October always seems to be a roll of the dice when planning an Enchantments trip. My first October visit caught the larches at peak and included superb weather the duration of the trip. I assumed this was the norm. I have yet to meet these conditions again.
My next trip in October was met with heavy clouds and snow.
Last year I cancelled my trip altogether due to poor weather and low snow levels.
What would this year hold? I only knew to wait until the final moments before believing. Despite cold temps and accumulated snow, we were on, albeit a tight weather window.
I rode over with my good friends Dale & Don. We met Eric & John at the Leavenworth RS, and soon after NWHikers Karen2 and Go Jo. A ranger reported 9" of new snow at Lake Vivian at 3:00 the day prior. Things would likely get interesting!.
We elected to approach the Enchantments via Snow Lake instead of the preferred Aasgard Pass route due to heavy snow on the ground and forecast for impending weather towards the end of our trip. I'm convinced, especially after talking to the group that kicked new steps up Aasgard in trying conditions, that it was the right choice.
I forgot the stats on the Snow Lake approach. I threw several comfort items in my pack, including a heavy lens that I never used, on the thought that I could simply be miserable for one day if it meant having such luxuries the remainder of the trip. It was until our hike out that I realized our elevation gain in was 5,700'!
We left the TH at 9:00 am and began the day's long haul. We had a lot of fun along the trail, recalling stories from previous trips and joking about...everything!
I don't think any of us actually expected to see 9" of snow at the end of such a sunny approach day. During our hike in, we heard reports that it was melting fast. This confirmed most of our thoughts that the results of the previous storm would be short lived and a non-issue for us.
We arrived at Lake Vivian under blue skies to find about 9" of snow on the ground, and learn that campers had been completely tent-bound the previous day during the blizzard with whiteout conditions. Temps were quite cool. There wasn't much snow melting. Any smugness amongst us - gone.
I reached our target camp near Sprite Lake at 5:30 pm, with the others soon to follow. We stomped out tent platforms and got the stove going. It had been a long day and we all were tired. But the work was done!
The next day offered mostly cloudy skies. We spent the morning around Sprite Lake before splitting our separate ways - Dale, John and Eric traversed over to Crystal Lake for some fishing while the rest of us, with cameras in hand, headed up to Gnome Tarn. The light was tricky at best, but quite dramatic at times.
Karen and Jo left for higher ground, while Don and I retreated back towards camp.
That evening I snuck down to see an old friend - Leprechaun Lake.
I returned to camp to the smell of fresh trout being fried up, and jovial spirits amongst all. It had been a good day for everyone!
We awoke early Saturday morning to a star-filled sky. Don and I shot back up to Gnome Tarn for sunrise.
Karen and Jo were behind us, enjoying the basin at the head of Perfection Lake. Ahem,....I mean Karen was. Where was Jo? Her pack and trekking poles were left at the Prusik Pass trail junction, so she couldn't be far. Check that! She left for more of that higher ground!
Later that morning, Don and I decided to head up to the upper basin, while Karen and Jo planned their early exit for some unknown reason
Dale, John and Eric were ahead of us, ascending Little Annapurna. Their trip was a success, despite the soft snow and unpleasant post-holing.
Almost past Perfection Lake, Don and I ran into some NWHikers. Randy, Matt, Dicey, Don B. and Roald. I actually spoke to Randy at length previous to meeting the rest of the group, without knowing who he was!
We also owe them a Thank You. We learned that the weather was supposed to turn to 70% chance of rain on Sunday and into Monday. Hmmmm.
We continued up to the lookout above Perfection Lake. This was a popular hangout. Apparently, Matt came back up and spent some more time near us. It embarrasses me to say I never noticed him.
Soon the others joined us.
A ranger used this opportunity to check our permits. He checked them later again down at Inspiration Lake. When asked about the weather, he told us a weak band was supposed to move through the area overnight, but that Sunday was supposed to be quite nice. Information conflict. I trusted Matt and Dicey's version.
We awoke to rain hitting the tent at 4:00 am. By 5:00 am it was done and stars were out. I got out of the tent for a look-see and walked to a vantage looking east. A large cloud band would prevent any special sunrise. I was right.
As the morning grew light, sucker holes began to appear. Our Annapurna conquerer's left camp for Prusik Pass, while Don and I stuck around Sprite Lake. We experienced dark clouds, then blue skies, then low fog...it was a smorgasbord of conditions. If you wanted the weather to change, just blink.
Soon the other group members arrived back at camp to report whiteout conditions during their entire trek. As we compared notes, the weather began to turn for worse at camp. It was time to bail. A day early.
We ditched camp at 11:00 am and headed down, passing the seasonal ranger once again below Lake Vivian. Just below the lake, we ran into some goats - the first of the trip.
We reached the TH at 4:15, changed clothes, and bolted to Gustav's. Meanwhile we noticed the skies were black above the Enchantment Peaks. Beers were raised in toast of our decision.
Driving home over Blewett Pass, we discovered the weather system to be worse than we thought. Dark clouds were stacked up against the Stuart range, waiting for their turn to spill over the ridge and consume the area. Our early exit was definitely the right choice.
It was fun getting together with old friends again for this trip, as well as making new friends. To fellow NWHikers:
Jo - you rock! It was fun to meet and get to know you! I hope we can do more trips in the future.
Karen2 - it's been too long. Blum?? WAY too long! Let's not let this happen again!
Joined: 08 Jun 2003 Posts: 2456 | TRs | Pics Location: Around The Bend
Sun Oct 23, 2011 7:55 pm
What a great (and accurate) write up of this adventure. Sounds like K2 and I closed the weather window behind us as we left on Sat. I hope to get out with this crew again, it was a fantastic experience! Your Gnome Tarn sunrise shots are stellar, way to time the lighting on that Enchants landmark. I'll try to get some photos added soon, thanks again for including me ~Jo
Joined: 15 May 2007 Posts: 972 | TRs | Pics Location: Bainbridge Island
Mon Oct 24, 2011 3:57 am
Superb photography as always. You really know how to capture every last ounce of awesome from every scene, no matter how the light conditions change. I really enjoyed your TR narrative as well. Thanks for doing the hard work to bring all of this to us.
Thanks for the kind words everyone! This was a fun and highly anticipated trip. Our group members changed a few times leading up to the dates. Another NWHiker was supposed to join us, but had to cancel.
We also had a group set to climb Prusik, but that changed too. Probably just as well. We listened to commands being yelled from Prusik well after dark Saturday night. We were surprised anyone was on it as we could see snow on the summit from camp earlier in the day. We ran into the group the next day to learn they ran into very wet rock 30' from the summit and had to turn around.
I also forgot to mention how cold it was up there. Temps rarely climbed out of the 30's as far as I know, and dipped into the low 20's at night. All I know is that several of us wore all our layers, all of the time!
I know I have left other details out too. Hopefully K2 and Go Jo can chime in with their memories.
Your "Prusik Peak above Perfection Pake" shots are fine photos, but somewhat odd captions.
Matt, I'm laughing pretty hard now, but it took me the longest time to figure out what you were referring to! A pake is what you call a large body of water when it's too cold to feel your shivering lips to be certain you are annunciating correctly.
Zachster - thanks for your observation as you summed up my feelings too. The setting up there gave me a fresh perspective on the area also, though it took me a while to appreciate it.
Thanks so much for writing this up Don and for organizing such a great trip. It was touch and go for a while there in the days leading up to the trip, the forecasts were not pleasant but it turned out to be a real mixed bag of conditions. All we had to do was wait a few minutes and light, temperature and weather would change once again!
Don had the logistics down pat, organizing everyone into teams that were self reliant amongst themselves and everyone got along great. It was also nice to see Matt, Carla and Roald and to officially meet the famous Don B and Randy. You picked a perfect day to pass through!
Iím afraid Iím still 4 trip reports behind, so I currently donít have many photos to contribute, but I will do so at a future date. Thanks again to Don, Don, Eric, John, Dale and Josie for a great time!
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