An epic adventure in the Enchantments

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.

Stuart Lake to Snow Lakes traverse

Stuart Lake to Snow Lakes traverse

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.

Aasgard Pass route

Aasgard Pass route

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.

 

Upper enchantments seen from nearby Inspiration Lake

Upper enchantments seen from nearby Isolation Lake

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.

Mountain Goats in the Enchantment  Lakes Valley

Mountain Goats in the Enchantment Lakes Valley

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.

Hiking the Dragontail Snowfield

Hiking 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.

View of the Upper Enchantment Lakes from the summit of Dragontail

View of the Upper Enchantment Lakes from the summit of Dragontail

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.

Enchantment Lakes

Melting Enchantment Lakes

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.

Lake Viviane

Lake Viviane

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.

Goat overlooking Upper Snow Lake

Goat overlooking Upper Snow Lake

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”.

 

 

7 comments for “An epic adventure in the Enchantments

  1. Kirsten
    11 June, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    Thanks for sharing!
    We were planning on going up there this weekend and I was wary of the snow conditions, so this was really helpful! Would you say the snow bridges were a big worry or is there ways to navigate around them? Were there any sketchy steep/exposed areas that still had snow on them?
    Thanks!

    • Jennifer
      12 June, 2015 at 5:14 pm

      There are definitely ways to navigate around them, by now I’m sure a lot of them have collapsed and a new boot path has been born. There was only a steep snow section into Inspiration Lake (I think) but it was very short, no need for an ice axe. Just be careful with the creek crossings, they have a lot of water these days.

  2. Derek Soike
    14 June, 2015 at 12:40 am

    Great pics! Thanks for writing this up, I’m headed somewhere in the Stuart Range this week and was curious what the conditions were like up there. Looks like you had a fun trip!

    BTW: I found your blog through your trip report on WTA.

  3. Samantha
    14 June, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    Great report, thanks for sharing! What were your overnight temperatures like? Thanks so much!

    • Jennifer
      16 June, 2015 at 4:29 am

      That night was very warm. My 15 degree bag had me sweating with just a t-shirt.

  4. Joseph
    16 June, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    “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.”

    Could you talk a little more about navigating staying on the main trail? I’m trying to go this weekend but have never been to the Enchantments before. I’m attempting to do the 18 miles in a single day hike. Therefore, I can’t afford getting lost for a period of time. Are there good maps available online to print and carry with you?

    • Jennifer
      16 June, 2015 at 9:24 pm

      This one is good to study beforehand: http://www.everytrail.com/guide/the-enchantments/map
      REI has a 15 minute map that is equally good, you just have to pay attention to the lakes in the middle enchantments to know when you need to cross a creek. That was the tricky part for us, when we thought the trail was gone, there was usually a creek nearby that we had to cross.
      If you’re doing Stuart-to-Snow Lakes, remember that before you reach the Upper Snow Lake you have to cross a log to go around it on the east.

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