Most people who climb Prusik have secured one of the scarce camping permits and spend the night. One of the top hiking destinations in Washington, the Enchantments are located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness outside the town of Leavenworth, only a couple hours drive from Seattle. To prevent the Enchantments from being loved to death the Forest Service carefully rations camping permits. Registration opened in February, so by our September climb the permits were all long-since spoken for. Since camping was not an option that meant in addition to the climb we would have to thru-hike the Enchantments, over twenty miles of hiking, all in a single day.
A concluding personal opinion: In recent years the Aasgard Fraud has been perpetrated. The innocent are suckered in by being told that climbing from Colchuck Lake to Aasgard Pass is "the easy way to the Enchantments." False. The fad followers, the in-crowd wannabes, deem the Snow Creek approach demeaning, want to the classy and sassy way, the rout of the big kids. A wilderness-mature adult ascends ritually and respectfully from the picturesque lower basin to the austere upper basin and at last to the cold snows and stern stones of Aasgard. To start with the ice cream and work through the meatballs and potatoes to the soup is not esthetic. Coming to the Enchantments by way of Aasgard is in very bad taste.
The last time I was in the Enchantments was the fall of 2008. I was with a large group and we set-up a car shuttle. We were thru-hiking the Enchantments West-to-East then too, but we had camping permits for two nights so we traveled at a leisurely pace. The Enchantments are justifiably famous as one of the most beautiful places in Washington State. During that first trip through I was in a constant state of alpine-induced euphoria, completely blown away by the scenery. Flanked by jagged mountain peaks the Enchantments are a chain of high alpine lakes that stretch from West to East starting at the barren moonscapes of Aasgard Pass and descending gradually down to the larch tree ringed shores of Lake Viviane in the shadow of Prusik Peak. Along the trail we passed dozens of lakes and ponds, huge slabs of glacier-polished granite, snowfields, waterfalls, gnarled trees sculpted by fierce mountain storms, picturesque alpine meadows, fields of heather, larches turned golden by fall, and lots of snowy white mountain goats. It was during that trip that I first glimpsed Prusik Peak. That striking cathedral-like spire of white granite made an impression on me and I used it as the setting for a short story I wrote [see Links section below] about a young climber soloing Prusik's challenging south face. I vowed that someday I would return and climb it. At the time I lacked the skills so Prusik is one of the peaks that inspired me to take more climbing classes.
After a brief pit stop in Leavenworth for coffee we headed to Icicle Creak Road and the Snow Lake Trailhead parking lot. Dawn had broken by the time we arrived, so we were running a little late by my estimation. Sunrise was at 6:40am and I had hoped we would start hiking in the pre-dawn twilight. Sunset was at 7:15pm so we only had twelve-and-a-half hours of daylight and we needed every hour of sunshine so we could finish the boulder strewn descent from the Enchantments before nightfall.
Jason was right about hitchhiking, we got a ride so quickly I didn't even have time to finish my coffee and had to abandon it on the bumper of Jason's truck. A group of young hikers were setting up a car shuttle for their own Enchantments thru-hike and agreed to give us a lift to the trailhead. There were four of us stuffed in the back of a Subaru Outback. It was not a comfortable ride, I was sitting on the car door armrest as we drove up a bumpy dirt road, but I didn't care so long as we got to the trailhead.
Right before heading up Aasgard Pass we stopped to fill our water bottles from an ice-cold snowmelt stream that crossed the trial. Jason carried two bicycle style water bottles, which worked better than my single Nalgene bottle since he could drink water on the fly, thus saving time over having to unscrew a Nalgene and stop to drink. We were using Aquamira to chemically purify our drinking water so a Nalgene bottle that could interface with a water filter or could withstand the heat of boiled water wasn't necessary. The route follows lakes and streams most of the way so there was no need to carry more than a liter of water.
The hike up Aasgard Pass is a slog, you gain 2200 feet of elevation in the space of just ¾ of a mile. The crest of Aasgard Pass lies at 7800 feet—only two hundred feet lower than the summit of Prusik Peak. I spoke to some hikers on the trail who had been there in the spring when the pass was still covered in snow and said they needed ice axes. Once you get to the top of Aasgard you are rewarded with terrific views, both looking back West towards Colchuck Lake and East as you get your first glimpse of the Upper Enchantments. It's a landscape of desolate beauty looking like it just emerged from the end of an ice age and the glaciers have only recently receded. It's the sort of scene that you could easily picture herds of Wooly Mammoths thundering across while hotly pursued by stone spear wielding cavemen.
…who over many years drew on various mythologies to name other features. A lake and its sword like rock peninsula became Lake Viviane and Excalibur Rock. Other lakes and tarns they called Rune, Talisman, Valkyrie, Leprechaun, Naiad, Lorelei, Dryad, Pixie, Gnome, Brisingamen, Brynhild, Reginleif, Sprite, and Titania. And there is Troll Sink (a pond), Valhalla Cirque, Tanglewood, and many more.
As you descend from the Upper to the Lower Enchantments the scenery become more inviting. Patches of greenery appear and the first groves of larch trees dot the landscape. You also run into the first of many mountain goats. One of the things you learn hiking the Enchantments is that mountain goats are not an endangered species. By my count we passed at least a dozen lounging by the side of the trail. The goats like to hang out near humans in the Enchantments so they can drink our pee. It sounds disgusting, but they do it because the need the salt in our urine. There are signs at the trailhead asking people to pee on rocks and not plants because the goats will dig up the ground to get at the salts, destroying the fragile alpine plant life in the process.
At Rune Lake (aka Perfection Lake) we turned off the main trail to head up to Prusik Pass. We are now close to Prusik Peak and it had assumed its famous appearance as a jagged granite needle. From the top of Prusik Pass we traversed the ridge to the base of Prusik Peak. On the web site Mountainlessons.com I found a route description from some guys who also climbed Prusik in a day. They included a route topo sketch. The topo was helpful, but there was the strange mushroom shape at the start of the route. I puzzled over that for a long time while planning the trip, but at the base of Prusik I discovered that it was a balanced rock looking like one of those European megalithic shelters. We stashed our packs there and started the route. It was Jason's first multi-pitch climb and my first year of leading trad. Prior to taking the Boealps ICC my rock climbing was limited to single pitch top roped climbs and gym climbing. I had never led or even followed, but by the end of the class I was leading 5.8 trad.
Fred Beckey and friends achieved the first summit of Prusik in 1948, traversing from the East to West along Temple Ridge. In his 1969 memoir Challenge of the North Cascades he described how the then unnamed peak was christened:
For 180 feet the spectacular route led up cracks to the ridge; some of this involved direct aid with pitons. In a few awkward traverses and one short aid overhang we reached the base of the summit horn, here some 40 overhanging feet above. We appraised several possibilities, and finally decided the quickest way would be to lasso the horn from an adjacent block. Art climbed 20 feet, and with the spare 3/8-inch nylon began making looping throws. Eventually he succeeded. Now it was my turn: I tied three slings to the fixed rope with prusik knots and began to raise myself, lifting one sling at a time. Getting over the last few feet was the worst part, for my weight made the loop slip around the overhanging anchor block. "Prusik Peak", one of us volunteered. The name stuck.The summit of Prusik Peak was a lot bigger and flatter than I was expecting. You could fit a dozen people up there. Popping out of the squeeze chimney I was stoked to realize I was on the summit. The sweeping views of the Enchantments and Alpine Lakes Wilderness were fantastic. I snapped a couple summit photos, but didn't have much time for celebrating. It was five pm and we still had a long day still ahead of us before we got back to the car. On the summit we met Vern and Tom who had just climbed Prusik via the difficult Stanley/Burgner South Face route. Meeting them I felt a lot less badass for climbing the West Ridge in a day. Those guys were also climbing Prusik in a day and they were climbing a much harder route with a lot more pitches. They were not thru-hiking, as they started at the Stuart Lake Trailhead and were going to head back out the same way.
Tom made the excellent suggestion that we combine ropes for a double rope rappel. The extra length of the rappels gained by tying our two ropes together meant we could rappel down the north face in three rappels instead of the five it would have taken us with a single rope. The double rope rappel saved us a lot of valuable time. There is a bolt at the summit and the guidebooks suggest rappelling from there, but it looked old and flimsy—I did not want to rappel off it. There was a rappel station at the top of the chimney and that is where we started our descent. I brought some extra sling because I was expecting to sacrifice a lot of my slings setting up our rappel anchors, but Prusik is a popular climb and there were so many slings (a lot of them recent) on all of the rappel stations that I ended up not using any of mine. That said I'm still glad I brought the extra slings. You never know what the tat is going to look like until you get there and I heard that occasionally rangers would remove all the old slings because they consider them litter.
Saying farewell to Tom and Vern we grabbed our gear from underneath the balanced rock and headed out. On our way out we passed the small pond known as Gnome Tarn that sits at the base of Prusik. This is the classic view, the one that ends up on calendars and magazines. The sun was low in the sky bathing everything in amber light, it was what photographers call the "golden hour" and I badly wanted to stop and take photos, but there was no time so I had to content myself with snapping a few quick parting shots. After about a mile brought, just east of Lake Viviane is where the steep boulder-strewn descent to Snow Lake begins. Sunset was at 7:15pm and we really wanted to reach Snow Lake before dark. It was almost 7pm when we started the descent and we picked our way down in the failing light. We did not make it to the lake before dark descended, but at least we were past the boulder fields and on trail. With headlights on we started the long slog out to the trailhead.
Once you reach Snow Lake the hike out is long and boring. The trail is good and descends gradually with but it's also monotonous. The best part of the day was behind us and now we had four hours of trudging ahead of us before we could call it a day. The hike out to the car is often the worst part of any climb. You have achieved everything you set out to do and now you just want to go home, but you are still miles away from your car. This is where Prusik-in-a-day turned into a death march. Prior to the ICC my longest summit days had been sixteen hours, but the ICC with its twenty-two hour summit days pushed back the boundaries of what I thought I was physically capable of. I was staggering down the trail like a zombie, but I knew I could keep going. Of course Jason was ahead of me not tired at all, looking like he was just taking a casual stroll in the woods.
Timeline & Map
|7:30 a.m.||Stuart Lake Trailhead||3400||Start thru-hike|
|8:30 a.m.||Hornets!||4775||Stepped on hornets nest|
|9:15 a.m.||Arrive Colchuck Lake||5584|
|9:48 a.m.||Start Aasgard Pass||5707||Water stop|
|11:10 a.m.||Summit Aasgard Pass||7811|
|12:12 p.m.||Rune (Perfection) Lake||7065||Water stop|
|12:34 p.m.||Prusik Pass||7458|
|1:30 p.m.||Start Prusik Peak West Ridge||7631||Stashed backpack under t-stone|
|5:00 p.m.||Summit Prusik Peak||8000|
|6:05 p.m.||Back to packs||7630|
|6:37 p.m.||Leprechaun Lake||6884||Water stop|
|7:02 p.m.||Lake Viviane||6786||Begin descent to Snow Lake|
|7:56 p.m.||Upper Snow Lake||5480||Sunset 7:15 p.m.|
|8:30 p.m.||Snow Lake Dam||5491||Crossing between Upper and Lower Snow Lakes|
|9:12 p.m.||Nada Lake||4968||Water stop|
|11:20 p.m.||See road||2341||Still an hour away from end|
|12:08 a.m.||Snow Lake Trailhead||1377||End thru-hike|
I carried an alpine rack for the West Ridge of Prusik. This included a small set of cams to 3inches, a half set of nuts, and a set of tricams. The tricams were a brand new I was really happy with them. They are very lightweight and they fill a very useful niche between nuts and cams. The kind of crack with a curve inside that will not take a nut or cam well is often perfect for a tricam.
- Metolius Master Cams
- #00 Gray
- #1 Blue
- #2 Yellow
- #3 Orange
- DMM Dragon Cams
- #3 Red
- #5 Blue
- C.A.M.P. Tricams
- 0.5” Pink
- 1.0” Red
- 1.5” Brown
- 2.0” Blue
- Black Diamond Stoppers
- #4 Purple
- #6 Green
- #8 Yellow
- #10 Purple
- #13 Red
- Wild Country Superlight Rock
- #4 Gold
- 4 sewn singles
- 2 webbing singles
- 2 sewn doubles
- 2 webbing doubles
- Cordalette with 3 wire gate carabiners & 1 locking carabiner
- Rescue pulley
Sink the Pink!
|Ode to a Pink Tricam|
Oh Pink's the one I love to place
when I'm alone way up in space
on some exposed and airy face.
They sink where other gear won't go.
When all you've got is manky pro,
This tricam saves your butt from woe.
But it's often hard to get them out;
They make your second moan and shout
And wave his nut tool 'round about
But that's why you're the one on lead
Your problems are a different breed
As long as someone does the deed...
"Oh quit your whimpering," you rumble,
"And get it out or there'll be trouble"
"Get to work now, on the double!"
Although it sometimes takes a while,
They do come out with vim and guile,
(or chiselling and curses vile.)
Pink will do what all the rest.
Won't do when they're put to the test.
Oh pink tricams are just the best!
|-- Charles "Pinky" Danforth|
LinksAlpine Echo, October 2013
The Boealps newsletter with my short story The Gourmet
Prusik Peak - Stanley/Burgner 9/14/2013
Tom Sjolseth's trip report on Cascade Climbers
Mountain Lessons: West Ridge of Prusik Peak in a Day
Trip report with climbing topo
Leavenworth Sunrise and Sunset times
Enchantment Area Wilderness Permits
Seattle-to-Portland Bike Ride
Spring, Ira; Spring, Vicky; Manning, Harvey. 100 Hikes in Washington’s Alpine Lakes. 3rd ed. Seattle: The Mountaineers, 2000. Second printing 2001. Pgs. 70-73 & 76-79.
Spring, Ira; Spring, Vicky; Manning, Harvey. 100 Classic Hikes in Washington. Revised ed. Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1998. Revised Ed. 2006.
Nelson, Jim; Potterfield, Peter. Selected Climbs in the Cascades, Volume 1. 2nd ed. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books, 2003. Pgs. 121-126.
Smoot, Jeff. Climbing Washington’s Mountains. Guilford, Connecticut: The Globe Pequot Press, 2002. Pgs. 201-205.
Route description includes good sketch of West Ridge route.
Beckey, Fred. Cascade Alpine Guide, Volume 1, Columbia River to Stevens Pass : Climbing and High Routes. 3rd ed. Seattle : Mountaineers Books, 2000. Pgs. 259-263.
Route description includes good sketch of West Ridge route.
Beckey, Fred. Challenge of the North Cascades. Seattle : The Mountaineers, 1969.
The Enchantments, WA – No 209S. Map, 1: 44500. Seattle: Green Trails Inc., 1989. Reissued 1997.