Tupper's 2 Cents

Feet on the path and eyes wide open...

Tag: Enchantments

Hanging with the Mormon Ladies!

Second Solo Backpack Trip

Mormon Ladies Lakes Loop

Lake Edna, one of Mormon Ladies Lakes

Lake Edna, one of Mormon Ladies Lakes

For my second solo backpack trip, I planned to have another go at the Enchantments. After an unsuccessful attempt at such for the fourth of July trip, I still had Enchantments on the brain. I planned for a three-day, two night excursion, but stormy weather kept me in a campground in Leavenworth instead of in the mountains for that first night. I was set to hit the ranger station early Tuesday morning  to put in for a one-night stay in the Enchantments, hoping that on a Tuesday following a day of thunderstorms, competition for permits would be less.

When I arrived at the ranger station at 7:30, however, I could see that was not the case. Eight parties put in for the Core Enchantments, giving me a 1 in 8 chance to secure one. I honestly didn’t care that much if I got it or not, as I had a good back up plan.  And it’s a good thing I did, because again I was not selected. My usual good lottery karma seems to be on hold for this year…or maybe the universe knew that I really needed to go and spend my time with the Mormon Ladies, a group of lakes that I had heard about from the ranger after our previous failed enchantments permit attempt.

The Mormon Ladies Lakes loop takes off from the end of Icicle Creek Road, a popular road for hikes, backpack trips (including the Enchantments), campgrounds, rock climbing, and anything else outdoorsy you can think of. I’d never been to the end of the road, and I had never heard of the mormon ladies until earlier that month. I was drawn to the name of the lakes, the descriptions of them, the beauty apparent from my guide book, and the desire to simply get up into alpine lakes quickly and relatively easily. The lakes are apparently named after Brigham Young’s wives…Mary, Margaret, Florence, Flora, Edna, Ida, and Alice, to name a few. How many wives did he have?? There is also a paternal lake, aptly named Brigham Lake.

Icicle Creek Trailhead to Upper Florence Lake

In so many ways, this was the perfect backpack trip for me. I arrived at road’s end by 9:15 am, the Icicle Creek Trailhead. There was just one other couple there also getting ready to go. They were headed to Lake Leland, and would branch off from me at 4.5 miles. I realized that I could have near-complete solitude on this trip, which amazed me since my guidebook called this loop extremely popular and heavy with livestock.  Having done a solo backpack trip previously, my anxiety about being alone was much less acute this time around, and I relished the idea of quiet after anticipating the idea of crowds.

Frosty Creek

Frosty Creek

The first 4.5 miles of the trail meandered ever so gently through forest, gaining just 400 feet in that distance. Now that’s a great way to start a backpack trip! I loved letting my body warm up and get used to the weight of the pack on a flat stretch. And the trail was in great shape too…I felt like I was in heaven! I knew Frosty Pass was coming up, when the trail split off to Lake Leland and I continued up. My book described the switchbacks as hot and dusty, although the day was temperate and still held clouds from the previous day’s storms. I was prepared for anything, frankly, and enjoying just being out and on the trail.

And the trail up to Frosty Pass was definitely more challenging. There were lots of obstacles and blow downs, and much to climb up, over, and around. I had experienced lots of downed trees on my previous solo trip, unexpectedly, and it got to me. This time around, I fully expected challenge, and it didn’t phase me. I took it one step and obstacle at a time, and really did encounter each obstacle as a challenge instead of a discouragement. I was proud of myself and my attitude, and relished that the miles to the top of Frosty pass flew by.

View from Frosty Pass

View from Frosty Pass

In no time, I was at the turn off to Lake Margaret, the first of the ladies. I had no desire to camp there, as I was just hitting my stride. The trail had opened up, and cloud cover was increasing, with a threat of rain. But since it wasn’t too ominous, I continued on toward Mary Pass at 6900 feet. I had considered Lake Mary for a camping spot, but I encountered another solo female hiker heading down the pass as I was heading up. She said the bugs were REALLY bad at Mary, and she had opted to pitch her tent almost at the top of the pass to get a breeze and some reprieve. She was wandering and exploring after setting up camp, in an effort to stay moving and be less bothered by bugs. A mentality just like my own!  She had a dog with her, otherwise, I may have asked if I could join her little party. I liked her style, and she seemed to be about my age. (Note: it’s not that I don’t like dogs. But I do prefer my wilderness experience without them…just saying.)

View from Mary Pass

View from Mary Pass

On Mary's Pass

On Mary’s Pass

I topped out at Mary pass by 3:30, and I was feeling strong. I’d gained 4000 feet of elevation for the day, and, honestly, I barely felt it. Maybe it was my mindset of anything goes, how well my backpack was fitting, or the cool temperatures that were perfect for hiking…but I felt like I could go on forever. However, I had to figure out where to stay the night, as my camping options would be limited if I opted to go much further. The book had described Upper Florence Lake as THE place to camp (besides Mary)…but warned that one

Upper Florence Lake from Mary Pass

Upper Florence Lake from Mary Pass

could never find a campsite there. From Mary pass, I could see down to Upper Florence, and it looked like a great option to me. I dropped down, and actually missed the turn off to get to Florence, so intent was I on studying the lake for all those backpackers I was sure must be down there somewhere. I backtracked after I realized my error, found the trail to the lake, and dropped down. I’d seen clearly from my vantage point high above the lake the campsites, and felt certain that NO ONE was there. I thought maybe there was something wrong with the sites, or that I had the wrong lake. Not a soul was present, and I had my pick of sites.

Camping with Florence

My campsite

My campsite

View from my campsite...

View from my campsite…

It wasn’t even 5:00 pm when I dropped my belongings at my chosen site. It is unusual for me to stop hiking so early, particularly when I still had so much energy. But I took my time setting up camp, washing my feet in the lake and putting on long pants and sleeves. I could tell right away that the bugs were bad…they swarmed me constantly and relentlessly. I do not like bug spray and almost never use it. However, on this evening I did, and rubbed my bug hat and flaps with it to try to keep the bugs from driving me nuts. I have good bug tolerance overall, and rarely get bit. But these guys were plentiful and hungry after the previous day’s rain, and I was their only target!

I set my tent up and made dinner, all the while doing the bug shoo. It was distracting for sure. After dinner, I thought I’d go on an evening hike up to a nice knoll I could see from camp, to get away from the bugs. The clouds were coming and going, mostly coming, and the weather had a dramatic feel to it. Surprisingly, once I was done with dinner, I didn’t feel like putting my shoes back on and going anywhere. Instead, I crawled in my tent with the rain fly open…and the sun gleamed in as it flirted back and forth with the clouds. It was pleasant and lovely, and I was out of the bugs. I wrote and read some, until an acceptable amount of near-darkness allowed me to call it a day and try for sleep. I felt peaceful and satisfied with the day, and slept reasonably well.

Florence to Chatter Creek Trailhead

I was awake before first light. I lay in my tent until just after 5:00, when there was enough daylight to get up and moving. The morning was cold, and a heavy dew had settled in overnight. I actually relished this, as one of my fears for the JMT is that of trying to pack up and get ready to hit the trail when the morning is cold. My hands get cold easily and then they don’t work well or warm up well. I had brought hand warmers for this trip, and I decided to try it. I stuck a pair in my gloves, and made breakfast and coffee while alternately taking my fingers out of the finger compartments in my gloves to wrap around the hand warmers. This strategy worked well, and I was able to get everything broken down and put away without too much cold-hand trauma. The sun had entered the campsite by the time I was ready to go at 7:30, and the day looked to be lovely.

View from Ladies Pass

View from Ladies Pass

Marmots atop Ladies Pass

Marmots atop Ladies Pass

Ladies Pass was the next event on the trail. Just a mile or so away, it was all flowers, beauty, and views to get there. There was also snow, and the snow was too hard to traverse in the early morning chill, so I climbed up and around. The views were stupendous, and I felt like Maria in the Sound of Music! I came up and over Ladies Pass, and before me lay four mountain goats taking a rest above Lake Edna. The scene was pastoral and perfect. By the time I was camera ready, the goats had ambled off…but Marmots remained, and the lake below was serene and other-worldly. It reminded me of the Enchantment Lakes, and I was truly in awe of the splendor.

Lake Edna

Lake Edna

The trail wound down and around Lake Edna. I embraced it all, not wanting it to end. The trail splits shortly after Edna, and I would be heading back to Chatter Creek. Briefly, I entertained continuing along Icicle Ridge Trail. I knew you could go for many more miles, and still work your way back down to Icicle Creek Road via Fourth of July Creek Trail. But my car was already 3.5 miles from the trailhead I would come out at, and to go farther would be ludicrous. I didn’t want to leave the ridge, but reason won over. I turned for the Chatter Creek trail.

View from Lake Edna

View from Lake Edna

I assumed the trail would start to drop immediately. I had 4000 feet of elevation to lose. But instead, it went up and down, over boulder fields and more snow fields, and navigation was challenging. I had to stay on my toes, and try to keep track of the trail when it disappeared in rock and

snow. Eventually I topped out (again) at a pass, and the trail began to descend in earnest. Steep, open switchbacks, lay before me, and flowers and creek sightings. It didn’t look like too bad of a way to get back to the trailhead.

Chatter Creek

Chatter Creek

Down into the valley...

Down into the valley…

And it wasn’t. The hike ended as it started…quite perfectly. The trail past the last pass,  while steep, was in better shape than Frosty Pass, and easy to follow. I felt totally zen, and marveled at how good of a fit the trip was for me overall. I felt really good physically, and like I could have continued on for many more hours and days. THAT is what I wanted to feel, like I had gas in the tank at the end of the trail. I saw just one more lone hiker almost at the bottom of the Chatter Creek trail…for a sum total of four other hikers the entire 20 miles. On the road back to my car, I had nothing but positive thoughts about the trip overall.

What went right…

Altra Trail Runners and Dirty Girl gaiters...the perfect combo!

Altra Trail Runners and Dirty Girl gaiters…the perfect combo!

As I walked those last 3.5 miles on roads, I thought about what all had gone well. My gear was good, and my feet were good. I have come back to the great combination of trail runners and gaiters…and that’s how it will stay. I felt “one with the backpack”, similar to how I feel with my bike when I ride. At all times during the two days, I was at peace with my solitude, surroundings, and even the obstacles I encountered. I had lakes and flowers and mountains spread out before me like a first-class buffet. I got to do a loop hike, where each step took me somewhere new. And since it was a hike I had never done, it truly was all a new experience. I returned to my car with energy to spare, and ready to take on more. JMT here I come!

I simply could not have asked for more on this trip. It was perfect in every way.  (Well, except maybe the bugs…)


For more information on the Mormon Ladies Lakes loop, click HERE

4th of July Backpack Trip — Day 3

Aasgard Pass take two — With Shannon, Kevin, …and wind!

As planned, the three of us got an early start in order to do Aasgard Pass and the Enchantments as a day hike. It was the second day in a row for me, the first time ever for Shannon and Kevin. Shannon had previously backpacked down Aasgard but never been up it, and Kevin had seen the Enchantments from the Snow Lakes entrance, but never set foot on the pass. I told them we should leave camp by 7:00…we hit the trail by 7:20 am.

I knew this day would be longer than my 11-hour endeavor of the previous day. Shannon and Kevin don’t hike as fast and don’t like to rush. I was mentally prepared for this, and thought it would be a good break for my tired body.  I felt generally OK after a night of rest, although still fatigued, and my feet were hurting. The left foot was re-taped with blister bandaids and felt secure, but it was simply unhappy in the hiking boot. I wished I had my trail runners for a day of reprieve…alas, they were in the car. I DID take my poles for this days adventure, as I had missed having them in round one.

Stuart, Colchuck, and up Aasgard Pass

Our pace was good leaving Lake Stuart.  It was a great warm-up, and the fastest part of the day for sure. The morning was much cooler than the previous, as a wind had come up overnight and persisted. We still managed to shed clothes on the way up to Colchuck Lake, but it was breezy. At the overlook we snapped photos and snacked.

Kathie and Shannon at Colchuck Lake

Kathie and Shannon at Colchuck Lake

We chatted with a ranger I had seen the previous day, and he was impressed that I was up doing Aasgard again. As we chatted, a couple with a dog came up to the rock, plain as day. Dogs are not allowed in the Enchantment region, and signs clearly state this. The woman feigned ignorance, or maybe she really didn’t know. The ranger was merciless, and wrote her a ticket and sent them back down. A bummer of an ending for that couple’s day hike. 🙁

We worked our way around Colchuck Lake, and reached the base of the pass. Shannon is a better picture taker than me, and likes to take photos. She captured me at the base of Aasgard, just as we were heading up.

Starting the ascent...

Starting the ascent…

Our journey up the pass was quite a bit slower than the previous day. In the beginning I welcomed that, as I was tired and the slow pace suited me well. I noticed that my body felt less taxed at that pace. I also noticed that I didn’t get us off route. Either I paid closer attention while I waited for Shannon and Kevin, or else I felt a greater sense of responsibility for finding a good route with my daughter mommaandbabyand her boyfriend following behind! Either way, the first part of the pass was relatively uneventful.

On the way up we saw a momma and baby goat resting on a rock right on the route. I wondered if the baby was sick, as they didn’t move at all even when we came right near them…

Shannon and Kevin making their way up...

Shannon and Kevin making their way up…

All was well through the traverse of the snowfield. By the time we had crossed, it was clear that the wind was really picking up and it was getting cold. Shannon and I stopped to put on layers. I had a long sleeve thermal shirt, down jacket, and gloves, and I put it all on. Warm-blooded Kevin stayed in his t-shirt, still sweating!

The rest of the ascent was very cold and windy, and I was tremendously distracted by the cold. This is where going slow is frustrating, because I will usually use increased speed to warm up when I get cold. But since I wasn’t going to go ahead, and we kept moving up at a pace that didn’t require much exertion, I got more and more chilled. At the top, it was super cold, and we barely took time time to snap photos. At this point, even hot-bodied Kevin put on his down jacket!



A quick lunch at the highest lake, then back down the pass

We dropped down to the first of the Enchantment lakes to eat our lunch, and try to get out of the wind and warm up. We ate, but didn’t warm up. The wind was cold and relentless, and I longed for the previous day when I was in shorts and a tank top and sweating! I got obsessed with being cold, and wanted to get moving. I don’t function well when I am cold, and it is hard for me to warm up once I am solidly there.

We scurried back up to the pass, and began our descent in the biting wind. It took most of the way down Aasgard Pass for me to finally warm up. At one point, I wore Kevin’s down jacket on top of everything else I had on in an effort to get warm.  I felt under prepared, and a little silly for not bringing more clothes. Mostly, I felt acutely aware of how much conditions can and do change in the mountains…from one day to the next, and sometimes from one hour to the next.

The way down Aasgard was tedious and at times frustrating. It took us about three hours to get all the way down. I kept having to remind myself to be patient, and to enjoy the surroundings and company. It was quite the day, overall, and I didn’t want to dampen it by getting impatient about anything. Instead, I focused again on how my body felt at the slower pace, and noted that it did feel better and less stressed. The physical exhaustion, then, was definitely less. The mental exhaustion, though, was greater, as we were simply out there and in the thick of it for longer. Perhaps I can learn to strike some sort of happy medium between the two…

The final descent and back to camp

Once we were back to the Colchuck Lake trail, Shannon could sense my impatience and frustration with the pace. Half way down, she suggested I go ahead, for which I was grateful. She knows me well, and recognized that it took a toll on me going that slowly for the day. I thanked, her, and took off. I made it back to camp as swiftly as I could. The two days of intensity had worn me down, and I was ready to be done.

I was working on dinner prep when Shannon and Kevin came in at 8:25 pm. It was a thirteen hour day for them, just slightly less for me. We had all done it, a feat that felt like a huge accomplishment. I was happy and relieved that we all made it down safely and were back at camp. We even finished dinner and got into bed before the last glimmer of light left our campsite. A sleeping bag in a tent never felt so good!




4 of July Backpack Trip — Day 2

Day 2 — Day hike to Enchantments via Aasgard Pass

I awoke early Saturday morning, as is my normal habit while backpacking. Almost always I am awake before first light, and lie in bed waiting, watching, and listening…for daylight to come and the first birds to sing. At times I wish I was one of those people who could sleep in when circumstances allow for that. But that’s not my pattern, and I have come to accept that I will always be awake early and ready to get into whatever adventures the day holds. This day was no exception.

Retracing Stuart and up to Colchuck

I hit the trail early, before Shannon and Kevin even stirred. I left them a note, wishing them well at Horseshoe Lake, and saying I’d be back late afternoon or early evening. I didn’t have a time check, as I had no watch or phone. I made a mental note to purchase a watch before my John Muir trip in August, as I will be in a similar boat with  no phone reception.  Instinct told me I left camp about 7:00, and I was accurate enough. When I encountered the first hiker on the trail coming into Stuart, I asked him the time. It was 7:30. I knew I would have time to do whatever amount of hiking my soul desired and my body allowed.

The morning was quiet and contemplative, and I felt pretty good. I had doctored my left foot with a blister bandaid and tape to hold it in place, and it felt OK.  The trail out of Stuart is a great warm-up for a long day. Slightly downhill and very straightforward, it’s mindless and easy.  I reminded myself to enjoy it, as it was the last of the easy hiking until I hit it again in return after whatever else took place that day.  I kept a good pace and the 2.2 miles passed quickly.

The trail to Colchuck is a different story. It’s only 1.6 miles to the lake, then .6 around the lake to the base of Aasgard. But it’s somewhat steep, and full of roots, rocks, and obstacles. There is little to distract, although a nice waterfall provided a good picture op.

Waterfall from Colchuck Lake trail

Waterfall from Colchuck Lake trail

Otherwise, I occupied my mind with memories of past trips. This was my 6th time up Colchuck and Aasgard Pass.  The first time was with  my first husband, back in the rock climbing days and before kids. We climbed Prusik Peak, which is a stellar multi-pitch rock climb in the heart of the Enchantments. The second time I day-hiked it from Stuart when I was pregnant with Shannon; the third was a backpack trip with friends and co-workers when my kids were very young, and I left them at home with their dad for the first time ever.  The fourth was another backpack trip in my 30’s with my second husband, whom I almost killed off when he fell on his face at the top of Aasgard Pass from exhaustion; and the fifth was the thru-hike of the Enchantments two years previous. Now, at age 52, I felt good and reflective about how much life has changed since those early days, and yet I am still up to and loving the same sorts of activities. I felt grateful and blessed that I can still do it, and reminded myself again to enjoy each step along the way….even the harder ones to come.

Colchuck Lake with Aasgard Pass (left of peak)

Colchuck Lake with Aasgard Pass (left of peak)

One of my favorite views occurs when you first break out at Colchuck Lake. The lake is a deep green color, apparently from all the algae it contains. You can also see Aasgard Pass, and it looks just as intimidating as it is.

After a pause here, I continued around the lake, right by multiple campsites occupied by numerous hikers, and finally through the boulder field that is notoriously challenging. Soon I was at the base of the pass, where I ate, drank, and refilled water for the upcoming endeavor.

Up Aasgard and into the Enchantments!

I vowed to take it slow and steady up the pass. It’s steep, advertised as “2000 feet in 3/4 of a mile”. That distance, I swear, is if you head straight up. The “trail”, for what it’s worth, does not do so. It winds up and around cliffs, waterfalls and other obstacles impossible to navigate. The elevation gain I believe…the distance seems much farther than 3/4 of a mile. But as with so many other things in life, it just  is what it is, and it must be tackled one step at a time.

I stayed with the “route”, as much as possible, which is loosely defined by “cairns”. Cairns, if you are unfamiliar, are rock piles that hikers place to mark an otherwise not so obvious route. The problem with Aasgard is that there are many different “routes”, and sometimes following “lesser cairns” is not helpful and can get you off the “main” route. This often happens to me, for whatever reason, and I end up somewhere other than the most travelled path. This trip was no exception. I was trying to avoid the steep snow traverse on Aasgard, as I didn’t bring my poles. I am not sure why I left them behind…sometimes, I don’t like to hike with poles, and I want my hands free for other things. This trip was probably one time I should have brought poles, to help with the challenges both uphill and certainly down. But I didn’t, and the snow traverse made me nervous without them. So instead I went up and around, and got into some precarious bouldering. It wasn’t really dangerous but definitely not something I would choose again as a fall would have been dicey.

Colchuck Lake from Aasgard Pass

Colchuck Lake from
Aasgard Pass

At the top of my route deviation, I came upon four young guys laughing and playing and having a grand old time. They reminded me of the mountain goats that you see in abundance in the Enchantments…cavorting around, as if not a care in the world. At first I looked at them like they were crazy, then said hello. Their carefree attitude reminded me not to take myself so seriously…at no point had I felt at risk for my life, even when off course,  and sometimes my own  seriousness gets to me. “Lighten up, Kathie!”  was my motto as I continued on. At this point, I was back on the established route, and the route was quite obvious for the remainder of the pass. I topped out at 7800 feet shortly thereafter.

The views from the top are magnificent. You can see down to Colchuck, out to the Upper Enchantment lakes, as well as multiple peaks and stellar rock formations all around. It’s simply other-worldly, as if you have entered a different universe entirely. I climbed to and sat on the very highest rock, and enjoyed it all. I felt on top of the world! The same four guys came up shortly after, still laughing, talking, and now taking photos. I asked them the time (11:15), and where they were from. They were Navy guys, stationed at Whidbey, out on a long weekend.

Sitting on top of the world!

Sitting on top of the world!

We chatted and they took some photos of me and I of them. They were through hikers, headed out via Snow Lakes with a car at that trailhead. They invited me to join them…I felt flattered, and wished I could. But I told them I would have a very worried daughter back at Stuart Lake if I didn’t return that evening.

The Enchantments are, well, enchanting. Words cannot do the magnificence proper justice; nor can pictures. The upper lakes on this day were mostly snow covered, with glimpses of them a deep aqua hue. Mountain goats are always plentiful in the area, and this early in the season, the babies were young, small, and adorable.

Momma and babies

Momma and babies

Mostly snow covered lakes

Mostly snow covered lakes

I dropped down over snowfield after snowfield, getting farther into the Upper and Middle Enchantments basin. I didn’t want to turn around, but I also didn’t want to linger too long as I still had to retrace my steps and do everything in reverse.  I went as far as the overlook to Prusik Peak, and had a hiker take a photo.

Prusik Peak

Prusik Peak

Prusik is beautiful, and seeing it made me nostalgic for the good old rock-climbing days. I felt satisfied enough at this point to turn back, and began the snow ascent back to the top of Aasgard Pass.

Down Aasgard — during a helicopter rescue!

I said a final goodbye to the goats and the lakes before heading back down. I had decided to go across the snowfield on the way down, as it seemed the best route even without poles. I stayed true to the course in the upper half of the descent. I crossed the snowfield using my uphill hand as a balance point, and took it slowly and carefully. The grade is steep enough that a fall would be bad, so I made sure to stay focussed.

Shortly after the snow traverse, I started hearing the distant noise of a helicopter. At first it didn’t really register, but soon it was obvious what it was as the noise drew ever closer. A helicopter in that area can only mean one thing: search and rescue. I was instantly on guard, and soon the helicopter was hovering right in front of me, just a bit down the pass. I watched with amazement as a rope was lowered, and just as quickly a stretcher was apparently tied on and airlifted up and out. It happened so fast, and I found myself wondering what had gone on. An accident of some sort, no doubt, but they swooped in and out with incredible speed. As I was trying to puzzle all of this out,  I discovered that I had gotten distracted and off route — again. This time, I was, perhaps subconsciously, headed towards the side of the pass where the rescue had taken place. I found myself in amongst steep trees with no cairns, and staring down a long and steep snow field to the left of me. I could see the rescue crew down below, and they were clearly not on any established route. It freaked me out, surmising just how such an accident could take place. Get a bit off the trail, think you can keep working your way down, take a fall and off you go!

I immediately turned around and headed back up. Soon I heard voices above me and knew I was almost back on the route. It shook me up, not because I felt I would actually fall and get hurt, but because I could see how it could happen. I paid close attention after that, and continued working my way down.  I felt grateful to be navigating with all body parts intact.

A short bit farther down, I caught up with the rescue crew (three men and two rangers). I asked them what had happened, and learned that a dead body had just been removed from the pass. Apparently, a hiker had slipped and glissaded over a waterfall four weeks previous, and his body had been buried too deeply in snow to evacuate at the time. The three men, all volunteers who did not know the hiker, had hiked in to dig out the body when enough snow had melted. The rangers helped facilitate the helicopter evacuation of said body. Again, this really impacted me, and I kept thinking about it as I finished the descent of the pass. I have hiked for so long without serious injury, and never think something like that will happen. But there was something about being right there that brought it all home, the realization that you can never be too careful in that type of environment.

Down Colchuck, back to Stuart, and straight into the lake!

After the events on the pass, I just wanted to be done with the day. I got my feet wet coming around the lake on the way back, and my tape job worked it’s way off. I had a mess of tape all balled up at the toe, and I stopped to re-tape before heading down from Colchuck. I didn’t use a blister bandaid, though, telling myself it was less than four miles total. My foot complained loudly at each step of those four miles, and the pain really started to get to me. So did my fatigue from the day, and I started to get cranky. There were also tons of people on the trail, which meant lots of starting and stopping to let others pass. I kept my wits about me, but had to work to keep myself from feeling frustrated.

Finally I was at the Stuart turn-off, and into the last 2.2 miles back to camp. At this point, I knew I would make it, and my thoughts turned to jumping right into the lake when I returned. The day had been warm, and I felt sweaty, sticky, and dirty. The image of the lake and jumping in kept me going at a good pace, and I made it back to camp by 6:00, before Shannon and Kevin even returned from their day at Horseshoe Lake. I was truly exhausted after the 15 + mile day, and I jumped in the cool water with all my clothes on. It was refreshing and healing for my tired body and very sore feet.

Dinner followed my swim and Shannon and Kevin’s return. We swapped stories of the day, and made plans for the next one. I told them as much as I could about the route, conditions, and degree of challenge we would all face should we decide to go up Aasgard the next day. Both Shannon and Kevin really wanted to go, and, since I had promised I would go another round, we made plans for an early start that next day. I went to bed with seriously aching feet, a great sense of accomplishment, a sobered sense of what it means to hike in the mountains…and more than a bit of trepidation about doing it all over again the next day.






4th of July Backpack Trip — Overview and Day 1


The Enchantments

The Enchantments

The plan over the 4th of July weekend was to take four days and go on my first backpack trip of the year.  I took Friday – Monday off, with the intention of trying out the new gear and my feet on a trip of some duration and challenge. My daughter, Shannon, and her boyfriend, Kevin, also had the time off, and we planned to meet in Leavenworth Friday morning and try for a walk-in permit to backpack into the Enchantments for three nights. We had all been to the Enchantments  in various capacities before, and there is no question that the beautiful and contemplative nature of the lakes is unparalleled. We also knew our chances were less than stellar for getting a permit, as only one walk-in permit is issued to backpack in the “Core Enchantments” area each day. Knowing this, we devised a couple of possible back-up plans.

I drove over and camped Thursday night, to make sure to be at the Ranger Station for the drawing Friday morning. Luckily I arrived early, as I thought the drawing was at 8:00, but it was actually at 7:45. When I arrived at 7:30, there was already a large crowd outside waiting. I’d mistakenly told Shannon and Kevin to arrive at 8:00, so I had to decide what to do on my own. I usually have good luck with lotteries for hikes and trips, and I optimistically put in for the Core.  We did’t get it. I then put in for Stuart Lake in a secondary drawing, and we didn’t get that either. Thankfully, a young couple took pity on me, and gave me their Stuart permit, saying they couldn’t make it in until very late, and would try again tomorrow. So when Shannon and Kevin arrived right at 8:00, our fate had been decided, and we were camping all three nights at Stuart Lake.

There is theoretically nothing wrong with Stuart Lake. I have camped there before, and successfully day hiked into the Enchantments from there.  In fact, the last and only time I’ve done that I was pregnant with Shannon! It seemed somehow fitting that I would be doing it 27 years later, with her now as a full-on adult. The drawback is that backtracking is required. You must return 2.2 miles from the lake to a cut-off to Colchuck Lake, hike another 2.5 miles through roots, rocks, and eventually boulders to and around Colchuck Lake, before even encountering the intimidating and daunting Aasgard pass. One gateway to the enchantments, Aasgard Pass is extremely steep, gaining 2000 feet in 3/4 mile.  It’s no picnic, but we consoled ourselves that at least we wouldn’t be doing it with backpacks.  I asked the ranger about other day hike possibilities from Stuart, and she mentioned Horseshoe Lake, a “fisherman’s trail” leading to a high mountain lake. I kept that in my mind as we headed to “second breakfast” for Shannon and Kevin, who had been up since 4:00 to reach Leavenworth by 8:00.

At breakfast, we looked at maps and discussed our fate. I felt fine about Stuart, as I figured if I could do it pregnant, I could surely do it now…older, yes, but much wiser too 🙂  I had also day-hiked the entire Enchantment region, up Aasgard and all the way through the Upper, Middle, and Lower Enchantment Lakes,  and out the Snow Lakes Trailhead on a long, beautiful, but somewhat grueling 18.5-mile day hike two years previous. But Shannon and Kevin have done less backpacking and hiking, and we agreed to just take the whole trip a day at a time. Our goal was to have fun and enjoy being together in a magical place.

Day 1 — Backpack to Stuart Lake and day hike to Horseshoe Lake

Ready to roll!

We finally hit the trailhead at 11:00 am. Our total backpack miles to the lake was only 4.5, for which I was thankful when I discovered how heavy and full my pack was. I brought my own tent, stove, and food as if I were on a long solo hike, in preparation for the John Muir Trail in August. The pack held everything except my trail running  shoes, which I wanted to bring in case I couldn’t tolerate the hiking boots. But they wouldn’t fit, and I didn’t want to hang them on the outside of my already obscenely full pack, so I decided to risk it and leave them behind. I had struggled with the pressure on the bottom of the left foot with the boots, and wasn’t sure how it would go. But I figured if it was completely intolerable, I could just head back to the car and retrieve my shoes. Such is one benefit of a short backpack distance!

Mt. Stuart from Stuart Lake trail

Mt. Stuart from Stuart Lake trail

The hike to Stuart Lake was gradual, gaining  only 1500 feet of elevation. We arrived at the lake just early enough to find a campsite. The place was busy, and most campsites were taken. After scouring the entire side of the lake for sites,  we settled on one that comfortably took both tents, provided easy access to water and swimming should we feel so inclined, and had good places to sit and cook. I knew I could happily call it home for three nights.

After setting up camp and snacking, it was still early, around 4:00. I thought I’d head out to explore the trail beyond Stuart Lake, that the ranger said eventually led to Horseshoe Lake. I didn’t know how far it was, and it was not on our map. I took no water, camera, or hiking poles, in fact nothing but an extra shirt and my chapstick. I didn’t necessarily plan to go the distance, I just wanted to wander a bit. The bugs were bothersome enough that hanging around camp wasn’t going to do it for me with that many hours of  daylight remaining. It’s a well-known fact that a moving target is harder for bugs to torture than a sedentary one!

The trail meandered past Stuart, mostly flat. There were lots of blow-downs, fallen trees to step over or walk around. The trail was muddy in parts, and not well maintained. “So that’s what they call a fisherman’s trail”, I thought. After a bit I encountered a couple coming the opposite direction, and I asked them about Horseshoe Lake. The woman told me the trail was well marked with a horseshoe (duh!) on a tree at this trail’s end, where it turned right and headed “basically straight up the  hill”. She said it was very steep and challenging at that point, but relatively short, a mile or so. I was still keeping the option open to turn back, but once I reached the horseshoe, I knew I would keep going. And the trail WAS very steep, with lots more obstacles and challenges. But I was on a mission to reach the top.

After a very short section of slick and steep snow, I topped out. The lake was absolutely stunning! It was one of those times when I am fully aware of the drawback of hiking alone…there is no one to instantly share the beauty with. I wished Shannon and Kevin were there, and I felt sad they were not. I also felt sad I’d forgotten my camera and had no way to capture the memory besides in my mind. .I stayed and absorbed as much of the natural beauty as I could for a short 15 minutes. I didn’t want to stay too long, as no one else was up there, and it was a steep, though short, way down. I told myself I would have to somehow get Shannon and Kevin up there, to capture a photo and enjoy the lake for a longer period of time than I was able to.

Back at camp, I told Shannon and Kevin of my stupendous find. I said the trail wasn’t easy, but it was short and very well worth it. They had decided on an easier day-hike for the following day, as they were still recovering from soccer the previous night. So the plan was established that they would hike to Horseshoe with camera and hammock and hang out there Saturday.  I planned to get an early start and head up Aasgard and into the Enchantments. They didn’t want to go for that long or intense of a hike that next day, but Shannon made me promise I would do it again on Sunday with them if they wanted to.  I laid the groundwork, then, for back to back days heading up into the Enchantments via Aasgard Pass, a task that I knew would not be easy to accomplish.

Horseshoe Lake

Horseshoe Lake

Photos courtesy of Shannon and Kevin

Photos courtesy of Shannon and Kevin

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