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Enchanted, Indeed

Posted by Rebecca Lavigne at Jul 30, 2009 07:55 PM |

This is my first hiking season in Washington since 2004. Now that I’m back, I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do! This past weekend, I crossed a biggie off my list: The Enchantment Lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, considered by many to be a must-do hike.

This was a trip long in the making. Wilderness permits are required to hike into The Enchantments, so when they went up for grabs on March 1, I made sure my application was in the first drawing.

Permit in hand, I set out with my husband Dan and two other hiking companions on the Snow Lake Trail. Our first destination was Upper Snow Lake, and as we slowly made the 6.75-mile, 3900-foot climb to camp, there were a few welcome distractions from the hard work. Ripe red thimbleberries made the perfect juicy snack. The raging waters of Snow Creek and crystal clear Nada Lake soothed my tired feet. The sweet smell of wildflowers carried me up the final, steep stretch.

Snow Lake made a beautiful camp for our first night, its shining waters framed by McClellan Peak (8364’) to the south and the Temple (8292’) to the north. The next morning we tackled the 1400-foot climb into the Enchantments basin—not so bad, really.

We set up camp the next two nights at Sprite Lake in view of heather meadows, granite spires, and the occasional mountain goat. It would have been pure bliss, except for the never-ending swarms of mosquitoes. We climbed up the granite on the southeast side of the lake to an overlook above Crystal Lake, grateful for the lack of bugs.

I’m easily charmed by four-legged creatures. Plants don’t need much more than an ability to photosynthesize to get my attention. And craggy peaks, well, something would be wrong if I wasn’t completely awestruck by their presence. So as I wandered around the Enchantments, no more than a couple of minutes would pass without saying, “Ohhh! Look at these flowers!” or “Did you see the twisted trunk of that larch” or “Get the camera.” If my husband found it tiresome, he didn’t show it.

I had heard the upper basin described as a moonscape, but in late July flowers were bursting from nearly every crevice of granite. Goat kids frolicked near their moms.

The first night at Sprite Lake, we ate dinner in the tent while a thunderstorm passed. We heard that campers in the upper basin were pounded by storm all night long. The next afternoon, Dan and I raced an impending thunderstorm to the top of Little Annapurna (8440’). Fortunately, we won, quickly enjoying views of Mount Rainier, Glacier Peak, and everything in between.

None of us were looking forward to the descent back to the trailhead: 10 miles and nearly 6,000 feet down. My knees were ready to give up in the final three miles, when the 95-degree sun was beating overhead. At trail’s end, a soak in Icicle Creek was the perfect tonic before heading back to civilization.

Note to the forest rangers: Can you institute a quota-permit system for the mosquitoes, too?

Note to Kara Chin: Are you sure I can’t count these miles for Hike-a-Thon?