Yeah, I know, I don’t know how to ski. But I figured skinning couldn’t be that hard, right? This trip was back on April 9th-10th, when I had been on my skis like maybe three times, but you gotta learn somehow. Anyway, I think I’m the only hiker in Washington who doesn’t particularly care about the Enchantments. They’re pretty, I just like other areas more. I’m a hiker hipster, maybe. Guess how many applications the Enchantments had this year? 19,000 (source). As in, nineteen thousand. Can you imagine if they didn’t have a permit system? 19,000 backpackers, probably all between July and September given the snowpack this year. That’s 6,000 people per month, 1500 people per week, 200 people per day. Two hundred. Four hundred per day if everyone stays for two days. How do you preserve wilderness with that many feet padding through? That many campers, that many tents and hammocks, that many swimmers, that many creatures with bodily functions and eyes that can only spot so much trash. It’s actually amazing that it’s still in such good shape. And at $6/application, that’s $114,000 that I can’t find an official source on where it goes, but that’s a lot of money for (hopefully) the forest service/rangers.
So Tony and I decided to go in April. Ski traverse, before the trash hit, before people pee everywhere while the goats stand and watch and wait (if you’re lucky), before you find Gu tabs along the trail and bits of toilet paper topping small mounds of poo muddled with a stick but not buried because hikers couldn’t be bothered to go to the pit toilets. You get like a C- for effort. You thought about it, clearly. but that’s where you gave up? You can do better. Not to mention they built pit toilets for you anti-baggers. Blue bags should just be mandatory everywhere.
- Distance: 21 miles (the road was closed, it’s only 18 if you don’t have to walk the road)
- Elevation: I have no idea. 6000ft gain?
- Weather: 50’s and sunny
- Commute from Seattle: 2:30
- Did I Trip: Yes. And I slid, and faceplanted, and smacked a tree, you name it I probably did it
- Author’s Note: Almost all of the pictures between here and Dragontail are Tony’s. My camera suffered a bout of amnesia and corrupted a bunch while I sat on top of Dragontail as if to say “you dare try to capture nature’s beauty, you elitist asshole?” Yes. Yes I do.
We set off up the Snow Lakes trail Friday night 4/8 (this is a month overdue because I had to fight for photos) and hiked until we hit snow, which put us setting up camp just past the Snow Creek Wall around 1am. Good, cause I was tired, and it was windy and I’m starting to realize I might be scared of wind. I pitched my tent, guyed it out on trees (weird), left my pack and food outside my tent (apparently a no no while backpacking because of wildlife? put me back on a glacier) and fell asleep immediately only to panic over every cracking twig and branch swaying in the wind. Because wildlife.
We got up around 6am, clicked into our skis, and started skinning up. There were bare patches where we’d have to take the skis off for a few minutes, and some steep sections where I realized I did not know how to do kick turns, and some icy sections where I wished I had trimmed my skins. We dodged trees, stepped over rocks and across streams, and finally came across a small, dark, gross looking lake. Nada Lake? Is that why they named it that? Because “nada” means “nothing?” Ha! Someone’s witty.
Five minutes later we came to the real Nada Lake, which is far more than nothing. In fact, it is quite large. We couldn’t skin across it (we tried, and immediately got sketched out by sinking into slush, water, and the creaking noises beneath us). The slope between Nada and Snow Lake was steep and annoying and directly in the sun, so it went from being 30 degrees outside to 90 degrees. At least, that’s how it felt. Breaking trail on skis is a thing, and we took turns with it. My kick turns were still weak and/or nonexistent. We had no cell service. I tried and failed to get Bruins updates (if they lost, they would not make the playoffs, if they won, they had a chance).
Snow Lake, as it turns out, is also huge. Who knew? We took a long break (I think Tony legit boiled water) before continuing on. It was already 11am – that was slow moving. I’m an antsy impatient person, so after around an hour I started nagging Tony to get ready. And we were off!
We skirted Snow Lake, conquered some complicated snow bridge creek crossings, and started climbing up to Lake Viviane. This part. Was brutal. Bushwacking, pushing past trees, we were following the summer trail and someone else’s tracks and both of those were terrible choices. There is DEFINITELY a good winter ski route up there, it’s just not what we took. There was one tree that was just… ugh. One of those stiff branchy ones that we had to push past on a steep slope and there was no good way to do it. I mentioned it to Tony once we had set up camp, no details, just “fuck that tree in particular” and he knew exactly the tree I was speaking about. I was covered in scratches. Whatever, I ain’t got time to waste ya damn trees.
We had some near-scramble sections, some steep snow where if I tripped over a kick turn (I was getting better) I would probably fall 20ft and tumble off a small rocky outcropping. We finally broke out of the trees and started switchbacking up the final 400 vertical feet. Tony hit a wall, and I started bombing ahead, announcing every good kick turn that I made. I took pictures of Tony. Tony leaning on his whippets. Tony staring into the distance. Tony looking miserable, framed by a tree. A selfie of me, smiling, because I’m a dick.
I burst out onto a rocky shoulder overlooking Lake Viviane. Good news – we made it! Bad news – I looked back at Tony in the distance. We’d have to scramble down to the lake. And, in my ideal world, keep skinning a little deeper into the Core zone, because I didn’t want to have to travel as far the next day. I wasn’t sure what Tony had left.
I took a break on the rocks and waited for Tony. He arrived, clearly did not want to go on, but I whined and plead and force fed him a Gu. Don’t get me wrong, I was wiped too, I was just determined to not camp at Viviane. We had to at least get another half mile in or so.
Plus, the skinning was easy! We dropped down to the lake and the snow was all consolidated and firm, not the sloppy backsliding slush we had dealt with all day where you put one foot forward, ask yourself if that foot will hold or if the ski will slide backwards, out from underneath you. So you place both poles firmly in the snow, slowly lean forward, balancing on that one foot, yes, yes I’m going to make it THE STEP WORKED only to have the snow collapse under you as you fall on your face and wonder why anyone thinks this shit is fun.
Tony perked up within maybe 20 minutes, and we carried on! I made him take a few pictures of me, which I appreciate 10000x more now that my camera files were corrupted. The last of the sunlight on Prussik and Tower was stunning, probably the most beautiful part of the trip. We did not quite follow the summer trail since skinning across lakes was easier, we followed the most mellow terrain. Somewhere around Inspiration Lake (which Tony had mapped, thinking it was Isolation Lake, which was our original campsite goal beneath Dragontail) we agreed to set up camp. I postholed hip deep around my freaking campsite, making sure everyone (Tony) knew how deep every posthole was with a string of foul language, shoveled the worst tent platform in the history of the Enchantments, and we made dinner. And Tony whipped out the wine, which I swear I felt after one drink. I barely drink. One glass of wine is a night. Eventually I decided I had to go to sleep and yes I got up like 90 minutes later to pee.
I had some sweet pictures of my tent with Prussik and Tower in the background, never to be recovered 😦 “It’s all about the memories” everyone says, but some of us don’t remember shit without documentation, and I like to relive it through pictures and writing. I was upset for days. I spent all night running recovery programs. Set it up, go to bed, get up at midnight to check, get up at 2am to check, get up at 3am to check and ugh it didn’t work okay let’s find another one and get that running and then we’ll nap from 5-6am and then go to work. With laptop open in tow, still running its programs. Brutal event, but in googling tips and tricks, all the photo recovery requests are sob stories. It’s my wedding, it’s the first year of my son’s life, it’s my late grandmother, and I’m sitting here like well… it was scenery and some cool pics of my tent and one of Tony’s ass?
We woke up late again the next morning, maybe around 6ish. Sunrise and sunset were just okay, since we didn’t have much in terms of views being in a basin. We packed up and skinned over to Aasgard. I tried to convince Tony to do Little Annapurna but he wasn’t having it. Then we got to Dragontail, and I saw the wheels turning in his head. “It’s right there, I mean we could do it…” I didn’t want to push it, but you all know me. I wanted to bag it. I lugged my bag, my bag for peaks, all through the damn Enchantments, I needed to fill it with something.
I suggested maybe dropping our bags and just booting up real quick. To my surprise and elation, Tony agreed. So we dropped our stuff, I threw a water bottle on a sling over my shoulder, and started up. It was a simple walk up. We headed to the obvious saddle, and wrapped around the backside instead of following the ridge. There were a few boulder wells near the top, but nothing terrible. And honestly, the views were even better than I expected. Stuart and Colchuck look fantastic. It’s very cool looking down on how short the Teanaways look, especially after spending so much time there last March and April as I was still getting comfortable with snow. The west half of the Cascades was blanketed in clouds, making me almost wish I had chased elevation over there. But no, the Enchantments had been pretty cool so far.
Going down Aasgard was… yuck. Something called “boilerplate” for skiing. I had no chance, so I strapped the skis to my back and started to walk. I kept crampons on since it was icy at the top. Tony slowly passed me on skis, proceeded to get himself stuck near some rocks on the other side of the pass, backtracked, continued to ski, all while I plodded downhill watching Colchuck Lake get closer and closer. Finally we hit good snow and he whizzed past me whooping as I broke trail. I met him down below at the lake, and we skinned across to continue our descent.
Most of you who have hiked with me haven’t seen me hit a wall. It doesn’t happen often, I can think of a few times, like walking the road after coming down the other side of Shuksan. Well, Tony had the luxury of witnessing a rare mental battle. We tried to ski down, until I remembered I don’t know how to ski and can’t dodge trees. So I swapped the skis for my mountaineering boots, and gave myself to the postholes. At one point I slid a short ways down a steep slope stopped only by my face meeting a tree, knowing it’d happen but with no way to avoid it. You know how much it sucks falling over with 55lbs (that’s over 40% of my body weight) on your back and skis sticking off your pack? A lot.The skis get stuck awkwardly, it’s tough to roll over or sit up, ugh. So that was total defeat. I finally looked up and announced that this was discouraging and demoralizing and WHERE WAS THE DAMN TRAIL WE HAD HEARD SO MUCH ABOUT.
Well, luckily it was like 15 minutes away. I pulled my shit together and kept moving, and we found the trail shortly after my tree to face incident. I looked at the trail, thrilled and relieved, and took my first joyous step onto the well trampled snow only to posthole to my thigh and fall face first downhill.
From there on out it was a piece of cake. We zipped along compact snow, the wooden bridge across the river was melted out, it was easy moving across easy terrain and I was back on track. We popped out at the trailhead, put the skis back on, and started skinning the road. We made it maybe 1.5 miles from the trailhead when we ran out of snow. Ugh. My feet were hurting, it had been a long day, why couldn’t the snow just keep going? I tossed the skis over my shoulder and started to walk. Tony and I chatted aimlessly, passing the time, occasionally mentioning the pinky toes we couldn’t feel in our ski boots or the toenails we were sure we’d lose or the blisters we’d have to deal with later.
We were back at the cars by dark, where I saw a note on my windshield. A note? No, a chai tea bag!! Surafel! I knew he had been planning on camping at Lake Colchuck because I told him to meet us at the top of Aasgard if he wanted, but we never saw him. Which was good, because we got to the top of Aasgard later than we had planned. But seeing that chai tea brought back all of the energy I had. We did it! We had just traversed the Enchantments, and even if it wasn’t technically winter, it was covered in snow. Honestly, the Snow Lakes approach would have been better with more snow.
We went to get brats in an abandoned-at-9pm-Sunday-night Leavenworth restaurant. Yes, they were delicious. We parked our bright yellow cars next to each other because it looks awesome. And eventually we made the long drive back to Seattle, where I got to fight for the corrupted photos I had lost.