So for the last 2-3 years, a group of us friends would put in for the Enchantments lottery hoping to be among the lucky few that get drawn for an overnight lottery pass. Whelp, this year was our lucky year, TWICE. Boom. With such coveted prize, we had no problem filling out the 8 spots on the ticket. Awesome travel buddies (4 guys, 4 girls) for 5-days in the backcountry….it sounded like heaven and I couldn’t have been more excited.
So there are two ways to get into the core of the Enchantment Lakes zone. One way is through Snow Lakes which I have heard is more mellow but LOOONG and boring, arduous and kinda painful. So in hearing this we had decided that we were to take the more scenic, shorter and steeper route through Aasgard pass. So I think…’Alright, okay, so it’ll be hard, no prob. I’ve hiked though a canyon with a busted ACL so…I can do a HARD hike….I mean really…how hard can it be?’
Ahem…..yeah. Reflecting on this trip makes me chuckle a little and shake my head. It makes me laugh at how unprepared I was. How I was definitely not anywhere near as fit as I thought I was. How I had underestimated how mentally draining a hike like that can truly be. And it makes me laugh that I am saying this while others would do the whole damn thing in a DAY. From one entrance to the other….just casual day hike…nbd…*eye roll*…crazies.
A year before we got the pass into the Enchantments, the boyfriend and I had actually done the fist leg of the hike as a day hike. Colchuck Lake—it’s an amazing, beautiful, totally scenic hike and after 4.7 miles of trail, you’re rewarded with the incredible and unreal teal green of the lake itself. It is by far one of may favorite hikes, hands down. I was remembering passing a girl on the trail with a giant pack on and feeling so sorry for her, thinking she was nuts hiking up this steep trail with that pack, and thinking ‘Hell no. How is that even worth it!?’ And then bam, a year later I was doing it myself.
At the start I was feeling awesome. Yeah my pack was kiiiinda heavy, and a lot bigger it seemed then everyone else’s but whateves….I do CrossFit on a regular basis, I’ve been hiking and training…I got this. And I did…..for awhile. I had paired up with my friend on the trail (who had done the Enchantments the year before) and we got to talking….and talking and talking and talking and then….we were lost. Totally lost. Not a person around, not a recognizable piece of the trail. Turns out, we had been so engrossed in our conversation that we had completely missed the cutoff to Colchuck and were already a mile into the trail to Lake Stuart. And the worst of it was we had both hiked that trail before. Face, meet palm. After we had stopped, waited, and realized that we were definitely not on the correct path, we headed back to see our friend Ben running down the trail in an attempt to find us. So in total, we hiked 2 extra miles of the first leg bringing what would have been 4.7 miles to 6.7 miles. Dum dum dummies.
Luckily, once we all got to Colchuck, we stopped to take a dip in the lake because it was HOT, 80-something degrees. We had, in maybe a lapse of good sense, decided to hike the hardest trail in the very peak heat of the day. After taking my pack off to take a swim and eat some lunch I immediately regretted packing so much. I will address my packing issues and ‘things I’ve learned’ in another post (coming soon) because there is just TOO much to talk about… had totally packed a Cheryl Strayed Monster pack. And the worst part is this is not my first backpacking trip, not even close. *Stupid idiot, Ange, you know better.* Luckily my friend offered to take part of my tent in his pack which I was crazy thankful for. My whole body just groaned putting that stupid thing back on. But onward and upward….next up was boulder hopping around the far side of the lake to the base of Aasgard and then from there, straight up. And when I say straight up….I really mean straight up. It’s something like 2200ft elevation gain in less than a mile.
So up we went, slow but steady. A few tips here: TAKE TREKKING POLES. They were my most undervalued piece of gear until this trip and I am so so happy I had them. Your knees will thank you, especially on the way back down. Also, LOOK WHERE YOU ARE GOING. This seems obvious but when you’re trying not to hyper ventilate while willing your legs to keep moving…it’s sound advice in helping your not take any more steps then you possibly need. The trail gets a little tricky and if you’re not looking up every few steps, it’s real easy to get off of the trail, so watch for cairns and pay attention to the directions that are given from other hikers or by WTA. It pays off. DUMP OUT YOUR BOOTS EVERY BREAK YOU TAKE. Or wear gaiters. I did not do this as much as I should have and had to miss a day of hiking because my feet were so torn up because of all the little sand and rock bits in my boots. And lastly KEEP YOUR WATER FILTER HANDY. There are plenty of spots to stop and refill your water and you’ll need it.
I will spare you the gory details and will punctuate it with a positive in that I saw my first real live mountain goat! He kept his distance, was just chillin’ on a rock, hangin out, being a goat. It was pretty cool, we were all pretty excited to see that lil guy….which is quite hilarious because we had no idea what lay ahead of us….more on that later….
But then, the top! The glorious, wonderful, fabulous, flat(ish) top! We snapped a bunch of pictures, celebrated with a little break, then started down to find and set up camp. Cresting over the top of Aasgard was a little bit like landing on the surface of the moon. There was still a lot of snow and the rock was so grey and desolate. It was really beautiful and a little eerie. As we descended down, the desolate grey planet gave way to a few punctuations of sparse green meadows on the banks of flowing fresh glacier water. We found an awesome camp spot in a little tree grove off the river. And there were GOATS! more goats….sooooooo many goats. We had landed on a moon FULL OF GOATS. The baby ones were crazy cute but the adult ones were a little more bold and followed you everywhere. Mainly just to see if you were going to pee. (To read more on all of the amazing learnings about goats on this trip, including instructions on a very effective way to scare them off that involves yelling weird things and large hand gestures, check out my post here. So we made our little colony in goat land, had dinner and settled in for the night.
The next day, before we tackled McClellan Peak, we woke up to our goat friends all around us….being all cute, fluffy and unassuming. Baby goats playing. Adult goats eating. It was picturesque. Our friend Alyssa was sitting on a rock watching the goats mill around her when a bigger one jumped up on the rock, right behind her. Okay yes, a little scary, but who wouldn’t be enchanted by such a majestic animal wanting to join you on this rock in this beautiful place? While Alyssa turned to watch some of the other goats, that majestic asshole backed up and head butted her right off that rock. Literally gored her butt with his horns and launched her. After the initial shock wore off, she got bandaged up and was okay aside from a small (but deep) cut and a deep bruise that would show up a couple hours later. We immediately learned that goats are not only majestic…goats shall not to be trusted. Goats are jerks.
…And then we tackled McClellan Peak. Though before we got to the ‘hard part’ there was some glissading practice on some of the nearby snowfields, just for fun and also ‘just in case’. Safety first! (AKA make-sure-you-know-how-to-arrest-yourself-if-you-lose-your-shit-down-a-mountain) This hike was an ASS kicker up to the summit, especially after the hike in the day before. This was also the first time I had ever had to use an ice axe to get up a mountain. Luckily, my friends are awesome, patient and great teachers. If you have a healthy fear of heights, it was a little terror-inducing of a minute or two, but everyone came out unscathed and the view from the top was totally worth it. Amongst being able to see all along the Enchantment lakes basin, we could also see the smoke billowing up from the Carlton Complex fire in the distance. It was totally unreal. We got a little spooked that day not really knowing how close that fire was. A lot of hikers came through feeling the same way and were headed out of dodge just to be safe. We were able to get a teeny bit of reception and had called some friends in Leavenworth to confirm that everyone was okay and that we were safe to be up there. We got the go ahead, which was a big relief.
On day 3, the hike down McClellan had done a number on my feet, so I elected to stay behind to nurse my sad and broken paws while my friends headed up to Little Annapurna and Witch’s Tower. I soaked my feet in icy water, scared a few goats away, took a nap in a hammock, pumped water and did some backcountry laundry. For not being able to hike, I couldn’t complain much otherwise. When everyone else got back, the ladies pow-wowed in our sleeping bags while the guys took on a sunset hike. We watched them morph into 4 tiny lights drifting back down the mountain as evening set in.
Day 4 was a causal hike day around the bottom of the lakes. Myself, Mel and Roder decided to head up to Prusik Peak and then down again back into the basin. It was a little cloudy and windy but it was fun exploring around, finding our own trails and just seeing all there was to see. Unfortunately, the weather started to roll in in the afternoon and eventually, as we got back to camp, the winds picked up something FIERCE. Rain came in for a bit, so we hid in the tent, a few of us playing go-fish and eating all the extra food we could. Eventually the rain went away but the wind stayed. We later heard that it had started to blow though at 60mph gusts. It was incessant, non-stop till morning. Enough to make you crazy. You could hear it coming down the pass just howling before it actually hit our camp. SO MUCH WIND. We started building rock walls to try and block the wind as much as possible. Every time a gust came though, we thought the tent was just going to rip away. But it didn’t. Just a tiny hole in the rain fly and lots of dirt in our tent. We survived to live another day, imagine that.
Day 5 was the hike out. By this time, my pack was lighter because of less food…well, sorta. It was more bearable. I had re-packed a few things and was feeling stronger after hiking for a few days. We snapped a group pic, said a begrudging goodbye to the goats, and headed out. The hike out of Aasgard was not near as bad on the way down, mainly because it went so much faster. We got down in almost half the time it took us to go up. It was still precarious, but trekking poles, once again, proved them selves to be unexpendable. By the time we got to Colchuck we were definitely taking another swim in that wonderful cold alpine lake before hiking the rest of the way out. The rest of the hike out got harder and harder. As I moved down the mountain I became steadily quieter and incredibly focused. My body was starting to protest and all I could think was ‘just keep going’. And then I started counting. Apparently, I learned that I count when I’m exhausted as a distraction. And only in 10s, then I start over. When you’re to that point in your hike, there really is nothing better then bursting out of the tree line into the parking lot, throwing your pack off and collapsing in triumph. The only thing that made it better was Magic Vanagon Man. mmmhmmm…..yes. It’s exactly as you picture it. An angel in a VW Vanagon parked next to us with his family, had magically produced 4 ice cold Coronas and 1 Mikes Hard Lemonade (don’t judge). He gave us a nod to a job well done and we all shared them without protest. It was a magical moment. God bless you Corona Angel and your Magic Vanagon Family. To this day, you are my hero.
Enchantment Lakes was amazing. And with all my moaning and groaning, it was totally worth it. I learned a lot about myself, about packing, about what I actually like to eat while in the backcountry (more details on these learnings in another post). The lakes and mountains proved to be as beautiful and stunning as the pictures had shown. The views were beyond, and the goats were…..many. I also gained a huge appreciation for the people I get to call my friends. Finding like-minded folk that are easy and fun to travel with is rare. They make doing something that is already sure to be a blast even better and I cannot express how thankful I am to have them as my fellow Patagoonies.
Go outside, do awesome things.