The Enchantments is a roughly 18 mile through stretch that is touted as one of the top hikes (only for the strong willed, mentally and physically, if you are not backpacking it!)  in the US.  Lucky for us, it is just two plus hours away off Icicle Creek Road in Leavenworth, WA.  It is home of the fabled Prusik Peak, Little Annapurna, and The Temple (just to name a few).  It has lakes and peaks too numerous to count, some named after mythical creatures such as Leprechaun Lake, Witches Tower, and Gnome Tarn (I love, love, love all the creativity!!).  The lower lakes basin was largely named after King Arthur’s realm (I.e. Lake Viviane and Excalibur Rock) while the upper lakes basin was considered more closely resembling something of a sleeper coming out of the Ice Age, Norse-like in nature (I.e. Brynhild  Lake or Valhalla Cirque).  Originally (mostly) named by Bill and Peg Stark, the forest service has changed the name of many of these places (I.e. Temple Lake was Naiad Lake, and Inspiration Lake was Talisman Lake).   And, to add to the magic, I’ve NEVER been up without seeing a goat (Ok, they are magical until they chase you from the ladies’ room!!).

©Katrina Hilpert

The lakes basin has two entrance points either from the Snow Lake Trailhead (6500 feet elevation gain) or Stuart/Colchuck Lakes Trailhead (4400 feet elevation gain).  Personally, I prefer going up Aasgard Pass (2200 feet elevation gain in .75 miles) from Colchuck Lake versus coming down it (not to mention the elevation gain is a bit less from this approach).  For me, I just find it a bit less dangerous; unfortunately, I did see the tragic aftermath of a hiker coming down it last year.  I love a good scramble, so Aasgard Pass is good practice to get one ready for all the little scrambles and climbs (if you are a climber) that lay ahead in the Enchantments.  It is divided into five zones:  Eight Mile/Caroline, Stuart, Colchuck, Core Enchantments, and Snow.  Arguably, the Core Enchantments Zone is the most popular and coveted.  Coveted, you ask?  Yes, coveted!

From June 15th through October 15th every year, backpackers need permits to be in this area; each zone is a different permit and is not interchangeable.  You do not need a permit if you are planning on going through in one day.  If you do not have a permit when asked by a ranger, you will be fined and asked to leave.  Historically, the permits were available for lottery starting March 1st and only available via snail mail.  This year, you can apply via the Internet, but the date has moved up to February 28th.  This application period only runs through March 20th, so get on your horse (or mouse as it would seem)!

The lottery really is two-fold. Seventy-five percent of the permits are given out to those that apply in the spring.  The other 25% are literally drawn out of a hat the day of a potential backpacking trip (a backup plan is probably your reality if you try to win the lottery on the weekend, weather dependent).    A party needs to show up at the Wenatchee Ranger Station in Leavenworth by 7:45 am to be entered in the drawing.  No party is given special treatment for showing, regardless of whether you show up at 4 am or 7:30 am (I’ve even thought about bringing doughnuts but thought that might be considered patronizing) as it is an equal opportunity drawing.  I do have a little theory about making my little piece of paper “feel” different to the ranger who is pulling the winning ticket by bending a corner or two, but this has never really been tested in the field (If it works for you though, I want to hear about it!!).  There are a lot of intricacies for the 25% drawing; I recommend you call the ranger station for details.  For example, if there is only one party of six that shows up at the station and only four permits available, your party will all get permits.  If there are two parties of three but only four permits available, all six of you will get permits.  I know; the math does NOT add up.  However, I promise, it is how the rangers do it.  There really is a method to the madness; they just do a better job explaining it than I could!  Fees have gone up this year from $3 to $5 a day.  If you are just going overnight, this is considered two days so plan to pay accordingly.  Additionally, there is a $6 reservation fee for the online services.

If you have never been, it is a must see.  And I must warn you, it will not be your last  It is rather addicting as it looks so different every single time (the golden Larches in September/October, vast glaciers that continually spread and recede all year-round, to the glorious Elephant Head flowers in July/August).   Permits were instituted back in the 1980s to protect the land and its creatures, particularly the goats and ptarmigan.  Since then, the goat and ptarmigan (though I’ve only heard one) populations have flourished!  So, while the permit system may seem like an unnecessary piece of bureaucratic red tape, it is actually there to ensure the Enchantments stay enchanted.  On average, only 60 people can be found backpacking on any given day throughout the entire five zone area.  On your mark, get set, GO!!

©Katrina Hilpert
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