Saturday, November 21, 2009

Enchantments Traverse 10/10/2009

Between being extremely busy at work, writing articles for, working on my book, preparing for vacation, and trying to get out to the mountains as much as I can, I left a pretty large gap opened in my trip reports.

Finally weekend came when the weather is not tempting me to get out and get soaked and few hours in front of my computer with a cup of Elderflower tea looking back at some of the great trips I did in a last month sound so much more appealing.

Probably every hiker and every climber near and far I met would brag about the Enchantments, series of lakes of pristine beauty nested in high country near Leavenworth, WA. Obviously the area got my attention and climbed to the top of my list of places to visit very fast; however most people take several days to enjoy and explore the trail, which was not an option for me. Sadly, for a long time the only way I could admire its beauty was through photos of my more fortunate friends.

Then Aaron came with an idea of trying to complete the trip as a one day traverse. It's 18 miles shuttle and several thousands feet elevation gain... but it was done before. The seed of this idea was planted and within next few month we fed it by planning more details for this epic adventure and let it grow to eventually become reality.

The date was set for October for two reasons. First and foremost, October is the season of the larches and what could be better time to visit this larch-friendly region then when the trees are in the peak of their festive show... and secondly, there is still reasonable amount of daylight in October.

As it often happens with our group, the early start we planned did not happen to be so early. After a morning coffee stop and excruciatingly long wait for a breakfast sandwich, we were lucky to get to the trailhead at about 7:00 a.m. We found it packed, not surprisingly condidering the rather positive weather forecast for the weekend.

Soon we were marching up the shallow grade in the beginning of the trail towards the first lake of the day - Colchuck Lake - some 5 miles from where we started. Not part of the Enchantments this lake still makes pretty rewarding destination for a day trip. This is where most people call it a day and turn.

We only stopped here for a brief break. With the most formidable part of the trail just ahead of us, we were soon back on our feet. Aasgard Pass did not look quite as terrifying on an approach as I expected, but as soon as the 2000+ climb in less then a mile started, it quickly bacame obvious that conquering this relentlessly steep slope will not be a piece of cake. And just as we started to warm up to the terrain, the snow and ice came slowing up our progress some more.

We were nearing the top when we came upon a really tricky part. Two ways to go, one more trecherous than the other. We were not the only group trying to deal with this Hillary Step of Aasgard Pass. Two more groups gathered here contemplating which way is the easier/safer one to take. Climbing over an iced up rock where slipping would cause short hard fall and sliding long ways down possibly bumping into many obstacles in one's way, or climbing over a small wall, where wrong step could mean a long fall. After a brief debate we chose the wall as a easier route and safely made it up.

Once we topped the pass, we entered the world of mesmerizing beauty. Consisting mostly of bare rocks, peaks tempting to be climbed, and Isolation Lake peacefully nested in the middle of all this beauty.. This open high country was definitely a place to take one's breath away.

Things got little easier for next few miles as we followed the trail visiting more beautiful lakes and entering the world of golden larches along the way.

It was suprisingly cold. Even after the sun broke free from the clouds, it never warmed up. Definitely the type of day you're so thanksful for gloves and a hat but considering we did not have time for any longer stops and were nearly constantly on a move, the chilliness did not bother us much.

One more tricky spot awaited us around Lake Vivian where we had to descend icy slope. It ate some time but we managed to navigate through this section safely and continue on our journey. The sun started to set at this time and we still had about 10 miles of distance to cover.

The darkness caught us just before we reached Snow Lake and we finished the last 8 miles with our headlamsp ablaze. This part of the trail leads mostly through forest and is not as scenic as the rest of the route. Knowing no amazing vistas are hidden in the darkness and being able to enjoy night sky full of stars and giant moon rising was beautiful experience and a perfect way to finish a agreat day.

18 miles + 5000 ft el. gain = 15 hours of a great adventure. Lets do it again next year!