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John Guilford's Hikes

Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wildnerness on 2012-08-27/28

Date: 2012-08-27/28

Location: Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wildnerness

People: (including myself): Don Hiller, Dave, Brandon, Declan, Anthony

				Alt.	Miles
Stuart Lake Trailhead:	9:23	3400	0
Colchuck Lake Trail:	11:00	4500	2.5
Colchuck Lake:		1:00	5570	4.1
Lunch (Colchuck Lake):	1:45	5570	5.2
Start up to Aasgard:	2:30	5570
Aasgard Pass: 		5:45	7800	6.1
Campsite:		6:30pm	~7600	~7
Break camp:		9:00am
Prusik Pass Trail:	10:00	7100	~8
Lake Vivian:		11:00	6785	~9
Upper Snow Lake:	1:00	5415	~10.5
Leave lake:		2:00
Nada Lake:		3:30	4950	~12
Bridge over Snow Crk:	4:20	4260	~14
Icicle Creek:	 	6:45	1300	18
For more than twenty years I've wanted to visit the Enchantments but never managed to get there.  Hence when my friend, Don, asked if I wanted to join him, I jumped at the chance. 

Originally the trip was planned to take four days, but due to work schedules it got cut down to three. 

We had to be in Leavenworth between 7:30 and 9 to pick up the permit (after 9 they give it to someone else).  But due to the shortened stay (3 days) we wanted a relatively early start, so we wanted to leave Lake Stevens at 5:45 (roughly 2 hours to Leavenworth), that meant I had to leave my house at 5 and get up at 4.  Groan.  I wasn't thrilled but I've gotten up early for other activities.

There was some construction delays on route 2 and we didn't get there till after 8.  While Don got the permit I went to the local McDonalds for a final bathroom break as well as pick up an Egg McMuffin and OJ (breakfast had been 4 hours prior).  We dropped Don's car at the lower trailhead on Icicle Creek.  We crowded into Dave's minivan and headed to the Stuart Lake trailhead off 8 mile road further up Icicle Creek.

On the drive up to the trailhead I spotted a long eared rabbit bound across the road.  At the trailhead I heard a pika though I didn't see it.  It was a gorgeous day with a clear blue sky.  It was a bit chilly in the shade in the parking lot as we changed clothes and did final repacking.

[ PIX1 ] We didn't actually start hiking until almost 9:30.  At first you follow the Stuart Lake trail, 1599.  The trail is pretty nice and immediately starts climbing at a reasonable slope.  We made good time.  The trail was dusty and the person in back got to eat the others' dust to some extent.  Soon the morning chill wore off and outer clothing came off.

After an hour and a half, two and a half miles, and a thousand feet gain the Colchuck Lake trail (1599.1) splits off.  A mile and a half later and a thousand feet higher, you reach the north end of Colchuck Lake.  From here, the trail skirts the west side of the lake down to the south end.  The going is slower here as the trail isn't as well developed with more rock hopping.  It took 3/4 of an hour to cover the mile around the lake.

It was 1:45 by this time and we were all hungry.  We stopped for 45 minutes to eat lunch, filter more water, and one of Dave's sons even took a dip in Colchuck Lake (which ought to have been freezing cold).

[ PIX2 ] All the way around the lake we could see the gully leading up to Aasgard Pass.  This has the reputation of being a long, slow, slog.  You gain 2200 [ PIX3 ] feet in less than a mile for an average slope of about 30 degrees.  There isn't a real trail.  The route is marked by cairns and pretty much goes straight up.  Much of the route is on rocks making the going slower.  There is a band of trees half way up.  The route doesn't look that long from the lake, but from the lake to the bottom of the trees takes about an hour.  From there to the top of the trees takes another hour, and from there to the pass is a third hour.

As you climb towards Aasgard, the lake slowly gets smaller.  More revealing, looking straight across to the far side of the lake helped me gauge how high we climbed.  My Nikon was stashed in my pack with my Fuji Point and Shoot in my pocket.  While hiking I used the Fuji, though when we stopped I could pull out the Nikon and get some nicer shots.

[ PIX4 ] Just below Aasgard Pass I saw my first mountain goat.  People coming down said there were lots of goats up in the basin, but I figured one in the hand is worth a bunch in the bush, and got at least one picture.

[ PIX5 ] Near the pass we saw several climbers traversing a steep snow/ice slope on a ridge SE of Dragontail Peak, almost assuredly with crampons.

[ PIX6 ] After reaching Aasgard Pass and leaving Colchuck lake behind, we were in the Upper Enchantments basin.  We passed Isolation Lake (there was another group camped on a little beach there) to Don and Dave's traditional camping area.  This was in an area with numerous small lakes/ponds.  There were some small trees there but they weren't large or that numerous.  We had to cross a little creek to get to the camping spot.  This required finding a spot where you could hop rocks to get across.  This was a bit of a nuisance as the latrine (to keep the area clean, they have a number of official toilets in the basin from which they periodically haul out the waste) was on the other side of the creek about ten minutes away.

The sun was beginning to drop, it was cooling off, and the wind was picking up as we made camp.  The ground was thin dirt over rock and there was no way to stake the tent down.  We tried using rocks to anchor the corners and the two sides where the fly normally gets staked down away from the tent.

While Don was doing the tent I got out my pump and filtered some water for dinner.

[ PIX7 ] As is typical for me after a day of hiking, my thermostat shut off and I got a bit chilled.  I'd known that would happen and put on my fleece pants, my vest, fleece jacket, goretex jacket, and fleece hat, but I was still a bit chilled.

Don started his propane/butane stove and we started cooking water.  I thought it would take a while and went off in search of the latrine.  After crossing the stream I followed the trail and found it w/out problem.  I'm [ PIX8 ] glad they had it.  Even if it was out in the open, it allowed sitting rather than squatting, something I don't care for.  Adjacent to the latrine the basin dropped off to a lower lake (Crystal Lake) and a valley to the south.  While there I met my first reasonably close goat maybe 20 feet from the latrine.  He didn't seem to mind me at all.  On the plus side, I found that walking to the latrine and back did a decent job of warming me up.

When I got back to camp I found that Don had already boiled water and prepared the dehydrated meal.  We each ate half.  I'd forgotten that the "two person" meals were rather meager for two people.  I suppose if you had something to go with them it would be okay.  I was still a bit hungry after the half meal but not enough to dig out M&Ms or dried fruit. 

There was concerns about critters getting into the food.  Don had a "bear proof" plastic container for his food.  I borrowed some rope and strung my bag up between two trees.  It wasn't high enough for a bear (if any bears go that high) but it might keep rodents away.  While doing that the wind continued picking up and the tent started to blow away.  We decided to move the tent into a slightly more protected area (in hindsight I'm not sure it was any better) and tried larger rocks to hold it down.  It was dark enough by then to need headlamps.  By this time Dave and the boys were safely ensconced in their tents.

We finally got the tent as good as we were going to.  I went off for a final visit to the latrine as I *really* didn't want to have to use it in the middle of the night.  For that matter, I didn't even want to have to get up to urinate, and I think I was somewhat dehydrated.  Fortunately the moon was between 1st quarter and full which did a decent job of lighting up the terrain.  W/out the moon, it would have been very difficult finding my way back to camp.  I probably could have found the latrine, but it would have been trickier to find the stream crossing and the camp on the way back if I were limited to the range of my headlamp. 

[ PIX9 ] When I got back to camp I decided to try some time exposures of the moon lit basin.  I got out the Nikon and shot two.  With the gusty wind, I wondered if the camera would move during the 30 second exposure.  After two attempts I decided it was good enough and time for bed.  Not having a pack cover, I tucked my pack under the fly as best I could, climbed in the tent (which had two doors, one each in the middle of each side, so Don and I had our own individual doors if we wanted), took off my boots (which I tucked under the fly, undressed, and got into the sleeping bag.

There was a layer of gritty dust everywhere.  At first I figured it must have blown in when the doors were open, but I soon learned open doors weren't necessary.  There was something akin to a wind storm going on.  Not infrequently a stronger gust would carry dust under the fly and through the netting to inside the tent.  With the winds, the fly was flapping like mad.  Even with ear plugs it was pretty loud.  I found that if I faced the outside of the tent, every so often I'd get a face full of gritty sand.  Facing the center was better but after a while that got uncomfortable.  The dust stuck to my relatively damp face and I'd occasionally have trouble with grit in my eyes.

I have to say it wasn't a very pleasant experience.  There were times when I wondered if the fly would shred or blow away.  It felt and sounded like the windstorms we sometimes get at home.  With the noise and the conditions, I couldn't sleep despite only having a couple hours of sleep the night before.  I think it was about 3am when the wind dropped a tad and I finally got some sleep, but even that sleep wasn't great.  At least I was plenty warm in my bag - a bit too warm actually.  I used my down bag as it compacts more than my synthetic bag, and I was afraid it would be too warm.  I was a tad warm, but I made do sticking arms out of the bag and not having to stick feet out.

About six or so I heard the first pitter pats of rain on the fly.  "Great!" I thought.  The forecast didn't call for rain until Tue evening, and it was already starting.  Don hadn't put a cover on his pack and got up to fix that as his bag was out in the open unlike mine.  I wasn't sure how well the blowing fly would project my bag or my boots, but there wasn't much I could do about it.  Don said it was coming down pretty hard and stinging and thought it was mixed with sleet or snow.  He got pretty wet in his time outside.

Then the issue of what to do arose.  The forecast called for the weather to worsen towards evening.  I didn't relish the thought of pitching tent and cooking dinner in the rain.  Don was worried about people getting wet and getting hypothermia.  He had gotten pretty chilled when he had gone outside.

Perversely, soon after dawn the sun found a break in the clouds in the east and lit the tent up nicely and I swear I saw some blue sky out Don's door when he was coming or going.  At that moment I thought everything cleared up, but that didn't last long.  Soon another squall came through.  I espoused the desire to bail out that day.  Don expressed a desire to do so also, though it was weaker than mine.  Dave and the boys were less inclined, though we did agree that we ought to get out of the basin if the weather was going to get worse.

We decided if we were going to flee the basin, we ought to get going and not wait around for long.  Fortunately by that time the rain had ceased.  In fact, that ended up being the last rain we had for the entire trip.  I started off the day with fleece pants under rain pants, with my jacket and goretex on top.  To speed things up, we did without heating water (no oatmeal for me) so I just had a bagel for breakfast.

[ PIXa ] Outside the tent I found a family (herd?) of mountain goats hanging around [ PIXb ] the camp.  There were several adults and a baby or two.  They weren't afraid of us.  I was more afraid of them, especially with their horns.  Several times I left or changed course when one got too close to me for my comfort.  While Don struck the tent, I went and pumped more water for the morning.

We decided to have Don and me leave first with Dave and the boys probably fifteen to thirty minutes behind us.  The latrine was on the way and that helped avoid the bottleneck there.  Don had brought a pair of radios so we could keep in touch.  The plan was to regroup at Upper Snow Lake if not before.

[ PIXc ] As we traversed across the upper and lower Enchantment basins, I'd occasionally look back and note the darkening, ominous clouds back towards Aasgard pass and the surrounding peaks.  I was glad we were leaving as the sky was looking scary.  In fact, I feared the bad weather might overtake us.  In truth, it seems it was more show and bluff than reality.  Later in the day we met some through hikers (while camping in the Enchantments is limited by permits, anyone can day hike through, though that is a pretty long day) who had come through Aasgard pass about noon.  They said the sky looked really black and ominous, and as they climbed up from Colchuck to the pass, and they wondered what they were getting themselves into.  But they said they stayed dry and it wasn't bad.  But of course at the time we were leaving we didn't know that.

I had taken the rain pants off before leaving camp, though I kept the goretex jacket and fleece hat on for most of the basin.  The basin is often regarded as one of the most spectacular locations in the Cascades, and rightly so.  Generally one would spend a day there doing side trips up to Prusik Pass and up Little Annapurna.  But in our case we were only making tracks with the anticipation of getting out that day.

[ PIXd ] The route through the basins is marked by cairns.  A couple times we'd get off trail and have to hunt for cairns and the real trail, but it wasn't hard to follow.  Sometimes you'd go over rock and sometimes on dirt or even marshy ground.  The basin starts high in the east with the upper basin and for the most part slopes down to the west with the lowest lake in the basin about a thousand feet below the highest.  There are many pretty lakes and streams and rocks with water running down the faces.  I can see how in nice weather I could have a good time wandering and taking pictures.  I did shoot a bunch of pictures with the Fuji along the way, but we didn't go off course and spend too much time on pictures.

[ PIXe ] [ PIXf ] There were some snow fields in the basin, but it was mostly clear.  A couple times the trail crossed stretches of snow that were more ice than snow, but I found that getting off the more traveled trail put me on softer snow and better footing.  We passed more groups of goats on the traverse through the basin.

[ PIXg ] [ PIXh ] The route passes along the side of Inspiration Lake, passes a side trail to Prusik Pass (which is a normal side trip while in the Enchantments but one we didn't take), and then runs along Perfection Lake, one of the prettier lakes there.  It then drops down a bit more to Leprechaun Lake and Lake Viviane, the easternmost lake in the Enchantments basin.

[ PIXi ] From here, you exit the basin and drop down a valley to Upper Snow Lake nearly 1400' lower.  This valley isn't nearly as steep as going up to Aasgard Pass with easier travel.  Before dropping off the edge, we checked in with Dave and found he was about 15-30 minutes behind us.

[ PIXj ] As we descended out of the basin (and as the day progressed), it grew warmer and sunnier and we shed clothing.  I was down to the same thing that I wore the previous day coming up - a t-shirt and my lightweight pants.

When we reached Upper Snow Lake we stopped for lunch and to await the rest of our party.  It was also a good time to filter water and refill our bottles.  Just about the time we were done with that, Dave and the boys caught up.

They weren't up for a hike all the way out and wanted to camp another night at Nada Lake.  Don and I were more eager to head out that day.  The issue was transportation.  Don's car was at our exit trailhead, but Dave's was back where we started.  We decided to take Dave's key, hike out, shuttle Dave's car down to the lower trailhead, and then hide his key (he didn't have a spare) in a prearranged spot before taking off.

Dave and the boys spent about an hour doing lunch before a leisurely hike down to Nada about 4:40 where they had plenty of time to make a relaxed camp, cook dinner, and go to bed at 8pm.  They got up at 8am and were on the trail down at 9:20, getting out a bit after noon. 

Since Don and I had a ways to go, we took off almost immediately.  The trail around Upper Snow Lake is level and smooth and was a pleasure after the rougher terrain coming down from the Enchantments.  The day turned sunny and beautiful (at least where we were) and the shade of the trees was welcome.  We made really good time on the nice trail, passing a fair number of campsites, many of them occupied.

[ PIXk ] At the northeast corner of Upper Snow Lake, the trail crosses a dam that separates Upper Snow Lake from Lower Snow Lake.  The lakes were very low water which was maybe 5 or 6 feet below the dam's top.  The end of Upper Snow Lake was filled with a massive raft of logs.  Due to the low water, crossing the dam amounted to walking across a rock/concrete "wall" about two feet wide and five or six feet high.  More typically (so I'm told) there are a couple inches of water running over the top of the dam making the footing trickier and the crossing more interesting (especially with a pack on).

[ PIXl ] The trail almost immediately starts descending down to Nada Lake.  There is a large (maybe 2'?) diameter pipe that can run water from the Snow Lakes down to Nada Lake.  The valve on this pipe is controlled by the salmon fishery down at Icicle Creek.  They use this valve to control the amount of cold water in Snow Creek.  In late summer, they need more cold water for the fishery and open the valve.  As we descended towards Nada, we could see and hear the huge plume of water shooting out of the pipe.  It is pretty impressive.  You can detour off the trail to the actual pipe, but in the interest of time, we skipped this side trip.

By then, my knees were getting sore, but worse was my right toe which was suffering from boot-bang and was very tender.  On smooth terrain it wasn't a problem, but on rocky terrain (of which there is a great deal) I had to be careful with my footing to avoid pain.  This slowed our progress a great deal on the (interminable) descent.  When we left Snow Lake, I had hoped to be out by 5pm.  Later we passed some folks coming up and they guessed we'd be out by 6.  It turns out that we didn't get out till 6:45, due to my slow progress.

A mile or two below Nada Lake the trail crosses from the west side of the valley to the east side.  The trail relentlessly descends.  Sometimes the river is nearby, sometimes it is far below.  For a while we were in the sun and it was pretty warm.  Then the sun dropped under the canyon wall and most of the rest of the way out was in the shade, which felt really good.  Towards the bottom a stiff wind came up that also felt good as the day was rather warm down in the valley.

Especially during the descent I found my poles a godsend.  I don't know how I would have made it without them (in more pain, certainly).  While I don't care for poles when day hiking, with the full pack they are really worth having.

The trail pops out into the Icicle Creek valley part way up the valley wall.  You get a nice view of the road and the parking lot down below.  Do not be fooled, it will still take a while to get there as the trail has to switchback seemingly forever to lose the final altitude down to Icicle Creek.  From there there is just a bridge crossing and a short upward climb to the parking lot.  That was the moment we were waiting for, time to drop the packs for good, and even more important, take off the hiking boots and switch to sandals.


[ PIX1 ] John near start of trail up to Colchuck Lake. 

[ PIX2 ] Route up to Aasgard Pass from Colchuck Lake. 

[ PIX3 ] Colchuck Lake from part was up towards Aasgard Pass. 

[ PIX4 ] John at Aasgard Pass. 

[ PIX5 ] Climbers on steep snow/ice slope above Aasgard Pass. 

[ PIX6 ] Upper Enchantments basin, Isolation Lake.  Dave and the boys crossing in foreground. 

[ PIX7 ] Upper Enchantments basin, moon rising over McClellan Peak. 

[ PIX8 ] View from toilet, Crystal Lake and peak lit by the setting sun. 

[ PIX9 ] Upper Enchantments basin lit by moonlight. 

[ PIXa ] Mountain goats near camp. 

[ PIXb ] Little mountain goat with tiny horns. 

[ PIXc ] View into the lower Enchantments basin, Inspiration Lake. 

[ PIXd ] John descending granite rocks. 

[ PIXe ] John descending snow field. 

[ PIXf ] One of the myriad little cascades in the Enchantments

[ PIXg ] Water running down a rock face. 

[ PIXh ] Don crossing granite along Leprechaun Lake. 

[ PIXi ] Lake Viviane and the end of the Enchantments

[ PIXj ] John descending towards Upper Snow Lake.  It is warmer now. 

[ PIXk ] John crossing the dam between Upper and Lower Snow Lakes.  Imagine this with water running over the top. 

[ PIXl ] Water jet from pipe from Snow Lake. 

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Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015