Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Enchantments


Words cannot properly describe, and no photo will ever do justice to the landscape and experience recounted below. It is something people must see for themselves. Without first-hand experience The Enchantments is something a mind cannot comprehend. 

The night of our arrival:

Cruising through the gorge, across the Columbia River, and up into the hills. We find ourselves surrounded by a smell reminiscent of my childhood; dry grass. It is a hot day, but we stay cool in the comfort of the Jeep; Brandon driving, Josh riding shotgun, and us 'women folk' in the back seat. 

As the 5 hour mark comes ever closer the landscape changes immensely. Rolling hills blanketed by dry grass are swapped for peaks with fir trees. Driving through Leavenworth we experience a wonderland of sorts; where everything is "ye old." Reaching the edge of town we take a left toward our destination. The rain begins to fall. 

Few miles up the road we find a campsite, abandoning the plan to camp at the trailhead and seeking comfortable shelter from the rain that might be accompanied by fire. Brandon made an exceptionally delicious vegetable soup and potato rolls. Heated on the propane stove and served in camping mugs. 

I apply my outer most layer (rain pants and jacket) as does everyone else. I sit comfortably as the rain falls on my head, eating soup, and enjoying the heat from our fire. The sun, hidden by clouds, sets and we relax and chat while enjoying tapioca pudding with mangoes Josh brought to share. It was tasty, not too sweet, a very nice way to top off before bed. 

As the rain encouraged the other three to retreat into the tent. I opted to continue to enjoy the fire and rain from the shelter of a tarp we had strung from tree to tree. Soon after I join the trio; I lay and begin to fall asleep as the others read and listen to the rain landing around us.  

The day to start all days:

The light of morning wakes us. The rain has subsided, and we comfortably walk about without feeling confined to the protection of out shelter. We punctuate our packing with a breakfast of oatmeal and share a delicious burrito Brittany made. Brittany and Brandon each have a burrito; Wrapped in foil and warmed on the propane stove. 

We head up the Forest Road toward the trailhead. The scenery, while beautiful, is very grey. We reach the trailhead and do a final gear-up: Shoes on, packs on, permits properly displayed.

And so began our 4+ mile accent into the alpine lakes wilderness. A very gradual climb at first, over cascading streams. Many man-made bridges allow us to safely pass. 

As the tree cover slowly recedes we feel ourselves coming to points with panoramic views of the valley we came through and the peaks we have yet to reach. Crossing a final bridge, leading us up through massive boulders, we recognize that the landscape is changing. The brown dirt is replaced by grey sand, and the rocks change from plain to shining white with black specks. 

Josh and I have been hiking alone, Brandon and Brittany fall back. We use the time to chat. We periodically shed our packs, wait, have a bar, and rest. The viewpoints are incredible. The number of photos I take seems outrageous, but everywhere I look there is something I want to remember. 

As we hit the crest of Colchuck Lake the anticipation builds. I know what I've seen in photos, but the wonder of what awaits in reality makes every step seem like an eternity. A glimpse here and there does not satisfy. We finally make it to a point where the majority of the lake is in view and we can see Aasgard Pass. It is epic. 

Aasgard Pass

The steep cascading rocks of Aasgard littered with hikers, and the turquoise of the lake matched against the grey landscape of the boulder field is everything you've seen in photos, but the energy is nothing I could ever contain in a sentence. 

We continue walking and the hunt for a camp spot began; pausing moment to moment to see the lake from a new angle. To the west there is another lake, small and green. The famed site from the year prior is already occupied so we head along the hiking path, exploring the offshoots looking for a nice place with access to the lake and a nice space for 2 tents. Still wearing my pack I hop down over some well traversed logs to find a very soft looking area. Crossing over more logs to the south I meet a pair of folks packing their site and heading toward Aasgard. 

Janie and Paul. They are through hiking and have a core pass. It is Janie's first time and she is somewhat fearful of ascending Aasgard with her full pack. She is very conversational and has the brightest blue eyes; they look like the lake. They politely offer us their site and we continue the conversation. They tell us of a nice spring for water. Josh heads back to lead Brittany and Brandon to what we found. 

Toilet...Sort of...
Janie and Paul encourage us to hang our food as they encountered mice which chewed through their tent, ate some snacks, and tore through and entire roll of toilet paper during the night. We properly introduced ourselves, I wished them luck, and looked forward to running into them in The Core. 

I set up the tent and get comfortable waiting for Josh to arrive with B&B. When they do Josh heads out to fetch water to purify. We explore the lake access, which includes hopping down from the roots of a down tree onto some rocks sitting slightly above the water. Next to our site is a huge boulder with two, skinny, down trees set up like a ramp. The view from the boulder is perfect. East facing, full view of the pass, the beach that sits below it, and the wild man swimming the lake end to end in a dry suit. We watch in awe. 

After settling in and having some food Josh and I head to the boulder field to climb around and see the pass up close. We follow the Cairns across, and end up sitting on the white sand beach. We remove our shoes and look north. The entire lake is in view and the sun is shining on us. 

From out of the trees and brush come Austin and Rebecca. Austin is a taller brown bearded fellow in a green jacket and Rebecca has light brown hair tied up in a bun, with a thick ear warming headband. They are taking a long trip moving from Indiana to northern Washington. They are adventurers. He is a photographer. They came to the base of the pass with the same intention we did: to stare at Aasgard and think about the time and effort it would take to reach the top. We talked for the better part of 30 minutes. Soon the sun hid behind the ridge and we headed back in pursuit of dinner and more layers. 

Using the trusty Jet Boil we re-hydrated one of our Backpackers meals. We poured it into our mugs and climbed atop the boulder to see the sun line recede along the ridge. We washed our dishes and enjoyed some chocolate and tea as the stars appeared. It would be a cool clear night. 

The East View of the Sunset from Our Boulder

When we had seen all we felt we could see we retreated to our tent; brushing our teeth and getting cozy in our sleeping bags for the night. We had a long day ahead and restful sleep would be the best way to prepare. 

The morning up:

Standard practice: Goof off in the tent, dress, and make oatmeal. We enjoy every bite. My world is surrounded by things I can't explain. 

Across the Boulder Field we go...

40 minutes to cross the boulder field. 20 minutes into the hike up the pass I shed my hat and gloves. Sweating under my jacket, but we stopped and the chill of morning is still in the air, so I leave it on. We snap some more photos and wait for B&B. 

One more stop on the way up. We break out some bars and mangoes. We watching B&B climb to reach us. Pause and chat...soldier on. 

It was like climbing stairs for 2 hours, big stairs.  Coming up on the crest of Aasgard was like entering Colchuck multiplied by a million. The sun was no longer hidden by the peaks, and the most taxing part of the day was behind us. 

We left poop camp (aka the shit box, aka the toilet) at 7:22am. Josh and I reached to top at just after 10:00am. He pooped in the core ‘toilet.’ I climbed on a large rock, took off my shoes and started basking in the sun. A cold breeze is balanced by the sun's warmth, it will only get warmer. The view from the rock plays host to two separate lakes, a trickling spring, and peaks separated by Glaciers. The rocks are covered in moss that reminds me of barnacles. 

I was happy to be there. It is amazing to share these kinds of experiences with someone so important. This trip will serve as the kick off to fall and the rest of our life. It's amazing the ups and downs we have put ourselves through in the last 8 months; only to end up here. I was thinking on the way up how our life will be like this trip. Sometimes monotonous, often exciting, beautiful, and a place that only a small percentage of people reach in their lifetime.

I sat waiting...knowing...that this was where I was supposed to be. 

It was another 40 minutes before we saw B&B.

After waiting we went off in search of our friends. We spotted goats and ran into Austin and Rebecca. In our search we passed B&B as they headed down to the lake to get water. We decided as a group to head east toward Snow Lakes where we would have food and gaze in wonder at more of nature. 

Overlooking Snow Lakes

We climbed over rocks and followed cairns to glaciers and found ourselves overlooking Snow Lakes. Together we four sat, we were soon joined by Austin and Rebecca, who also came to enjoy lunch and a little rest. 

We all politely chat and talk about our journey up. Josh and I decide that we will hike to the top of Little Anna Purna and see what 1,000 more feet of elevation has to offer. We wander a bit, looking for cairns...scrambling up the hill, avoiding glacier crossings. We finally see a cairn and out from behind a rock appears Janie and Paul. We chat about the route to the top; they assure us it isn't much further, and that it is 100% worth the effort. 

The terrain is crumbly, and the path winds. We reach the top and find ourselves on the edge. The wind is blowing and the view is remarkable. Snow covered mountains in the distance, the entire core in view, Snow Lakes, peaks like I have never seen. This experience, this extra 1,000 feet we climbed, this view, is the key to our success, understanding that the extra work is worth the outcome. 

It isn't too long before we begin our descent from 8,460 feet above sea level back to the 5,400 feet where Colchuck sits. From the top of Anna Purna we follow the cairns down to the Enchantment Lakes and watch two fellows jump off rocks into the glacier water...brave. 

We head toward the pass. Soon we are hopping down rock to rock, cairn to cairn. There were many hikers heading with full packs in the opposite direction. I felt invigorated seeing how exhausted they were. I did not pity them, I was jealous. I want to have the chance to accept that challenge. 

I like wildflowers, just...FYI
About 1/3 of the way down we find B&B. Slowing momentarily to chat. They started their descent at the top of Aasgard around the time we left the top of Little Anna Purna. We continue on. We reach the beach in no time. Pausing to enjoy our accomplishment, but realizing we still have a boulder field to cross. 

We determine that the first order of business when we reach camp will be to bathe. The shade and the frigid temperature of the lake will not stop us from the glorious feeling of freshness. The thought injects the bit of pep we need to get back swiftly. 

Reaching camp, we gather what we need to bathe. Climbing down over the tree I strip naked and become 'one with nature.' (The reality is that I love being naked outside. I'm not put off by others who do the same. It's normal.) We lather up and fret submerging our entire bodies in the freezing water, but we do it. The bath is swift and refreshing. After the entire day, I didn't think I could move that fast again...

Partially dressing and returning to our tent we gather the food we will need for the night and post up in the tent. Against the advice from the manufacturers, we jet boil our water in the tent. 

It is quite some time before B&B return to camp. They are beat. The trek from the top of Aasgard took them nearly an hour longer than ours from the top of Anna Purna. Brittany climbs in the tent; Brandon takes a freezing lake bath and joins Brittany. They have the same idea we do...Lay down. We chat back and forth through the tent walls and eventually retire to our own conversations. 

We eat a backpacker’s meal, have a bar or two, and finish off the rest of the snacks and treats we had. 

Steeping some tea just before bed, we chat more about what we had experienced that day and what we hope to experience in our future. Every moment of that day was worth the experience. The level of difficulty matched with the beauty will be forever marked in my mind. 

The Final Decent:

Before daylight we are awoken by the flicker of headlamps as ‘through hikers’ make their way to the boulder field and Aasgard. Drifting back to sleep for a short time, we are soon up and breaking down camp. Making oatmeal and packing our belongings, getting ready for the hike back down to the car. 

We make our way, finding a great final spot to take a group photo at Colchuck; still stunned by the color, even on this overcast morning. We move along, bypassing the ‘toilet’ and heading away from this world of wonder.

As we descend the terrain changes. Just as I had noticed on the way in the boulders and sand is exchanged for trees and dirt; the shade becoming more important as the temperature rose. Pausing here and there to look back at what we had seen, but moving quickly so as to reduce the time until we could eat and relax. Walking for most of the time, engaged in conversation, we came to the T intersection and waited for our friends.

Its a heart
I stripped off a base layer, and we talked with people coming through to Stuart Lakes as well as heading up toward Colchuck. The sun warmed us as we ate an apple each. When B&B arrived we tightened up our pack straps and headed out; chatting for a brief moment until we were once again alone moving down the hill. At certain points during the lower half of the trail we found ourselves jogging; it seemed easier than resisting gravity on the down hills. We talked some, and mingled with other folks headed in the opposite direction. It was peaceful and fulfilling.

At long last we arrived at the trailhead. Congratulating ourselves on completing the journey we quickly escaped the confines of our packs and boots, and traded sweaty tech clothes for fresh cotton t-shirts. It was chilly in the shade, so we used the folding chairs that were in the car and sat in the sun. Enjoying the warmth and listening to the conversations of hikers who were just arriving. In a very short time our friends popped out of the woods and we piled in the car. Smelly and sweaty, we headed toward Leavenworth in search of snacks and drinks for the ride home.

After a long day in the car we arrived home to 90ish degrees. Tired and tight from the hike out and sitting still for hours, we unloaded our gear and headed toward the house. The cleanup process would begin, and packs would be packed away.

Although this trip ended, it is just one chapter in a book filled with many adventures.

No comments:

Post a Comment