My Band of Brothers and I enjoyed a very memorable, "once in a lifetime" backpack through the Enchantments last week. The trip is demanding, and we have been planning and training for this for over 8 months. Our party began at the maximum size of 8. As we set out, we were down to 6 - three middle-aged dads and our sons, aged 15 to 20-something.
Our route was to be four days, starting at Colchuck Lake for Camp1, up Asgaard Pass to Camp2 in Upper Enchantments, down to Snow Lakes for Camp3, and out on Day 4. We even came early to spend the night in my buddy, Dave's backyard, just a couple miles from the trailhead.
Weather was pretty darn good, with nighttime temps in the low 40s (at 8,000') and daytime in the high 50s+. The lower elevations were considerably warmer (Snow Lakes, Colchuck Lake, etc.), and also boasted many more bugs - mosquitoes and horseflies.
After a great night's sleep at Dave and Robin's "back-40", we made it to Colchuck Lake early on Monday - around noon+. This gave us plenty of time to hike up the lake in search of a good camp site for 3 small tents. We thought we'd get up closer to Asgaard to make Day2 a little shorter... alas, the primary camping sites are at the north-ish end of the lake (left turn from where we first encountered Colchuck). We found a great spot near the lake, set up camp, and started filtering fresh water and prepping for supper. We were in shorts and short sleeves. I even grabbed a quick dip in the lake. Asgaard Pass was behind the lake from us - ever watching over us, beckoning, yet somewhat threatening. Tough to get tent stakes into the (quite) rocky ground, but there were good rocks at hand to strap the tent corners to. Nice weather, bugs thick. Someone left a bag of trail mix on the "kitchen table", and a squirrel and chipmunk had a hole in the bag in 3 seconds. They were polite and took turns sharing, so we forfeited it to them and they stayed as our guests. "Patrick", the larger squirrel, got his head and over-loaded cheeks stuck in the bag, and thus fell off the rock with the bag around his face. No harm done, but a good laugh for all. To bed around 9PM
Up at 5:30 with the sun. The day's trail looks daunting, but we are excited at the prospect of success on this steep, short challenge. One of our Father/Son teams decided against the attempt; they want to return better prepared one day. We met, and worked out the transportation, as we had one car at each trailhead. We would miss them, but agreed the team would be better off. They made the proper decision this day. At 8AM we enjoyed a scant mile around Colchuck to warm up. We were confronted with a boulder field at lakes' edge that was a bit of a chore - like climbing over volkswagons. We took a short break for snacks and photos, then began our ascent at 9AM. We were learning to trust the grip of our boots on granite, and the bite of our carbide-tipped trekking poles. This experience would prove critical later today and throughout the trip.
We stowed the poles and used gloved hands to assist - this route climbs over 2,200' in under a mile. The rock is sticky, but there are many steps that are covered in gravel/scree - watch your step! We took many water/energy breaks, and it was weird to live on this steep of an angle for so long. There was a creek available for nearly the entire pitch - we filtered it. We reached the top around 12:30 - so about 3 1/2 hours - I was prepared to go 4-5 hours, so was pleased with our progress. The sons fared better that the dads...
Son Andrew located a great camp site snugged up to a low cliff, alongside Inspiration Lake. There were only about 3 other very small tents in the Upper Enchantments this afternoon. We had camp made by 2:00, made more water and cooked lunch. On this spot, we were required to use the available granite pieces to strap our tents down, as well as make food storage cantilevers. Visited by a marmot and his loud whistle. We met "Carl" the goat, and he was a nearly constant companion at Camp2. He was interested in us, and kept his eye on us. After supper, he brought his family around - a couple females and some teenagers and babies - 9 in all. Nice comfortable temps. Bugs were thinner, but still after us. In bed around 8:30
Woke at 5:30 again without an alarm. Chilly - high 30s/low 40s. Long pants and layers this morning as we made coffee/breakfast and broke camp. The thunder storms that had been predicted had not yet materialized. Clouds with moisture were present since the night before. We also had received a lot of smoke from the fires near Chelan/Columbia River. Sleeping at this altitude presented me a challenge, and I was not well rested this morning.
By 8AM we were on the trail east toward Snow Lakes and Camp3. Since none of us had been on this section before, we all assumed that we had all the hard work behind us. All we had to do was hike 6-8 miles while descending 3,000'. Boy, did I get a rude awakening! The way down was sprinkled with beautiful snow fields, creeks, tarns and lots of bare rock. We encountered some very steep sections, with cliffs, and big penalties for a fall. By 11:00 we were back down to shorts and t-shirts. The scenery around Lake Perfection and Leprechaun Lake is mind-blowingly beautiful. I would have liked to make a camp here and spend some time. New marmots and different family groupings of goats live here. Saw some really good sized fish in the larger lakes here - alas, no tackle.
The team was tired, bug-bitten, and in need of a hot meal with real food... We agreed to attempt to hike out today, a full day early, but we'd reassess at the planned Camp3 destination, Snow Lakes. I got dehydrated a bit, from not drinking enough at breakfast and the first few miles. I was feeling punky and alerted my team. We paused, cooked lunch and I forced fluids (water and electrolytes). Everyone's feet were in good shape - thank the Lord for good boots! I felt better after 20+ minutes and we started down again. At Snow Lakes by around 3 PM, we took a good long break and agreed to hike out. The temp continued to rise, as did the density of the bugs. The air, too, really felt thicker. Thanks for the extra 02~... This section of the trail is drier and fairly typical. We came into contact with the creek a couple times, in case you need to make more water. We were all pretty tired and hot, but were happily out by about 5:30. We scooted to CountryBoy BBQ in Cashmere for a well-deserved celebration spread of pulled pork, beans and coleslaw. TIP: order up the ribbon fries. We ate al fresco to shield the bathed and sweet-smelling patrons. As soon as we were finished, the skies opened up and rained for the entire drive over Hwy2 to Bellevue.
I'm glad we made this trip, and I'm stoked we did it with our sons. I'm happy I made my own preparations with light gear and regular training. This is definitely a route you'll want to be in shape for - physically, mentally and properly equipped. I used everything, and lacked nothing (well, more dried fruit, more trail mix, and chilli flakes would have made Andrew and me more comfortable, for sure).
Now to get our entire crew out there...
Andrew on Colchuck Lake. Route up Asgaard pass is behind.
Carl watching over us at Camp2, Upper Enchantments.
Asgaard ascent. Ian, me, Chuck. Photo cred to Andrew.