Sunday, October 4, 2015

Enchantments - Colchuck Lake

We had been waiting years for a camping trip in the Enchantments.  In 2013 I won best area of the lottery, the Core Zone, only to have a forest fire in the vicinity cancel the trip.  In 2014 nobody won the lottery but this year I was able to secure a spot for 8 of us at Colchuck Lake for what turned out to be a beautiful weekend in the mountains with close friends whom Emily and I don't get to see enough.  Read on for some amazing scenery and wildlife photos...

Wednesday night was exhausting for me.  Conrad and I had been up all day at the UAS conference in Reno and our flight got us back to Portland around 9pm.  Emily picked me up from the airport, I quickly finished packing, gave her a kiss then headed to pick up McNeill and drive north late into the night to meet up with with Jason and Jen at the Days Inn in Ellensberg, WA.  Emily couldn't take the time off of work before our big Africa Trip which was super unfortunate.  By the time we got to Ellensberg, WA I was pretty wiped but awake enough for my day-long hangover to crack Jen up.  

In the morning after being super disappointed by fake fruit loops at the hotel free breakfast (which Jen thought was amazing for some reason) we drove another hour or so to Leavenworth, WA to meet up with Chris who had driven from Idaho to meet us for the weekend.  It really sucks not to have them closer and it was wonderful to see both of them.  Paris showed up a day later as she had a work engagement she couldn't miss.  

Because we didn't get the core zone we decided as a group not to do the full loop hike and instead drive to the northern trailhead and head into the wilderness there, using Colchuck lake as a base for any hikes we wanted to check out.   This would also put us at a higher elevation to hike in from and Eric suggested that this was a good idea as the trail out on the other end was a long trudge through the woods.

After dropping Holm's car off at the lower lot we shuttled up the road to the trailhead and headed into the woods around 11am.  The trail in was very pretty and there were still some very late season flowers around.  We got to cross a couple streams on some very well crafted log bridges with hand rails.  On the first one we stopped for some photos and when I pulled out my iPhone from my pocket the trip permit went flying… right into the river below.  

Eric and McNeill said, “hey!  The permit!”… and in my daze I just stood there thinking.. “well, there it goes”.  Jason on the other hand sprung into action running down off the bridge to snatch it before the current grabbed it and took it away!  

The initial trip in towards Stewart Lake was pretty flat but soon we veered off that trail onto the Colchuck Lake Trail and it began to ascend in a series of steep switchbacks up towards the lake.  I had packed my Africa zoom lens and Tripod so my pack was definitely heavier than usual and I enjoyed taking my time with the others, occasionally stopping to pop open my camp chair and sit in the sun.  As we climbed higher views of the surrounding peaks opened up and we could start to tell that we timed the trip perfectly for the larches because as we gained altitude their needles became a beautiful golden color.  

After 2,000ft of climbing we reached the lake around 2:45pm and took another 45 minutes to figure out the best camp site for us along the shore.  Several of us went out on scouting missions and we ended up with a great place about 10 yards off the trail that had several distinct areas for each of us to sent up our tents.  Eric was sharing a tent with me for the trip.  The rest of the afternoon we spent relaxing by the lake.  I got to try out the new water filtration system I had purchased as well as set up my camera to try to locate some goats but didn’t see much the first day. 

The scenery around the lake was absolutely stunning.  The bright gold color of the larches mixed with the blueish grey of the rock and deep green of the spruces was amazing.  We watched a beautiful sunset and spent the night laughing, passing around bourbon spiced cider, wine, and beers.  Jason and I also spent some time by the lake shooting the stars as well as a pair of hikers coming down from the core zone.  I’m not sure who snored more that night, Eric or I.  

We had a very relaxed Friday morning in camp.  I had packed fruit loops and powdered Milk and was thoroughly enjoying them before I realized I needed I needed more room in my body to put anymore food and headed off into the woods to find some privacy.  While walking down the trail I bumped into Paris who had made a very early start in the morning to meet up with us as early as she could.  

When I got back to camp we all decided it would be fun to head up the incredibly steep looking Aasgard Pass to check out the Core Zone.  We packed lightly leaving most of our weight in camp and headed around the lake towards the pass.  I took the long lens hoping to find some goats.

Rounding the lake was beautiful.  Jagged peaks all around us.  The night before we had looked up at Jabberwocky Peak across the lake couldn’t tell from the shadows if it was part of the mountain behind or a separate peak.  Circumnavigating the lake and later on the climb we could clearly tell it was a separate peak altogether.  When we close to the base of Asgard pass we had to navigate through a large boulder debris field from an old landslide that reached all the way to the lake.  After that it was a slow and very steep climb up the pass.

With each thousand feet we gained the view down towards Colchuck Lake over the golden larches became increasingly beautiful.  Paris and Chris were of course hauling ass up the slope and it was a challenge to keep up.  In the distance we could see massive glaciers on the surrounding peaks of Northern Washington but honestly the most beautiful part of it all was the Golden Larches which were clearly at the height of their color.  

That is the hard part of planning a trip to the Enchantments (besides the very difficult permit lottery)… nailing the larches while also not being too late in the season and risking getting snowed out.. or late season fires which had already canceled a trip…. but this year we nailed it perfectly!  

When we crested the top of the pass around 1:30pm at nearly 7,800 feet having climbed another 2,300 feet in just about a mile up the steep pass.  When topped out on the pass we noticed a really big Mountain Goat just chilling on the side of the trail chewing some grass and looking super fluffy with it’s thick winter coat.  It is amazing how white they can keep their coats up in the mountains.  It looked like it had just run itself through the cleaners or something.  Although it looked harmless we knew to keep our distance as they are dangerous animals and just the year before a goat had killed a hiker in the same wilderness area.  

Once we all got to the pass we decided to do some exploring in the Core Zone, the area I had wanted to win for the lottery but didn’t.  This may have been good as there was no way I would have had  good time hauling my heavy pack of camera gear up that pass to camp up in this alpine environment.  I stopped for a long time taking photos of the goat on the side of the trail and actually had a great conversation with a fellow climber who had the same lens and just got back from a trip to Africa with it!  What a coincidence!

Dragontail peak towered above us as we made our way along the trail passing by numerous turquoise blue alpine lakes.  This area was absolutely stunning.  Blue skies, golden larches, blue-green lakes and white snow provided some amazing shots.  I set a hard time of 3pm for us to turn around so that we ensure ourselves sunshine to get down the very steep pass back to the lake.  We walked about a half mile through the core zone and ended up at a great overlook above where the trail started to descend down towards Perfection Lake and then Inspiration Lake.  

All around us were towering peaks with great names.  Dragontail, Witches Tower, Annapurna and Little Annapurna and McClellan Peak.  All seemed super steep and technical.  I was happy to just be looking up at them.  Perhaps on another lengthier trip where we could base camp from the Core Zone I might attempt to climb one of them, but definitely not this trip.  After taking some time lapse videos of the amazing scenery and relaxing in the sun for a bit we turned around and headed back towards the pass, stopping for some group photos along the way.  

As we approached the top of the pass we saw a different goat walking just below the trail… then saw the original big goat we had seen on the way up walking towards it… no way… Goat Fight!  As I quickly dug in my bag for my long lens we all watched the two goats charge each other and ram heads!  So cool to see!  Clearly our big goat won the battle with the smaller one wandering off in defeat.  As the others headed down I again lagged behind for some more goat shots, practicing with my camera settings in this amazing environment for our Africa Trip in December.

I made good time heading down the pass past all the golden larches.  With the sun low in the sky rays of sunlight were piercing through the ridges of the steep peaks and illuminating the trees against the dark granite of the mountains, one of the coolest things I’ve seen in the Northwest.  As we descended the peaks in the distance began to get swallowed up by dark menacing clouds so it was good we were headed down.  

Just when I thought I had seen the last goat of the trip we rounded a corner and saw one sitting on the edge of a cliff above the lake, just chilling out.  It was easily as big as the one we had seen up higher.  While stopped for photos Eric  decided to pee along the side of the trail.  Right on cue, the goat noticed this and got up and started to cruise right up the trail towards us!  It got so close to us that I couldn’t focus on it with my lens except for grabbing a closeup of its eyeball!  

We all backed up and gave it some room.  It definitely wasn’t afraid of us at all.  One it found the salts it desired from Eric’s urine it stayed there to root around the rocks for a while so I hiked up the trail a little bit to get some shots of it with the lake and mountains in the background.  What an amazing end to our excursion up to the Core Zone!

After taking a couple wrong turns off the trail we spilled out of the woods onto the shore of the lake and then made our way around the lake staying near the shore rather than boulder hoping and made it back to camp just as the sun set to cook dinner and hang out for the night.  The clouds had rolled in that night so I didn’t get any night shots.  I’m not sure who snored louder that night, Eric or I…. 

On Saturday we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in camp then decided to walk around the lake to check it out.  There had been a lot of clouds in the morning but by noon they were all burning off under the sun and we wanted to find a beach to go relax and do some reading in this peaceful setting.  Because it was Saturday there were a lot more people up at the lake on day hikes so it wasn’t quite as peaceful as I had hoped but was still very relaxing.  We walked to the northern end of the lake near it’s drainage and found some really amazing root systems of trees that had toppled over and washed into the lake from storms.  

It was here that I set up my new camp chair and settled down to read from my iPad for the afternoon.  The rest of the group was a little stir crazy and decided to walk around the entire shore of the lake.  I was tempted but the sun and the weather was just too wonderful and I decided to stay put and watch them from a distance.  I could even hear them clearly across the length of the lake when they made it to the beach at the other end and decided to run in for a dip!  Instead of going in myself I enjoyed watching others jump in and scream in horror at how cold it was!  hehe.  

Before I left the area I risked a couple long jumps out a big rock in the lake to get some shots of the sun rays beaming through the ridges of the mountains above us.  This lake was definitely one of the most beautiful places I had been to in the Pacific Northwest.  Just before sunset I decided to head back towards camp where I found everyone had also just arrived at minutes ahead of me after their fun hike around the shore.  

That last night was pretty cold so I gave up my sleeping bag and puffy pants to Paris and Jen.  Paris had the pants on to stay warm so Jen slipped into my bag to stay warm.  We weren’t allowed a campfire so it was pretty cold at 5,500 feet.  I set up my iPad on some rocks and we had a little theater going with a speaker that Eric had brought. 

I can’t remember now what movie we watched but I’m pretty sure it was a comedy.  After that movie I think I watched part of another one as everyone slowly made their way to the tents for bed.  Instead of climbing into the tent with Eric this last night I again spent some time taking photos and then slept outside under the stars.

On Sunday morning we left camp around 10am and after a much quicker exit from the woods found ourselves in Leavenworth right in the middle of Octoberfest!  Being modeled after a Bavarian Village Octoberfest was a pretty big deal and there were a lot of people.  We found a parking lot and made our way to a beer garden for a pint and one of the best sausages I’ve ever had covered in in all the fixings I could find!  The food combined with musicians dressed in Lederhosen made for the perfect ending to one of the most amazing trips I’ve done in the Northwest.  

What a great group of friends to spend the long weekend with.  We all will definitely be putting in for the lottery around the same time every year going forward to make sure Emily gets to see this amazing place sometime as well!

No comments: