A journey through The Enchantments is remarkable and beautiful, but a grueling challenge. It is full of gorgeous alpine lakes with mountain top scenery as well as wonderful wildlife. It is an adventure where the beauty and the challenge of the trail simultaneously cannot be overstated. One of the biggest challenges is found when hiking Aasgard Pass and on our three-day journey, this was the first day’s task.
This series of posts is all about our experience and what to expect from an adventure through The Enchantments. Any backpacking trip to The Enchantments starts by acquiring one of the coveted permits. For more details on how to prepare for your own journey check out our complete guide to The Enchantments.
Backpacking The Enchantments – Day 1 Trip Report
1st Day’s Destination: Isolation Lake (7,735′)
Rating: Extremely Strenuous
Distance: 6.25 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,420′
1st Day’s Hiking Time: 6.5 hours
Our Itinerary: 3 days, 2 nights
Camping Permit: Required (Core Zone)
We started out our backpacking journey through the Enchantments by struggling to find a parking spot for our truck camper (YOLOM) at the Snow Lakes Trailhead just to the south of Leavenworth, WA. It was 5:30 AM and the sun had barely started to illuminate the August sky but the Snow Lakes parking lot was already full. Our shuttle was scheduled to leave at 6:00 AM and we were ready to get underway. We managed to cram YOLOM into a less than ideal spot along the road with a cliff on one side (about 1’ away from the tire) and the road on the other. With our mirrors folded in, we were just barely on the outside of that thin white line.
The Shuttle Ride
Parked, we gathered our gear and loaded into the shuttle we had arranged the day before. The ride up was quick, bumpy, and a bit nerve-racking as the backend of the shuttle bounced in and out of the biggest of the potholes along a curvy road hugging a tree-covered cliff. The shuttles are set an hour apart so they are in a hurry to drop us off and return to the lot for the next group of passengers. All the shuttles run early in the morning as there are very few backpacking permits and most people using the shuttles are setting off on a very long day hike through The Enchantments. Don’t attempt this unless you are experienced in long-distance mountain hiking.
Colchuck Lake Trailhead
Once at the Stuart Lake/Colchuck Lake Trailhead (3,420′), we proceeded to stretch as we watched others quickly fill out their day-use permits and rush into the woods. We had been lucky enough to acquire a permit for two nights of backpacking The Enchantments Core Zone from the last-minute permitting system and weren’t in a rush. All stretched out we proceeded to follow the crowd into the woods.
Stuart Lake Trail
The trail up to Colchuck Lake starts off moderately steep and is known as the Stuart Lake Trail (No. 1599). It roughly follows the flow of the often heard and sometimes seen Mountaineer Creek. Along the initial ascent, trail runners zoomed past us as many of them were taking on the herculean 19.5-mile journey in a single day.
Stuart & Colchuck Lakes Intersection
We had our heads down and were churning up the trail when we nearly hiked past the junction for Colchuck and Stuart Lake. Coincidentally the couple behind us nearly did the same thing. The junction is large and well-marked but sometimes you just get into a groove.
The Colchuck Lake Trail
Making the left turn and proceeding towards Colchuck Lake, the trail quickly crosses over the Mountaineer Creek and we proceeded to climb up the mountainside. Halfway from the junction to the lake the trees start to thin and the views of the rugged mountains of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness start to emerge all around.
We topped our initial 2,100’ climb and emerged from the woods along the cliff shore above the truly stunning Colchuck Lake (5,570′). The atmosphere was like that of a rave with hikers screaming and jumping off of boulders plunging into the emerald-colored waters. People were spread out along the steep shoreline enjoying snacks and lunches.
First View of Aasgard Pass
It is from the Colchuck Lakeshore that we caught our first glimpse of the first day’s true challenge: hiking Aasgard Pass. Aasgard Pass was intimidating rising vertically from the southeastern corner of the lake. We knew there was a trail up that rocky face— somewhere. But from this vantage point no trail nor hiker could be seen. It would be many hours before we knew the full extent of the endeavor we had taken on.
Traversing the Lake Shore
Still being early morning, we took in the lake and then pushed on hoping to have some shade on the ascent of Aasgard. The trail along the lakeshore first undulates up and down over dirt paths clinging to the edge of the steep terrain. As the trail approaches the south side of the lake it crosses over an enormous boulder field with rock cairns marking the uncertain way forward. This section is tiring with a heavy backpack. The “trail” requires crawling over one large boulder and down the other side to then hop a few more and climb up another. Rinse and repeat this process for over a fourth of a mile before entering into a small wooded area at the base of the creek flowing from Aasgard.
Starring Down Aasgard Pass
Emerging from the small batch of trees we still found ourselves very near the lakeshore. For all the effort put in crossing the boulder field, we had taken none of the elevation out of the ascent up Aasgard Pass. It was here that we got our first real look at the tiny dots of humans making their way slowly up the pass. Those ant-looking creatures weren’t even halfway up. Somewhere 2,200’ above us there was a pass over this intimidating terrain. But this was going to be an arduous climb.
Hiking Asgard Pass
Many people talk about the difficulty of route finding on Aasgard. In comparison to the boulder field, the switchback-covered slog up the pass was fairly straightforward. There were only a few areas where the degrading path was hard to determine. The climb is stiff but—with only one exception—it never felt overly dangerous. Still, if there had been a bifröst (Thor reference) I would have taken it instead.
An Asgardian Lunch
There is a small cluster of trees about a third of the way up the pass and we stopped in the shade to have lunch while overlooking the beautiful terrain laid out before us. After having lunch, cooling down, and catching our breath, we continue our assault on the pass. As we rose above the cluster of trees the path forward became harder to discern. Many footpaths broke off in seemingly every possible direction. We stuck to cairn-spotting and made our way onward and upward. This deteriorated area has some loose scree sections but I was expecting hiking Aasgard Pass to be a lot worse. It was in this area that we got our first glimpse of a mountain goat who was nonchalantly negotiating the loose terrain.
Climbing An Unnecessary Cliff
Nearing the top of Aasgard Pass, the path crosses in front of a small waterfall. Here, the path ascends a steep section adjacent to another much larger waterfall. It was in this area that we lost the main path for a short distance and ended up crawling up a verticle 5’ cliff. It turned out that we had missed the turn and the trail was about 25′ to the left of the cliff. Beyond the cliff, the path really tapered off and returned to a moderately steep climb as we ascended the final fifty feet of elevation and finished hiking Aasgard Pass.
Entering The Enchantments
The saddle of Asgard Pass (7,840′) is wide and flat. It has nice views of Colchuck Lake below with Dragontail Peak (8,842′) rising to the south. On the other side of the flat pass, the magical lake-dotted landscape that is The Enchantments opened up to us. It had been a challenge to get here but this one view was worth the entire effort. And there was so much more to come. We rounded the corner above Tranquil Lake and spotted our first family of mountain goats taking a siesta on the cliffs above.
We descended the small hill from the shore of Tranquil Lake down to the stunning edge of an unnamed lake, north of Isolation Lake. We initially thought we might push on a bit further but this gorgeous lakeshore enthralled us to the point that we picked out a site and set up camp.
This is a truly epic spot to camp and in our opinion the best in The Enchantments. We thought we might have the place to ourselves (plus the mountain goats, of course) but late in the afternoon, a couple who had set up camp at Tranquil Lake moved down to join us. We didn’t mind as there was plenty of room and they set up about fifty feet away. I spent the afternoon exploring the area around the lake and as the afternoon passed the mountain goats rose from their siesta and made their way through the basin.
Camping at Isolation Lake
We had dinner and watched as the sun set on The Enchantments. The night was exceptionally windy making it a bit colder than expected. But with our excellent backpacking gear, we were cozy inside our tent and eager to continue our exploration of The Enchantments.