The Enchantments - Backpacking Washington's Finest Alpine Lakes
The Enchantments is considered by many to be the best backpacking destination in Washington State. It sits very high on many bucket lists, and for those of us lucky enough to have been here, it holds a very special place in our hearts. It is the perfect combination of lakes, streams, alpine meadows, dramatic rocky peaks with mythological names, high trails, remote camps, and yes, goats! Lots of goats!
18 miles through hike, 4500ft gain with a high point of 7800ft. Green Trails Map: Enchantments 209S, trailhead @ 47.5279, -120.8207, WTA
The catch is that you need tons of luck to get past the lottery gods because you can't go there without a permit. And in spring, when they're issued, thousand of applicants fight fiercely for that piece of paper (not an actual fight, but it feels like one).
Enchantments Day by Day
- Day 1: Colchuck Lake
- Day 2: Aasgard Pass
- Day 2: Upper Enchantments
- Day 3: Inspiration Lake, a.k.a. Goatville
- Day 3: Prusik Pass
- Day 3: Little Annapurna
- Day 4: All good things must come to an end, a.k.a the hike out
This was the 3rd year when we applied for such a Core Enchantments permit and, after being rejected that many times, out of nowhere, one of us got it. We were ecstatic, but also very surprised. So many of our friends got denied!
The Enchantments is a through hike. Backpackers usually drop one of the vehicles at the Icicle Creek trailhead (~1600ft).Then, they drive to the Colchuck Lake trailhead (~3600 ft) to start the hike at a higher elevation and save a couple of thousand feet in overall gain. At the end of the trip, they drive back some 8 or 9 miles to pick up the car left behind. We did the same.
Some say this route is safer because you avoid descending Aasgard Pass, which may be hazardous in bad conditions. Yet, at the time we were up there, the trail up the pass was just like any other: somewhat steeper but not at all intimidating or worthy of any worry. This was unlike the stories I heard said about it. I agree that snow and ice will indeed turn that slope into an avalanche and fall hazard.
Day 1: Colchuck Lake
On day one we had some bad weather, to begin with, so we decided to only start late afternoon, after the bad part of the storm has passed. We took our time getting a burger, shuttling the cars around and left the Colchuck Lake trailhead around 4 pm. The hike was short and less than 2 hours later we were looking for a place to camp at Colchuck. We could not find the one mentioned in Backpacker Magazine on the northwest shore. We did find another one that was really cool, on a big rock in the middle of the west shore. The photos above and below are from this camp's "kitchen" area.
After enjoying dinner and a usual hot cider with rum, our friends put up a great show on "precision rope throwing" that lasted for a good twenty minutes. It turns our hanging food can be challenging at times.
During the night, a series of rock slides kept us awake for a little more than usual. We suspected they might originate from either Colchuck or Dragontail Peaks. It was impressive listening to the rumbling noise that sometimes lasted for 10 or 20 seconds. The mountain was constantly changing shape.
Day 2: Aasgard Pass
We packed our camp and by 10 am we were ready to go. I found time to take one last photo of a smaller lake right next to camp on the other side of the trail.
We left camp and soon found ourselves in a field of huge boulders at the north of Colchuck Lake, right before heading up Aasgard Pass. This is where those rock slides could have landed the night before.
Moving on, we saw Aasgard Pass from a better angle and realized that it was steep, indeed. Taking one step at a time, it took us almost 2.5 hours to get to the top from camp. Along the way, great views of Colchuck Lake and the mountains behind.
There at the top, we took a little lunch break, and got to see on the other side of the pass, inside the "Core Enchantments". Is it really magical, like they say it is? Short answer, yes, the view was surreal.
Day 2: Upper Enchantments
As soon as we crossed the pass into the glacial basin, we were struck by this place's beauty. There were so many lakes and each one had something different about it. Hiking in awe, we stopped at every step to admire the countless streams and the granite grandeur all around us. Oh, those lakes!
Check it out for yourself in this little slideshow:
As we were descending, evergreens started to come back into the scenery, and the puddles of water became larger, bluer lakes.
After a short while, we realized that we're descending quickly and, all of a sudden, we saw Inspiration Lake, with its waters darkened to an extreme by the mountain's shadow.
And right as we were descending even more towards the lake, we got our first close encounter of the goat kind - the locals popped up. Here's one of them peeking at us from high atop a rock.
By this time, daylight was slowly fading and we were looking for a camp around the lake. As some of us spread out to seek a good spot, a couple of goats decided we were in their space and chased us furiously down towards the lake, then stayed aggressive for a while. I was a little freaked out as I've never been chased by an animal before. Eventually, we managed to walk around them and found our party across the little hill in-between the two lakes, Inspiration and Perfection.
A little sad for not being able to camp up higher but, after a small debate, we all finally decided to camp there, right in the middle of what we would later call Goatville.
Day 3: Inspiration Lake, a.k.a. Goatville
After an evening where goats were roaming through our camp as if we were at the subway, we woke up to even more goats. There were maybe fifteen or twenty of them in the morning!
All it took was a couple of hours among them before our anxiety vanished and they became just a part of the scenery.
As I'm probably not the first one to mention this, goats need salt and nothing stops them from getting it, even if that means leaking pee off a rock. I knew about it before this trip but I did not image they will almost kick you out of the way without the slightest regard for your privacy. :-)
Day 3: Prusik Pass
From the beginning, we planned to hold the same camp on day 3 and do a little hiking around, before going any further. So, after breakfast, the plan was to hike to Prusik Pass, then go back to the Upper Enchantments to hike Little Annapurna.
It took us twenty or thirty minutes to get to Prusik Pass from Inspiration Lake. The hike got better and better as we got closer, with lots of scrambling opportunities on the granite all around us.
Across the pass is Shield Lake (above), but the true attraction is Prusik Peak (below), a big climbing destination. That, and the many little scrambles and off trail routes around it are a joy.
On our way back, we crossed several streams, seen a wide waterfall and several tarns and got a peak at our next destination, Little Annapurna (the peak right above the lake in the previous photo)
Day 3: Little Annapurna
Had enough of lakes? How about some rugged peaks and lots of rocks for a change?
On our way down, we saw Mount Temple again (above), this time from an equal height, then we stopped for a snack by the tarns at the bottom of Little Annapurna before descending all the way down to 7600 ft. Inspiration Lake and our camp for the night (see the little orange dot in the image below?).
Back in Camp
It had been such a long day, but the adventure was not going to be over yet because an alpha goat decided to stop by and crash our dinner. He and his buddy shared camp with us for maybe twenty minutes, laying down only feet away and watching us eat, while himself was proudly ruminating something. Here he is:
We had such a good time, including finishing the hard alcohol that some of us patiently carried for miles. But before we went to bed, I had to justify carrying a tripod all the way, so I took some night shots. This one with our tent below the Milky Way stood out of the pack:
Day 4: Leaving The Enchantments
All good things must come to an end, and for us it was time to pack. We had 12+ miles ahead of us. We all knew it was going to be a tough return in part because we were leaving behind all this wonder. We were a little down, just like you are on a Sunday knowing that you need to get back to work the following day. Wait, we were also going back to work the following day! Bummer!
But the Enchantments threw a few other pleasant surprises our way. The last miles were not boring at all, the hike was actually quite good, with a few more lakes along the way, starting with Spirit and Leprechaun Lakes:
Before long, we reached the Snow Lakes zone, and passed by the beautiful Snow Lakes:
The hike was taking us lower and lower in altitude, and with the big drop came higher and higher temperatures. One more lake would greet us on our way out, with beautiful blue waters, and that would be Nada Lake (below):
After passing Nada Lake, the heat became increasingly unpleasant and we just wanted it to be over. It took a while, but we eventually got back to the trailhead at Icicle Creek. It was mid afternoon and a typical scorching day in the Leavenworth area. Like always, that burger/beer combo was in our mind since we woke up, knowing it was our last day. But first, we did ourselves a favor and jumped into the cold river to cool down.
What a great trip! We finally did it, hiked the famous Enchantments Core Zone. We got to see with our own eyes one of the best backpacking destinations in the country, seen the deep blue or turquoise lakes, the rugged cliffs bearing mythological names, spent a lot of time among the local resident goats, and had a lot of fun hiking and scrambling with our friends. I'm sure we'll be back
Thanks for reading!
P.S. To see how The Enchantment peaks look like from father away on the south side, see our story from Navaho Pass and Peak.