Karly's Enchanting Larch March Through Hike
I had been eyeballing this 20+ mile though-hike for about a year. After 5 weeks spent hiking and summiting peaks in Glacier National Park this summer, I felt another long through-hike was a perfect way to round out the season!
My friend Andrew and I headed to Leavenworth from Portland on Friday, October 2. We got a late start, getting to the Snow Lakes trailhead at 2:00 AM, and managed to snag the last available parking spot! Our original plan was to take mountain bikes, leave them at Snow Lakes, then drive to the Colchuck trailhead and use the bikes to retrieve the car at the end of a very long day. The biking would have added 7.7 miles and 2200 feet of climbing onto the already long hike, but thankfully I was able to arrange for a shuttle to take us to Colchuck so no bikes were needed!
Even arriving as late as we did (or is 2am “early?), the road leading up to the trailhead parking lot was already lined with parked cars, and the parking lot itself was full except for one parking spot, which we gratefully snagged! We got 1.5 hours of shuteye in the car until it was time to wake up at 4:00 AM, cars pouring into the full lot well before our alarm went off. The situation between 4 and 5am was a total zoo, you would have seen less people running around Manhattan on a busy day! Hundreds of cars and thousands of people were preparing to hike just like us.
After getting ready and packing our bags, we hopped in the shuttle at 5:15 AM and bounced our way up to the Stuart/Colchuck Lake trailhead, again witnessing massive amounts of cars parked on the sides of the road (some even in the road!) up to the trailhead. We started hiking in the dark around 6:00 AM. From the trailhead to the top of Aasgard Pass, we were in a conga line of people. It felt like the recent pictures from Everest, an endless train of people, all going the same direction. Social distancing was basically impossible, so we wore masks when we passed others or were near other groups (which was often).
Arriving at Colchuck Lake after a brisk 4 mile approach, we snapped pictures of Dragontail Peak reflected in the glassy surface of the lake before circumnavigating the lake itself and beginning the arduous climb up the notorious Aasgard Pass. Aasgard Pass climbs almost 2000 feet in ¾ of a mile, but luckily thanks to our fitness we managed to climb it with only moderate effort (this time, but in the past, we had much more difficulty with it). Looking down at the lake from the top of the pass was a sight to see, watching the sun creep over it, illuminating deep blue aqua hues. We even saw a mountain goat happily munching away at vegetation with larches the color of golden fire in the background.
After cresting the pass we veered south, getting away from the crowds and the main trail crossing a unique land bridge between Isolation Lake and Lake Reginleif. The large number of alpine lakes was astounding, all truly beautiful, with a new one tucked away behind each bend. The granite we walked across was stunning as well, but the beauty of the rock was far surpassed by the lakes. The temperature was perfect, skies were sunny, wind was minimal. We decided to take a detour up Little Annapurna Peak which paid off with even more awe-inspiring summit views. We could see Mt. Rainier, surrounded by what Andrew called the “7 layer dip” for all the layers of hills in varying hues seen in the distance.
Being higher than the Enchantments gave us a birds-eye view, with McClellan Peak and Prusik Peak towering above. I cannot emphasize how marvelous the larches were in all their fiery, golden yellow glory. Each one was a beacon shining bright, even on a sunny day.
Overlooking the Basin
Larches & red ground cover
We descended Little Annapurna and continued to stay off the main trail, towards a horseshoe-shaped lake due NW that caught our eye. After refilling at a tiny creek and some minor bushwhacking down a steep hill, we arrived at Crystal Lake. The lake was chock full of healthy trout, happily swimming in azure-tinted water. As we walked, it was hard not to stop every minute to take pictures of the ever-changing landscape and beautiful golden larch trees. Once past Crystal Lake, we encountered more lakes with equally alluring names: Perfection Lake, Lake Viviane, Temple Lake, etc.
At this point, we were 13 miles into our journey and I kept having to close my mouth from the constant jaw-dropping. The trail (which we were now on) was flat for a moment before we began the long descent the rest of the way to the car. Some sections were surprisingly steep which made my knees grumble, and it was easy to lose the trail due to it being mostly on granite. There was a distinct shift in scenery as we crossed out of the core Enchantment area and onto the Snow Lakes trail. It’s not like the trail out wasn’t also beautiful, but I do feel the beauty of the core enchantment area vastly outweighed pretty much everything else we saw that day, especially the trail out.
The spectacular views transitioned into lush forests with fast-flowing creeks. Around mile 15 and about 5:30 PM, we came to Upper Snow Lake. We followed the lake until crossing the old masonry spillway that separates it from Lower Snow Lake. Both of these lakes are man made, used for irrigation and to send cold water to the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery. As we descended even further, the sky darkened and we resorted to using headlamps. We could hear the rushing water coming through a huge tunnel bored from Snow Lake to just above Nada Lake, but unfortunately couldn’t witness the spectacle.
My knee really started to hurt so we had to slow the pace for a while to accommodate the old lady joints. It was dark and we rarely encountered people which was nice after the crowded start to the day. Down, down, down we went, trudging along in relative silence, with the roar of Snow Creek as it meandered close to us before following the contours and drifting away. I swear we could see the road with 3 miles to go, and it seemed like we weren’t getting any closer! Then we could see the parking lot, and watched as cars the size of ants continued to leave, emptying the lot. We hiked down through the last of the switchbacks, crossing Icicle Creek and gaining the tiniest bit of elevation to the parking lot. The uphill felt really good on our tired legs after the incessant pounding of losing elevation.
We were back at the car after a grueling, long day! 16 hours, 7,000 feet of elevation gain and 24.5 miles later, we exhaustedly traded trail runners for flip flops and sat on the tailgate, reveling in the exceptional day we had. We found a hotel in Wenatchee and got some delicious Mexican takeout food to celebrate.
Me on Little Annapurna
Black Diamond Distance 15 running vest
Columbia sun shirt with a hood
Rain jacket (didn’t end up needing it but always smart to bring)
Chapstick with SPF
Katadyn water filter
So many snacks, I love snacks!
Buffalo jerky stick
Chocolate covered espresso beans
Rosemary marcona almonds
Sour Patch Kids