I flew back to Portland from Colorado on Monday night, then spent Tuesday shopping for backpacking food / gear and Tuesday evening we drove to Ellensburg, WA to stay in a cheap motel before taking off for a 4 day/3 night backpacking trip on Wednesday morning. I love piggy-backing adventures, but it was a whirlwind week, for sure!
We started Wednesday morning at IHOP, fueling up before the next few days of consuming dehydrated meals and trail mix. We had to make a quick pit stop in Leavenworth because *someone* forgot their down jacket and had to purchase a new one! I won’t name names…
We arrived at the Snow Lakes Trailhead of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and after a final pack weigh-in (mine was ~33 lbs), last minute candy bar snack, and hearty sunscreen application, we were ready to get going. It was already a gazillion degrees and our destination was up.
Let me take a step back and introduce our backpacking party: Jesse & me, our good friends from Idaho, Lindsey & John, their lovely neighbor, Anna, and Lindsey & John’s 9-month old daughter, who I’ll call kid-O.
Taking another step back, let me explain the trip a bit more. We were backpacking The Enchantments, which the Washington Trails Association describes as: “an alpine paradise of granite worn smooth by glaciers, larches manicured by wind and cold, and crystal blue lakes strung together by a creek that tumbles and thunders between them. Seemingly everywhere, herds of mountain goats calmly wander by.” That is quite accurate, I’d say. Camping in The Enchantments is by permit only, and a lottery to boot. Camping in the “core zone” is an even harder lottery to win, but after years of trying, Lindsey & John’s names were finally drawn and they invited us to join the adventure (with the caveat that they would have kid-O along). No doubt, we’d be joining.
Back to the hiking. In all honesty, kid-O had more backpacking experience than I had (she’d been once that summer already and I had been exactly 0 times before in my life), but I was keen to keep up with the party. The trail was as beautiful as the pictures led me to believe. Unfortunately, wildfires in the Pacific Northwest were particularly bad this summer. Evening/night number one smelled of smoke and we could see it in the distance. Luckily it cleared up over the next few days, but hikers and campers with permits in the week after us weren’t so lucky. They had to be evacuated and lost the chance to use their permits due to the fires. We were fortunate.
The core zone was just out of reach for day 1, as hunger for everyone set in and we wanted to avoid setting up camp / having dinner in the dark. We called it a day at Nada Lake (~7.5 miles; 3,500 feet of gain). After dinner, Jesse & John strung up the food sacks, we stuck our feet in the cool alpine water, and then headed to bed.
The next day we had breakfast and took off again. After a few miles, we relaxed on the shores of Snow Lakes, saw our first mountain goat, had lunch and refilled water bladders in a gorgeous shady spot by Snow Creek, and eventually made it to the core zone. We had dinner / spent our second night in a rock shelter next to Lake Viviane and Prusik Peak.
Here is where the real adventure began. It was windy and much colder than our first night. I had on a merino bra, merino t-shirt, two merino long-sleeved tops, my down jacket, and my rain jacket. I had on a hat and gloves, merino leggings, and my hiking pants. I was freezing and desperate to crawl into my sleeping bag. The bigger problem, however, was that we had set up our camp in what was seemingly a mountain goat’s lair. We had 3 goats, and 1 particularly menacing one, circling us for about an hour. Jesse, John, & Anna bravely threw rocks, yelled, “sword”-fought with trekking poles, and other various methods of getting the goats to retreat, while Lindsey, kid-O, and I tried to keep warm and calm. Eventually it was too dark to continue fending off the goats and we all resigned ourselves to bed. We were pretty sure the goats just wanted to sniff around and find some of our salty snacks, but they were quite intimidating nonetheless.
The next morning, we all had a leisurely breakfast, were annoyed by another mountain goat (though this one was much more patient as we packed up camp), had a good little photoshoot, and took off back down the trail toward “home”.
After a day of downhill hiking, we ended up back at Nada Lake for our final night. We were there early enough that we could set up camp and hang out a bit, rather than just eating and calling it a night. Jesse & John decided to take a swim in the lake – by swim I mean a 3-4 second dunk accompanied with shrieks of shock and pain. That water was cold! I could only go in to my shins for about 30 seconds before I couldn’t take it anymore, so they were especially brave! But it was nice to freshen up and “wash” some clothes.
We spent the evening tying climbing knots, eating, doing dishes, and just lazing around. Kid-O played with her balloon, a cup, some rocks…and was having a genuinely happy time. With each night, Lindsey & John would apologize for kid-O being loud but I honestly hadn’t heard a peep out of her once. Granted, I’m an incredibly heavy sleeper but I was truly impressed with how easy-going she had been all trip. Oblivious to the work her parents put in to make the adventure a success for everyone, she played with her pinecones, tent stakes, and sticks without a care in the world. I, and every other hiker we passed those 4 days, was impressed.
Morning came, we all donned clean clothes, no longer rationed our food supplies, and we made our way back to the trailhead. Six friends, 4 days, 3 nights, ~20 miles, and nearly 7,000 feet of elevation gain, we were back at the car. My final pack weight came in around 25 pounds (the lightest of all of us..!).
We headed to Leavenworth for some real food, beers all around, ice cream, and bittersweet good-byes. It was funny how after just a few days of being disconnected in the wilderness, I was annoyed by the amount of vehicle and foot traffic once we were back in town. I didn’t want to turn my phone on, fearing what world news I had missed. While I looked forward to running water and my own bed, I gave into the cliché of feeling like I could survive on less.