A few months ago, I was told a spot had opened up in my co-worker's backpacking group that would be exploring the Enchantments over three days and two nights at the end of June. She asked if I wanted to come along, but I was hesitant since at that point I hadn't really done much hiking yet and had never been backpacking in my life. However, I soon realized those were ridiculous reasons to turn down the opportunity, since who knew when it would come around again. Permits for summer camping are hard to come by, and day hikes to the area don't cover much ground (unless you're a serious trail runner with quads of steel). So, I caved a few hours later and said I was in, and then spent the next several weeks gathering gear, looking at pictures, and preparing. Or so I thought. I took a few hikes with some of what I'd carry plus a 10-pound weight, but that was nowhere near what I actually experienced while making my way up those mountains. The week of the trip, I loaded everything except water into my backpack, and went up and down the stairs in my building, climbing 50 stories in total. I was sure I'd die. In the end, once the CamelBak reservoir was filled, my pack weighed almost 37 pounds, and I pretty much needed everything in it. Well, I guess I didn't really need a hammock and wine, but would I want them? Definitely.
We gathered at 5:30 am on the morning of June 25th, hitting the road close to 6:00 am. I think everyone was expecting that maybe we'd get lost on the trail at some point, but we actually got off track much sooner, on the way to the Snow Lakes trailhead. Apparently Google Maps thinks it's located at the end of a windy, sketchy, pothole-filled forest road, when in fact it's in Leavenworth off a well-maintained parking lot on Icicle Road. Thank goodness for old-fashioned maps. So, after that confusion, we ended up getting a bit of a late start, finally hitting the trail at 10:30 am.
I knew the way up would not be easy, but I didn't realize it would be quite that hard with all the gear. The entire route to the campsite was 8.8 miles with 4,000+ feet of elevation gain, and a lot of that comes from switchbacks at the beginning. The fact that we got a late start also meant that we were hiking in close to 80-degree temperatures for parts of it. Let's just say we took a lot of breaks. Parts of the trail were shaded, but others were in direct sun for long stretches. We had our first goat encounter right when we got to Nada Lake, which is at about 5,000 feet elevation. There was a decent sized group of them, including a baby, but I didn't have my camera handy, so I wasn't able to take a good picture, even though they were right off the trail. After Nada Lake, we reached the Snow Lakes at 5,400 elevation (though I think it's a 700-foot climb from Nada). Overall, I think it took us about seven and a half hours to make it from the trailhead to Upper Snow Lake, which is where we set up camp, ate dinner (my first time eating dehydrated food was a success), and went to bed pretty early. In fact, it wasn't even too dark when I turned off my light. I was glad I brought my own tent, even though it was kind of heavy and that meant someone else had to carry her own, as well. I like having my own space, especially when I'm with people I don't know very well, and it was a good place to escape to.
The next morning when we got up, the water on the lake was perfectly calm, creating some really amazing reflections. I spent time taking pictures before making breakfast and getting my backpack ready for our day hike into the Core Zone of the Enchantments.
The climb into the Core Zone was something else. Although it was only 5.2 miles round-trip, it felt like a lot more, and much of it involved scrambling over boulders using both hands and feet. Thank goodness we weren't doing this with full gear, because I'm pretty sure I would have fallen to my death. I'm afraid of heights, and there were a few places where I felt extremely nervous. I think I was a bit dehydrated on the way up, even though I was trying to drink a lot of water (with Nuun in it), however any fatigue went away as soon as we hit the first destination: Lake Viviane. Unfortunately, my camera setting got bumped at some point, so my pictures here didn't turn out well, so these are the best of them (plus one I attempted to fix). Also, it's hard to show just how towering Prusik Peak is.
The horseshoe-shaped Leprechaun Lake is just a hop, skip and a jump from Lake Viviane, and that's where we decided to have lunch, test out the water, and relax in the sun for a while. The water was freezing and I'm a wimp, so I only ventured in up to my knees, but others went in all the way.
The group decided to split up at this lake, and so it ended up being the final stop into the Core for half of the people. While some headed back to camp, the rest of us ventured farther into the Lower Enchantments. Thank goodness I was among them, because everything that came next was like a J.R.R. Tolkien dream. Literally just past Leprechaun Lake is an awesome little waterfall, where we decided to refill our water supply. We then continued on through a flat meadow and then went up a short climb to itty bitty Sprite Lake, which is essentially a runoff for the larger Perfection Lake.
We crossed over some rickety logs to get to the other side of the lake where the trail continued on up to Perfection Lake. One side of the lake is bordered by mountain peaks, including Little Annapurna, while the other is right at the level of the meadow, creating some spillover where the trail is. These grassy areas were my favorite parts of the hikes, walking along crystal-clear, blue lakes and surrounded by granite peaks. I felt like Frodo Baggins walking along trails made of worn-down dirt and stepping stones.
From Perfection Lake, despite the mutant mosquitoes everywhere, we decided to continue on to Inspiration Lake up at 7,190 feet. We had to make our way up a small snowfield on the way up, and when we got there, the lake (which was so unbelievably clear) still had some ice in it.
If only we could have gone farther, but we had to turn around to make our way back to camp. The mosquitoes were making us feel a little less than enchanted by this point, anyway. If I was glad not to have my full gear on the way into the Core, I was ten times more thankful on the way down. This is where my fear of heights really kicked into gear, as there were several points were I felt like I was looking down cliffs toward my eventual death. Luckily, that did not happen. I clung to rock walls, went down some portions on my butt, and took it slowly. Another girl was also slow due to an injured knee, so I just stuck behind her. I also took a lot of photos on the way back through.
When we got back to camp, my feet were so sore and I could hardly sit, let alone stand. Thank goodness I brought that hammock and wine, right?! We made our dinners and then some of us tried to stay up to see the stars, but the bugs were really bad and we were also tired from the day's adventure. I went into my tent and read for a while, cozied up in my 23-degree sleeping bag, even though it was probably at least 60 degrees outside.
The next morning, we had to get up early because my ride home needed to get back to Seattle by 2pm. It was pretty hectic trying to get all of my stuff packed and it didn't seem much lighter, if at all, than it was on the way in. Once we left the campsite, I stuck near the back or middle of the group most of the way down. My feet had blisters by this point, and I just wanted to be careful going back down the trail, especially since it was so rocky and steep. And a lot of good that did me, because I fell twice. (But not that bad! Just a scraped up knee.) When we were coming down along Nada Lake we finally (FINALLY!) had a very close encounter with a mountain goat mama and her baby. I'm glad I whipped my good camera out to take photos of these guys. My grandparents have had a goat head on their wall my entire life (which I've always felt sad for), and I think they'll like these pictures.
Frankly, it felt like we were going as fast as possible the rest of the way down. We took two breaks (one of my to patch up my knee and one for snacks), and that's it. I think we had left the campsite at 8:30am, and we made it to the cars by 11:45am. It's a wonder I only slipped the two times! I was keeping up pretty well, but I was dead by the time we got to the trailhead. It was 90 degrees in Leavenworth, and the last part of the trail had virtually no shade. But we did it!
In total, we hiked about 23 miles over the three days, covering more than 5,800 feet of elevation gain (and loss). Phew! In the end, I had over 100 mosquito/bug bites (about 60 on my back alone), with several swollen to at least one-inch diameter. My ears were swollen (as you can see above), my eye was swollen, my feet were raw, and I was so dirty from all of the dust on the trail. I looked and felt completely miserable, but it was worth it. Especially after editing all of these pictures over the last couple weeks, I've realized that maybe hiking the Enchantments is a bit like what they say about childbirth: while it's happening, you vow to never to do it again, but after the pain subsides, you can't wait to go back.