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.
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.