Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Enchantments

This past weekend Doug and I decided to (Finally) pull the trigger on our plan to run through the Enchantments. I use the term run loosely as there are several parts of the trail that I would deem unrunnable, at least given my current fitness. There are probably quite a few elite trail runners out there that could run most of the trail...with the exception of some portions of Aasgard Pass and perhaps a steep sloped granite slab or two. I was still feeling some residual affects from my White River 50 Mile run on July 30th but decided this would be a great return to long mountain excursions.

For those of you unfamiliar with the enchantments area it's located just outside of Leavenworth and consists of a couple of alpine basins, a bunch of lakes and tarns, and the Stuart mountain range. You can get a bit more information on the area at wikipedia or on the WTA website. I highly recommend visiting the area, either on a long day hike, a fast through hike or run or ideally spending a few days in the back country taking in the sites at a more leisurely pace.

Doug and I decided that we would park cars at both the Snow Lakes and Stuart Lakes trail heads and travel from Stuart to Snow in one day long push. This route involves about 20 miles of hiking, slogging, scrambling and running, 6000 feet of elevation gain (Of which 2200 are done during a 1.0 mile ascent up Aasgard pass) and a near uncountable amount of incredible vistas. The pictures do not do it justice....this place is amazing. It honestly looks like something that was ripped right out of a movie. There were a few instances in which I had almost convinced myself that I was looking at a mountain range or a lake that had been computer generated...


Colchuck lake with Aasgard in the Background

In any event, the run started at Stuart lake and meandered up the mountainside. We passed many a hiker on our way to Colchuck lake and managed to stop and take a few pictures of the surrounding area. We were already in awe at what we were seeing and I have to admit I was/am a bit annoyed at myself for not getting up into this area previously during my 32 year stint in Seattle. Still...better late than never I supposed. After getting to Colchuck lake we got a little lost...winding around the wrong side of a smaller sister lake, boulder hopping and bushwacking our way to the base of aasgard pass. Aasgard was aptly named...I wouldn't have been surprised if we had found Odin waiting for us at the top. (Sadly we didn't) To classify Aasgard as a beast is to short change it a's completely doable and is actually a fun little scramble, but it would also be difficult to classify it as a normal hike. Suffice it to say that if you go this route you will be climbing some rocks, crossing some streams (And perhaps a waterfall or two) and will most likely get lost due to the fact that the trail is nigh nonexistent in parts.

Wildflowers on the pass
The boulder field leading up to Aasgard


Our friend looking out across the Central Cascades

After getting up over the summit we ran into some mountain goats, hikers and were greeted by some tremendous views of the upper basin. The area was still snowed in so we ended up running on some interesting surfaces. The way through the basins is actually marked by a series of cairns (Rock piles) due mainly to the fact that you are traveling over granite for a vast majority of the trek. We got lost many times, climbed to the top of several little rock outcroppings which opened up amazing views and had some fun "Skiing" down some snowy sections of the trail. The upper eventually gave way to the lower basin which in turn provided much greener surroundings.

Looking out over the basin

The snow in the lower basin was almost completely melted out though still stubbornly persisted in places. Thankfully the trails were almost entirely clear so we really only had to contend with the fun granite slabs from the lower basin to snow lakes. (Some sections had re bar hammered into the rock in an effort to give hikers a bit more traction on the steeper sections)

Sometimes it was more slab than trail

I was feeling pretty good at snow lakes (Still 6.5-7 miles from the trail head) so decided to give my downhill legs a workout and told Doug I'd meet him at the bottom. I was surprised at how well I handled descent. The trails are a bit rockier and technical than those around the Rainier I90 areas but I managed to get down with a minimal amount of bruises. (No painful falls thankfully) Near the bottom the trail becomes pretty exposed to the sun and almost immediately transitions from cool forest to a hot furnace. There was a nice aqua duct at the bottom of the descent near the Snow Lakes trail head that I took advantage of by dunking my head in the cool, briskly moving alpine water. After cooling off for a bit I made my way to the end of the trail, found a bit of shade and waited for Doug and our ride back to the Stuart Lake trail head.

Just another bit of spectacular trail...
Aasgard or fed it to mountain goat...those things are heavy...cameras that is.

You can find more pictures of the run here.

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