July 23-25 2011
On the weekend that I was supposed to hike the Chinook Pass to White Pass portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, I instead took advantage of space on a fellow Peninsula Wilderness Club member's Enchantments permit. This year the snow has been excruciatingly slow to melt off and I figured it would be a safer bet to go to the Enchantments than to try and route find my way through 30 miles of snowy terrain. Joining me on the trip as my hiking partner was Craig Mecklenburg. The permit holder was Megan Thompson (no relation) and her father Russ Childers. The Enchantments are a set of high alpine lakes located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness just SW of Leavenworth Washington. They are often called the most beautiful of Washington's high mountain lakes. Obtaining permits for the Enchantments involves a lottery system and they can be hard to get. The best permits are for the core Enchantments, but anything is better than nothing. The permits we had were for the Snow Lakes zone.
Craig and I left my house at 5:45 am and caught the 6:25 am Kingston/Edmonds ferry. We stopped briefly in Sultan at the Bakery and arrived at the trailhead by 9:45 am. We were pretty excited and wasted no time in getting on the trail.
We had barely hiked a thousand vertical feet when we had our first mountain goat encounter, a nanny and her kid. They were very polite and the nanny sniffed in our direction for only a moment before stepping off the trail to go around us. Mountain goats are often said to be salt starved. Apparently the Enchantments goats walk the trails to find vegetation to eat that has been peed on for the salt. After we hiked up a ways more, maybe another 500 vertical feet, we saw another nanny and kid. I thought it very odd that the goats were down this low but this was their turf, not mine, and what do I know?
Across the way, looking over across Snow Creek, we could see the Snow Creek Wall, a local rock climbing destination. I took a few photos but it is hard to see them since I didn't have my zoom lens on. If you look real close you might be able to see some of the people in the center of the second image.
The running joke of the day between Craig and I was "it's only 3 more Green Mountains to the lake". All summer I have been doing weekly after work hikes up Green Mountain, and Craig participated in a lot of those hikes. Green Mountain is the 2nd tallest bump on the Kitsap Peninsula and the Gold Creek Trail that we hike gains just about 1000 feet of elevation. It's about 4100-4200 feet of elevation gain to Snow Lakes from the Snow Lakes trailhead so I thought it was funny when he would say just 3 more then 2 more then finally 1 more Green Mountain to the Snow Lakes.
Since they came over to pick up the permits the day before, Megan and her dad had started a couple hours earlier than Craig and I. Russ is almost 80 years old, and it was no small thing to hike 4200 vertical feet for him. Megan told me earlier in the week she thought Craig and I would catch up to them, and it turned out we did, just below Nada Lake. The decision was made that we would stay at Nada rather than go on another 500 feet since we were all pretty tired. 3700 feet with a full pack is a pretty good day of backpacking. We all really wanted to get up to Snow Lakes, but staying at Nada turned out to be a blessing in disguise since we were later told that the mosquitoes at Snow Lakes were pretty horrid.
The next day, we were up and on the trail by 8:30. The legs quickly loosened up on the 500 foot ascent to Snow Lakes. Right off the bat when you arrive at Snow Lakes, there is a dam with water spilling over that has to be crossed. The water varied in depth between around 3 and 6 inches and was fairly simple to cross. I noticed some other hikers were walking across barefoot but we brought water shoes. It was very cold but felt pretty good after heating up in the sun on the hike up. After the crossing, Craig and I ditched our shoes in some brush so we didn't have to carry them up to Lake Viviane and the Upper Enchantments. In the time it took to change into and out of my water shoes, I got eaten up pretty good by mosquitoes, more so that the whole previous afternoon at Nada Lakes. Funny how 500 feet of elevation could be so different. It was at this point in the trip that I realized that in my rush to get on the trail in the morning, I neglected to strap my ice axe to my pack and it was still sitting at camp back at Nada Lake.
After leaving the dam area, the trail winds its way around the western Snow Lake. At the end of the lake you come to Snow Creek and start the final ascent into the Upper Enchantments. If you are paying attention, you will notice we have climbed 4200 feet already. The final push to Lake Viviane and the Upper Enchantments is 1300 more feet, so 5500 feet or so total from the Snow Lakes trailhead just to get to the first of the Upper Enchantments lakes. Looking at a map, its hard to put in perspective, just a bunch of lines and blue lakes.
We arrived at the end of the western Snow Lake before heading up and paused at a great camp site for a snack break. There was another nanny and her kid hanging out here, waiting I suppose for someone to pee. Unfortunately for the goats, there was a pit toilet nearby that we used instead of peeing near the trail or camp. There was a nice breeze on this end of the lake that seemed to keep the mosquitoes down somewhat. It was at this point that Russ voiced his concern that he wasn't sure about going all the way up to Lake Viviane.
The trail at this point becomes more of a boot path after going across Snow Creek on a log bridge. Going up, in sections you start to run into the first significant portions of trail that are all rock. To stay on the trail you follow the ducks and cairns that have been placed to guide you along the correct course. This slows a person down since it is not just a one foot in front of the other affair. You actually have to be observant as to where each cairn is to proceed. Not difficult, but it still keeps you aware of where you are going. If you have ever hiked in the high Sierra or Yosemite, you will feel right at home here as it has the same white granite that you find down there and the same route-finding skills are used. About half way up we cross a small stream and we fill up with water and have a snack. Craig mentions that it is now less than one Green Mountain to Lake Viviane.
Back on the trail, we eventually topped out at Lake Viviane which sits at the eastern most end of the Upper Enchantments Basin. Wow! The place was stunning! There was still ice floating in the lake which I doubted would be around much longer. Above the lake I could see a mountain goat walking across on the snow. On the trail up, we crossed a section of snow that was maybe 50 feet across so I was surprised when we got to the lake which sits at 6800 feet how much snow was still there. We enjoyed the view and stopped right there at the lake and had lunch. The nice beach and the turquoise color of the water was very pleasing to the eye.
After lunch we scouted the route ahead. Not good. Craig had heard there was a smallish difficult section at the lake to get past. When we got to it, I could see lots of tracks through the snow but it was steep with some bad exposure should one slip. I made the decision to stop right there. My lack of preparedness that morning forgetting my ice axe would prevent me from going forward. I felt like Moses must have felt after delivering the Israelites through the wilderness and only being allowed to view the promised land from the mountain top and not actually be able to enter it. Better safe than sorry I always say. I probably could have made it across the snow but I'm not one to make unnecessary risks. Craig had already been to the Enchantments before and had seen all they had to offer, and I was planning another trip in the fall so it wasn't a big deal, but still.... just a little bummed after all that hiking. It was a good lesson to slow down and double check my gear before heading out.
After the set back, we headed back to the beach section and outlet of Viviane that is the start of Snow Creek and relaxed a while longer enjoying the views. Up until this point it had been a blue-bird kind of day, not a cloud in the sky. Over McClellan Peak, a few puffy clouds started rolling over, signaling to me a change in the high pressure weather pattern we had enjoyed all weekend.
I guess all good things must come to an end, and soon we were heading out the way we came in. It took us about an hour to get back down to Snow Lakes and another half hour or so to hike the unpleasant mosquito infested trail around the lake to the dam. Our shoes were right where we stashed them. Quickly we changed into them and crossed, avoiding and slapping at the mosquitoes as vigorously as possible. I had 99% deet with me but I would rather be bit a few times than use it if possible, nasty stuff. On the way down to Nada I passed a forest ranger who looked at my pack and I figured she probably thought I was a day hiker and didn't bother me about a permit. I later found out she stopped at our camp earlier and talked to Megan and looked at the permit there. She did tell us that we were in store for some thunder storms the next day.
The rest of the afternoon at camp was uneventful. I for one am primarily a day hiker, not because I don't like being outside in the woods for too long, but I rather find sitting around camp with not much to do rather boring. If I wasn't with the others, I would have hiked on out of there that evening, but we were a group and wasting a chance to spend another night in the Enchantments seemed wrong. While Megan and Russ took the time to do some reading, Craig and I decided to explore around the lake for a while.
4:30 the next morning I woke to a pitter patter on my tent's rain-fly. 5 minutes later the sky opened up and it really started pouring in earnest. This would be the first test of my tent in a good downpour. It was still dark out and I could see the flashes of lightning through the fabric of my tent, and the thunder as someone once said, sounded like God was bowling. Flash! One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, four-one thousand, five-one thBOOM. Flash! One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, four-oneBOOM. Getting closer. It went on like this for half hour to 45 minutes before settling down to a gentle steady rain. When I finally woke up around 6:15, the rain had stopped and I could hear the others moving about getting packed to head home. No sooner than we were done packing, the rain started again. Just a sprinkle at first. I had everyone stop so I could get a group picture before it started raining any harder. Unfortunately in my haste, I didn't realize the shot was blurry.
After the others were packed, I told them to head on out. I wanted to fashion myself a rain skirt out of a Hefty bag I had in my pack to keep the wet brush from soaking me to the bone on the way out. I also unzipped the bottoms off my pant legs so all that was really getting wet was my calves. Soon I was down the trail and we caught up to Megan and Russ. Megan loved my rain skirt and jokingly I was quick to inform her that it was not a skirt but a kilt. After a couple hours on the return to the car at the trailhead through the pouring rain that returned, my shoes were soaked. Another planning failure on my part was that I forgot my gaiters so the rain that touched my calves rolled right down my legs into my shoes. I beat Craig to the car by about 5 minutes so I quickly changed into some dry clothes. Craig did the same when he arrived and soon we were back on the road headed home.
All in all a great trip with some great people. Thanks Megan, Russ, and Craig (and Sue, to whom the space on our permit originally belonged to)!