If you’re a very strong hiker, you can make it in and out [of the Enchantments] via either trailhead in a single day, although seeing all of the lakes this way is so grueling it borders on the impossible. –WTA
As 2017 wraps up, I was thinking back to my favorite running accomplishment of the past year. With moving to Seattle in July, I thought, ‘Perfect! I’ll grab a couple of race finishes in a new-to-me part of the country!’ But, apparently leaving a state I called home for several years, starting a new job, and navigating life in a new city is time-consuming, and adding the cost of races on top of moving expenses just didn’t add up. So, my most memorable running accomplishment of the year wasn’t really a run at all, instead a thru-hike in one of the most beautiful places in Washington and also one of the most challenging endurance events I’ve done to date ranks highest on the 2017 list.
At the start of the work day one morning in late September, a co-worker asked if I’d be interested in joining him and a few buddies on a grueling 18+ mile hike through the Enchantments, a gorgeous area located within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, not far from Leavenworth, WA. Of course, I said absolutely! Sure, my legs had dabbled in a few ultra-events, but at the time of the invite I was averaging a few miles a few days a week. Probably most helpful though was spending a day or two a week bussing to a new neighborhood to run and explore, then walk several miles home. In other words, I was in “great” shape for hiking 2,200 feet in less than a mile through a mountain pass.
We left Seattle Friday afternoon and set up camp at Eightmile Campground. My co-worker’s Mountaineer friends arrived later that evening and not long after we all settled into our tents for a few hours of sleep before our 4:30am wake-up call. As bad luck would have it, my co-worker ended up with food poisoning and I can’t imagine how miserable that must’ve been overnight, in a tent, and even worse, having to miss out on the big hike. Fast forward through car logistics, a quick breakfast in the dark, and driving to the Stuart Lake Trailhead. Headlamps on, outhouse utilized, I started what would end up taking 12 hours to complete with three people I had just met the previous evening and who each seemed far more experienced for this type of endeavor. Confidence on hold, a more pressing issue emerged: my vision was blurry. I tried in vain to adjust my contacts, swapping back and forth thinking I had made in error in the dark, loaded my eyes with drops, but nothing worked. The group offered to stop while I swapped the contacts for glasses (luckily, I had decided on a whim to bring them along, although I’d never done that before for a hike). Already feeling like the weakest link, the eyewear issue didn’t help, but glasses on, the blurriness disappeared and I fully enjoyed viewing the early morning sun seep through the trees as we made our way through the easiest part of the day.
And here’s one reason why making a career out of writing race recaps or hiking adventures is out of the question for me—I’m awful at remembering the details. What I did know at the time and what I remember now is how beautiful the Enchantments are and how grueling the hike was! The combination of elevation gain (Aasgard Pass alone was 1,900 feet in less than a mile), difficult terrain, and speedy hiking partners pushed my body and mind in ways reminiscent of the couple ultras I finished, but with the bonus of working through an issue with my confidence, since this was only 20 miles. I recall the brief altitude sickness, the intense change in temperature (hello, snow and ice), and a scary moment when screams were followed by a boulder barreling down Aasgard Pass as we were climbing up.
So, here we go with a few photos from the day in chronological order, with a few details that I do know and a few others that the Washington Trail Association is awesome enough to provide.
The Enchantments Thru-hike Stats: Sept. 30, 2017 / Colchuck Lake -> Aasgard Pass -> Snow Lake 12 hours, 28 minutes / 20.64 miles / 5,189 ft elevation gain / 7,845 ft max elevation