I’ve been drawn to the Enchantments for well over a decade, which coincides roughly with the launch of Instagram. Come to find, pressure on this fantasyland skyrocketed in 2008 with the launch of the image focused, social media platform. As a result, securing an overnight permit is statistically daunting. Therefore, many people sign up for the rather challenging one day push from Stuart Lake trailhead to Snow Lakes trailhead.
I’ve completed the 20sh mile, one day thru hike on two previous occasions in 2018 and 2020. I refer to both of those magical adventures as ‘frolicks.’ While there was running involved in both, there were also a lot of miles spent hiking, swimming, jumping off rocks into pristine mountain lakes and taking photos. It’s a place that truly lives up to its name. The trail has 5,500’ of elevation gain if you go from the Stuart Lake to Snow Lakes Trailhead. If you want more vert, the other direction offers closer to 7,500’ of uphill travel. Local shuttle services make this point to point route rather easy to set up.
I’ve always been drawn to the high points that line the Core Zone. I was curious what the area looked like from on high, both in the Core Zone and the valleys that lay beyond. Prusik Peak is the crown jewel of the area and a classic NW climbing route. It should come as no surprise that this peak was first climbed by legendary climber, Fred Beckey and his partner, Art Holben in 1948.
Given my lack of trad climbing and rope skills, this goal remained on the ‘someday’ list until recently. I’ve spent more time with my friend, Andy Lindblade, in the mountains this past summer. We skied Avalanche Glacier Headwall off the summit of Mt. Adams and played in swimming holes with our kids. To say Andy is an accomplished alpinist is an understatement. Lucky me. We had never shared a rope prior to this outing. I acknowledge and appreciate his willingness to lead this effort and confidence in my ability to keep it together, sight unseen.
We made the 5 hr drive to the Stuart Lake trailhead after work and found a place to sleep for a couple hours before a 2:45a wakeup. We had a big day ahead of us so erred on the side of an early alpine start to ensure we’d get back in time to enjoy a tasty burrito and a few beers in nearby Leavenworth. We started up the trail at 3:20a and made steady progress toward Colchuck Lake and Aasgard Pass. We quickly realized the wildfire smoke was still hanging around as we moved up the pass. Fortunately, it was not too thick and made for some moody views as the sun rose.
Snapping photos along the way, we made it to the base of Prusik Peak by about 9a. We planned to ascend the West Ridge to the summit. This required 4 pitches of 5.5-5.7 crack and slab climbing. I had not been on a rope for a couple years. Andy led the way with smooth climbing moves and well placed cams. We made good progress as a few raindrops threatened to add unwelcome spice to our ascent. It’s worth noting that I have a healthy fear of heights. It was exhilarating to have so much air between me and the ground as we pushed higher. After a few high fives and photos from the summit, we quickly set up the rappel and began making our way down. By the time we took our harnesses off on the trail below, the rain was really coming down. Timing is everything!
We then got back on the trail and retraced our steps toward Aasgard Pass. Along the way, we dropped our packs and made the ½ mile, 950’ jaunt up to Little Annapurna on the other side of the Core Zone. The rain and wind were steady as we walked up the massive granite slab to the top. We were treated with unusual stacks of granite rock on the summit and impressive views looking down toward Ingalls Creek several thousand feet below. A few more photos and we were back on the trail to keep warm and make progress toward the cold beers awaiting us back at the truck.
My worn out trail running shoes were not ideal as we made our way down the wet granite of Little Annapurna, back up to Aasgard Pass and then down to Colchuck Lake. The rain and wind cleared out the smoke and provided a welcome taste of fall weather. We chatted with many happy hikers, backpackers and runners as we continued toward our exit. Fortunately, we got down with plenty of time to feast on a fresh cooked burrito in town and find a warm bed for the night. In the end, we were out for 14 hrs, covered a bit over 21 miles and 7,500’ up and down. It was another cherished day spent in this magical place with a good partner and friend. We’re already scheming on what the next adventure will be in our PNW public lands.