City Escape: Camping in the Washington Cascades

While hiking is something I'd like to do, right now I'm having to live vicariously through the wilderness adventures of friends. My good friend Claire, and her husband Justin (remember their New Year's Eve wedding?) give us a peek at their hike in The Enchantments in Claire's words...

All the hype around The Enchantments may seem a little excessive and overstated when there are countless beautiful areas in Washington – but believe it, this place is top notch.

The Enchantments is an area outside of Leavenworth, WA within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The area is comprised of five camping zones that are part of an 18-mile loop that enters through the Snow Zone and exits through the Stuart Zone, or vice versa. All of the zones require overnight permits, which are strictly enforced by rangers. Hikers are free to pass through on a day hike without a permit, but don’t try to pull a fast one with your tent because you will either be asked to leave or you will be banned from the area for five years by a ranger monitoring the area. With that said, getting a permit is a feat in itself. The Enchantments is easily the most sought after hike in Washington and getting a permit may take years of agonizing attempts. I had been trying to snag a permit for five years. Check out these links for more information on permits and getting to the trailhead: here and here.

We headed for the Enchantments with another couple on a 5 day overnight permit for the Snow Lake Zone. We left Seattle around 8am but somehow didn’t get on the trail until 130pm. We had to make a stop at the pharmacy to get Advil, drive around the shops at Leavenworth, get slushies, etc. Although the ice cold beverages were worth it, we strapped on our packs under a 102 degree sun in the parking lot. Ouch! I would recommend starting around 7 or 8am before the heat strikes if you attempt this hike in the summer.

We walked along a flat trail for about 100m from the parking lot and then we started going up –and up. In fact, we walked uphill for hours on a hefty incline along an exposed mountainside. I won’t get technical with numbers but most will say this is the most challenging hike in Washington and around 3pm we witnessed a few hikers heading back because they knew they wouldn’t make it to the first camp. Just know, this hike is not for the faint of heart and requires a few steep areas of climbing a rebar ladder on an edge without being roped in, which might be a little nerve-racking on tired legs with a backpack. This guy had the courage to take out his camera while on the rebar and take a picture of his standing (?!) friend.

After the climb to camp you reach alpine paradise, complete with a glass lake. We camped next to Upper Snow Lake for all five nights but were only two miles from the Core Zone which was perfect for day hikes. When the sun rose I would slip on my running shoes and go for a short trail run to wake up. When I returned to camp we would all sit next to the lake and sip coffee and enjoy a freeze dried breakfast scramble. Then we would spend the day hiking in the Core Zone. The Core Zone lakes are a collection of flawless blue pools that rest under staggering granite formations. The area is simply unbelievable. Being there in late July was ideal because we took intermittent dips in the lakes. I have heard that hiking in late September is also ideal because the change in colors of the Lark trees creates breathtaking scenery. Either way – you can’t go wrong!

After camping for five serene days we were all enchanted by the experience (sorry, horrible pun). Our outdoor high was stifled soon after on our way down when we all nearly crawled through the parking lot to the car on another 100 degree plus day. We were certainly spent, but the experience was well worth it. If you’re up for the challenge it is an unforgettable experience. I highly recommend putting it on a life list for hiking adventures outside of Seattle!

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