"Where the clouds can go, men can go; but they must be hardy men." -A. Maurer
Last year my brother Michael and Eastking went up Colchuck Peak in Late March which for over a year I been wanting to do. Last week Redwic invited me to join with Gimpilator for a Grand Slam in the Enchantments. Redwic let me stay over at his house which we sorted gear, planned out our routes, and printed off maps.
We woke up at 2 a.m. for a nice alpine start to head out to the Stuart Lake Trailhead. By the time we got to the trailhead we were all excited by this point. When getting out of the car it was so nice to feel the fresh mountain air again. For the past several weeks I had been stuck at home with tons of homework which I graduated June 9, 2011. The weather was absolutely perfect, we could not have picked a better time to head to the Enchantments. The weekend before people said it was too snowy, and then next weekend permit season was going to start up.
Going for ColchuckAt around 5:30 a.m. we started hiking up the trail to Colchuck Lake which was nice and easy even with a heavy pack. Later up the trail we encountered snow which was mostly solid, views of Dragontail and Colchuck Peak came into view.
At the lake we enjoyed a nice break which I decided was time to enjoy some cream soda. From here we walked around the lake and started the ascent up the Colchuck Glacier. From here on out we gained elevation quite rapidly in fashionable time, to the South we could see Mount Cashmere, Mount Canon, and Aasgard Pass. As we were climbing we chatted with some guides from New York who stayed with us until we reached the Colchuck Col.
At the Col we ditched our packs for the summit, by the now the heat of the day was softening up the snow making for a few posthole steps. On the summit of Colchuck we could see clouds moving in which Gimpilator figured we would be in a white out soon, fortunately that never happened.
Heading over to DragontailWe quickly descended Colchuck back to the Col to pick up our packs and went on over to Dragontail. We misunderstood some info we got online and made attempts to avoid the gulley by cutting right to the ridge. This turned out to be a mistake, after topping out of the ridge all we could see were cliffs and a rappel ring which obviously this was not the way. I carefully explored a bit more and ended up having to down climb some class 3, we gave up and went back to the gulley.
The gulley was around 45 degrees or so, but by now the snow was soft enough to feel comfortable heading up, which it was glissade worthy. Pretty soon we reached the top at Pandora's Box which we started to wonder where exactly we should go next.
The Crux of the Trip
After Gimpilator went around the edge of Pandora's Box he spotted a steep snow slope leading to the Dragontail snow field. "This is it!" Gimpilator announced, looking over the edge it looked steep, I could see small cliffs and rocks sticking out which did not make me feel good about the slope. At the time I did not even see the cliffs that were below until after we were past the crux. Gimpilator was the first to go down and kick steps which I'm thankful he did this for us. He stayed perfectly quiet which we figured was him feeling fine but he later said he needed full focus. When Redwic went through he seemed worried at first but then seemed less nervous when almost near the bottom of the crux.
Then it was my turn, I was a bit nervous heading onto the down climb slope but was trying to remain calm. After a few steps down I instantly realized the seriousness of the slope below and the dangers of the cliffs. I now was putting as much effort as possible to kick steps in further, and began to feel vertigo. I don't mind heights, but when my life is on the line, I become quite scared. "Relax" I whispered to myself as I went over the crux of the crux (the middle was the steepest part). As I went down my middle and index finger began to go numb as well as my toes which when stepping in I could not feel exactly how far in my foot was in. On top of this I was carrying a over night pack and began to have cramps, this reminded me an awful deal of how Sahale was (although not as bad). I became more worried when I saw how easy my ice axe plopped out of the snow, which I knew that my axe was no longer my life line, my footing now was everything. Redwic every now and then would yell out encouragements which I tried smiling while knowing that I had to get off the slope soon. On my next step I saw part of the step break, this did not make me feel any better. If I had known how the slope would have been perhaps I would have not even attempted going down, but as far as we knew at the time this was the only way to Dragontail from Colchuck. After taking more careful steps I was out of the crux which I felt much better, it was among the top 5 scariest things I have ever done. In mountaineering you always got to be in control, when I'm not, that's when I start to panic. If I was either roped up or had an ice tool I would have felt much safer descending. From here it was a nice easy traverse onto the Dragontail snowfield.
From Dragontail to CampFrom here it was smooth sailing, the summit of Dragontail from here was relatively easy. At the summit it was a bit cliffy which I quickly touched the summit and went back a few feet to eat (I did not feel comfortable unlike Gimpilator being on the top rock on the summit for a while). Soon we started our descent which I got a nice glissade down to a mini pass. From here we went left down to Aasgard Pass, the snow was punchy making progress slow.
By the time we reached the bottom I could see my knees were all cut up from the ice crystals from falling in many snow holes. We were all pleased to be in the Enchantment basin which is where we put our camp at. After setting up camp I decided to be the cook which in a sense was nice because I got to enjoy the sunset and evening colors over the mountains around us.
In the morning it was a bright sunny day, when grabbing my boots from outside they were too frozen for me to get my feet into (they loose flexibility). Redwic had to put my boots out in the sun to help thaw them out. In the mean time we boiled more water and I enjoyed some top ramen in the tent. Pretty soon my boots were flexible enough for me to squeeze them on, and pretty soon we were on the move.
Next Stop Little Annapurna!
We started out crossing Isolation Lake, I was a little worried with the idea of crossing a lake which had pools of water on the West side of the lake, but we did see foot prints of people who crossed it in mid day, we were crossing it in early morning. Once across we started heading up the slope of Little Annapurna, which turns out to be the easiest of the peaks we climbed during the trip.
On top of Little Annapurna we looked over to figure out our exact route up Enchantment Peak, and of course had our selves a mini celebration.
Our Final Destination: Enchantment PeakThis peak was perhaps the most out of the way, but was certainly a fun one. We descended down the North East Side of Little Annapurna to Inspiration Lake and onto Prusik Pass with a slightly different variation. Along the way we got a very nice place to refill our water and refresh ourselves. From here we then ascended on up to Enchantment Peak which at first we went for one of the false summits by mistake.
We then back tracked and went for the East summit which we believe to be the real one. The ending had a bit of class 3 section which Gimpilator calls it "The Ladder" because there were nice foot holds although not for the fearful of heights. We were all very pleased to get this summit, but as we looked over we could see incoming clouds which there was potential rain coming in.
The Return Trip
The way down was a nice big glissade to the lake, and then we had to go up hill once again to get to base camp. We decided to cross around the lake now that it was late in day. At base camp we relaxed for a little while and then packed everything for the return trip down Aasgard Pass. My feet were finally dry from changing my socks but sure enough not 100 feet from camp I fall in 2 snow holes and end up getting my feet wet again. At Aasgard Pass there was a nice glissade to the lower part of the pass, on the way down there was a hidden rock which hurt a bit, but fortunately nothing serious.
After looking over the edge I was almost drooling at how nice the glissade ahead looked, I down climbed 200 feet where it was harder snow, but once it got soft, man I was flying down the mountain! 1,000 feet later I decide to wait up for the team, and then go down another 1,000 feet in high speed. At the lake we then get back on trail. From here I had some good conversations with Redwic and Gimpilator and it was a nice mellow walk down to the trailhead.
Thanks guys for taking me, this was a great experience and beautiful place. I would recommend this to any peak bagger who wants both big peaks and adventure!
Also be sure to check out Redwic's Trip Report on Nwhikers.net
Trip Statistics from Redwic's Trip Report:
Total Hours: 38
Total Hours Hiking: 25
Total Distance Covered: ~20-25 Miles
Total Cumulative Elevation Gain: ~10,500'
Total Bulger Top 100 Peaks: Four