Five Mountains in the Enchantments
Enchantment Peak (8,520ft), Cannon Mountain (8,638ft), Mclellan Peak (8,364ft), Little Annapurna (8,440ft), Dragontail Peak (8,840ft)
October 7, 2017, 4:30am – 7:30pm
35 miles, 12,000ft elevation gain.
Another snowstorm was set to hit the cascades on Saturday, but east of the crest looked potentially dry. It was peak fall-color season, especially for the larches, and I decided to hike into the enchantments. The weather was supposed to be a few inches of fresh snow, extremely windy, and cold.
I drove out Friday night and got to a mile from the trailhead by midnight, but was blocked by a tree that had fallen across the road. It was high enough that cars could squeeze under, but with the top-carrier mounted I was completely blocked. I vainly tried to cut out the tree with a hatchet, but the wood was too hard and the tree too big.
I ended up parking right next to the tree and sleeping in the car. Several other vehicles drove by throughout the night, and by 4:30am I decided to start hiking. I soon made it to the Stuart Lake trailhead and hiked up to Colchuck Lake by sunrise. One hiker was already descending, having bailed out of a planned thru-hike when he encountered snow and wind.
The talus leading to Asgard pass had a dusting of snow, and definitely required caution not to slip. It was extremely windy and quite cold on the way up, and reminded me of a winter hike above treeline in New Hampshire. Unfortunately at that point I realized I had left my gloves, hat, and sweater back in the car. It was too far away to go back and get, so I determined to just keep moving throughout the day to not get cold.
I reached the pass by 8am, and luckily the wind died down on the enchantment plateau. The sun also intermittently poked out to the east, and the skies were actually clear down toward Wenatchee. I soon left the trail heading left, and scrambled up to the summit of Enchantment Peak by 9am. I had originally planned to just hit four mountains, but since I was on top of my first one so early in the day, and I was feeling strong, I decided to add on one more mountain.
From the summit I descended to Prussik Pass, and then traversed over to Cannon Mountain. As I crested the plateau below the summit I was met with a whiteout, but I persisted across the plateau up to the summit pyramid. I had climbed Cannon a few years earlier, and this memory helped me navigate. The final scramble up the snow-covered
slab to the summit was pretty exhilarating, and I paused only long enough to tag the highest rock before descending.
Within 20 minutes after leaving the top the skies opened back up, and I got excellent views of the yellow larches surrounding the alpine lakes. I descended and traversed back to Prussik Pass, then followed the trail to Leprechaun Lake. By now there were quite a few other hikers in the area.
I soon left the trail at the east end of the lake, and that was my last encounter with other hikers the whole day. From
the lake I scrambled up toward McLellan Peak, skirting the edge of a permanent snowfield, then crossing to the south side of the ridge. I finally made a short 3rd class climb to the summit, and signed my name in the register. This was actually the only mountain of the day that had a register.
After a 5-minute food break I descended back down and traversed through talus to Crystal Lake. I filled up my 3rd liter of water for the day here, then hiked steeply up to the summit of Little Annapurna, reaching the top at 2:30pm for my 4th mountain of the day. The views were still amazing, and the biting cold even let up as the sun came out.
I soon descended, traversing west again to hit my last mountain of the day, Dragontail. Unfortunately there were several large icy snowpatches to cross, and I spent some time switching in and out of crampons. At one point I was scrambling down a ridge, downclimbing a few steep sections, when I reached a rappel anchor. I knew the route below would likely be pretty technical, so I climbed back up 50ft, then luckily found an easy way down to the bottom.
By this point it was 3:30pm and I was finally at the base of Dragontail. I tried to take a shortcut ascending directly up the rock bands to the snowfield on the east face, but got cliffed-out and had to turn around. I eventually met up with the normal cairned route. At the snowfield I switched to crampons and carefully ascended the icy slope, then scrambled the last hundred feet up rock to the summit.
I soon retraced my steps, carefully downclimbed the slope, and eventually reached Asgard Pass by 5pm. Throughout the day there had been intermittent snowshowers, but at 5pm it started snowing really hard. The visibility dropped, and it was pretty hard to find the trail descending down to Colchuck lake.
Luckily I reached the lake and the trees well before dark, and followed the trail easily down. The snow turned to heavy rain around 4,000ft, just after dark, and I ended running the last few miles to the trailhead by 7:20pm. Of course, I still wasn’t back to the car, so I started jogging back in the dark. A nice hiker picked me up and gave me a ride back to the car, and I was surprised to see the tree was already cut out!
I hadn’t really added up the mileage before the trip, so I was pretty surprised when I noticed my fitbit said I’d gone 35 miles (and 75,000 steps!). But I later added it up and this seemed consistent with trail mileages. Also, I’d been moving fast for 15 hours and had never taken more than a 5-minute break, so the mileage seemed accurate. I made it back to Seattle that night, ready for another hike Sunday.