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Backpacking in Enchantments


To begin with, it’s a backpacker’s dream. The challenging hike and rewarding views of alpine lakes wilderness just can’t get any better. Between May 15 and October 31, a permit is required for overnight use in the Enchantments. Permits allow the permit holder and their group to camp overnight in one of the five permit zones:

  1. Core Enchantment Zone

  2. Snow Lake Zone

  3. Colchuck Lake Zone

  4. Stuart Lake Zone

  5. Eightmile/Caroline Zone

Core Enchantment permit holders may camp in any of the five zones. Day use is permitted across all zones, but camping can only occur in the zone for which the overnight permit is issued.

The permits are issued based on a lottery that happens in February and results are available in March. More info can be found here:

We (a group of 4) got the permit for Sept 5 to Sept 10, 2020, for Snow Zone, and as per the guidelines, we were only allowed to camp in Snow Zone campsites but visit other zones only in the day time.

What to expect:

Very strenuous and rocky terrain. Lots of ascent on the way to the core zone. Full of adventure. Beyond the world views of Alpine Lakes. Moon-like landscape with a little bit of life as we enter the core zone. Clean campsites with access to creek, lake, or dam water and okay-ish restrooms. Given that only a number of permits with specific group sizes are issued each year, you typically get the trail and view just for yourself.

How to prepare physically:

Lots of strength training, especially body weight lunges, and additional weight lunges of at least 20% of your body weight — very helpful in ascent with the backpack. We started preparing 3-4 months in advance with a focus on the back, shoulder, legs, and core 3-4 times a week. Hiking in a similar terrain is recommended. Mailbox peak‘s old trail comes closest to the terrain in enchantments. This helped in increasing the stamina for the entire backpacking trip.

4-day Itinerary with camping in Snow Zone:

We started to drive from Redmond, WA around 4:30 am on Day 1 and reached the Snow Lakes trailhead which is about 141 miles away at 7 am. Even at that hour, we couldn’t find a spot in the parking lot, instead parked on the street 400 ft away from the trailhead.

After having finger food for breakfast, we started hiking with a backpack weighing 30-35 pounds to our first campsite near the dam at Nada Lake. The trail was filled with lots of switchbacks and not-so-rewarding views. After 5.6 miles of straight ascent and 3600 feet elevation gain, we reached the campsite and put the tents for the night.

Day 2 started with packing up from our basecamp at Nada Lake and heading towards Upper Snow Lake campsite which was about 3.4 miles away with 500 ft elevation gain in the first mile, filled with rocky terrain (very steep) and very beautiful view of Nada Lake from the top and water stream flowing from Snow Lakes (Lower and Upper) on the top. We reached the campsite which was a mile away from the beginning of the core zone of Enchantments. The campsite was very beautiful and clean with a view of the temple peak and upper snow lake.

On Day 3, we left our tents at the Upper Snow Lake campsite and started hiking with a light backpack to enter the core zone. The dense forest started becoming rare, very steep terrain with white granite rocks as we ascended 1500 ft over 3-4 miles. We mainly followed Hiking Cairns to stay on the trail. Alas, we got lost several times. We met a couple of hikers on the way who helped us follow the trail. This was the most difficult patch of the backpacking trip. Highly unexpected rock climbing-like terrain but very satisfying for adventurous souls. After 3 hours, we got a rewarding view of Lake Viviane and a top view of Upper Snow Lake.

After sinking into breathtaking views of Lake Viviane, Leprechaun Lake, Sprite Lake, and Perfection Lake (which are a mile and some elevation gain away from one another) and with an intention to be back to the campsite before dark, we started our descent at 4:30 pm and reached the campsite in 2 hours. We spotted some really cute mountain goats on our way back.

On day 4, we packed up our tents by 1 pm and started the descent of 9 miles back to trailhead which was definitely very tiring and challenging on the legs. However, completing the descent in one day with a backpack from Upper Snow Lake to the trailhead is really good for gaining a sense of accomplishment.

Having a good rest and nice sleep was very important to make the best out of the backpacking trip. Among many other things, sleeping pad was a must to have. Along with this, how to carry your backpack is another learning point so that your legs (which is the largest muscle group in your body) carry most of their weight and your shoulder and back are spared from the load.

In summary, the complete backpacking experience was a combination of relaxation and adventure. It was definitely challenging in both ways mentally and physically. If nothing else, at many places on the trail, it was only about shutting off those mental inhibitions. The views are beyond this world and no words or no pictures can capture this enchanting beauty (yet a humble attempt to showcase some), so much so that every sight of the alpine lakes and morning view from the tent are still and will be fresh in my memory! PS: If you are in Pacific NorthWest and up for an adventure, let’s do a through-hike in enchantments.

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