Enchantments Lakes via Snow Lakes (Sep 1-3, 2014)

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enchantments_coverConditions: multi day backpack
Gear: overnight gear
Map: USGS Leavenworth, USGS Blewett, USGS Enchantment Lakes
Area: Leavenworth
Reference: Day Hiking Central Cascades, Backpacking Washington
Stats: 24.92mi, 7061' gain (round trip)

Earlier in the year Carol reached out asking if I was interested in a September trip to the Upper Enchantments via Snow Lake. Hmm...lemme think...YEAH! I've been to the upper basin, it was late May 2007, but the place was covered under a heavy blanket of snow. I've always wondered what the place looked like all melted out. I've always wanted to head up there but never got around to trying for a permit. I'm really grateful Carol extended this invite...REALLY GRATEFUL...

Day 1:
stats: 8.57mi, 4510' gain / 413' loss

We carpooled from the south end of Everett up and over Hwy 2 and into Leavenworth and then over to the Snow Lk trailhead (1339'). I was hoping for an early start...time to not have to rush up there and it had the benefit of helping to avoid the heat where the trail is in the open. Thankfully Rick, Taehee, and Carol also wanted to start early.

We arrived early and thankfully, being mid week, we found a spot in the main parking lot. We finished the last minute packing details, snapped a photo at the trailhead, and then off we went...up (or down) the trail. The trail starts out by first dropping about 50' where it then crosses Icicle Creek, before it then starts a very steady and determined progression of elevation gain. First, the trail heads up a series of switchbacks in open terrain (trees are gone due to the 1994 fire) gaining about 800 in a bit over a mile (1.25mi, 2096'). Then a long rising traverse occasionally broken by switchback to the creek crossing (4.97mi, 4196'). The Nada Lake outlet comes at about 6.11mi (4935'). Then after the far end of Nada Lake there are a couple more switchbacks and then we finally reached the dam between Upper and Lower Snow Lks (7.66mi, 5413'). I think all of us were relieved, Taehee especially, that Upper Snow Lk was low, well below the top of the small dam we had to cross. She talked of having to cross this dam with a few inches of cold water flowing over the top. That didn't sound like fun so I was relieved to find it high and dry.

We reached a nice campsite, home for the next two nights, at 8.57mi (5436'). We had taken our time getting here, but I think we all were tired and hungry. We quickly set up tents and them went straight into dinner. It was a bit chilly, a slight breeze at the lake, so by 8pm we were all huddled in our tents for the night.

Day 2:
stats: 7.78mi, 2138' gain/loss

We wanted a full day in the upper basin. There was a prediction for 20% chance of rain at Snow Lk but 20% chance of rain/snow in the upper basin. We got up early, right about sunrise (6-6:30am), made breakfast, had some hot liquids, then packed up our packs and headed around the west side of Upper Snow Lk. It was here, before the Snow Creek inlet, that there was a deep and narrow washout. Thankfully there was a beat in path around the washout. On the other side, several groups were camped. After crossing Snow Creek (.45 from camp, 5439'), we followed the clear route up towards Lake Viviane. This is a strange route, it's a route really, hardly a trail, though it does show up on the maps. It's steep in sections, marked by cairns in the rocky areas, and in some sections the steep rock (especially that higher up) has severe consequences for a fall. After an initial section of dirt trail, there was one steep step to gain a granite slab. My knees were going well so far but I just couldn't get the umpf to get atop the rock without a nudge from Rick. I was really thankful to have Rick there spotting me on the steeper sections. The rest of the way up to Lake Viviane (2.04mi from camp, 6787') is a mix of dirt, rock, dirt, rock, dirt, steep rock, sloped granite slabs, rock, and then the final sloped/steep/big step with rebar where we finally entered the Enchantment Lakes upper basin! We had great weather the whole trip up an the blue skies looked like they would continue for a while.

We rounded Lk Viviane, then went by Leprechaun Lk where we took a shot snack break. Then we continued on through Magic Meadow and over to Perfection Lake. Wow. Gorgeous rock. Stunningly clear lakes and tarns. The larch were still a solid shade of green. No gold even starting to poke out. It's going to be a few weeks yet before there is any hint of a change. After Perfection Lake we all headed up and over to Inspiration Lake where we were met by a family of goats. They know they own the place. We kept out distance. Taehee and Rick wanted to head up to Little Annapurna, pretty much a walk up without snow. I'd been up Little Annapurna my last time up to the Enchantments so I was happy to just explore the basin area. Carol and I sat for a while on a bump (3.75mi from camp, 7138') near Inspiration Lk that had a nice view down to Perfection Lk and over to Prusik Pk. We stayed there for a while and then hoping to get our of the wind a bit, we headed back down to Perfection Lk to find a nap rock. Just before we reached the north end of the lake, a couple pointed out an osprey perched high in a larch right next to the trail. Wow. Carol and I snapped some photos, then poked around looking for flowers...the gentians were in bloom. Then...we headed for the other side of the lake where it looked promising to find a nice rock. We found one...then boots off and puffy jackets on...we had the whole area to watch as if it was wide screen National Geographic TV. The osprey was still perched in the same tree. Then...a gust of wind came and the osprey floated up, not flapping it's wings, just riding the wind. Then in one quick burst it shot overhead, disappeared behind a large rock (the same couple that pointed the osprey out to us said it dove under the water). I next saw the bird shooting out from behind the rock with a small fish in its talons. It flew to the far side of the lake and looked like it found a nice rock where it could eat its meal.

Carol and I waited a while...we figured Taehee and Rick would be back about 2:30 or 3:00pm. About 2:30pm some dark rain-like clouds started to roll in. A short time later, so did Taehee and Rick. We didn't waste any time hiking out. Rick was right about wanting to be off the granite slabs before the rain hit. We almost did it...we were about 1/2 way down to Snow Lake when the sprinkles started. Occasionally the sprinkles turned to light showers. Thankfully there was only a bit of steep wet rock we had to go over. By the time we got back to camp we had the protection of the trees and thankfully the rain eased up enough that we didn't have to huddle in tents for dinner. We turned in early, about 7:30pm. About 10:30pm I woke up to the sound of pouring rain and roaring winds.

Day 3:
stats: 8.57mi, 413' gain / 4510' loss

The bad weather continued on and off until early morning. Thankfully, by the time we were up (about 6:30am) it had stopped and it appeared to be clearing. We packed up, made sure to leave the campsite cleaner than we found it, and started the hike out. We recrossed the small dam between the two lakes, hike down to Nada Lake and took a short layering break. After Nada Lake..it was a long slog back to the trailhead. That last 2+ miles is hard, steep downhill switchbacks with sore feet, no tree cover, and warm.

Carol had been dreaming of a burger and a beer :) so we all headed off to Leavenworth for a yummy lunch...then the long drive home.

Great trip! Carol...thanks again for the invite...I'm grateful. Rick/Taehee...thanks for the help! You two are great!
 
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