post. I'm also hiking the Enchantments next month with a group of 8. Half of us want to enter via Aasgard and the other half wants to enter via the Snow Lake side. Our camping permit is in the Snow Zone. How difficult do you think it would be for us to find each other to camp together in the Snow Zone? I can't get a good sense of whether there's an actual trail with marked camp sites or whether we could take slightly different courses and miss each other altogether. Each group would have a trail map, of course. Thanks for any advice you can provide!

    1. You should not have any difficulty finding each other in the snow zone. There are two major camp areas at Nada, one by the toilets, and one by the lake.(both along the trail) There are a couple sites between Nada and Snow Lakes along the trail, and as far as I could tell, all the sites at Snow Lakes are along the trail. Just specify which one of these areas to meet, and you should be good to go! Have fun!