Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Nothing Expected

I always try not to have expectations of an experience, as I am aware that things never turn out the way they are planned. However, when the backpack trip to the Enchantments was set up by my friend, Elena, it seemed realistic to think we could get up Aasgard Pass the first day and spend two days in the Core Zone, then hike back out down the Pass and past Colchuck Lake.

While standing in the parking lot trailhead on Sunday morning, the minutes were ticking by and we were still waiting for Elena and her friend, Yelena (they are both Russian, both Mountaineers and both live in the same neighborhood; together, I refer to them as "the Yelenas"). It was 9:45 by the time we all got on the trail which is not early by any stretch of the imagination, especially when you are expecting to ascend 4,000 feet for the day.
sunset at Lake Colchuck, looking up toward Aasgard

my mixed review

not far from the top of the Pass

Another party member, Bernadette, was at the trailhead on time, but was lagging behind at each rest stop on the trail and Rich and I waited 20 or more minutes at the Lake (in hindsight, we figured we should have taken a dip in Colchuck in that time). It was already after 1:30pm when we headed off around the lake, yet no one had stopped long enough to have lunch, especially important if we were going to tackle the most grueling part of the trip, ascending Aasgard Pass. It is more of a scramble than a hike, ascending 2,200 feet in less than a mile, according to the map. I knew I could not go much further without some serious on-loading of calories. There was also the cool-down swim we wanted to take and water that needed to be filtered for the whole group. By the time we arrived at the  far end of the lake, we were hungry, tired and thirsty and it was after 4pm. Heading into the boulder field (the prelude to climbing the Pass), one of our party was having trouble and I spied a last-chance campsite where we could rest until morning.

A new plan was made to wake up at 0530 and break camp at 0700 to head up the Pass. We all got up on time, but, were not quite on trail at 7:00, as we wanted to make sure we had enough calories and water to make the journey. Then the Yelenas split up; we took one and left the other with Bern, keeping them in sight below us. Aasgard Pass is often referred to as Ass-Kick Pass and I was trying to avoid an ass-kicking for the next 4 hours, as that was how long it took us, complete with rest breaks and checking on our party below us. Unlike the previous day, which was warm and sunny, we were thrown into cold and windy conditions which kept us cool, but threatened to make us cold, as well.
loo with a view with Prusik Pk

Once at the pass, I was expecting immense beauty, views and lovely lakes, but all I got was grey rock, a steel-blue body of water in sight and the low greenery of heather with limited views of Colchuck and Dragontail Peaks due to the clouds and fog. Rich became the hero of the day as he dropped his pack, descended for a half-hour to find Elena and Bern and carry her pack up to the pass where we were waiting. There was a standing ovation from a group of climbers when they arrived!
camp at Perfection

After a break, we continued on the trail, transitioning from a landscape not unlike the interior of Iceland, famous for its exports of gravel, to a wonderland of water, distant mountain peaks and larch trees. Soon, we found a perfect campsite near an appropriately named lake, Perfection. In the morning, we were greeted by a herd of mountain goats who took great interest in us. I was focused on getting to the toilet, about a half-mile away, and they began to follow me, approaching from all directions. I had always thought that goats were so sweet until the story came out that one had gored someone in the Olympic National Park; that incident made me a little wary. I followed two rules when in the presence of these beasts: don't ever get in the way of mama and baby (a good rule for every species, including human) and be sure to pee on a rock, just as the Rangers instruct you to. While they finally lost interest in me as I was heading for the toilet, later I had to pee near the campsite and they proved a captive audience. I barely had time to pull up my pants before a goat headed straight for the rock I wet to lick the salt from my urine. When the Rangers say that the goats are after the salt in your urine, they're not kidding.
sunrise and a baby goat

not photogenic, I guess

waiting for me to pee

Alpha Males face off in the meadow

When this trip was originally planned, it was though that we would return the way we had come, going back down Ass-Kick to Colchuck and our waiting vehicles. Yet, after a day of getting our asses kicked, no one wanted anything to do with that route and were resigned to making the trip a one-way route and exiting via Snow Lake and a trailhead that was 2,000' below on the Icicle Creek Road. While the Yelenas and Bern would be spending another day in Paradise, it was time for me and Rich to start our descent. We lingered at lakes, taking a dip in one and spent most of the day taking pictures and taking it easy, before the big descent to Snow Lake.

hanging out at Leprechaun Lake

just keep following the cairns...

Rich dancing at Club Rebar

a swim in Lake Viviane

While the Enchantments are a lovely area, full of lakes, larches, flowers and soaring peaks which one could refer to as heaven, the two approach routes on either side could just as well be called hell. I have already described the approach from the east, made infamous by Aasgard Pass. From the west, the trailhead is at 1,300' and ascends moderately to Snow Lake, then more steeply to the Upper Basin. This latter way is how we descended and descended and on and on, as it drags on and down until you can see the parking lot, at which time you still have about 45 minutes to go. On the way down, all I kept thinking about (as did Rich), was that it would have to be a long time in passing before I would forget the stress on the knees, back and overall physical and mental exertion it had wrought, before I could return to the Enchantments by either route and that was nothing I had expected.

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