a Single Day Trek Through the Enchantments

Yesterday was an incredible experience and we happened to catch that experience at the exact right moment; right before the snow started falling.  The Enchantments is a hike normally split into a multiple day backpacking trip, and, rightfully, it should be as it is one of the most gorgeous places you will ever lay your eyes on.  We, however, did not have a permit to camp and instead hauled ass through the entire hike in 11 hours and 15 minutes.  I’m no marathon runner, but this seemed like a pretty solid time to hike approximately 19 miles and 6000′ of elevation (reports differ, but it’s at least 18 miles) especially considering the breaks and photo ops we took during the trek.

There’s something about mountain therapy that really refreshes the mind and connects you to your surroundings and nature.  This summer, partly due to wildfires and weddings, I didn’t get into the hills as much as I normally do, so this was a great last hurrah before the season turns overly snowy and it becomes time to throw my freshly waxed skis on my feet.  Which I am also extremely excited for.

My friend Austin and I reached the Stuart Lake Trailhead around 10:30/11:00 PM on Monday night.  I slept in the back of his truck in the open and, notably, cold air.  4:45 AM came quick and we were up eating a big breakfast, drinking cold brew, and packing our daypacks before we hit the trailhead at 6:05 AM.  A little slower of a start than we anticipated, but early enough not to fret.

The first section of this slog is just a foot in front of foot hike to the stunning Colchuck Lake which is seated at the bottom of Aasgard Pass.  I think we arrived at Colchuck around 8:00 AM.  If I’m not mistaken it is about 5 miles to the base of Aasgard and approximately 2500′ of elevation gain from the trail head.  It’s another 2000′ of elevation gain from Aasgard to the Upper Enchantments in a single mile.  We stopped for a bit and ate a quick second breakfast, which for me was a banana and Clif bar and for Austin was half a turkey sandwich and a banana.  We chugged some water, finished off our cold brew, threw on some microspikes, I took a poo in the woods, and we started up the pass around 900 AM.

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(Photo One: Me, pointing up at Aasgard Pass from Colchuck Lake
Photo Two:  Austin on the way up Aasgard Pass
Photo Three:  Austin in front of Colchuck Lake
Header: Colchuck Lake and Aasgard Pass Panoramic Photo)

I threw some music on my cell phone that seemed to fit the mountainous Alp-esque setting, folk artist Austin Basham, and started the climb towards the top.  The trail was well defined but we did, somehow, get off of it at one point and just hiked straight up the gut.  We also stopped more than a couple times to take some pictures, drink some water, and record some video.  Honestly, it was an absolute cakewalk compared to the ice skating rink the pass resembled at the same time last year (we did this hike October 13th last year) and it was not even remotely dangerous in comparison.  We reached the top at 10:40 AM and were greeted by the glaciers and peaks of the Upper Enchantments.

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(Photo One: Me, heading up Aasgard Pass
Photo Two: Photo of the prominent peak next to Aasgard Pass
Photo Three & Four: Upper Enchantments)

We passed some hikers at the top who had hiked down to the beginning of the descent towards Snow Lakes (the end of the Enchantments) but turned around due to conditions.  They said we should be fine with our microspikes but they did not feel safe without them.  We chatted with them for a few minutes and then enjoyed a lunch in the Upper Enchantments under some craggily peaks and ice covered lakes.  From there we started down to the Core Enchantments after talking to some campers and observing a billy goat.  All the while I was logging it on video, with Austin’s help, and taking plenty of pictures.  Going from lake to lake we took in the scenery and the awesomeness of our surroundings.  Then came my favorite part of this hike; the descent from the Core Enchantments to the Lower Enchantments.

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(Photo One: Prusik Peak with Golden Larches
Photo Two: Me with Prusik Peak in background
Photo Three: Austin with Prusik Peak in background
Photo Four: One of the Lakes of the Core Enchantments – I’ll update this properly)

We hiked up a vaguely defined trail to the top of a large sloping rock/mountain that falls to the lake below.  At this point you are right in the center of it all.  Here, peaks engulfed me in every direction, Prusik Peak sat right behind me with climbers in a saddle near the summit, waterfalls and streams spit water into the lakes below, and the yellow larches speckled the intermittently snow covered slopes of the surrounding mountains and edges of the lake beds.  I am 100% positive that this was NOT the actual trail that we were on, as I did not see any cairns, but it is a spectacular way to descend and alone made the hike worth every step.  This is also where my left knee and feet started bothering me.

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Once at the bottom, another banana was consumed and we prepared for the hour or so descent from the last lake in the Enchantments, I believe it is called Lake Viviane (DISCLOSURE:  I thought it was Vivian, but Google was happy to correct my inaccurate assumption) to the Snow Lakes far below.

I despise this part of the hike, it is grueling on the body and will make the strongest hikers knees, hips and feet hate them.  It took about an hour or so to get down to Snow Lakes and we lost the path at one point and had to scramble down a sketchy cliff face without ropes or proper gear.  In hindsight, it would have been smart to put the microspikes back on the boots and break out the rope Austin had rolled up in his bag.  There’s always next time.

We got down to Snow Lakes and continued our hike around to the end of it, which is about a mile, where we stopped for our last refuel.  The snow started falling on us here and it got quite cold.  We were relieved to be down from the top as we watched what looked to be a storm rolling in, but were very aware of the miles still ahead of us.  It was about 3:15 PM.  We decided that once we got past Nada Lake, the last lake (or first depending which trailhead you enter from), that we would run for a bit.  Once we got there, we put our poles away and started running… We didn’t stop except for the occasional breath to take pictures and video of the crazy colored fall foliage.  At 5:20 PM we reached Snow Lakes Trailhead, completely stoked at the time we had made.

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Today, according to the weather, the snow moves in and I do not anticipate the conditions to be as easy as they were yesterday again until next year.  A full video edit is underway and coming soon.

Rock on peeps!  Thanks for reading ✊ 🤙

~Dane

According to the Forest Service: 

The Whole Core Enchantment Loop, Stuart Lake Trailhead to Snow Lake Trailhead: approximately 19 miles / 6000 foot gain and 7800 foot loss

Author: a Life to Summit

I am a skier ⛷, hiker, backpacker, summit scrambler, and all around mountain-man 🏔 adventurer. I am a fitness minded, supplement taking, gym ratesque, yoga pose holding, salad eating, kettlebell swinger. I am an in-the-sauna, sweat all over my headphones, meditator. I am a book reading and Audible listening, philosophizing, bad habit to good habit changing, personal growth prioritizer. I am a dad to two bitches, aka Labrador Retrievers. I am an over-thinker, a writer, a hammock junkie. I am a lot of things.

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