All that is gold does not glitter; not all who wander are lost...
After some of my other trips, I’ve wished for more time to just explore around and discover an area from new perspectives. On this trip, I did that. I started early and departed late, so that I could spend as much daylight as possible wandering around the Enchantments. And the day just kept getting better and better as it went on.
Actually, I had a permit for overnight camping starting Sunday, but the weather would have been poor then. I also knew a group making a fast thru-hike, but that have meant hurrying past everything. So I made the most of a single day.
Some of the best highlights of the day came after I left the trail and just began wandering: a ramble up the granite slaps from Leprechaun Lake to Prusik Pass; a side trip out to the end of the peninsula on Crystal Lake; and returning through the upper basin in late afternoon light.
Along the way were also the small serendipitous surprises – beautiful little still-life settings of frost in a pool, snow on the rocks, rocks in a tarn.
Also, yes, there was the grand scenery of the Enchantments. I’ve seen it before, but each trip offers a fresh discovery of beauty. The tremendous granite - spiky towers above and curving slabs underfoot. The wonderful lakes - with their crystal depths and beautiful colors. And the fascinating interaction between the two – high cliffs plunging to mysterious depths, intricate shorelines curving and embracing the water, vigorous peninsulae stretching outward, pert islands rising upward, lively streams flowing in and cascading onward.
And there was the gold. Beautiful, shiny gold. Muted in the morning light, and then glowing bright in the afternoon. Circling around the lakes, marching up the slopes, white snow beneath their feet, blue sky above their heads, the larches proudly displaying their final autumn splendor before they settle into their long winter rest.
The Trail In & Up: Colchuck Trail & Aasgard Pass
To get started early, I slept in my car at the trailhead. It was surprisingly comfortable, except for the scratching noise of the mice in trunk that kept awakening me in the middle of the night.
I was off up the trail by headlamp at 4:30am. Even at that hour, several other groups were also getting ready to depart.
The route up Aasgard Pass was a bit of a traction challenge, with the snow packed by previous hikers and frozen overnight. During my climb up the pass, I enjoyed watching the first light touch the tops of the peaks, and then seeing my first little sunlit larch of the season glowing gold near the top.
Along the Trail: From the Upper Lakes to the Overlook
The Upper Lakes
The upper basin stretched bright and cold. It was all white snow and icy lakes, with a few small gold larches under a wide blue sky.
The Upper Tarns
Traveling past the upper tarns, I think I doubled the number of side tracks in the snow, checking out the reflections in the shallow pools and hopping on the rocks for better views. I also managed to slip briefly on an icy rock and stumble into the stream just enough to add cold water to both of my boots.
The Overlook: Perfection & Lower Lakes Basin
At the far end of the basin, I made a side trip up to The Overlook, where a rocky rise tops out to high cliffs that give a wide view of the lower lakes.
Crystal Lake from Above
I also made a couple side trips to look down at Crystal Lake. I’ve always especially liked this view down to Crystal, nestled in its little basin, framed between the heights of McClellan & Little Annapurna, with its shield-like shape and rocky peninsula just begging to be explored.
As I departed The Overlook, I met up with Dicey, Roald, and DonB of the thru-hike group (Randy was further ahead). They commented that every time they saw a side track in the snow, they figured it was me running around to take pictures.
Along the Trail: The Lower Lakes from Inspiration to Leprechaun
Perfection & Sprite Lakes
On the near shore of Perfection Lake, we met Don Geyer and Don, who were camping at Sprite Lake together with Karen2 & GoJo. We all talked for a while, during which we could see Randy waiting and waiting across the lake on the far shore. Walking along the east shore later on, I especially enjoyed all the little twisty bonsai larches that grow at the edges of the lake.
At Sprite Lake, we met Karen2 & Gojo at their camp, and the thru-hikers took off at their higher pace, while I proceeded more slowly down to Leprechaun Lake.
On my last trip through the Enchantments, these lakes had provided some of my best photos, but this time the bright snow and low light angle producing mostly just bright glare and dark surfaces on the lakes.
Down at Leprechaun Lake, I couldn’t get a good perspective from the lakeshore, so I started working my way up slabs north of the lake for better views.
First Wander: Leprechaun to Prusik Pass
I had planned to take the trail down to Viviane Lake, but the slabs kept leading me upward to better views, so I just kept going north up the rib toward Prusik Pass.
Viviane (& Temple) Lakes
Suddenly Viviane Lake popped into view below, full of the rich colors I had been looking for.
Along the Slabs
The rock here was perfect for wandering, just one rising curve after another. And tucked into the rock were pools of water everywhere, ranging from tarns to tiny puddles, all etched in patterns of ice and frost.
Higher up, Prusik Peak dominated the view. From this corner, the steep clean rock just swept farther and farther up overhead.
Prusik Pass provided a study in contrasts.
It offered a head-on view of the bifurcated prow of Prusik Peak, all dark cold snowy broken rock on the left, and bright warm sheer faces on the right.
Edwards Mesa stretched lower and still mostly green on one side, while the Enchantments basin stretched high and cold on the other.
Second Wander: Prusik Pass to Crystal Lake
Now I wanted to work my way back to Crystal Lake, so I first followed a different rib southwest toward Sprite Lake.
Along the way, Gnome Tarn offered a frozen reflection of Prusik, a bit different than the usual view.
Thickening clouds turned Perfection Lake to tones of steely gray.
Temple Mountain looked especially dramatic on this trip past Sprite Lake, with the rock and water shadowed dark, but a narrow band of sun lighting up the shoreline larches.
From Sprite to Crystal
One could just follow the shore of Perfection around toward Crystal, but I diverted past Sprite Lake and up over the nose of the nose southwest of the lake for different views of the area. Across Perfection Lake, I could even see a crowd of hikers up on The Overlook.
Third Wander: Crystal, Crystal, Crystal!
Dropping down to Crystal Lake, the water reflected painfully bright glare from above, but then pretty blue skies as I reached its shore.
All sizes and shapes of larches surrounded the lake.
I worked my way out along the edge of the peninsula, reveling in the shapes and views that it revealed.
A flat rock provided an irresistible platform for a swim in the lake. But I couldn’t decide whether I liked the larch view or the mountain view better, so I reset the camera and swam off both sides. I finished just before my rock dropped into evening shadow. (Note to self: Before stepping off a steep=sided rock into the water, make sure that you can climb back out, so you don’t have to paddle along the shoreline looking for an exit.)
When I dropped down to Crystal, I hoped that there would be an alternate exit, without hiking back up all around the trail. One could probably hike up the far slopes toward Little Annapurna, but they had a lot of snow. Once I was down by the lake, I also spotted a nice dry gully on the north side, and it turned out to lead right back up to The Overlook!
Back on the Trail: The Overlook to Aasgard Pass
Atop the Overlook, I found Don & Done setting up tripods for sunset photography. The afternoon light was already casting the lower basin into sharp relief.
At the Upper Tarns, the afternoon light and shadows revealed wonderful combination of colors and shapes.
Where the sun had melted the tarns, they reflected beautiful deep blue.
And in the shadows, they were icy pastels.
The Upper Basin
By the time I reached the top of Aasgard Pass, only a thin rim of light remained on the crests, and a full moon rose behind McClellan.
The Trail Down & Out
The trail down the pass was nasty. The foot-packed snow was now frozen to an icy slick, and I had to aim for rock edges or hold myself back with my poles on every step, so I made slow progress and it was dark before I reached the bottom.
At the bottom of the pass, I found a pair of neophyte backpackers who were lost in the rubble and brush. An “experienced” friend had recommended that they do Aasgard as their first-ever backpacking trip. Damn, I hate that kind of thoughtless “advice.” However, they had shown good sense by turning back when it got too slick for them, and stopping in place when they couldn’t figure out where to go in the dark. Fortunately, I was able to accompany them to find their way back to the trail.
Then I hiked the rest of the way back to the trailhead. It was such a calm temperate night that it was very comfortable, even though long after dark. Even in the woods, the moon was so bright that I sometimes thought someone was flashing a headlamp from behind me.
I finally reached my car at 11:30pm and drove back to the campground where the thru-hikers were already asleep. On my phone, I found an earlier message from Dicey that they were having dinner at Gustav’s. Everything was closed now, so I just had a package of ramens in my car. But it was well worth the longer trip.
Round trip stats: 21 miles, 6700 feet cumulative gain, 19:10 hours, no new summits, no new trails, many wonderful memories.
This trip left me already anticipating other ways I could explore the area – walk across the Isolation isthmus, explore the Leprechaun Peninsula, swim out to Perfection Island, maybe circumnavigate the shore of some of the lakes. There’s always something new to try.
For now, I felt very tired, but even more very satisfied.
-------------- “As beacons mountains burned at evening.” J.R.R. Tolkien
Matt, your attention to detail along the trail always amazes me. Once again, I am impressed! Excellent images and account of your travels through such a magnificent area.
Back at camp our group was placing guesses as to which lake you would seek out for a dip (previous to your visit). I don't recall Crystal coming into the conversation, so I guess there were no winners.
You came back up to the overlook while we were up there? Embarrassing to admit, but I did not know! We had so many visitors - some real characters too. I guess we began to tune them out. I bet you were one of the last one's before we departed around 5:15 or so. We actually did not shoot sunset from there. Instead, I spent the evening at Leprechaun Lake (I highly recommend you explore the peninsula).
Thanks for sharing your wonderful account. I am still editing images (many interruptions) and hope to post a TR shortly.
we just got back to Portland tonight after 3 days up there, unfortunately we rushed through the upper basin so I only got to stop for photos a few times. Will post a report after I finish processing my shots.
A few questions, what lens/lenses did you use and how did you produce your elevation report? I'm new to the world of GPS and I'm trying to figure out how to edit my data from my Garmin Oregon to put it into a useful format. Unfortunately my batteries died a few times so there are some lines I need to correct but I'm not sure the best way to go about doing that.
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