Thru-Running The Enchantments
I'm 99.99% sure that The Enchantments are a place you visit, fall in love with, and come away with a firm "okay, it definitely wasn't that cool" mindset. And then, you revisit them and your mind is blown all over again. It must be some sort of coping mechanism; if you can't live in a place as beautiful as The Enchantments, can't spend hours staring up at pristine towers of granite or soak your feet in crystal clear, frigid alpine lakes, then they simply cannot have been as amazing as your memory is telling you they are.
At the end of August, I had that very experience. My friends Eric and Kristin let me hitch a ride with them from Portland to Leavenworth. Our plan was simple: thru-run the area and bask in all of its #GoatWorthy glory.
The last time I was in The Enchantments was a year ago- Andy and I climbed Prusik Peak in a single-day push which was an absolute blast but the constant on-the-move nature of that objective didn't give us very much time to truly appreciate the surrounding landscapes and all of the little (and big) critters that call the 7500' summit area their home.
This time around, we made our goal simple: see as much of the area as possible!
We left the Colchuck/Stuart TH amidst a mass of people. I was shocked. By the time we reached Colchuck Lake, we had passed over 70 people. It was insane. Most people were respectful of the area and let us pass them without stepping off the trail and onto the delicate vegetation, which was amazing. We stopped to take a few photos of the lake before traversing around to the base of Aasgard Pass. As we made our way across the boulder field, we heard a deafening, "ROCK! ROCK! ROCK!" and a succession of thundering rockfall. We looked up and saw more than 20 people making their way up Aasgard and hoped that everyone was okay.
There are a lotttt of pedestrian trails through The Enchantments, and aside from ruining the landscape and the habitat of the various species who make the area their homes, these trails also endanger fellow hikers by putting them at risk of being in the path of rockfall or by creating loose, hard-to-follow trails. Luckily, no one was hurt (at least that we could see) during this incident but it was a good reminder to everyone that staying on the main trail is oftentimes the safest and friendliest way to travel.
Once we wrestled our way to the top of the pass and entered the Core Zone (aka the most competitive place to get an overnight permit in the whole world...), we took a quick break to eat a snack and watch a handsome goat fellow take a dust bath. We saw a number of parties cruise by us, a chunk of whom seemed to be doing the thru-run! I realized that we would be sharing our experience with a crew of other runners/hikers and let my frustrations go out with a breath. The days of true 'wilderness experiences' are coming fewer and farther between...
We set off behind a few folks, rubber-necking and gaping as we passed pool after pool of pristine water. Pika chirped at us as we passed by them, catching my attention repeatedly (I love me some Pika!). I tested out my LifeStraw for the first time and found it to be an effective, fast way of getting clean water- it even fits perfectly inside the mouths of one set of my HydraFlasks so I was able to carry water with me long after the 1L I left the trailhead with ran out.
After getting slightly lost on the descent to Snow Lake, we got back on track and enjoyed nice running, broken up by a quick dip into Upper Snow Lake- it was frigid but it felt amazing on tired legs and feet. Lower Snow Lake, it turns out, is actually quite dirty so I was happy to have done my "swimming" in the cleaner water above it.
The final couple of miles are on heavy switchbacks and in the full sun of a burned area. The trail was in pretty good shape here though so the time went by relatively quickly. We rolled into the Snow Lake pullout and were able to get a ride back up to our car with an incredibly nice gentleman who needed help shuttling cars- he even offered us a Gatorade :)
The running itself is slightly technical in most places but as long as you have good, grippy shoes and joints that can handle miles and miles of impact on granite, it's a pretty easy run once you're over Aasgard.
The biggest things to be aware of are,
- your impact on the environment: pick up all trash, all human waste, and STAY ON THE TRAILS;
- your impact on the "residents:" The Enchantments are home to a variety of feathered, furry, and hairy critters and we need to be respectful of their space and their right to travel freely throughout the entire area;
- your fitness: despite only the first section being 'uphill,' this is not a good 'first trail run' or first experience on technical trails;
- hydration & nutrition: you will either need to carry a LOT of water or bring some sort of purification system (iodine tabs, lifestraw, or something similar).
PS I was happy to note that I had only picked up ONE piece of trash throughout the entire run! Yay!
Links to Strava: