Monday, August 10, 2009
The Enchantments: The Prettiest Place in the Whole Wide World
Above photos: Matt Hart, Me, and Josh Hart. Morning run from Perfection Lake to Prusik Pass. Photos thanks to Matt Hart.
For years, I've heard friends talk about hiking trips to a fairytale land just a few hours away from Seattle called the Enchantments. It's been on my "must see" list for ages, so when my ultra runner friend Matt Hart (see http://www.coachingendurance.com) started talking about a weekend trip out there with his 17-year-old visiting nephew, it didn't take much for me to jump on the idea.
Matt originally planned the trip to start with a 4 a.m. Friday departure, enabling us to take full advantage of the weekend and nab a coveted Enchantments camping permit at the Leavenworth Ranger Station. Unless you've planned in advance and booked your trip in February, you have to show up for a lottery at 7:35 a.m. the day your hike begins. They only give out a few passes, so if too many people arrive, they do a random draw. Based on the popularity of the Enchantments, we knew we may have to resort to a Plan B and camp out elsewhere.
Plans shifted when I decided it would be unwise to take off my first Friday of employment. Then, nephew Josh "accidentally" fell asleep at his girlfriend's house Thursday night, and due to a dead cell phone battery, did not respond to his uncle's frantic phone calls or texts.
Though Matt didn't appreciate a night worrying about the whereabouts of the teenager in his care, the flake-out meant I could join, as the trip shifted to Saturday morning. We later learned that 15 parties showed up for the Friday lottery in Leavenworth. On Saturday, we were one of just a handful, and we landed a pass (Disclaimer: This is not meant as any encouragement to Josh to pull that one again.)
We pulled out of Seattle just before 5, with Matt and I fully fueled with coffee and Josh conked out in the back seat. 17-year-olds, it seems, can sleep anywhere and for many, many hours.
Once we'd obtained our coveted camping permit, we dropped off Matt's mountain bike at the Snow Lake trailhead, where we planned to end our journey. We then drove to the trailhead that leads to Aasgard -- a slightly shorter but gnarlier route up to the Enchantments. We planned to walk out Sunday on the less steep Snow Lake trail, and then let Matt mountain bike eight miles up a dirt road to our car. (I did not volunteer for this job.)
Since Matt and I are both trail runners, traveling with heavy packs and camping gear was a somewhat new experience that led to massively sore shoulders. We both decided we have somewhat of a love-hate relationship with backpacking. It's a whole lot slower and more cumbersome than scampering through mountain trails with a handheld water bottle, but camping in the wilderness kind of makes it worth it. Particularly in an area as enchanting as the Enchantments.
We powered up the steep Aasgard Pass route, with Josh keeping pace even in heavy hiking boots. (Matt and I wore trail running shoes. I'm not convinced anyone ever needs full hiking boots, as the trail shoes worked fine on the most rugged of rocks. Josh is swapping his boots for Montrails on his next hiking adventure with the uncle this week.) The route just kept getting more and more scenic. Turquoise tinted Colchuck lake, the dramatic, sheer rising rock of Dragontail, and then finally the valley of the Enchantments.
There's just no other way to describe the Enchantments than a fantasy land. Lakes, meandering streams, grassy meadows and wandering mountain goats make you feel as though you've stepped into a Disney film. I grew up hiking with my family every summer and have done so all over the world as an adult, and I can honestly say I've never seen a spot as scenic as The Enchantments.
We pitched our tents in the middle of the Enchantments, taking about 20 billion tries to set up Matt's new ultra light weight bivvy. I blame it on low blood sugar and frozen limbs. Or perhaps just poor tent design and instructions.
Though the sun shone on us all day long, a crazy wind whipped up come evening. To make it worse, Matt and I soaked our feet and calves in the glacial water of the lake, making our injury-prone runners' feet feel better, but giving me the permanent chills.
We finally put our camp together and Matt and Josh ingested mega-sodium freeze dried meals, which would later keep Matt up all night with a stomach ache. We decided to do quick evening hike up the base of Prusik Peak. On the way, we discovered an even better campsite that was sheltered from the wind and on the shore of a lake that would see the morning sunrise. I advocated for moving camp, and Matt and Josh were game. Once we had our new, slightly warmer home set up, we indulged in Matt's version of hot chocolate: the healthy stuff, Cliff Recovery, so we could all feel confident that we'd gotten our Vitamin C intake for the day.
Josh slept solid for hours that night, while Matt and I stared out at a brilliant full moon and stars because neither of us could. Matt's insomnia was due to the aforementioned sodium blitz, and mine was because I'd gone into cold mode, and once I get there, there's just no coming back. I ended up shivering all night, despite wearing a fleece hoodie, Matt's down jacket, a wool hat, and being in a sleeping bag and my own cozy little bivvy. Yeah, I don't get it either.
Since we barely went to sleep, Matt and I were up for an early dawn run through the meadows surrounding our campsite. It was one of those surreal runs, where you dance across stones perfectly placed in a meadow and wonder how you can possibly be in such a fantastical setting.
Thanks to Matt's new titanium french press, we drank strong, rich coffee back at our campsite, while Josh inhaled the rest of the sodium-laced freeze dried food. The saddest moment of the entire trip was when I spilled my second cup of coffee while trying to tape up my slightly ailing foot.
We hiked the rest of the way through the Enchantments and back out the Snow Lake trail, taking the last segment at a jog-walk pace. Josh managed to collect just one blister in his combat boots and complained not a single time. Apparently the Harts are a pretty hardcore breed.
When we popped out at the trailhead, it was already late in the day, and I told Matt I should just try to hitchhike rather than make him bike up a mountain for eight miles in the late afternoon sun. Thankfully, a pair of fellow male hikers were game to give me a lift and collect our car back at the other trailhead, expediting our leave back to Seattle.
Matt and I envision rallying a group of ultra friends for a follow-up come September or October, and this time running the rugged 20 mile loop with very little gear in a single shot. By then, the trees will be turning golden, and the Enchantments may be even more enchanting, as impossible as that now sounds.
Video below thanks to Matt.