The Enchantments are perhaps the most aptly named area I've ever been to. Everywhere I looked I was in awe. Peaks, ridges, lakes, waterfalls, and goats. Lots of goats.
A permit is required to camp in the Enchantments and they're in such high demand you have to enter into a lottery. I've tried many times and never been lucky enough to get one.
So if you can't camp there the only option is to hike it in a day. This is actually a pretty great way to survey the entire area to prepare for the day we get permits. The downside is the price of admission is high. Really high.
Anyway you try to get to the "core" Enchantments requires miles of hiking. From one side you have a long, slow burn up six miles and 5,300 feet just to get to the bottom end of the core. (It's another 1,000 feet to the top.) From the other side it's a slightly steeper four mile climb up 2,000 feet to Colchuck Lake and then a crazy steep and loose climb up another 2,200 feet in under a mile to Aasgard Pass. (Yeah, "crazy steep" from the guy that is intimately familiar with Mailbox Peak.) To go from one trailhead to the other is 19 miles.
You'd have to be crazy to try such a day hike in either direction. Even crazier to do it just two days after an Alta Mountain TNAB. At least we weren't so crazy as to start at the Snow Lakes trailhead. Instead, we chose the steeper, quicker route starting at the Stuart Lake trailhead.
(And by "we" I meant me and KC. He's not of sound mind either. Treen had to stay home. Dogs aren't allowed in the Enchantments.)
The trail to Colchuck Lake was easy and quick. It's a nice walk through typical eastside woods crossing a few creeks and arriving at the lake near the northern end. Colchuck is a beautiful lake with a deep aquamarine color. It might even be a decent place to camp if you didn't have other plans. (Or if you could only get a Colchuck permit it'd be good for that, too.)
Aasgard Pass is renowned for being a hard climb. It's not technical, but it is full of loose rocks and was almost completely in the sun when we climbed. Needless to say, it was brutal and far harder than the stats would indicate.
But it was all worth it. At the top of the pass is a tiny little tarn. Anywhere else it would be a spectacular destination in its own right. Following the climb it was a wonderful sight, but after just a few more minutes it would become just a footnote.
Already, we had seen several goats. They were mostly relaxing in the sun, trying to stay cool. As we moved into the core they were more active, wandering from place to place. They clearly didn't care whether we were there or not. In fact, at one point another hiker passed within a few feet of an adolescent goat and neither paid the other any attention. Like Treen, most goats seemed to know when I had my camera out and exactly how and where to pose. This slowed me down even more than Aasgard Pass did. Good thing I brough multiple memory cards and batteries.
The route through the Enchantments passes between lakes with names like "Tranquil," "Isolation," "Inspiration," and "Perfection." We sat at Tranquil Lake to filter water while we watched a goat sitting on a patch of snow on the other side. Inspiration Lake was the sort of place that could inspire anyone to do anything (including the group that was skinny dipping along the trail). Perfection Lake was... well... perfect.
In the heart the lakes are a series of interconnected tarns. None of the lakes are particularly big or deep, but each is set among the brilliant white granite. Dropping lower, the granite is supplanted by larches just waiting for Fall to turn golden yellow. All the way down to Lake Viviane it's one amazing sight after another.
Standing above the precipitous drop down to the Snow Lakes it was obvious it was all about to change. Cairns led the way across the rocks and into the forest. The views we'd been flooded with all day gave way to what seemed to be a never ending trail. Snow Lakes, which look beautiful from above, were a bit of a let down.
The lakes are man-made (so is Colchuck, but you'd never know it) and as the water is drawn down it leaves rings around the shore. We stopped to filter water in preparation for the second hardest part of the trip: six miles of featureless trail descending 4,000 feet. By the time we could see the trailhead we were done. The trail was completely exposed to the afternoon sun and even though we could see the cars the trail only barely dropped as we walked along.
The endless switchbacks reminded us there is no easy access to the Enchantments. You either pay through your thighs and lungs up Aasgard Pass or lose your mind on the trail to Snow Lakes.
Although I would absolutely rather have had core permits and spent a week (or even a single night) in the Enchantments, a through hike was a great way to get a feel for the entire area. Here's what I learned.
Through hikes should always start at the Stuart Lake trailhead and end at Snow Lakes. Get the climbing done early and coast downhill through the best areas.
A permit for the Colchuck zone would be an ok substitute for the core zone because it allows for an easier day hike into the core, but Aasgard would get old really quickly.
When (not if) I get core permits I'll go in and out Aasgard Pass. I'd rather go slowly up (and down) with a big overnight pack than drag it past Snow Lakes.
I really, really want to repeat the through hike in the Fall when the larches are aglow.
Goats are cool.
Most of all I'm stunned I've been hiking for 15 years and haven't made it to the Enchantments before this. I can guarantee it won't be another 15 years until I'm back. And it won't be 15 years before the kids get up there to experience the Enchantments either.