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Nature & Hiking

2022-08-19 Enchantments Traverse

Closer view of Prusik Peak and Lake Perfection.

August 19, 2022

After a rest and travel day from four days in North Cascades National Park we staged ourself for our other objective of the vacation, trail running the Enchantments.

Since the spring we’d been training for another trail run race at Brighton. As the spring and summer progressed the race became only an intermediate objective. The trip to climb with Micah and then the Enchantments became the true objectives. Thankfully due to the training for the race we felt strong on our climbing trip. The climbing wasn’t hard so the only challenge was the long days moving, which came pretty easy.

The Enchantments though we be our biggest trail run yet though, and by a factor of almost 2. Our previous longest runs were in the Sawtooths over the Fourth of July and those were only around 10 miles. The Enchantments are about 19 miles.

The Enchantments are an alpine zone above the town of Leavenworth, WA. First off Leavenworth is a funny little town. The whole town is Bavarian themed. All the architecture, the street signs, the business signs all have some kind of Bavarian flair to them. As a result it is a tourist magnet. Luckily we didn’t need to stay in town, but we did eat dinner there.

Ten minutes outside of town is one of the two trailheads for the Enchantments. This one is lower in elevation that the other and most people typically leave a vehicle here and catch a shuttle to the higher trailhead. This is what we did as well.

We caught the shuttle at 5am up to the higher trailhead. After filling out the day-use pass we got started on the trail while still quite dark. For the first hour or so we traveled through the woods on a nice wide trail. We pass a lot of people who were either day-hiking it or overnight hiking. We were making our way uphill so we weren’t running, just hiking fast. It was great to have small packs compared to our days climbing earlier in the week.

Our second big objective for the trip was trail running the Enchantments Traverse. It is an 19 mile, 5000′ of gain trail through some beautiful terrain. We got a shuttle since it is a point to point hike. We started off in the dark.

The first major landmark is Colchuck Lake at the foot of Dragontail Peak. Dragontail has a number of good long alpine routes on it. But today we’d be running just below its rocky outcroppings. The Going the direction we were going is a net loss in elevation. While the trail up to Colchuck Lake is uphill the whole way, the main steepness on the trail is from Colchuck Lake to the top of Aasgard Pass. This is a steep loose climb, but the nice thing is once it is done there is very little elevation gain for the rest of the hike.

As we rounded the lake we came across a mother mountain goat with a kid. Mom still had a partially shaggy winter coat. Kid was pretty cute, perhaps not much bigger than a small dog. They were pretty comfortable with us, but we gave them space to go where they wanted to before we moved on.

Carly had taken the first block to Colchuck Lake, from there I took over the pacing. Since we were fresh off our guided trip with Micah, I went into “guide pace”, which is essentially a comfortable pace that can be sustained for a long time, it is not a PR pace. It was a good one since getting to the top of Aasgard only gets you 1/3 of the milage and we needed to still be feeling good at the top of the pass.

Once we reached the top of the pass the overcast skies broke a little and a small shower passed through. We’d been filtering our water and didn’t have a ton of clothes so we found a boulder we could shelter under for a little bit as the shower passed. While it was a little chilly I we still had made the right choice to go with shorts and t-shirts with some rain jackets. After the shower we had the opportunity to enjoy the high alpine zone the Enchantments are known for. Everywhere there are rocky slabs, meadows, streams, snowfields and lakes. While our cloudy skies did make for cooler temps (much appreciated BTW) they didn’t make for the most spectacular photos. But I think I still got a few good ones.

We wound through the lakes and streams passing by many camping zones and a few people camping. Despite the many stream crossings there was only one slight misstep on Carly’s part, but her shoes didn’t get too wet and it caused no problems.

We tried to keep up a good pace when we could.

As we worked our way along the trail we go new views of new crystal clear lakes, streams and new peaks. The other major climbing peak in the area is Prusik Peak, also with some great climbing on it from what I’ve read.

Near the end of the Core Enchantments there’s a big overlook at the next lake system, Snow Lakes, from a rocky point. From this vantage point you can tell that the trail will change landscapes again from the alpine rocky zone back into forests. However before that the trail loses about 1000′ in about 1 mile.

At the end of the steep section we again stopped to fill up water. We relaxed a bit and had lunch too. We could see some nice looking trout at the junction of the stream and Snow Lake.

Moving around Snow Lake we got back into more of a running pace since the trail was mostly flat. At the end of Snow Lake we crossed over a small dam constructed back in the 1930’s. The dam helps control the water stored in the lake for use in irrigation down in the valley.

Pushing on we got into the less impressive section of the trail after Snow Lakes. For the most part the trail is good, but dusty. There are still views on occasion and it is near the Snow Creek. However as we were already 12+ miles in at this point we were starting to get tired. The last 3-4 miles slowly went by. Perhaps the worst section of the trail is the last mile or two. There are a bunch of switchbacks on a rocky trail. To make matters worse you can see the road and the parking area but it is still well below you.

We finally made it back to the van and in good time overall. We’d been on the move for about 7.5 hours and about a bit less than 10 hours elapsed including our rests. Not a record but a good effort.

We drove down to Leavenworth and found the city park on the river. This turned out to be an awesome spot to people watch as they floated down the river and we soaked in the water while drinking a beer. Afterwards we went for the full faux-bavarian experience and ate at Andreas Kellers. I had the sampler of sausage, pork shank, and kraut. Carly got the pork schnitzel.

I’m super pleased with how we did on the Enchantments. It may spawn other long thru-hike trail runs for us in the future. Leavenworth is a fun little town that is probably worth another trip or two before it becomes just too touristy.

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