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 my head

When you talk to someone who has completed the Pacific Crest Trail they will often tell you that the challenge in hiking the trial is not only a physical one but also, and perhaps more so, a mental one. On my recent hikes I’ve pushed myself pretty hard, seeing how fast I can make it to the end and If I can make it without stopping. In doing so hikes have become easier physically but more difficult mentally as you don’t take the time to enjoy the hike itself.  This became very obvious on my hike up Mount Teneriffe, a 14 mile hike with 4,000 feet of gain, this past Sunday.

I hiked up Mount Teneriffe last summer and remember it being strenuous but nothing that made me hate life, while I knew I was in for a challenge I knew it was one I could accomplish. The trail starts out very easy, about 2 miles on the very flat Mount Teneriffe Road before spotting the sign directing you towards Teneriffe Falls (aka Kamikaze Falls). After the junction things start go get fun, the trail becomes pretty steep and rocky as you make your way up to the falls.  As I made my way up the trail I found myself not really taking in my surroundings and focused on making progress. I wasn’t feeling it, which I found strange, but I pushed on. I made my way to the switchbacks where you start to see the bottom of the falls, I stopped to take some pictures and spent time texting them to friends as I continued on. I finally reached the best view of the falls, snapped a picture and moved on without spending time there to take it all in.

I found the trail that continues up from the falls to the summit of Mount Teneriffe, which is so steep you find yourself using your hands to help you make your way up. This is the part I knew would be challenging.  I pushed on until I made it up to the ridge and took a quick look around, finding myself in a cloud with no views. Onward I went, remembering all the challenging bits as I came across them.  The trail becomes faint as you make your way through the trees along the ridge.  I found myself becoming annoyed as I had to maneuver over a large boulder or up a steep part in the trail, but I continued to push on.  That feeling of annoyance became more prevalent as I hit the snow. I knew there would be snow I was just hoping it would be isolated to the summit. I had trekking poles and microspikes but couldn’t be bothered to get them out, luckily my new pair of Saucony Peregrine 7‎’s have some awesome traction and I slowly made my way through the snow. The snow became more prevalent the further I ascended and the trail became more faint. Then it started snowing.

As I continued up I started thinking about turning back, not because of the physical challenge or being cold, I was actually pretty comfortable, but because I just didn’t feel like hiking anymore.  I started to rationalize turning back, thinking about how I hadn’t seen a single person since the falls and concerned that I might lose track of the trail if it continued to snow.  I knew I was getting close to the summit and should just push on, so I did. The snow had frozen solid in spots and was a bit slippery, it was becoming more difficult to navigate without sending my foot into some soft snow which came up to my knee.  I eventually came to a clearing and looked up to see a group of trees where I expected to see the summit, I wasn’t as close as I thought.  This is the point I actually turned around.

I made my way down feeling somewhat defeated but at the same time relived. Heading down I passed some people on their way up who asked me if I had made it to the top. I told them that I didn’t make it because of the snow although I knew it wasn’t the snow that stopped me an issue but rather my lack of enthusiasm for hiking on this particular day. As I continued down the snow eventually turned to rain. I slowly worked my way down the tricky parts and while my jacket did a good job of keeping me dry for the most of the hike it eventually became saturated and I ended up feeling like Eeyore stuck under my own personal rain cloud.

However, throughout all my gloom and lack of interest in hiking I knew it was only temporary.  I know there will be days when i’m on the PCT and feel like I did hiking up Mount Teneriffe and that’s OK. There will be days that I don’t hike at all and days I feel like giving up but I know I will push through. This hike was a sobering reminder that I need to prepare mentally as well, finding the balance between performance and taking the time to enjoying the hike itself.

P.S.  Don’t worry Teneriffe, i’ll see you again soon.

What condition my condition is in

When hiking on the PCT people generally shoot for hiking, on average between 15 to 20 miles a day. When I first heard this I didn’t think much of it because that’s 15 to 20 miles in an entire day, whereas I generally do around 8 miles in half a day.  That was until I pushed myself last year and did over 20 in one day, those extra miles really made a big difference.  Not to mention that was last year when I was hiking a lot more than I have been in recent months (I blame the snow for that). I clearly need to figure out how i’m going to be able to hit my stride and get ready for months of hiking.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to physically preparing for the PCT.  The first is the obvious one, exercise like crazy, work out and do everything you can to get in shape so you’re ready to hit the ground running.  The second is pretty much the exact opposite of that, don’t train at all and let your body adjust on the trail. While it’s very tempting to go with option number two I’d rather spare myself the extra mental and physical stress on the trail.  Someone once said if you can’t do 20 miles in a day now, there is no way you will be able to do 20 miles in a day on the PCT.

So, what’s the best way to get in shape for a 2,650 mile hike?  Strap on your backpack full of gear and go hike, a lot. What are affectionately known as conditioning hikes. For some, like those that live where it’s completely flat, this might be a little tricky, luckily I live within a short drive to some pretty awesome and challenging hikes.  However, my choice in awesome challenging hikes has been somewhat limited due to the amount of snow in the mountains. Yes, I’ll have to deal with snow on the PCT but i’m not ready to go there just yet.  However, there is one hike in particular that is easy to get to, challenging and snow free and that is Mt. Si.

My first memory of Mt. Si was as a child, my family would make regular trips toeastern Washington to visit family a few times a year and I would always seem to find myself  staring up at Mt. Si in amazement as we drove by North Bend.  The mountains further east are much taller and awe inspiring but there was something about how
Mt. Si. sat by itself that drew my attention. I remember on one trip my mom mentioned that people would hike to the top and it kinda blew my mind.  However, despite fond childhood memories, accessibility, and a challenge I have a bit a love hate relationship with Mt. Si.  Well, not so much the mountain as some of the people that hike there.  Being so close to Seattle the trail has continuously gotten more and more popular over the years. The parking lot at the trailhead is huge yet it will still fill up and cars. On a recent trip I actually noticed that one of the local residents has a sign out advertising trail parking for $10, and it’s probably over a mile from the trailhead.  While i’m all for people getting outside and hiking you should always follow some basic trail etiquette.  It doesn’t bother me so much when people don’t know when to yield or don’t respond when you say hello, but I do have a problem with people that do things like throw their trash into the forest,  or blast music out of portable speakers.  So while I enjoy hiking Mt. Si it’s not always an enjoyable experience, but it’s become my go to hike and there is a great view from the top.


Luckily this year hasn’t been so bad (yet), this could be due in part that I always try to start hikes early in the morning, usually arriving at the trailhead before 7am ready to hike.  What’s new this year, as I get ready for the PCT, is that i’m hiking with a 35lb backpack and timing myself.  The Mt. Si trail is a little over 8 miles long with 3,150 feet of gain, not exactly a walk in the park, most people in decent shape make it to the top in 2 hours.  The first time I hiked Mt. Si this year was with a hiking group from work, I was not prepared for their pace.  They were all in excellent shape and were hiking light, meanwhile I was carrying a full pack and trying to overcome my winter of gluttony and laziness.  While I was able to keep up with them for a little bit they eventually left me in the dust, luckily one of my co-workers was with me and we seemed to keep the same pace while pushing ourselves to not let them get to far ahead of us. We ended up making it to the top in 1 hour and 45 minutes, the rest of the hiking group seemed a bit surprised that we weren’t too far behind them when they passed us on their way down.

Since then I’ve hiked Mt. Si two more times in just a few weeks, once making it in 1 hour 34 minutes and then 1 hour and 29 minutes, with my goal of 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Not only is it a race to 1 hour 15 minutes, but it’s also a race between me and the return of undesirable hikers as well as the snow melting on some more enjoyable hikes.  When I finally move on to another go to conditioner I’ll still enjoy staring up at Mt. Si as I did when I was a child. However, this time it will be while i’m sitting in the Starbucks drive through in North Bend waiting to order some cold brew after completing some other hike.