Enchantments

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A beautiful new area, the Enchantments are explored with new friends.

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Last Spring, my acquaintances (I didn't know them well, having only been together on one outing previously) Josh and Jenn put an invitation on FaceBook to visit the Enchantments. My old friend and climbing buddy Tom had once told me it was his favorite place on earth, so it took me almost 10 seconds to jump in. Josh and Jenn are such nice people that they immediately included me on their permit.

Permits to camp in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness are distributed on a lottery system (but many folks day-hike with no need of a permit), and further restricted by zones or divisions within the area. Josh and Jenn's permit was for the "Stuart Zone", not the premium "Core Zone" that includes the Enchantments Basin. No worries- just more hiking involved to get in and out of the basin.

I drove over on a Friday afternoon. It took about 7 hours to get to Wenatchee, where I had a lovely visit with my Aunt Pat and crashed in a spare bedroom.

The next morning I arose to an amazing breakfast, where I stuffed myself knowing that the next few days were going to be trail food and camp stove fare. Thanks, Pat!

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I met Jenn and Josh at the Leavenworth Ranger Station, and we caravaned to the overflowing trailhead. After a few minutes of last-minute packing, placing permits in the windshield, and finally donning our raingear, we were off.

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The trail up Mountaineer Creek to our campsite gains perhaps 1000' in 2 miles. We were having a blast telling stories and getting to know each other better. And enjoying the hike.

The weather was a bit wishy-washy, so we were in and out of our raingear.

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We set up our camp, then headed farther upstream to see Stuart Lake, another 2 miles but with only 600' gain. Raingear again. But now with views, however limited.

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Stuart Lake.

 

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And some mountains.

Today was supposed to be easy, so we retreated to camp for an early dinner, more conversation, a little light reading, and early to bed.

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The next morning we were out of camp at headlamp o'thirty (6am if you really want to know) and headed to Colchuck Lake, a stiff one hour climb with about 1700' gain.

The photo below includes Aasgard Pass (just right of center), the brutal 1800' climb above Colchuck Lake.

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Although Aasgard is tough, the hike around the lake is no picnic.

Here's Jenn about a third of the way up the climb of Aasgard.

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At this point, we might be two-thirds up. On one of the easier stretches, both in trail angle and in trail surface.

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But when you pop over the summit, it all becomes worth the work.

I didn't know it at the time, but that's Dragontail on the right. One route to the top involves climbing across the upper snow patch. More on that later.

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Pretty glorious views.

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I think this is Inspiration Lake, with Enchantment Peak just sticking up above the ridge line. Trailhead
Same lake, but now you can also see Prusik Peak. Trailhead

From Prusik Pass, looking down toward Perfection Lake.

It seemed like every vantage point offered a view of a new lake.

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Up high on the ridge approaching Enchantment Peak. That's the southwest summit on the left.

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And here's Jenn working her way up the northeast summit.

There is some controversy about which summit is the higher. If you pick the right map, this one has an extra contour line.

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Summit.

It seemed sort of crowded (and exposed) so I am started down.

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Josh working his way down from the summit. Trailhead
We decided to try a shortcut, although we couldn't quite see if it went all the way. Trailhead
It was pretty steep, and in places quite loose. But it did go. Trailhead

Back on easy terrain. Happy.

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More easy terrain.

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Looking back at the hillside we descended, with our peak in the background. Trailhead
Somewhere in here we decided that although it was somewhat late and we were somewhat tired, that we should try to climb Little Annapurna. Sort of an insurance policy in that we would have at least climbed two peaks if we just couldn't get out of bed tomorrow. Did I mention that we were tired? Trailhead
From high on Little Annapurna, a different view of the basin. Our peak is the highest point on the right. Aasgard Pass is on the extreme left. Trailhead

Summit of Little Annapurna. It's a quick scramble up a pile of rocks situated on a flat ridge, but with a HUGE drop off the other side.

We started back for Aasgard following tracks and cairns. But somewhere along the line, we missed a turn. While I 4th-classed a sketchy shortcut, Jenn and Josh wisely chose to backtrack. We met on the flats and began the long trudge back down Aasgard, around Colchuck Lake, and then back down to Mountaineer Creek.

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We had had an inkling that today was going to be really long (see the stats above) so had brought an empty water bag to fill on our way to camp. The headlamps stayed on our packs, but I could barely see to hike the last 200 yards.

When we finally got to camp, it felt so good to sit down. It felt even better after libations. Then dinner.

And finally some mumbled discussion about the next day.

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Mumbled discussion devolved into sleeping an hour longer than intended. Seeing the bright side (this is a pun), we didn't need our headlamps.

Also, we decided to forego our crampons and ice axes because there was supposed to be a 'dry' route, even if it was longer.

Once again, Colchuck Lake and Aasgard Pass. Not a cloud in the sky.

Not that you'd notice; the sun's not yet up.

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When we got back to the basin, we discussed trying another shortcut. We thought we saw one, but questioned the upper end. So instead, we pretty much reversed the descent off Little Annapurna. Then started a dubious-looking traverse toward Dragontail.

Josh had done his research, and his traverse worked. Easy.

Then it was up the 'tail' of the dragon, to the left. We even found a couple cairns and some boot pack.

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And by the way- it was porta-potty rescue day in the wilderness. A necessary evil given the large numbers of people who visit here.

Enough side show- on with the climb.

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The last little bit onto the shoulder was quite steep, steep enough to get me to pull out the GPS and view the topo. Trailhead
The topo showed a flattish expanse right after the steep bit. Sure enough. And there's Rainier! Trailhead
We were exhilarated. But also a little nervous when we realized our distance to summit/turnaround time ratio was looking a little thin. There's our summit WAY over there. Jenn predicted we'd arrive at 2, which was coincidentally our turnaround time..... Trailhead
Oh, by the way. That little thing is Mt. Stuart. Trailhead

After finding a passable traverse across the ridge, we got to look down the previously-mentioned snow field. From above, it appeared that the rock face above the melted-out snow as impassable. Good thing we didn't try that route only to get dead-ended.

We were at the summit just 15 minutes ahead of Jenn's prediction. Due to the late hour, we only stayed for a few minutes.

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Back across the ridge. Trailhead
As we neared our descent chute, we ran into some ptarmigan. Cool camouflage. Trailhead
Back down our chute. Trailhead
And from there, we were able to successfully shortcut the ridge line to Little Annapurna, dropping down these fun slabs. Trailhead

More slabs to go. Then across the isthmus just above the big lake, heading back to Aasgard Pass on the left.

And in case I didn't mention it, Aasgard Pass is at the upper end of the basin, so it's always uphill to get out. Dang!

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Down at the lake.

Then as previously explained, on very tired leg it's time to hike uphill.

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Josh had been lamenting the lack of goat sightings. So it was with some relief that this pair decided to get on the trail below us. Lots of folks paused for photos, but it was time to get down. Unfortunately, the goats liked what constituted here a trail, which required us to get out into even looser boulders to get around them without additional pressure. Trailhead
But hey- our shortcut had worked so well that this time down Aasgard, the sun was still out. Trailhead

Map with approximate (hand drawn) routes.

Grand total of about 42 miles and 14 or 15,000' of gain.

 

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