Anyone who has hiked the Enchantments will tell you the region is deserving of its name. Staggering granite peaks, more alpine lakes than I care to count, mountain goats moseying about—this mythical subregion of Washington feels more akin to the worlds of Tolkien than our own. It’s unsurprising that over 40,000 hikers applied for overnight permits in 2023 alone, and hundreds of thru-hikers frequent the area daily, bypassing the permit lottery altogether. The Enchantments traverse is the premier tour of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and it commands a spot on every hiker’s bucket list.
Hoping to catch Washington’s famed larch season—the golden mini-season of larch trees preparing to shed their needles—in all its glory, revisiting the Enchantments topped my priority list this fall. Timing agreeable weather and decent trail conditions with work schedules and the turning of the season can be a tall order, but sometimes, the universe works out in your favor. We hit the jackpot on October 1st, with blue bird skies, near perfect conditions and a fresh coating of snow joining forces to keep the Sunday Scaries at bay.
Packing for this trip, I needed a layering system versatile enough to handle a spectrum of weather conditions and, knowing the Seattle gray was tightening its grip on the season, one of Mother Nature’s surprises. Beyond Clothing’s Fall 23 Collection was my kit of choice for the traverse, because if you ask me, top tier adventure calls for top tier gear. With that in tow, I managed to catch larch season in the Enchantments in its prime this year. Here’s the beta on how I did it.
(A snow sprinkled alpine lake)
The first step included navigating the trek’s logistical hurdles. The Enchantments is a point-to-point hike, meaning you start at one trailhead and end at another, so two cars are required to avoid paying for the trailhead shuttle service. Moreover, overnight accommodations are strongly recommended if you’re going for the 20-mile jaunt in one day. As such, we planted a car at the Snow Lakes trailhead the night prior, later setting up “camp” in a nearby dirt parking lot where overnight stay is totally not frowned upon.
Ahead of the hike, I used a combination of AllTrails and Washington Trails Association to gather information on key trail stats—like mileage and elevation—and to gain a sense of the trail conditions I should expect, based on recent trip reports. After doing my homework, packing the following auxiliary items felt like a good idea: microspikes, trekking poles, gloves, headlamps, extra socks and, as always, first aid. I also brought a water filter and a few of my favorite trail munchies—turkey wraps, beef jerky, bars, fruit and trail mix.
With these final preparations in place, I set an alarm for 3:45 a.m. and checked off the last item on my to-do list: go to sleep.
STUART LAKE TRAILHEAD TO AASGARD PASS
The traditional route was the gameplan—start at the Stuart Lake trailhead, tackle Aasgard with fresh legs, and enjoy downhill sailing from there on out. I’d love to say I was stoked when we hit the trail just after 5am, but my sleep-deprived brain was preoccupied with planning a siesta at the top of Aasgard instead. Sleepwalking more so than hiking, at least I wasn’t cold—my Geo-T and Alpha Aura provided plenty of toasty solace in the 30-some-odd-degree predawn hours. I benefitted from the combo’s topnotch breathability as my body temperature rose in tandem with the elevation gain. Eventually my grogginess faded, and when the sun had relieved our headlamps of their duties, I decided I didn’t need that nap after all.
Colchuck Lake and its accompanying Dragontail Peak served as our first photo break. Few places provoke an involuntary “goddamn”—this is one of them, especially dressed in blue hour’s sapphire hue. Knowing we were only four miles into a 20-mile day, we snapped a few photos and continued onward.
Soon after, the trail spit us out at the base of Aasgard Pass, the towering gateway to the Core Enchantments. Aasgard rises a casual 1,900ft in less than a mile, this time enhanced by the remnants of a recent storm. We realized this marked the last reasonable place to turn around, as an icy downward scramble was not on my agenda for the day. Nonetheless, we spiked up, and charged on slow and steady.
One particularly tricky section—a stretch of slick ice and a boulder determined to test your hip mobility—created a bottleneck of hikers on the slope. Crafty maneuvers are no issue for my Ascent-Glide Pants, though, thanks to the 4-way stretch and crotch gusset construction. The Ascent’s built-in Avert™ gaiter system, perhaps the handiest feature, was especially useful in keeping slush out of my shoes in the snowed-out sections of the trail. After waiting in the backcountry queue, we cleared the day’s first roadblock and proceeded upward. Only after a few false summits did we finally crest the mountain pass.
(Ascending Aasgard Pass)
(Obligatory selfie wearing the Men's Alpha Aura)
THE CORE ENCHANTMENTS
The money is made in the Core Enchantments, where this hike earns its mystique. Craggy peaks, silvery pools and streams, and the renowned larches were on full display, all engulfed in a blanket of white. You can’t ask for much more, except maybe for a pair of sunglasses, in which mine were forgotten in the car. Even through squinted eyes, the setting was surreal.
Willing to burn a little daylight in the Core Zone, we cozied up on a large boulder for lunch and more photos. Mild winds, absent mosquitoes and unfiltered sunshine made for flawless conditions. Shedding my Alpha, the Geo-T’s UPF 50 sun protection kept me from turning into a lobster in the snow’s reflection, another huge win in the lifelong battle against skin cancer. We still had 12 miles to go, but the A-list views were too good to be concerned about that.
(The Core Enchantments)
If the mountain goats were out that day, they evaded us in the snow’s camouflage. No biggie. We meandered through the labyrinth of lakes, soaking in the feeling from which the Enchantments gets its namesake. These miles slip by without effort. Stopping frequently for photos, snacks or just because, we leisurely marched along, grateful for October’s warm afternoon. Before too long, we rounded the last lake on our route through the Core Zone as the snow below our feet gave way to slush and, finally, mud.
Women's Hooded Geo-T to the test)
(Morgan rocking the Women's Alpha Aura)
(Ascent-Glide Pants Avert™ integrated Gaiter was a savior here)
SNOW LAKES TO FINISH
As amazing as this hike is, the latter half is undoubtedly a slog. Your joints begin to feel the day, and the aforementioned enchanting feeling begins to fade. It’s slow moving down steep, glacier-torn granite until you reach Snow Lakes, your final parting gift before the home stretch to the car. I slipped back into my Alpha when the sun dipped below the surrounding peaks, knowing I’d have to call upon my headlamp again soon.
AllTrails metrics should always be taken with a grain of salt, and alas, we were not at the car when my watch marked mile 18. But in time, headlights were spotted cruising along Icicle Road in the distance, adding some spring to our final steps of the day. We descended the concluding switchbacks realizing that we were, in fact, going to finish the damn thing. My GPS clocked in 20 miles and some change from trailhead to trailhead, not too shabby for a school night.