May 10, 2013 at 11:19 am #1302786
I'm interested in day hiking the Enchantments in the relative near future. I called the Ranger Station today and I thought I'd pass on what they told me.
Q. I understand that it's tough to get a permit in the Enchantments. Does the permit zone extend to the wood lines near the trailheads? Specifically, once I'm done with the hike, can I hike another 1/4 mile into the woods across the street and camp?
A: No. That area requires a permit as well. You can call 1-509-548-RIDE for a shuttle back to the other trailhead.
Q. Where is the snow line currently and how are the conditions?
A. It has been unseasonably warm. Recent reports indicate that the snow is really soft and people are post holing instead of wearing their snowshoes.
EDIT: Shuttle service called back with a quote. $50 flat fee plus $20 per person.May 10, 2013 at 3:05 pm #1985155
@curtpetersonLocale: Pacific Northwest
Enchantments in May? Depending on the experience you're hoping for, this area is a good 2 months away from being ready for good hiking. Even with the insanely warm weather we're having (loving it!), there are still likely many feet of snow up there. From a distance last week it looked like it was still completely buried on high angle slopes. We've run into considerable snow up there in August – I imagine it won't be decent trail hiking until July. What part are you hoping to go to? Asgaard? Snow Lakes?May 10, 2013 at 3:59 pm #1985165
@ouzelLocale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
"Enchantments in May? Depending on the experience you're hoping for, this area is a good 2 months away from being ready for good hiking. Even with the insanely warm weather we're having (loving it!), there are still likely many feet of snow up there."
I've done the full traverse in May twice, starting from the Snow Lake TH. Both times there was a lot of snow, as in up to our thighs most of the way thru the Lower Enchantments on up almost to Aasgard Pass. The second time, the upper 300 feet vertical on Aasgard Pass was blue ice and it was a real butt puckering experience negotiating it. We had decided not to bring crampons, based on our experience the previous May, BIG mistake. We got down safely, but it could easily have turned out otherwise. It is doable, but I would strongly advise you to come well equipped for serious conditions and be in top shape. It is a very strenuous undertaking in May. With hindsight, skis would probably work better than snowshoes(we took neither), but you'd have to carry them a long way on either side of the actual Enchantments section of the hike. I would concur with Curt's recommendation to consider waiting for the snow to clear, especially on your first attempt. It is a gorgeous area, and there is little to gain from turning your first attempt into a survival march.
A good May alternative would be a hike up the Fourth of July Trail up onto Icicle Ridge. Once up on the ridge, there are two excellent options: either turn west and hike up to the remnants of the fire tower, or turn east, if you have snowshoes and run the ridge down until you pick up the trail that leads down to the TH just outside Leavenworth(this option would require pre-positioning a car or bike there, or arranging a shuttle back to your car at the 4th of July TH). The snowshoe trip is about 12-13 miles of ascent, rolling terrain, and the descent on trail, and is a PNW classic spring trip. Either way, you are looking at nearly 5000' of elevation gain, and some magnificent views, so bring a camera. Bonus: It'll put you in great shape for The Enchantments Traverse in July. :)May 10, 2013 at 4:15 pm #1985175
@dirk9827Locale: Pacific Northwest
I completely agree with Pack and Tom on this one – in many years, the top of the Enchantments have plenty of snow into August. This year it will likely be mostly melted out in July, but May would be difficult at best and would depend what your goals are. In the lower part of the Enchantments, you can easily hike – the trail is relatively dry and exposed. The problem is you gain 6,000 feet or so to the highest point assuming you approach via the Snow Lakes trail head. You can hike in here very early – but it's a long climb (10 miles) to the top. I would imagine in May you would run into quite a bit of snow at the aptly named Snow Lake, which is quite beautiful in itself. But from there it's a very steep climb up granite to the Enchantment zone.
Via Stuart Lake, it's a shorter but much steeper push up to Aasgard Pass. You gain 4,400 feet but 2,200 or so come in ONE mile.
If you want to camp, there is a lottery every year but that's already passed. There is also a daily drawing for permits at the ranger station in Leavenworth – it's tough to win this way depending upon the amount of traffic.
However, go over to recreation.gov and look for permits. The Snow Zone is fantastic. You can still get a few permits in late July and August and from there, it's a steep but scenic climb into the Enchantment Zone. You can do the entire zone fairly easily in a day before descending back to Snow Lake to camp. I've done it this way and I would say that it was incredibly enjoyable. Depending upon the mosquitoes and the amount of wind, I would say it can easily be a much better camping experience in some regards than up top. The only downside? It gets crowded (and thus the reason for the permits).
This whole thing can also be done as a very long day hike from end to end. You will need two cars or a good hitchin' thumb!
Have fun out there.
DirkMay 10, 2013 at 7:51 pm #1985213
Thanks for sharing your concerns and experiences. It's greatly appreciated. I can't believe it's 96* in May! So much for spring.
From speaking with my hiking partner in crime, we're tentatively looking at the summer solstice give or take a couple weeks. If the trail reports are still sketchy then it's no big deal for us to push it back another month. We live close enough that we can make it happen under fairly short notice.
The 4th of July Trail sounds intriguing as well.May 12, 2013 at 8:29 pm #1985632
@tuskaderoLocale: Washington State
Ian, I just last week nabbed an open Saturday July 13 entry permit in to the Colchuck zone due to a cancelation. So they do pop up, just keep checking recreation.gov and be ready to jump on it.
I also got a day of walk up permit for the Core Enchantments last August. I won the hat drawing between 6 groups trying. So it is possible to get in there. Just be flexible and act fast when you get a chance.
By the way, you won't be disappointed. It is pretty great up there!!May 12, 2013 at 8:55 pm #1985636
@mwgillenwaterLocale: Seattle area
We had an interesting experience. We entered the lottery for the Enchantments. Both my wife and I entered separately. We were billed the fee. But then when we went back to check, our friends at Recreation.gov have no record that we ever entered the lottery in the first place. And when I called, we just got passed around from agent to agent until we gave up. Classic bureaucracy (I say this being a former federal government employee myself). They take our money and then act as if they never saw us before. Still trying to track down what happened, but probably won't because it is not worth the effort for $12.
Just be warned for the future, that the lottery system, at least from this one anecdote, is not very reliable.May 13, 2013 at 5:36 am #1985683
Thanks for the information Kris. Many people argue that this is one of the best hikes in Washington. The day hike option will be grueling I'm sure but one way or another I'm going to hike it this summer. It's nice to hear that the lottery permits are not hopeless so I'll try that as well.
Edit: Michael, sorry to hear about your bad luck. Did you call the Ranger station and file a complaint? $12 isn't the end of the world but they are still responsible for that system. As they say, you can delegate authority but not responsibility.
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