Enchanted Air

In an age where superlatives are used more freely than ever, it feels hard to come up with any words to describe the Enchantment Lakes in Alpine Lakes Wilderness. But we just did some world class backpacking among them a few days ago, the best we’ve ever done. Described as an alpine wonderland with polished granite in the foreground and jagged high mountains above with lakes, glaciers, waterfalls, incredible larch trees and plenty of goats sprinkled about, it really is a bit of a paradise. And with lovely lakeside campsites and only a handful of hikers, we enjoyed the solitude of this fantastic place.

It might look like snow but it is really white granite
Downtown Leavenworth, WA

It all came about quickly. Since I last wrote anything here, we’ve been exploring Washington from the coastline above Seattle to the N. Cascades, focusing on backcountry hiking because we know the season is almost over. I’ll write about what we did soon. Anyway, a few people have recommended the Enchantments to us lately and we finally looked in to them because we were relatively near. Because of their popularity, there is a permit system with a lottery and then there are a few walk-up permits. But because of Covid, the walk-ups are now online (a covid benefit), randomly released each Monday between 5-9am. With a perfect forecast ahead, we both got up before 5am on Monday and kept refreshing our page every few seconds for nearly 2 hours when finally, permits for the “core” (the highest and most beautiful part of the Enchantments) popped up as available. We snapped them up in a panic and with success, started driving to the town of Leavenworth from Winthrop to prepare to backpack the next day. Leavenworth is a German style town that probably is about as close in resemblance to Germany as St Augustine is to Spain (it isn’t!). But it was tidy and cute and we enjoyed walking around it. Later in the afternoon, just as we were settling in to a forest campground near the trailhead, smoke suddenly started pouring into the area and ash was raining down from a nearby wildfire. It was so bad we figured that we wouldn’t be able to use our coveted permit after all. So we slept on it and got up the next morning to see how the night had gone. Turned out it was a little better and the fires weren’t close enough for any trails to be closed (we researched this online) where we were going to be. So we quickly packed up, took a chance and climbed up 10 miles to the core area at about 7500 feet. Along the way, hikers were coming down reporting that they’d had smoke and ash up there that night, along with high winds. We thought, oh boy, that wouldn’t be nice! But onward and upward. When we arrived at the top we couldn’t believe how lovely it was.

Lovely hiking trails

The core spans about 16 square miles and once up there, you can day hike all around to explore. It isn’t a knock your socks off hike up and it is steep in sections but once on the high plateau, it’s another world and there is still elevation to gain from up there. We set up our tent at the most beautiful site we’ve ever had, on Leprekhan Lake and started taking it all in. It had everything we love the most in an alpine setting and for once we weren’t stashed away in the dark woods which so often happens. There are some benefits to wilderness areas as opposed to national park areas because there are more lenient guidelines I guess. The established campsites are close to the lakes. We were so happy to see that there was virtually no trash and people seemed to really be respecting and taking care of this place.

We loved our campsite by the lake
I like the personality of the mountain goats- can I help you???
This goat really does have legs!

We finally got up close to lots of mountain goats, we explored all the lakes with their crazy colors, rock formations, fish, meadows and glaciers. They have names like Perfection, Isolation, Temple, Leprekhan. I swam in a couple of them (not too bad) and we lounged around in our campsite enjoying coffee looking at the larch trees turning more golden by the day. Everything grows so slowly up there, the trees so colorful and shapely. The air was crisp, calm and clear and every day the sky was pure blue with a sunny orb. We felt very fortunate to be able to get a permit to see it and once again, for $10 a day you can’t buy this kind of experience, this beauty. It is a characteristic of the US that stands out as unique and is worth protecting, in my opinion.

The glaciers near Asgard pass

On the third day, we hiked over to Asgard Pass, on the other side of the core area and looked out over a brownish orange layer of thick smoke that had settled upon the valley. It sort of surprised us since on the side where our tent was the lower horizon had cleared a lot. That night we wondered whether we would be pushing our luck if we stayed longer since we couldn’t really be sure what was going on down there and if the smoke was too thick our solar panels wouldn’t be able to charge the batteries for the fridge & freezer. Of course we started worrying about our truck much like we used to worry about Evergreen. Funny how we thought we might be over that!! So after 3 unforgettable nights, we packed back down into the smoke layer that we’d been above and back to our truck which we’re enjoying so much. All was fine but it really hit us that the west really IS on fire and we were just literally above it all. I bawled a bit at leaving and we hope to return again someday.

I think this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever filtered water…
Part of the view from our campsite

After spending a night in Leavenworth to unpack, we headed eastward toward Spokane because we had some things waiting at REI and we had originally planned to bike the 70 mile Couer D’alene rail trail and put the kayak in at a lake along the way. But once out of the fruit orchard areas, we started passing actual smoldering fires and miles of barren landscape in a cloud of smoke that was akin to thick fog in Maine and made us feel like we were suffocating. So that ended all those plans and we couldn’t even get the stuff at REI because it was closed for the smoke! What a crap day. We ended it in a Cabela’s RV parking area (actually these are very nice) and we at least replenished our freeze dried food supply there.

And yesterday we got up to assess the scene and were still heavily socked in with no clear end in sight so we saddled up, restocked our provisions during the morning and then drove up to Glacier National Park in the afternoon! The air is 2 levels better here and it once again smells like balsam, not smoke although there is still plenty of haze and you can barely see the mountains. It won’t be a long visit but we had to find cleaner air. If things improve enough we’d like to do a favorite backpack here if we can get a permit. It’s a bad addiction, I know.

We have a riverside campsite in the Flathead Nat’l Forest. All of the campgrounds in Glacier park are closed.

Driving here yesterday made me remember how it felt to set sail whenever we wanted, to change up our surroundings to someplace different or merely just get away. It’s the way we like to live. One major difference now though is we went to sleep last night. And our home was parked rather than floating on the waves.

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