The amazing scenery that greets you in the Enchantment region
When Backpacker Magazine's May Issue hit the stands, it had a list of America's ten toughest dayhikes. Well, it is a debatable subject and many tough dayhikes were not listed but one that was listed really caught my attention: Enchantment Lakes Traverse. It came in at #8
For years now I've gone up into this area of the Cascades and have watched the area grow in popularity to the point where it now requires a permit to overnight in the area. I'm not talking about just a trailhead permit, I'm talking about something similar to the Mt. Whitney permit where you need to apply months in advance to get a chance to even get up there. However, you can get a trailhead permit to dayhike in the area and thus the popularity of the traverse is growing and of course, the Backpacker Magazine article added even more fuel to the trend.
The article was just enough incentive to get me to do it so I grabbed my daypack (and my wife) and we headed for Leavenworth and proceeded to 8 Mile Campground where we camped for the night. The plan was that she would drop me off at the Colchuck / Stuart Lake Trailhead and then pick me up at the Snow Creek Trailhead at 7 PM the same day. At the trailhead, I started to head up the trail at 6a.m. and while picking up a day permit at the register, met Corey Bigler. We chatted a bit and decided to do the traverse together. For the rest of the day, we really enjoyed each others company. Corey really enjoys the photography aspect and so we stopped frequently not only for my picture taking but for his. Onward and upward. That trail is like an old friend, I have done it so many times that each rock and tree along the way recognizes my passage. We made it up to Colchuck lake in about 2 1/2 hours, not the fastest time to get up there but one that enabled us to chat away and take pictures as we headed up the hill. It is four miles to Colchuck and 2000 feet of elevation gain so it is a good warm up. However, the view that awaits you when you get to Colchuck Lake is one of the best in the Cascades. A knockout view of Dragontail and Colchuck peaks, rising directly up from an aquamarine colored lake always takes my breath away, no matter how many times i see it.
After a brief break to grab something to eat and drink and take some pics, we continued on around the lake, going over the boulder field that makes up the obstacle course on the south end of the lake. We met a few parties coming down from the pass, our next goal, as we began our effort to attain the top of Aasgard pass, 2200 feet in not quite a mile above us. Even though it isn't far in distance, it always requires careful foot placement as most everything is loose despite the amount of traffic that this route sees. This picture by Bob Bolton shows the territory that makes up this route to the north of Dragontail Peak. Two hours and a half later, we found our selves at the top of the pass and finding a spot out of the wind, we took the time to warm up our hands and grab a little nourishment. The last section was really cold with the wind lowering the temperature via the wind chill factor. We had experience a little rain on the way up but this is almost ideal on this route as you don't want to hit the route in the heat of the day. One thing to do though before you crest the top is to stop and take a picture of the lake, now far below you.
The scenery that greets you atop the pass is nothing short of wild. You feel transported into the tops of most mountain ranges where nothing but heather and a few wild flowers makes an effort to eke out an existance, since this area is under snow most of the year. The top of the pass registers 7700 feet and Corey confessed that this was a nice high for him, with the previous high being 7000 feet elsewhere. I could tell that this is a record that he most likely will eclipse again and again. I found Corey to be a strong hiker and very capable to achieve whatever he wants to do.
After making our way across the Upper Enchantment plateau, skirting lakes with the names of Brynhild, Freya and the like, we began to drop elevation towards the middle Enchantments. Peaks like Dragontail revealed their backside along with Witches Tower and Little Annapurna. Soon McClellan Peak and Prusik began to show themselves as we descended. We noted several tents along the way where people, most likely climbers had set up their basecamps.
The weather steadily improved and soon we were out of our jackets and wearing t-shirts and applying sunscreen. The weather just kept getting better and better. Soon we were at an overlook of pretty Crystal Lake, one of my favorites. We met a couple groups of hikers here, one group who intended to do the traverse and another who were going to find a place to camp for the day. All in all we had met about ten people who had been heading up and about ten people who were going the opposite direction. We dropped down into the Talisman Lake area (Inspiration Lake on FS map). BTW, the names I like to use are the ones originally penned by Bill and Peggy Stark, two of the people who spent a ton of time in this area long before the masses discovered it. They used names that added to the mystique of the Enchantment Lakes basin. Names like Brisengamen Lakelets, Lake Brynhild and Lake Freya, Rune and Talisman Lakes, Leprechaun and Viviane Lakes. Excalibur rock and gnome Tarn. The upper Enchantments were known as the Lost World Plateau and the list goes on. I was fortunate enough to meet the Starks on one of my earliest trips into the region and they were gracious enough to supply me with one of their maps. Consider that the name for Rune Lake is Perfection Lake and Talisman is Inspiration Lake and perhaps you'll feel as I do that the Stark's did a better job of naming the lakes than did the forest service.
Just after negotiating a small snowfield above Talisman Lake, we met the only mountain goats that we would see all day. Two were small kids as you can see in Corey's pic and two adults. One of the adults came to within about three feet of me as he (or she) passed by. They are not afraid of humans and look to us for "salt" donations. Many many stories could be told about these Enchantment goats but I have not the time here to do so. I will say this, that up until about 1988, you never saw a mountain goat in this region. I believe the present day group were transplanted from the Olympic peninsula.
The scenery just keeps getting better and better and soon you feel dominated by the soaring heights of Prusik peak, Little Annapurna and McClellan Peak. The beauty of the area is hard to describe and perhaps pics like this one, or this one, or this one will have to do.
The trail skirts the west side of Talisman Lake for a bit and then drops abruptly to Rune Lake where it skirts the east shore for about a quarter mile before dropping into Sprite Lakelet, where a beautiful little waterfall awaits your enjoyment. The trail continues to descend into the neat little area known as Magic Meadow before it meets up with Leprechaun Lake, another of my Enchantment favorites. The first good view of Snow Lakes is achieved about halfway betwen these two lakes and you realize that ten miles still remains to be dealt with from this point on. Downward the trail goes, passing Lake Viviane and its Excalibur Rock, named of course after the famous sword of King Arthur fame.
From Lake Viviane, you drop below a lake you normally don't get to see, Naiad Lake and begin a steep descent down to the shores of Snow Lakes. This is a hot stretch in hot weather and carrying a pack up this stretch is a bit of work. The Stark's named it the Sylvester high route, named after one of the early surveyors of the region.
When you reach Snow Lakes, you still have 8 miles left to go to reach the trailhead and a mile of it is along the southern shore of the bigger of the two Snow Lakes. When you reach the outlet dam between the two lakes, you have another 7 miles left but , of course, it is all downhill. At the five and a half mile mark, you reach the outlet of Nada Lake and continue your downward plunge. A bridge is reached that crosses Snow Creek and your are now within 4 miles of the trailhead.
When Corey and I reached the overlook for Crystal Lake, I made a cell call to my wife to let her know that I expected to reach the trailhead around 7:30 p.m. It turned out to be 8 but I won't complain. Corey and I both developed small blisters and kinda limped the last 4 miles from the bridge on. Mine were due to using trail runners and poor sock selection. These were the first blisters I could recall in years but I had earned them both and hopefully I have learned from my carelessness. We stopped for a bit and watched some climbers going up one of the routes on the Snow Creek Wall but didn't have time to linger for long. My ride was a-waitin. Thanks to Corey for being a great hiking companion.
Time 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Distance 17 miles
Elevation gain 4600 feet
Elevation loss 6800 feet
Still, it was a great day and I'll probably re-read this and add some stuff I forgot to mention.
Here are some pages that have to do with peaks in the Enchantments but they are filled with pictures that really
give a great feel to the area and why it is so popular:
The Witches Tower
Snow Creek Wall
This is the view you get of Dragontail Peak towering above Colchuck Lake with the route to Aasgard Pass heading up on the left side.