Last of the Larches – Horseshoe Lake


Packed trailhead with cars parked hundreds of yards down the road. I could have taken my truck but instead took the 330i which had no problems with the bumps and puddles. Personally, I like getting my BMW covered in mud and parking it next to a shiny SUV back in Leavenworth. Ok enough about my personal issues…

I found that this group had borrowed one of my Horseshoe Lake photos to entice people to go on the hike this last weekend. So I joined and gave the group leader some good natured static over using my photo and off we went to the lake. This is a less known corner of the Enchantments Lakes basin, which is known for its amazing granite and fall colors scenery. Its also a rather challenging hike. The last mile covers about 1500 vert feet alone to get to the lake. Got there for sunset, camped and then sunrise and then down. All Zeiss 18mm, 9oz tripod and Sony a7r.

Annual Visit to the Enchantments Lakes Basin for Fall Colors and Larches


Set out to find some fall color and larches. Won the walk up permit drawing, interfaced with the cranky permit lady (she reminds me of the accountant from Monsters Inc.) and quickly organized into a party of 8.
I’d like to provide one of those butterflies and rainbows trip reports where everything is wonderful but seriously, this hike is a slog. Its officially the 8th toughest day hike in the country and for good reason.Β  I got my pack weight down to 28 lbs including a bottle of Pyramid Oktoberfest and a pack of Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte Via.Β  My Zpacks ten degree sleeping bag weighed 1.5 lbs. My pack was 3. My tent was a Shires Tarptent weighing 1.6 lbs. Almost everything metal was titanium or carbon fiber.Β  I planned on eating peanut butter and honey sandwiches. I carried a liter of water, planning on filtering more as I went along.Β Its a long hard hike, each step contemplated carefully so as not to trip/fall/slide/tumble etc. Lots of hydration, sweat, aches, thoughts of anything other than how my thighs felt. Reaching the top of Asgaard, I didn’t have some wonderful revelation of otherworldly beauty, instead more real thoughts of cramps, observations of desolate granite and an eye on the watch to be sure to reach Leprechaun before dark. Ran into some guys camping right on the trail above Inspiration. Really? So many awesome spots nearby. Oh well.

Got up early for sunrise and got some decent photos. Decided to leave via Snow Lakes despite having to arrange a ride back to Stuart where my car was. I never seem to want to visit Asgaard twice in one hike. I cant imagine why. Many in my party had never been to the Enchantments before so that was fun to show them around. But their whining about suffering and how they were getting old was tiring as they were half my age πŸ™‚

Cliff Notes: Decided to go in via Colchuck and Asgaard, camp near Leprechaun Lake and then down via Snow Lakes. Colors are looking great and weather is awesome. Made seven new friends along the way and had a great time. Lots of Aleve and Advil recommended. Once you’ve seen this, you cant stay away.

Mysterious Horseshoe Lake, or Beyond Lake Stuart

Mysterious Horseshoe Lake, or Beyond Lake Stuart

I hadn’t seen enough Northwest alpine larches changing color so a friend of mine and I headed up past Stuart Lake to Horseshoe Lake. We had heard it was much like the Enchantments Lakes Basin and it didn’t disappoint. The “trail” past Stuart is an unmaintained combination of more than 100 blowdowns and routefinding, then 1100 vert feet of scramble to the Lake. However its an amazing spot once you get there and we had it to ourselves. Canon 5D2 and Zeiss 21/50mm.

On a side note, climbing back down from the lake, my front teeth impacted my hiking pole with sufficient force to break one of the lower ones. So I am on the mend this week and contemplating implant dentistry 😦

Autumn Colors in the Seattle Arboretum

Autumn Colors in the Seattle Arboretum

The Japanese garden in the Seattle Arboretum is a spectacular showcase of fall Acer colors. I thought I might be a bit early but found I was right on time for the brilliant palette of fall colors. They don’t allow tripods so its a delicate balance of higher iso, shutter speed and breath-holding.

Enchantments – Learning to Love the Snow Lakes Approach.

Enchantments - Learning to Love the Snow Lakes Approach.

Second time doing this in two weeks, I am learning to love the Snow Lakes approach. Its 6000 feet of elevation gain on what’s been called the 8th toughest hike in the country. The Aasgard approach is “easier” but totally snowed over at the moment. The first time we hit overcast snowy weather at Upper Snow Lake and decided to not push onward. No photos 😦

Since this place tends to haunt you until you get up there, I set off to solo hike it and overnight as far as I could get amongst the Lakes. I met a nice pair of guys heading up for the first time and spent much of the trail telling them how awesome it was going to be. It took me about 7 hours to reach Viviane and start to look for a spot to camp. The snow was minimal until you reached Viviane and then it became 3-4 feet of crusty topped powder. I didn’t have snowshoes so I went in deep every so often. I never used my microspikes, but poles were handy.

Got up early the next day for photos and then packed up to head down. You can get a nice Verizon signal near the edge of Viviane so I was able to send some texts telling people I wasn’t in trouble. I also had a new toy: Delorme’s InReach 2 way satellite device that sends your location to friends every ten minutes and allows you to send pre-determined messages via email as well. It worked great and gave my gf peace of mind.

Coming down I ran into Cory and his merry band of elevation seeking crazies. His report should be up here soon and I hope he mentions his recipe for Lake Viviane-caught fish with bourbon sauce. Definitely trumped my cold peanut butter and honey sandwiches. We hiked back to the parking lot together and I learned a lot from them including how to tell a good Salsa dj from bad. Thanks guys for having me along πŸ™‚

Now to go get another handful of Aleve…

Hiking into the Enchantments

Hiking into the Enchantments

Decided to celebrate my gf’s 50th birthday by an overnight in the Enchantments. We left Seattle very early to get to the ranger station for the permit drawing by 745am. All was good until we hit a road construction roadblock in Tumwater Canyon. So we were late for the drawing. We still managed to score a Snow Lakes permit and decided to camp there and venture up to the Lakes from there. The hike was beautiful; Fall colors were just starting to come on. This is the 8th toughest day hike in the country according to Backpacking magazine. Even so, I always remember this as the “easier” route into the Enchantments. A mistake I wont be making again soon πŸ™‚ Its basically a nonstop climb with a few level spots to tease you. My pack was about 35lbs and hers was about 20. Lots of pondering about how to drop even more weight in the gear.

We got to the dam between the Snow Lakes and saw a group of goats with babies wandering about. Closeby was a group of 20somethings making a lot of noise. I figure the goats were there hoping for salt. About an hour later we reached the last camp before the bridge at the west end of Upper Snow Lake and set up camp there. We were soon asleep after she unwrapped a small birthday gift in our tent.

I set the alarm for 5ish to get up and hike up to the Lakes. I peeked out and the weather looked ominous. Socked in and damp. A half hour later it was snowing. That was our clue to pack up and head back down. We talked with the kids and their plan was to head up to the Core area. Eyeing their gear, it seemed like a bad idea. We also ran into several cheery parties heading up the trail. Knowing the weather forecast and being where we had been, we hoped they had packed well. Back at the trailhead, it was time for Starbucks, Icicle Brewing and Alpen Hamburgers πŸ™‚

Definitely going back up in a week or two for larches and hopefully better weather.