Sunday, October 9, 2016

Leavenworth Octoberfest and Full Enchantment Hike

This year we did not get lucky with the Enchantments Lottery in Washington.  Despite about 6 of us all entering the lottery none of us got any camping spots like we did last fall.  Regardless, we were determined to head up to the amazing Bavarian Village to show Emily the beautiful mountains there and eat some sausages at Oktoberfest.  Despite some rain and a death march out of the woods well after dark the beauty of the area was worth the effort.  Read on..

On Friday we all got laid off of work.  This was pretty shitty and instead of heading out to Leavenworth that night I decided to stick around town and be supportive of my co-workers in the form of joining them for drinks after we cleaned out our desks.  Eric stopped by that afternoon at our place along with Tom and few others and he was completely in shock that we were no longer Cardno employees.  We had kept that info from him for a few days and he couldn't believe it when he heard it.  It was a very somber night to say the least....

On Saturday morning we picked up Eric super early and headed out on the 5 hour drive through intermittent rain to Leavenworth where we met up with Chris and Paris in town.  The original idea was to drive up Friday and hike on Saturday and stay in a hotel and clean up after the hike to celebrate Oktoberfest on Sunday.  With us losing our jobs and worse rain on Saturday we decided to flip the schedule and do the hike on Sunday with the hope that we wouldn't be too tired to drive home after.  This turned out to be the right choice as it poured rain all day long in Leavenworth on Saturday.  Thankfully, the rain didn't take away from the taste of the beer or brats in any way.... :).

We started off the afternoon by grabbing some sausages at the usual sausage house at the end of town where there at least 20+ sauces to put on them and massive 32oz glass mugs of beer to be drank.  The lines were super long but Chris and Paris noticed and shorter one we jumped into for faster sausage service.  To walk off our beer and sausage belly we all headed down for a walk along the river where we found some dead salmon carcasses in a pool.  From there it was to another outdoor Oktoberfest Party in the rain with live music.  We chilled out there for a while drinking and catching up before heading out of town for an unexpectedly good Chinese Dinner and then to our hotel for the night in the town of Cashmere, WA just down the road.  

On Sunday we woke up around 6am but after checking out and stopping for snacks at Safeway we weren't on the trail until about 8am and after Eric left his glasses on the trail and ran back for them it was pushing 8:30am before we were really moving down the trail.  I didn't think it was a big deal but later we found out we should have been hiking at dawn... 

It was beautiful heading in through the fall colors and I was excited for Emily to see where we had camped at Colchuck lake the year before.  It was also amazing to have a super lightweight pack on with just the FZ1000 camera in tow.  Climbing Asgard pass was going to be much easier without the DSLR and 600mm lens!  

We stopped briefly at the lake to enjoy the views and eat some snacks before traversing past our old campsite towards the steep pass.  The larches were in full swing even at lake level this year.  We were a week later this year because I couldn't miss our office open house the weekend before... turns out I should have just skipped it anyway....  We passed a few campers along the lake who said they had weathered the brutal weather the past couple days and were looking forward to a break.  

We had been worried about snowfall at the 8,000 ft pass from the rain the day before but luckily it looked like only the tops of the peaks had been coated overnight.  Paris led the way up the pass as she did the previous year with us all scrambling to keep up with her.  Near the top of the pass things got a bit icy but it wasn't bad.  We noticed that near the top the larches had also begun to lose some of their golden needles as well.  Still, we had timed it nearly perfectly and the weather was thankfully holding for us.  Unfortunately, we didn't get to see any mountain goats this year as I think they had all either moved on or huddled down for the cold winter.  

I think Emily was truly impressed with the views and glad to finally be at the top of the pass.    I noticed this year that we could see all the way to Mount Rainier from the pass.  There were high clouds all around us but nothing looked too threatening so we took our time winding through the lakes of the Core Zone, stopping to take group photos and me stopping a lot to take what would become some of my best photos ever.  We've been to Patagonia and I've been through all the mountain ranges of this country and even the Alps and I swear being up there among the blue alpine lakes with the golden larches all around us was one of the most beautiful mountain scenes I'd ever encountered. 

In order to fit all the photos I'd like to in this post I would need to drag on this writing needlessly to do so.  Instead I will say go to my photography site at TLT.Photography or my Facebook page to check out my favorites as there are many.  It seemed like every turn of the trail we came across in the Core zone would open up amazing new vistas of peaks that were hidden and alpine lakes nestled into the rocks below them.  Mile after mile my mind was blown a the beauty of it all.  

Eric had hiked up from the southern end before so he was giving us advice on what to expect.  His reassurances that the trail out was flat and easy rested our minds as the hours ticked by and the sun sank lower in the sky.  Eric guided us around some lakes as the lengthy trail seemed to wander around the shore of each lake we passed.  After passing some beautiful waterfalls we came across a sign for a outhouse so Emily and Chris headed off through the woods to make a deposit.  

While we were waiting I checked my gps and the map for the first time in hours thinking we had just a few hours left to go.  To my horror I realized that we were only about half way through the long hike and that some meandering around the lakes we had done had set us back in time.   When Chris and Emily returned I let them know the situation and that we should hustle a bit more down the trail.  This was tough for me as the vistas kept coming and I was forced to stop to take photos then run to catch up with the others.... well worth the effort though.  

Soon we found ourselves descending a very trail past a towering waterfall down into a river valley of larger lakes surrounded by thick forest.  We were clearly exiting the alpine Core Zone and entering the Snow Lakes Region where Eric had hiked years ago.  Just before descending Eric noted to me that he had been confused about how far he had gotten before and now finally started to recognize the area, noting that we did indeed have a ways to go before we made it out.  

Just before we reached the Snow Lakes we came across a large debris field that had obliterated the trail.  We passed two hikers heading up the trail and were annoyed they didn't offer us any advice on where to locate the trail because we soon found ourselves descending through thick brush frantically trying to find the trail before the sun set.  I had my phone out and using GPS was able to find our way back to the trail but it definitely slowed us down more than I had wanted.

When we hit the shore of Snow Lakes the sun set and very quickly we were engulfed in darkness under a moonless cloudy sky.  Paris had forgotten her headlamp and because I had the brightest one amongst us with fresh batteries I offered to walk behind her and shine the way for her.  This turned out to be more exhausting for me than I expected and it was tough not being able to check on Emily in the darkness as Paris depended on my light but it was worth effort to keep everyone safe and moving.  

Then it started to rain.  Not mist, not a sprinkle, this was a full on unrelenting downpour that didn't stop.  We put on our rain jackets and some put on rain pants but I just stayed in my trusty Mountain Hardwear soft shell hiking pants knowing that my movement would keep me warm.  The next 5 miles and over two hours out turned out to be nothing less than a death march to Chris' car we had left at the lower trailhead.  

The lower trailhead was a full 2,500+ feet lower than the trailhead we had started at which meant a lot more descending on already tired legs after 12 hours of continuously moving already... and in pouring rain.  We weren't alone on the trail as another group of lights in front of us I'm sure were as miserable as we were.  

Paris was nursing a very sore and delicate Achilles' tendon, and the rest of us were limping from sore feet.  The switchbacking, rocky and root-filled trail was certainly not as easy as Eric had described it to us but at that point there was nothing we could do but keep trudging on.  

We limped out of the woods close to 9pm, completing the full Enchantment circuit in a day.  The guidebook had said 16-17 miles but after all the meandering we had done in the Core Zone my gps app on my phone told me 19.64 miles and nearly 12.5 hours.  If we had left the cars at dawn and Eric hadn't dropped his glasses we probably would have made it out perfectly in the daylight.  

After painfully taking off our boots and wet clothing Chris drove us back up the road to our Prius at the upper lot.  It was raining so hard that we decided to just wave by to each other and forego the hugs this time.  By the time we were warm and dry in the Prius and heading out through the town of Leavenworth it was 10pm and we had a 5 hour drive ahead of us to get home.  Emily immediately passed out in the back seat and Eric did his best to stay awake with me but himself nodded off a few times as well. 

The rain never let up the entire way home and I drove through some of the thickest fog I had ever seen in the Northwest.  The weather would later call the drenching one of the wettest nights on record.  Chris and Paris heading East weren't lucky either and he said it was a tough drive for sure.  I drove as fast as I safely could to get us home at decent hour pulling into Eric's around 2:30am after a night of scary fog and hydroplaning on the highway.  Emily was a trooper and still got up to head to work the next day.  

The trip was a bucket list trip.  It was an Epic.  It was something we could all check off as having completed and I came back with some of my favorite photography of anywhere in the world but no, we will not be doing that again in one day.  Lets just hope we win the lottery next year for a campsite as we'd love to make the Enchantments a yearly escape at the same time each year.  

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