October 7, 2006
Becky, Pete, Kirsten, Jen, BJ, and I drove up to Leavenworth Friday evening to do the Enchantments traverse through-hike on Saturday. We began the traverse at the Stuart Lake trailheadand ended at the Snow Creek parking lot, tagging Little Annapurna on the way. We're not sure of the exact statistics, but Pete's topo program said it was roughly 20 miles, 6,000 feet of elevation gain, and 8,000 feet of elevation loss.
We got up at 6 o'clock Saturday morning after crashing at 8-mile campground and set up the car shuttle. We dropped Jen and BJ's Jeep off at Snow Creek parking lot, then piled into Plum and drove up to the Stuart Lake trailhead. We took Plum to the starting point because we thought Kirsten and I might have to turn around on account of her mysterious knee injury. We weren't sure how it would react to the hike, but we figured Colchuck Lake four miles in would be a good place to evaluate it and turn around if she thought it best.
At the trailhead, about twenty or thirty (forty?) hikers showed up at the same time as us, apparently from a Mountaineers organized hike or something, because they kept asking what group we were with. We took off at 7am and spent most of the time up to Colchuck Lake hiking by ourselves, but when we got to Colchuck Lake, suddenly we were swarmed by them. Fortunately, Kirsten's knee wasn't feeling too bad, or at least not any worse than when we started, so she decided to continue. At 9:30, after a break for some food at Colchuck Lake, we started the long, grueling climb up Aasgard Pass. It wasn't too bad with a light daypack; just a slow steady slog. Throw in the hords of people we were hiking in the midst of, and it was an experience similar to hiking up the Interglacier or the Muir Snowfield on Mt Rainier.
We arrived at Aasgard Pass around 11 o'clock and the breathtaking views of the Enchantments opened up around us. Massive granite spires rising abruptly out of the high Enchantments Plateau. The plateau itself clad in granite slabs and sprinkled with the orange glow of autumn larches, then dropping off down to central Washington on its eastern end. After another break for food and rest, we cut between some small lakes and walked and hopped up granite boulders and friction slabs up the west side of Little Annapurna. This was our bonus peak we tagged on the traverse. It was only about an hour and an extra 1,000 feet from Aasgard Pass. From this side, the west side, Little Annapurna seems like nothing more than just a low mound along the Mount Stuart chain of peaks, but it is actually quite interesting the way the terrain varies from the other peaks. All the granite is stacked in horizontal slabs, and the stacks increase in size at the false summit and true summit, forming features that look like ancient South American ruins. The summit also gave us great views down into the Enchantments, of the Stuart Range, Glacier Peak, Mt Rainier, and the Pennant Peak/Flagpole ridge.
At 1 o'clock we started down the north side of Little Annapurna, walking down more friction slabs and following vague foot paths. Our diversion had separated us from the bulk of the mass of through-hikers and we found ourselves with a little more isolation. Descending into the Enchantments Lakes was like walking into another world with all the gray and white granite, pristine green lakes, bright orange larches framed against the brilliant blue sky. Prussik Peak, with it's steep south face and sharp ridgelines stood imposingly off to our left as we made our way around. We took our time walking through here, stopping and taking photos, admiring all the views, and just being generally pretty darn happy. Two hours later, we reached the far end of the plateau at Lake Vivian.
After another break for food and some mountain goat watching, we began the knee-pounding descent to Snow Lake. The trail frequently crossed large granite slabs, but big rock cairns and even glued-on footholds made finding the way pretty easy. It was after 3 o'clock a this point, and the long day, lots of elevation gain, and short night of sleep was starting to catch up to us a bit, but the group's energy managed to stay high as we rounded Snow Lake. The lake's water level was quite low, and we found a sign that said the Forest Service was drawing down the lake to replenish the fish hatcheries down stream. The low water level revealed an interesting feature of Snow Lake: snow white shores. I'm not sure of the geology, if it was sedimentary rock or bone-white granite, but the effect was to look like a small glacier terminating in the lake.
Our descent down to Nada Lake was a little bit of a blur. It was 5:30 and the sun was starting to set, and the joint pain was starting to set in. Jen switched shoes and we all took a big dose of ibuprofen. Around 6:30, as we passed by Snow Creek Wall, we switched on the headlamps and commenced the death march from Nada Lake down to the Snow Creek parking lot in the dark. After the 22 (or was it 24?) painful switchbacks at the end of the trail, we arrived at the parking lot. It was 8:30 and our trip had taken thirteen and a half hours. We piled in the car and dropped Jen, Becky, and Pete off at the campsite, then Kirsten, BJ, a random hiker whose group had decided not to bring a shuttle car, and I drove up to get Plum. We got back to the campsite around 9 and began grilling up sausage sandwiches. We absolutely stuffed ourselves with food and beer, and finally around 11 o'clock we all crashed in our tents, stiff and sore, but happy as can be with the day we had.
Sunday morning, Jen and BJ lead us to Renaissance, a basement cafe in downtown Leavenworth, which is actually a really cool restaurant; not so annoying and kitschy as a lot of the Bavarian-facaded places in Leavenworth. And the food, well, I might not have been in the most discriminating mood, but it sure seemed fantastic. After filling up on breakfast and coffee, we headed home. On the way, we noticed thick rain clouds filling the valleys in the mountains and we again felt so lucky to have such a perfect day in the Enchantments.