6 Days in the Enchantments
DATE HIKED: 7/30/19-8/4/19
REQUIRED PERMIT: YES/ LOTTERY SYSTEM
DOG FRIENDLY: NO
LOCATION: ALPINE LAKES WILDERNESS
RECREATION PASS: NORTHWEST FOREST PASS
Washington’s beloved Enchantments had me enchanted again. This was my third time backpacking in the area. The first time you can read about here . That was one of my first longer backpacking trips. The second time we went we backpacked to Stuart Lake in the early season. This time, we landed core zone permits again. Ryan was the lucky winner this time and even got core zone for during his 30th birthday. Getting core zone in July has almost 0% chance. Actually, it is 6% chance after doing the math. The odds are not in your favor. The lottery window opens to apply in February with results announced in March.
With hitting the jackpot we knew we wanted to make the most of it and explore as much as we could while up there. We gathered a likeminded group that was also in for the objectives we had in mind. Our itinerary would go as this- day 1: Colchuck Lake, day 2: hike to middle core and set up basecamp, day 3: some in group climb prusik peak, others climb Dragontail- Little Annapurna traverse, day 4: ( windy day) do a loop hike from Prusik Pass, Gnome Tarn, lower lakes and back, day 5: others climb prusik peak, day 6: hike out.
We left Seattle at 7 and arrived at the Stuart Lake trailhead after 10. We left one car at Snow Lakes side incase we wanted to hike out that way. We weren’t decided at that point yet. The 7 of us put on our heaviest packs yet. With all the objectives in mind, it required a good amount of gear. Crampons, ice axe, helmet, harness, trad gear, ropes, 6 days of food, photography gear… my pack came in at nearly 50 lbs. It was awful, but we ONLY had 4 miles/ 2,500 gain to Colchuck and then the load would be a little lighter for day 2? Only one could hope. The hike up was hot and slow going. We found a site big enough for all of us and relaxed at the lake for the rest of the day. We went to bed early to be up early to climb Aasgard Pass before the heat would beat us down.
Day 2 we woke early to be hiking by 7:00 AM. We hiked around Colchuck and then got to the boulder section . The first boulder section involved hiking/scrambling over big boulders. It’s important to follow the cairns through this area and up the pass to stay on track.
Ascending aasgard was rather uneventful, unlike last time (we got stuck in a blizzard!). It was super slow going with the heavy packs, but with one foot in front of the other we eventually made it. It took about 2.5 hours from bottom to top with a couple breaks. We got to the top and the views of the upper core zone opened up. A moonlike landscape.
We made camp on a rocky area between Perfection and Inspiration Lakes. We did one basecamp for 4 nights. It was nice not moving camp around so much! That evening we celebrated Ryan’s 30th birthday. Nikki brought up chocolate cake and ingredients for lemon drop shots!
3 in our group went off to climb Prusik Peak while the other 4 of us went to do a big loop traverse of Dragontail to Little Annapurna and back. This morning we counted 14 goats in our camp area! They are obsessed with human pee for the salt in it and anxiously await for you to go to the bathroom. They never became aggressive with us, but were sometimes annoyingly too close.
We left camp around 8 AM and hiked back up into the core. It was about a mile back to the junction of Aasgard Pass/ where Dragonail started. The start of the climb is through rock and boulders. Once we had loose rock above us, we put on our helmets and started climbing.
The standard approach up Dragontail has a permanent snowfield. We read recent trip reports that noted having crampons and an ice axe were nice for this. The snow wasn’t icy at all, but there were steep drop offs. I was happy to have my trusty snow tools on me.
Past the snow section we took off our crampons and hiked up the back of Dragontail. Until the summit block, there is surprisingly a nice trail all the way up.
This was such a great summit with views of all of the core, Glacier Peak, Rainier, Stuart and more. I had wanted to do this scramble since I got into scrambling and I finally made it happen! We didn’t stay at the summit long though as we had a long ways to go. We descended the way we came and then started our traverse to Little Annapurna. We found a GPX track online to roughly follow. There was a faint trail most of the time and some cairns as we well.
Descending to the saddle was the trickiest part of this route. There was no obvious route down. We saw steps that led down to extremely steep snow that we tried to avoid. We kept going to the end of the plateau and found a steep/loose/wet gully to descend. It wasn’t great but got the job done. Once we made it to snow it was pretty much easy walking to Little Annapurna.
Once we actually got on real trail going up to Little Annapurna, it was an easy walk up all the way to the summit.
Hiking down from Little Annapurna we tried to stay on trail and follow cairns, but easily kept getting off trail. We followed our map until we got back to the main trail through the core all the back to our campsite. This was an amazing adventurous cross county trail adventure few in the enchantments get to see. It was such a treat.
This day was supposed to be climbing Prusik day 2, but with an updated weather forecast we saw it was supposed to be extremely windy this day. Not a great day to climb high things! We used this day to adventure to Prusik Pass, down to Gnome Tarn and then looped it back from lower core back to our campsite.
Our plans had been to climb Prusik Peak ever since we got the permits. Except then we had 0 trad skills, only sport climbing skills. In June we took a leading trad class that taught us how to place gear in rocks, build anchors, rappel and more. We went to the crag once after this class to practice trad climbing. Going into the trip I wasn’t sure if I would go up Prusik, but would bring the gear and see what would happen. Kauilani, Nikki and Shawn went up Prusik on Day 3 and had a successful summit, but very long day. Although the West Ridge is only 5.7, I’ve learned trad 5.7 means nothing as everything is hard. They said there was a lot of tricky spots on it and hard, awkward moves. Kauilani felt comfortable leading Ryan and I up the first 2 of the 4 pitches of the climb. She knows my climbing ability and what I can do so I was fine with that. She didn’t want me to hate trad climbing right from the go!
We left about mid day so that we wouldn’t get in a traffic jam with other climbers going up. We timed it right as there were no other climbers climbing near us when we went. We hiked the hour up to Prusik Pass again and then departed to the scramble up to the base. At the base, we left a couple packs only taking one up and ditched our hiking shoes for climbing shoes and harnesses. With another short scramble we were at the base of the climb. I had never climbed in a group of three before. Ryan belayed and I got to take photos! Things I learned this day- tight sport climbing shoes are not great for alpine trad- so painful! Also, a small climbing would’ve been great instead of hauling up my empty backpacking pack.
These couple of pitches were great practice. I got to practice cleaning gear, reviewing anchors, do some awkward trad climbing, practice rapelling, and everything that goes along with multi-pitch climbing. Trad climbing is hard and a bit scary. I would only follow people with lots of experience on very easy routes. I’m excited to improve my sport climbing first before the possibility of becoming a stronger trad climber.
The last day. How quickly 6 days flew by with having so much fun in the alpine. We packed up early to hit the trail by 7. One more time we would hike back to the upper core and then down Aasgard. We decided to hike out the Colchuck side for a few reasons. Way less mileage and way less painful (lesser of two evils really). Everyone had warned me about hiking down Aasgard and how awful it was. With taking it slow, it really wasn’t too bad at all. After hiking out both ways I definitely prefer going out Aasgard vs the 7 mile descent of Snow Lakes. It was a nice Sunday and we passed hundreds of hikers through hiking the Enchantments. We made the rest of the hike out rather quickly and before we knew it were in Leavenworth enjoying brats and beers and ice cream.
In this case, third times a charm as far as magical alpine adventures in the Enchantments go. I still feel so lucky I got to experience this place again and really got to explore the area this time seeing it from all different angles and peaks.