October 24-25, 2015

Enchantment Traverse:  Snow Lakes to Colchuck Lake

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Central Cascades

Starting Point: Snow Lakes Trailhead (Icicle Creek Road)

Icicle Creek & Snow Creek & Nada Lake & Snow Lakes & Trauma Rib & Lake Vivianne & Leprechaun Lake & Rune Lake & Talisman Lake & Lake Brynhild & Aasgard Pass & Colchuck Lake & Mountaineer Creek  (hike)

Ending Point: Lake Stuart Trailhead (Eightmile Creek Road)

Campsite: Leprechaun Lake

Approximate Total Stats:  18 miles traveled;  7500 feet gained;  5200 feet lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

I traditionally finish off my backpacking season with a “Frozen Larch Trip” around the middle of October.  This year, Kevin K. and Zach joined me for a two-day traverse through the Enchantments.  We chose to enter via Snow Lakes and exit via Colchuck Lake—opposite the normal traverse direction—to get a little more exercise and avoid some traffic.  It seemed like a sensible plan, but we still had to share the trails with several hundred other day-hikers, trail-runners, and backpackers.

Day 1 – Snow Lakes Trailhead to Leprechaun Lake:

After ditching a car at the Lake Stuart TH, we drove back down to the Snow Lakes TH.  The parking lot was beyond capacity even at 9:00am. We huffed up the trail under gray skies, with occasional rain showers moving through.

Zach and Kevin At Upper Snow Lakes

Nada Lake looked pretty normal, but Upper Snow Lake was shockingly low.  Being a controlled reservoir, the summertime drought had taken a toll on the lake’s water volume.  The water surface looked to be a good 75 feet below full-pool level, revealing a bizarre, barren landscape between shoreline and treeline.

Snow Lake From West End

The gradually receding water level left a fascinating series of micro-terraces in the sandy banks.

Shoreline At Upper Snow Lakes

We reached the lower Enchantment basin and Lake Viviane in late afternoon, just as the skies began to clear up.

Prusik Peak From Lake Viviane
Duck In Lower Enchantments

We wandered around the lower lakes, meeting many hikers and campers along the trail.  Since this weekend was outside of the permit season, there seemed to be a free-for-all atmosphere in the basin.  The resident rangers estimated that 200 people were camped in the basin on Saturday night.

Lower Enchantments Trail

We made camp on some sandy benches overlooking Leprechaun Lake (7.6 hours + 6100 feet from TH) and enjoyed a subdued light show during dinner.

Leprechuan Lake From Camp
Evening Light On Prusik Peak

The night was cold enough to put a layer of ice over most of the tarns and puddles.  In the morning, valley fog wafted up through the peaks.

McClellan Peak Needles

Day 2 – Leprechaun Lake to Lake Stuart Trailhead:

The Enchantments are best known for their golden larch colors in early October.  We were well past primetime, but the needle-free larches had a stark beauty of their own.

Trail Thru Bare Larches

Fallen larch needles covered the trails, much like confetti after a big party.  In quiet ponds, the needles created Van Gogh-esque patterns on the water surface…

Floating Larch Needles

…and the previous night’s graupel shower dusted icy ponds.

Graupel On Iced Over Pond

The upper Enchantment Basin was cold and windy.  This was not a welcome place for the dozen or more scantily clad trail-runners that we saw rushing through.

Prusik Peak From Upper Enchantments

After crossing over frigid Aasgard Pass, we descended to Colchuck Lake and warmer weather.  The low water level here exposed a broad swath of granite-white sand above shoreline.  To some, it was no doubt reminiscent of the beaches of Maui—minus the tropical climate.

Beach Walk Around Colchuck Lake

We reached the Lake Stuart TH in mid-afternoon (5.9 hours + 1400 feet from camp).


——————– Photo Gallery (click to enlarge) ——————–