Enchantments Through Hike

This year October stretched out like a taffy pull. The golden light and warm days kept intensifying. Instead of waning and turning dark, cold and rainy, the regional Skykomish fires lent the sky a pink peachy hue, and the rains held off. Each day was a repeat of the last, and they were all cherished for what they were, both foreboding in the acknowledgement of heralding climate change, and glorious bonus days of summer for hiking and outdoorsing.

In September my running buddy Jason and I got back to running after healing from our half-marathon (from May!). Around the same time he was getting into longer and longer day hikes, like Royal Basin as a dayhike, it caught my interest. In my early twenties when I worked for the Arapaho National Forest in Colorado and the Olympic National Park in Washington, I would hike marathon distances to my absolute bliss. I expressed my desire to be invited along on one of the next ones Jason planned.

Jason had been in the Enchantments backpacking and climbing a few times before in the previous decade, and was due for a re-visit. I had lived in the area long enough to have a healthy regard for the Enchantments. They are well known as the penultimate in alpine scenery: the landscape of legends, heroes and the playground of the Gods. So like our half-marathon, it was Jason’s idea to through-hike the Enchantments, but I latched onto it and drove it home.

On our runs around Greenlake, we began plotting our ascent into the Enchantment Lakes district of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness sometime in October for the fall colors. It’s a bit like the frenzy that associates the peak-bloom of sakura season in Japan. “Peak-larch” it’s being called, and everyone is trying to time their trip to match it. It’s a formidable day hike of approximately 18 miles, or 30 km, with ~4500′ elevation gain, and ~6000′ elevation loss. To hike it in the autumn means fewer daylight minutes, and planning to hike some portions by headlamp.

Another part of the preparations included planning and arranging for the transportation. The trail nearly makes a complete loop with the two trailheads separated by approximately 30 minutes drive along a bumpy road up the Icicle Creek Road. With a goal start time at the trailhead of around 5am, we leaned heavily on the generosity of our old beloved Quinault friends to drive with us out there leaving Leavenworth at 4am. Enormous gratitude goes out to Pam Baugh Trudeau and Jacquie and Glen Ferrier. Their heroics made seamless our car drop off at Snow Lakes trailhead and subsequent drop off at Colchuck Lake trailhead. We couldn’t have managed such elegance without you all. Huge thank you!

We successfully through-hiked the Enchantments on 1 October with about 300 other mostly toned young folks in their 20’s and 30’s, without injury or mis-hap and then immediately I was plotting when I could get back in there. Surprisingly, I did not have to wait long. With Michael’s support, Jason and I through-hiking again with another friend of his on 15th October, this time with about 200 others. I would go back again tomorrow in a minute. And I certainly plan to go back next year on a weekday.

What follows is a amalgam photo journal of these two trips, and an arial view courtesy of my brother, Captain Peter Murphy.

Upper Snow Lake and the Enchantment Lakes in Alpine Lakes Wilderness from the air 📸Captain Peter Murphy
Arriving pre-dawn at Colchuck Lake after hiking two hours from the trailhead on 1 October 2022 with at start time of 0515.
The boulder field going around Colchuck Lake took us one hour on both occasions, and it is something I would not wish to do by headlamp. On this day, dawn had just broken, and I swapped my headlamp for sunscreen and removed a layer. Jason Gerend 15 October 2022
Climbing approximately 60-75 minutes up from Colchuck Lake to the top of Asgard Pass. Here I’m nearing the top of Asgard, looking back down at the Larches forming an ombre pattern with the elevation change on 1 October 2022