Winning a permit to hike the Enchantments feels like a winning lottery ticket for the adventurous. In the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, these chain of lakes are heavily protected. With thousands of applications, you never know when the golden ticket will come your way, as winning is rare. I was lucky enough to be invited for a Summer Solstice trip into the Core zone. With a core permit you are allowed to camp in any of the five zones, where Eightmile/Caroline, Stuart, Colchuck, Enchantment, and Snow permits limit you to camping only in that zone. Designated camp spots and toilets are located throughout this wilderness, so please abide by all permit rules and use them.
Day One: We drove five hours from Portland to the Eight Mile Campground where we stayed the night. This campsite is about 10 minutes from the trailhead which made for an easy start the following morning.
Day Two: The first day we hiked from Stuart Lake Trailhead up to our first campsite at Colchuck Lake; which is a popular day hike for those without camping permits. From the car, we hiked four miles up gaining 2,532 feet to the top of the lake. You will cross boulder fields and the trail will disappear at times, but cairns usually will exist on this part of the trail. Once we got to Colchuck Lake we found a designated campsite and set up for the night. Be sure to head over the boulder field to the right to a smaller Colchuck Lake to go swimming; a perfect spot to relax and unwind. Aasgard Pass stared us in the eyes as we plotted our trek the following morning. Aasgard Pass is 1,900 feet of elevation gain in .09 miles. I was most nervous about this part of the trek as a 19 year old boy died glissading down this pass three weeks prior, and Aasgard is well-known to be dangerous and technical.
With the advice of Meghan Young from PNWOutdoorWomen, I knew that staying to the left of the tree line and water run-off was essential as you hike up Aasgard Pass. She sent me this helpful map beforehand to study. Be it a glacier, it is essential to prepare your gear wisely as the conditions change for your trip. I had microspikes, crampons, ice ax, and a helmet. I ended up leaving the ice ax and helmet at the car as we spoke to people leaving the trailhead had said not much ice was present with the warm weather.
Day Three: Our trek up Aasgard started at 8 AM by scrambling across a boulder field prior to crossing the stream of melting water. As you climb be sure to pause and take photos as you go up, the views are spectacular. After you cross the creek, the route will continue to steepen becoming a bear crawl up loose rock and gravel among the larches. As you enter the false summit, you will rest your eyes on the final jaunt to the top; which seems easy after you tackled the first portion. However, you will have to traverse across a snow field which has melting snow underneath you. We had to be cautious for our team and remain on the foot path created from the backpackers traveling ahead of us. Once you climb the final boulder field you reach the top of Aasgard at 7,800 feet, entering the Upper Enchantments. At 11 AM we arrived at the top of the summit, feeling as if we stepped into another world. We rested up here for lunch and filtered the stream water at the summit. By far the best water source in the Core!
We continued the Enchantments Trail to our next campsite at Leprechaun Lake. At this time, the trail is mostly covered in snow making every step count. Trekking poles and proper footing helped me maintain by balance with my 35-pound pack. Most of the lakes in this area were snow covered, but the clear icy blue water among the ridged rock provided beautiful views.
Goat Warning! Once we got to our campsite, we noticed three goats making laps around us. Although the goats are quite friendly, be cautious of them as they are after the sodium in your urine.The ranger’s advice is that you pee on rocks (when camp toilets aren’t available) to avoid the goats digging the vegetation to get to your pee. They are quite friendly and accustomed to humans being in their environment, so please be respectful of their home.
Day Four: We woke up around 8 AM to eat, caffeinate, and pack up for our final campsite at Nada Lake. As we descended we saw the vegetation change and the amount of snow decrease. We headed down towards Lake Vivian, which was breathtakingly beautiful with the contrast between the snow and the dense forest heading towards Snow Lake. As we descended near Lake Vivian we had to hug boulders to make it to the next portion of the trail. Be cautious when approaching the lakes as the snow beneath your feet is melting; slipping and falling towards a glacier lake is easy to do. One foot in front of the other with proper use of my trekking poles made me feel safest.
The journey down is no doubt rough on your knees, so remember to take time for breaks and to enjoy the views. We continued down as the trail wraps around to the right of Snow Lake towards Nada Lake. When you reach the Snow Lake dam be sure to take your shoes off to cross the water by walking along the rock wall. My girlfriend and I had split from the crew and walked in right with our hiking boots which made for wet boots the rest of the hike down.
We got to our final campsite at Nada Lake at about 2PM, where we swam in the cold water and relaxed, celebrating our final night. It was extremely relaxing to swim in the water and enjoy our last night at a warmer, lower elevation. Surprisingly, the mosquitoes weren’t too bad here!
Day Five: Our last day included a 5.5-mile descent down 3,500 feet back to the trailhead, which is full of switchbacks and wildflowers. There is no need to carry a lot of water on this part of the trail as streams will continue to be abundant; save yourself on the weight! When we got to the car we ripped our packs off, cracked a cold beer, Gatorade, and had fresh snacks ready to be devoured. Before our journey back to Portland we visited Leavenworth Pizza Company for a hot meal and more cold beer.
The Enchantments was a memorable trip filled with comradery, friendship, and teamwork unlike anything else I have ever witnessed before. Backpacking in this wilderness taught me more lessons then I anticipated. If you are ever afraid to conquer higher ground; push yourself to train and set a goal to do it. I had a lot of fear, anxiety, angst, and excitement of the unknown; that's what pushes me to stay wild.
For more information on this wilderness visit: Enchantment Permits
Written by Logan Dralle of Her Oregon Life