The larches are here :-D! We did the end to end though hike in one day and call me crazy, but Aasgard was my favorite part of this hike. It was fun in the nice cool weather and the views were incredible and ever changing. I also appreciated the last couple miles of the hike down from Nada to the parking lot. We heard that it would be a boring slog and yeah, my body was ready to be done, but the scenery was still stunning. Not that I would want anything to do with going down the other way, but I actually found the scrambles getting down to Upper Snow Lake to be more challenging than Aasgard.
We used the Loop Connector Shuttle to leave a car at Snow Lakes so it would be waiting for us and took the 6AM shuttle to Colchuck. Road up to Snow lake was great, between Snow and Colchuck it turns into a gravel washboard which is annoying but very few holes and nice and wide.
Both parking lots were fairly empty, but the night before had been stormy and we heard many permit holders were unable to camp due to the high winds. We ended up with a mix of clouds, mist, drizzle, light snow, and occasional sun. Some of the visibility in the Core Zone was less than ideal at times, but we had it practically to ourselves. There were only a couple groups at Colchuck and a couple on the pass, then maybe 6 groups the rest of the day.
We started around 6:30, just as things were starting to light up and finished just after dusk. 10 minutes faster and we could have forgone the headlamps completely.
To me, the views from the pass were some of the best I've experienced. Between the beautiful water, snow kissed mountains, cascading waterfalls, fall colors, and ominous rock walls, it was incredible! The larches at Colchuck are still green but as you make your way up the pass they slowly transition to yellow with some brilliant ones near the top and many many more scattered all through the Core Zone. As we reached the top we got a brief view of the glaciers just as the mist swirled in.
I had a little trouble mentally enjoying the first half hour or so at the top with the chilly mist swirling around us. It was a cool mars like landscape with bright red lichens and yellow larches, but I just couldn't get over the idea that all the cool mountains were hiding in the fog. It got better though. Crystal Lake was one of my favorites and after that we just saw one stunning lake after another.
Watch your time and don't underestimate the rest of this hike. In the Core the trail alternated between easy, but rocky and occasional scrambles. The trail down to Upper Snow Lake was very time consuming. It felt like one giant scramble, nothing too sketchy as long as it is dry, but lots of careful foot placements and careful sliding down the rocks on my butt (which was wet so I ended up soaked for a bit). After Snow it eases up and goes to just rocky switchbacks where poles are infinitely helpful. There was a water spout with water shooting 50 ft in the air along part of the switchbacks and we found a spot with a great view for a little break. If you get a chance, go investigate the source of that water, I found it hilarious.
The last bit after Nada Lake brings you along a rushing river with a couple waterfalls and that sound stays with you for the rest of the hike. You walk down through a canyon and switchback your way back down to the road. We hit this part around sunset and the combination of the fall colors and jagged cliffs was beautiful. As it got dark the clouds turned orange and we could see little twinkling lights of houses in the distance. Be ready, there is one last uphill to get back to the trailhead, right after the big bridge, but it is only a tiny bit.
No animals other than a few marmots and pikas, but lots of goat droppings. Water levels were low in some of the lakes but there was plenty of water to filter everywhere.