Alex texted me one night about 4 months ago saying he had scored an overnight permit to the Core Enchantments Zone in the annual lottery. He had never been to the Enchantments before, but had heard about my previous trips and seen my pictures. So he invited me and asked if I knew anyone else who wanted to go. The trip permit was to begin on July 22 and our friends Brandon and Dave decided to join us. It would be my fifth trip to the Enchantment Lakes, Dave and Brandon’s fourth. The permit was good for 5 days and 4 nights. So we collectively decided to start at the Snow Lake trail head, and we would decide where to exit the area once we had spent a few days exploring.
Brandon decided he needed tunes to get through the seemingly endless switchbacks in the trail on the way to Nada Lake. I stopped counting at 20 and if Brandon kept counting, he didn’t say how many there were total. Our goal was Upper or Lower Snow Lake, about 7 miles and 4300 vertical feet to go.
Nada Lake, fed by an underground pipe from Upper Snow Lake. It felt good to arrive here because it meant we only had another 500 vertical feet to gain to reach our destination for the night. Brandon and I took about an hour break here. Alex and Dave had left us in the dust hours ago, and by this time had a campsite already claimed for us at Lower Snow Lake.
A view looking down on Nada Lake towards the trail head about 7 miles down the valley. It’s a nice lake, but we needed to put more miles behind us if we wanted to spend more time in the core Enchantment zone.
Another shot of Brandon plodding away, counting the switchbacks in his head while rockin’ to some tunes. Nada Lake is about to disappear from view in the background.
After several hours of hiking — way too long, we were seriously out of shape — we finally caught up to Alex and Dave where they had secured our campsite for the night at Lower Snow Lake. We did a little fishing that night before retiring to our tents for the night. A shorter hike, but steeper trail was waiting for us in the morning.
I awoke well rested and my legs were feeling better than the previous day. But this camp site is just a one night stop on our way to where the real beauty of this hike is. So we quickly packed up our camp, leaving no trace as usual, and slung our heavy packs onto our backs for another day of hiking.
The endless switchbacks are behind us after spending the night at Lower Snow Lake. But now a steeper climb begins. Our goal is Perfection Lake (aka Rune Lake) at 7100 feet which is 3.5 miles away and 1500 vertical feet above Lower Snow. Dave decided for the first time in his 30+ years of backpacking that he needed a hiking stick. Our age and lack of fitness was catching up to us.
We managed to climb above a trio of mountain goats that had hung around us for about a half mile of the trail. We’re still steadily climbing, and it wouldn’t be the last goats we would meet.
One of my favorite spots on the trail is this crossing of smooth granite. The view of the surrounding area is beginning to open up as we approach the tree line.
More mountain goats on the trail. This one decided he needed to use this log to cross the little creek that flows from Perfection Lake to Leprechaun Lake. I guess he didn’t want to get his hooves wet.
More granite to hike on. The trail is marked with hundreds of rock cairns so it’s easier to follow. Prusik Peak marks the skyline and is a favorite destination for rock climbers. We saw a few climbers headed that way on the trail.
More mountain goats greeted us the next morning in our camp at Perfection Lake. I think they enjoy the attention of a camera. They are usually friendly, but can get aggressive when you leave camp to relieve yourself. Mountain goats crave salt, which is present in urine, and have learned in this area that humans leave salt deposits around camps periodically. Sometimes they even fight each other for the first chance to get at your latest salt deposit.
Alex and I both lugged our heavy DSLR cameras on this trip. I think it’s worth it.
Perfection Lake with Prusik Peak in the background. We caught some trout here and had them for dinner and lunch the next day.
I tried for a while to get a good action shot of Dave fly fishing and this is the best I could do. I’ve never fly fished before and Dave offered to teach all of us. I don’t really need another hobby, and fly fishing seems a lot like golf — frustrating and takes more patience than I care to pour into it. Kudos to those who are good at it.
We decided to go for a day hike and climb to the top of Little Annapurna for some sunset photos. It became apparent that we left camp too late to make the summit, and the weather didn’t look like it was going to offer up a good sunset anyway. So we aborted the mission and had a quick dinner, shielded from the wind behind a large boulder.
Alex was getting tired of his stash of freeze dried meals by this point. They’re light weight and easy to make — just pour boiling water into the bag and wait ten minutes. But it’s nice to have real food on the trail too even though it means carrying more weight on your back.
The wind briefly subsided just before sunset and I found a little reflecting pond for this shot.
Back at camp for desert (apple crisp and triple berry muffins) and adult beverages before turning in for the night.
A little rain woke us up the next morning. After some discussion, we decided to pack up our wet camp and take two days to exit the area instead of spending one more night and then having a very long hike out the next day. We had three options, two of which Dave, Brandon and I had done before. The first and easiest was to go back out the way we came, stopping at Nada Lake for one night. That way isn’t particularly exciting and we had just seen it anyway, so that was out. The second was to take a lesser traveled route and stop at Toketie Lake for one night. Brandon isn’t fond of that option because of the very steep descent after leaving Toketie. That left the third option: head for Colchuck Lake. That involves hiking up to Aasgard Pass at 7800 feet and then descending 2200 feet over 1 mile through a lot of scree and boulders. We had never camped at Colchuck Lake before so it sounded like as good of a plan as any.
A relatively easy hike up to Aasgard pass through the upper Enchantment basin, which becomes progressively devoid of vegetation the closer you get to the pass.
Nearing the top of Aasgard pass, there isn’t much that lives here. Isolation Lake is appropriately named. Dragontail Peak is at the far right and the pass is to the right of that.
Dave seems happy to start downhill again as we reached the highest point of our trip, 7800 feet, and we’ve only got 2200 vertical feet over 1 mile to descend to the lake. From there we hope to find a nice campsite away from the hoards of day hikers we passed in the upper basin. A large group of backpackers coming from Colchuck Lake passed us at the top too, so we thought it would be easy to find an open campsite.
Alex is happy to see the lake below too. He would come to regret his footwear choice on these rocks however. When carrying a heavy backpack down Aasgard Pass, a stiff shank in a good boot is a must in my opinion.
This view looking back up towards the top accurately depicts what most of the trail down the pass is like.
Finally at the bottom near the lake and through the boulder fields. It’s killer on the legs coming down that pass, but I’d still rather go down it than up.
It’s time to pack up our camp at the outlet of Colchuck Lake for the last leg of our trip. I fished a little but got no bites. Dave did some fishing too until one he caught wrapped itself around a log and he lost the tip of his new fly pole.
There is a small dam at the outlet of Colchuck Lake.
Terminus. A fantastic trip with a great group of guys.