On a beautiful early October morning I stood with a 40-pound pack on my back at the bottom of Aasgard Pass and exclaimed “O.M.G.!” Twice. Once for the incredible beauty of milky blue Colchuck Lake and the towering mountains above, and once for the daunting climb ahead of me – a 2,200 elevation gain in less than a mile of “trail”. Trail is in quotes because the route is basically follow-the-cairns over loose scree and chunks of granite rock after picking your way across a slope of car-sized boulders.
The granite scramble and steep ascent was definitely worth the effort. The next several days were spent wandering through the area known as The Enchantments in Washington state’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Located on the eastern side of the central Cascade Mountains, the hike to this alpine wonderland is considered by many to be the premier backpack trip in Washington. It didn’t take me long to see why, and I’d say it has also got to be one of the best places in the Pacific Northwest for nature and landscape photographers.
The sparking lakes and jagged glaciated peaks of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness are spectacular at any time of year, but become even more incredibly beautiful in autumn when the alpine larch trees turn brilliant with fall color. An anomaly, the larch is a deciduous conifer: the needles change from pine green to lemony yellow to almost orange before dropping.
The trail through The Enchantments winds its way past a series of stunning alpine lakes, each filled with water of amazing shades of blue. Waterfront backpacker campsites offer million dollar views by day, visits by non-chalant mountain goats, and incredible star shows at night.
This is by no means an easy hike – it is the most challenging I’ve ever done – but is so popular that the number of hikers is limited and permits are required for overnight stays. The permit system is fully explained on the Wenatchee National Forest website. Additional info on the area, and an excellent guide to the trail, is available on the Washington Trails Association website.
Click on this link for more of my photos of The Enchantments.