The Enchantments

The area known as “The Enchantments” near Leavenworth, Washington is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Pacific Northwest. Due to it’s popularity a lottery for a limited number overnight permits is held early each spring, which I never seem to have lucky with.

In the lottery you specify the date you are hoping to start along with your desired zone, the most sought after being a “Core Permit”. Not only does a Core Permit allow you to camp in the Core Enchantment zone, which is what most people think of when you mention The Enchantments, it also allows you to also camp in any of the other zones as well.  After the Core Enchantment zone the most popular zone is the Colchuck followed by Snow and Stuart zone. The least desired zone in  The Enchantments is the Eightmile / Caroline Zone as it does not have a trail which allows you to access the  Core Enchantments.  After the lottery there always ends up being some Eightmile / Caroline permits available.

Even though the Eightmile / Caroline zone is the least popular zone in The Enchantments it is still a spectacular area to visit and since my lottery losing streak continued this year I picked up a permit for Cristina and I. We drove out to stay with friends in Plain, Washington, which is close to Leavenworth and The Enchantments. It is here were I tried to stuff all my gear into my backpack for the first time. After a few very frustrating hours full of swear words, I manged to get everything to fit. All Cristina ended had to carry was her own sleeping gear, toiletries and clothes, I was able to carry everything I would on the PCT. I was so happy when I got everything to fit I had to take a picture.

The next morning we headed out early to grab coffee and unsuccessfully attempted to get a better permit at the ranger station, we did however have a backup plan.  The plan was to knock out a hike up to Colchuck lake, which is the most popular day hike in The Enchantments, before hiking to Eightmile lake to spend the night.  After stopping for breakfast we drove up the surprising smooth forest road to the Stuart Lake trailhead and headed out.

The trail starts off pretty tame with minimal elevation gain, crossing a very aggressive creek about a mile and a half in. 

On our way up we passed a good amount of wildflowers as we darted in and out of the the tress, enjoying the shade they provided as it was starting to get rather warm. 

After hiking for a few miles we hit the junction with the trial up to Colchuck Lake, the main trial continuing on to Lake Stuart.

A short distance down the Colchuck Lake Trail we were again met by the angry creek and a very cool wooden bridge which leads into a small boulder field which was fun to navigate thorugh.

The trial then begins to climb with more intensity with plenty of switch backs. At one point the trail crosses across a small waterfall, we both somehow managed to keep our feet dry while crossing.

Continuing up the trail we made our way to a clearing allowing us to look back down the way we came with a stunning view of Mt. Stuart in the distance.

The trail dipped back into the tress for the final push to the lake, at one point the trail intersected with a stream which was a little tricky to navigate through. Once we arrived at the lake we were greeted by the massive Dragontail Peak and  the slightly smaller Colchuck Peak with Asgard Pass between the two, which we would have had to conquer if we had a snagged a Core permit. I think we were both a bit relived that we didn’t as watching people make their way up was a bit intimidating.


After I took a quick swim in the extremely cold lake we ate lunch and started to head back down where we came across a very hungry mountain goat who luckily had plenty to much on and was too busy eating to be concerned with us.

Once we made our way back down to the trailhead we hopped back in the car and made the quick trip over to the Eightmile trailhead to begin our hike up to Eightmile lake.

The sun was rather intense as we made our way up but I found myself distracted by the abundance of wildflowers and some tiny pine cones.

The trail to Eightmile lake is fairly flat which was a nice change of pace after the hike up to Colchuck. A few miles in we hit Little Eightmile Lake which is also the junction for Caroline Lake, which would be our destination the following day.

After a quick break we continued onward as the trail climbed a bit before we arrived at the lake. We found a site and just as I finished setting up the tent a group of very loud college girls decided to set up camp just feet from ours. We quickly packed up, grabbed our backpacks and made our way to another, much better, site right by the lake. Luckily my tent is extremely easy to set up and take down.

After getting everything set up again I took a quick swim in the lake, which was just as cold as Colchuck but it felt amazing after hiking in the sun all day. As we were having dinner one of the locals decided to come dine with us (yes, those are flowers in it’s mouth).

We were both pretty tired after a full day of hiking and after staying up late enough to see the stars decided to get some much needed rest.

The next morning we followed the trial around the lake, hopped over some trees and found another angry stream cutting through the forest.

After breakfast we packed everything up and made our way back down the trail to Little Eightmile Lake where we started up the trail to Caroline Lake.  While the trail didn’t seem very difficult on paper it did prove to be a challenging hike.

The trail starts out rather steep and provides very little shade, which was sorely missed as the sun was blazing as we made our way up.  We would take a break every time we came across a bit of shade.

I even resorted to hiding from the sun in the narrow shadow of a large dead tree and soaking my hat in water to keep cool.

As I looked back down towards Eightmile lake I tried to visualize myself swimming in the ice cold water, it didn’t help.

A little further up the trail we met a couple on their way down and chatted for a bit. The said that the lake was spectacular and warned us about a Coyote they saw up at Windy Pass. We were considering making the hike up to the pass  but decided to avoid it after that.

However, as we rounded a corner about a mile later we were met by a lone Coyote standing in the middle of the trail staring us down. Considering that Coyotes are pack animals I decided to skip the photo and clanked my hiking poles above my head until he decided to head off the trail and run down into the valley. We cautiously continued to the lake without seeing or hearing another.

We found that not only were there no loud college girls at the lake but in fact there was only one other couple on the other side of the lake.  We set up camp and I took a swim in the warmer but still cold Caroline lake.  We spent the rest of the day relaxing before we were forced into the tent due to an army of mosquitoes that occupied the lake.

The next morning I somehow managed to get up early enough to catch a bit of the sunrise.

After enjoying the lack of mosquitoes at the lake for a bit we packed up camp and started our hike back down to the trailhead. We both had one thing in mind as we struggled through the heat….

…..a sausage and beer at Munchen Haus in Leavenworth!  While we didn’t end up hiking through the “real enchantments”, which is probably for the best, we made the most of our time in a really amazing place. Hopefully we can snag a core permit after I finish the PCT next year.


In a tent down by the river

Months ago Cristina and I decided to go backpacking over Memorial Day weekend.  We figured that we would have plenty of places to choose from by then, sadly that wasn’t the case. When Memorial Day weekend finally rolled around the snow we had gotten over the winter was still preventing us from getting to our favorite backpacking spots. The plan then shifted to car camping, a weekend full of campfires, playing in a river and s’mores. This also proved to be challenging, finding a car camping spot the week before Memorial Day is not an easy task.  I first checked the national parks and found all their were all fully booked, I then checked the state parks and found the same. It was beginning to seem like we may have to try our luck at snagging a walk in spot when I discovered that King County has a campground, which still had a couple spots available. I never would have guessed that King County had a campground. They were “hike in” spots, with the “hike” being a very flat half a mile long. Although, a hike without an elevation gain is just a stroll in the woods as far as I’m concerned. I booked the site and began digging out  my camping gear for the first time in almost a year. While it wasn’t the backpacking trip we hoped for it would allow me to to test out a few things in preparation for the PCT.

Friday afternoon we drove out to the Tolt MacDonald Campground  on the Snoqualmie River just outside of Carnation.  All the standard sites that did not require a hike to get to looked miserable, very close together with no shade and very little privacy, luckily our site was on the other side of a really cool old suspension bridge away from the crowds.  Since we had fully ditched the idea of “roughing it” in favor of the comforts of car camping we packed a wheelbarrow full of gear, food and firewood and started to make our way to the site.  After crossing the bridge we were greeted by a sign that read “Attention: Frequent bear signings.  I got very excited, I’ve always wanted to meet a bear, but not in the “Grizzly Man” kind of way.

As we “hiked” down the trail, dragging the wheelbarrow behind me I started to wonder why I felt the need to invest in ultralight gear for the PCT when I could just bring a wheelbarrow. Who needs a $300 backpack when you can pick up a wheelbarrow for $50? I already have a tarp to keep everything dry.

Once we arrived at our site we discovered that not only was our site much more shaded and secluded than the sites on the the other side of the bridge. The other 3 campsites in the areas were vacant for the night with campers arriving on Saturday, which was a nice surprise. We set up my not so light my 3 person tent, blew up the air mattress and got settled in. After a bit of exploring, finding the best spot to access the river, we started a fire and made some dinner. Later that evening I proceeded to eat 10,000 s’mores and discovered that s’mores and beards don’t play well together.

The next morning, after it became very clear during the middle of the night that I had forgotten my throw out the air mattress due to the fact that it did not actually hold air, I decided that I needed to invest in a good sleeping pad for the PCT because the ground can be very cold.  Luckily, we did have sleeping pads just in case something like with this happened.  After coffee and breakfast we spent the day doing the typical camping things like relaxing all over the place, playing in the river and reading.  I was reminded how nice it is to disconnect and enjoyed every minute of it.

Later in the day the other campers in the area showed up, the most notable being two families with a total of six small children and one very large Great Dane. Sitting next to the fire we watched as one of the guys made frequent trips up and down the trail hauling wheelbarrows full of stuff and setting up giant tents. The kids took full advantage of the fact that their parents were overwhelmed with getting everything set up, running amok and harassing each other, luckily the crying was minimal. Maybe that’s why I liked camping so much as a kid, my brother and I could get away with much more than normal because our parents were busy managing all the logistics involved in camping with two small boys.  They two families were still working on getting set up as the sun began to set, the air pump was constantly being ran to fill up what seemed like 20 air mattresses. Cristina and I made a game out of counting the number of times the air pump would run and betting on if they were done or not. I think it was completely dark by the time they were finally done.

One of the things I put to the test is wearing what I would wear while hiking the PCT.  This consisted of shorts, a hiking t-shirt and a pair of trail runners. I also had a pair of merino wool leggings and a merino wool hooded shirt for when it got cold at night. While these did a good job of keeping me warm I was reminded that I still needed a puffy jacket, luckily the fire made up for the fact that I didn’t have one. Another thing I put to the test was the claim that merino wool resists odors by wearing the same clothes for the duration of the weekend, luckily for Cristina this claim was in fact true. That night I once again ate 10,000 s’mores.

On Sunday I spent some time exploring the trails in the park a bit. They weren’t anything special but it was nice to get out and stretch my legs a bit. After exploring I spent time relaxing and finally getting around to reading that PCT book I mentioned in my first post.  We considered making the drive to an actual trail to do some hiking but decided we’d rather just  spend the time relaxing, especially considering how busy the trails would be on a holiday weekend.  Later in the day after making a run for firewood, ice and beer we ran into the guy that was making all the trips with the wheelbarrow the night before, he was now making frequent trips in the opposite direction. It seemed that they were defeated by their kids in just one night. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a quote from Varsity Blues. “I don’t want your life.”

After our final night I felt better about a few things I’ll have to deal with while on the PCT. My merino wool clothing kept me warm and didn’t end up smelling after wearing them for days straight, bathing in a river is refreshing, VIA kept me fully caffeinated, I can still sleep on a pad without rolling off of it and I can fuel myself with s’mores.  Ok, I probably wont be making many s’mores on the PCT but snickers bars will be a staple in my diet, my body knows what to do with sugar.  So while it wasn’t the backpacking trip we had hoped for it ended up being really nice to just take a few days to relax together and have a few extra comforts that we wouldn’t have had while backpacking, like s’mores (ok, we could have had s’mores while backpacking).

On our way home we decided to stop by Snoqualmie falls which did not disappoint.  It was however full of people which made me feel a little better about taking the weekend off from hiking. In fact I later read a trip report where a hiker counted 200 cars near a trail head that weekend.  Sometimes it’s best to avoid the crowds, disconnect and relax.