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Colchuck and Stuart Lakes

Winter does this to me – it makes me go through my photos and daydream of hiking memories. Thinking of where I have been and where I want to go. That the snow will melt soon enough and I will be back where I love…….

Near the faux-Bavarian village of Leavenworth, Wa sits one side of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, on the Eastern side of the Cascadian Crest. It is the entrance to the land of The Enchantments. (And also home to the Nutcracker Musuem! Hubba Hubba!)

The Enchantments are an area that is so coveted that getting a permit to backpack can take years to win one in the yearly lottery – particularly if you have a job with no flexibility.

Yet there is more to the area – there are many trails in the outlying area – below the “core Enchantment zone”.

My first introduction to the area was a dayhike to Lake Stuart in late spring of 2004. The road is friendly to sedans and goes quickly from town. The trail is two trails in one – you come to a fork and must choose: turn left to Colchuck Lake or straight ahead to Stuart. Being that we had started late we chose the easier trail and went straight.

Me in a meadow with Stuart Mountain in the distance behind me. Stuart Mt. is one that is not easily missed in the skyline – it has always reminded me of a granite hand sticking up in defiance…..

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The very wet meadows before the lake:

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Stuart Lake:

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I was hooked and came back soon – the trick is to visit the permit areas before and after the permit dates. So to stay the night at Colchuck Lake we had to get there before June 15th. We went the last day before permitting started. Of course that meant it got freaky cold at night….but ah well, did we care? Not really.

We met on the trail a nice man who as we passed asked me “Are you Sarbar?” (hiker name). He had recognized Ford and I together. We had talked online on forums many times so was nice to meet CascadeHiker in person.

Not far from that fork in the trail I mentioned is the upper crossing of Mountaineer Creek on two little bridges. Ford was so tiny then! Rainrunner had joined us (heck, she drove that time!). Being 2004 Ford was 6 1/2 years old.

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Part of the hike is a trail through a massive boulder field. Look – a pack with legs and hands 😉

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When we came over the lip of the basin, the trail winds to a lookout of the lake and Dragontail Peak. Aasgard Pass sits to the left of the peak – the back way into the Upper Enchantments so far above. Colchuck Glacier is on the right.

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The sky was so clear that night, as the sun set we had alpenglow on the peaks. Dragontail is to the left, Colchuck Glacier in the middle, then Colchuck Peak…rimmed in gold.

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That night was very cold – quiet beyond belief till the winds came. Ford and I slept in a tiny 1 1/2 man tent and that kept us warm(er) as the winds picked up – and howled down the glacier/snow fields. Wow…..was I glad for sunrise.

This gent came to pay us a visit. I figured “I have to get a photo now! He won’t stick around!” Hah…….that frisky Mt. Goat wouldn’t leave us alone!

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As the sun warmed up the valley we headed home.

Only thing is something had happened I didn’t know about…..the first day, as the sun was settling low we had to get water for camp – thing is, the lake is pretty far below the trail so getting water is not easy. I told Ford to not stray and stay on the trail above us, as Rainy and I scooted on our butts down the hillside to fetch water.

We come back up and everything is normal. Or it seems. A couple months later I get a message from a climber on the local hiking forums asking ‘is that your son?’ Seems Chatty Carl made his film debut in a climbing video while mom was fetching water….as soon as I saw the dark green OR Seattle Sombrero I knew it was him 😀

Visit Theron Welch’s website to see the video.

So did we come back? Yes. The next year it was…even earlier. May 23rd!  This time we brought a couple friends to join us.

And who did we run into? CascadeHiker once again 😀 It became a joke and he chided me when I missed it the next year 😀

There was more snow that year – the little lakes around were frozen solid and it was quite cold once we entered the lake basin.

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It started snowing within an hour of arriving, our tents getting a good coating. Suffice to say, I had come better prepared on this trip with gear!

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It snowed all night – something I love. It becomes perfectly quiet. When I woke up in the morning it was that late spring/early summer snow where the green is coming through. Ford was ready to pack up and head downhill! (7 1/2 years old)

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As you drop back down to the crossing of Mountaineer Creek and look back this is what you see – the top of the peak. The snow had blown through and by then it was passing 70* as we had lost a good 1,000 ft of elevation (or more). Off went the winter clothing and out came summer clothes!

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Part of our group did a climb of Colchuck Glacier that day – they had amazing views down – seeing all of Colchuck and Stuart and as far as one could see.

I was back last summer and we did part of Eight Mile Lakes Trail but gave up due to the heat (it was very, very hot that day). Suffice to say I was not as impressed – it was not as neat of a trail. It is also very exposed due to the lack of trees (from the very bad forest fire that happened in the 90’s)

The dayhike from hell that I have been wanting to find time to do for years is starting at the Colchuck trailhead, heading up Aasgard Pass and then into the Upper Enchantments – then down and out via Snow Lakes. Only 18 miles one way 😉 5,000 ft gain and 7,000 ft loss. Shouldn’t be too hard, eh? I hope to get it done in the next year or two! (I just have to spend the night over there so I can start before sunrise. I want plenty of time to spend in the upper area to take photos.)

~Sarah

2 thoughts on “Colchuck and Stuart Lakes

  1. Nice pics of Colchuck Lake and Mt. Stuart. We were always on the way to the Enchantment when we visited Colchuck. A great place to camp is there the water from Asgard pass comes into the lake. One time we skied right across Colchuck Lake’s frozen surface on ice. What were we thinking! I hiked in via Snow lakes once, and out the same way. What a killer hike. I got to the lower Enchantments in one day, but I was beat.

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