2 days. 75,000 steps walked. 20 miles. One top 100 peak in WA. 15+ mountain goats encountered.
The Enchantment Lakes valley is awe-inspiring, breath-taking and just plain awesome.
For the hottest weekend of the year so far we went on a two-day traverse that we had been planning for a while. We visited the area for the first time last year, and were left with the deep desire to come back to scramble to the top of Dragontail Peak.
This year we met that goal and got much more out of it… lessons that only mountains can teach, like “fellow hikers are not strangers, but friendly people eager to help” or “Body Glide actually works against blisters!” or even better “review your map in advance and COUNT the miles you are planning to travel each day”.
We decided to do the Stuart to Snow Lakes traverse, so after parking at the Snow Lakes trailhead we were taken to the Stuart Lake trailhead by a nice guy from Leavenworth Shuttle.
I was carrying a ~50 lb pack, which was way too much for the warm weather, so we took our time. Once in a while I would be pulled back by my shell and just in time managed to grab a root or rock to not fall a flashy fall. The route to Colchuck Lake and up Aasgard Pass was dry and very hot, with only some snow found at the top of the pass.
It was here that a goat made its grand appearance, dancing and doing flips on the snow as it “hiked” down. If that’s not happiness, I don’t know what is.
Thinking that no ground campsites would be left when we reached the Upper Enchantments, we brought a shovel, but were fortunate to find the perfect spot by Isolation Lake. There were surprisingly few people camping in the area. The lakes still covered in snow for the most part.
We settled in, prepared two packs of our favorite lasagna dish from Mountain House and could not do anything but admire the perfection in the valley: melting lakes, towering peaks and the best of all, mountain goats that are safe and free to roam around at their leisure among humans. I was so happy to see them and notice how fat and fluffy they are.
With such a blissful evening we went to sleep and did not wake up until the sun started to bake the inside of our tent, which was at 6 am. We had more Mountain House food for breakfast and headed up the well-marked boot path on the Dragontail snowfield.
We were a bit worried about the scramble to the summit, but it was actually very easy for us first-timers. At the top there was nothing but intimidating cliffs.
We met a fellow hiker who was clearly not afraid of exposure, moving about as if he were a goat. We talked about the surrounding awesomeness for a while. It was only when we were leaving (at 11 am) that we shared our plans for the rest of the day with him, and his shocked expression said it all. Something in my calculation had been very wrong.
Back at camp we packed everything and joined the booth path heading east and down. It was slow going. With the snow melting so fast, there were sketchy snow bridges all over the place.
The barren rock being progressively replaced by more vegetation, running water and clear lakes. Our friends the goats appeared and disappeared on a regular basis.
At 3pm, somewhere around Inspiration Lake we encountered a lady who came from the opposite direction and told us that we still had 12 more miles to hike down. 12 miles? Was she kidding? Our map confirmed the sad truth. At our current pace we were not even doing 1.5 miles per hour.
The zone that contains the middle and lower Enchantment Lakes is deceiving yet fascinating. Beautiful landscapes but also tricky route and crazy creek crossings. You have to trust the mighty cairns, these pyramid-shaped rock mounds that mark the way. The thing with them is that they mark the main trail but also side trails, so one can be lost for some time if the Toilet sign is missed.
By being lost and found again we were even slower and when we reached the outlet of Lake Viviane at 5pm someone calculated that we still had 6 hours left to go. Oh crap.
The steep drop down to the Upper Snow Lake was endless and very scrambly. Each step on hard rock wearing our feet down. This is where we saw our last goat friend, he was alone and not so fat.
And this is also where I wished we could stop, find a campsite, and wait until first light to finish our journey. But we couldn’t do it. When I felt like my feet couldn’t keep going we stopped to eat dinner and take the boots off. The rest of my body was feeling surprisingly good. Damn feet.
Night fell upon us as we entered the long and slow descent from Nada Lake. One step at a time we said, each one more excruciating than the rest. By 10:30 pm we could see the road and cars coming and going, but far away. Pure stubbornness kept us going until we reached our car, at midnight. We drove straight home singing lively songs. All was well, except my feet, who still hurt a little. It was well worth it.
As our friend John Muir used to say: “the mountains are calling, and we must go”.