157 – Backpacking the Enchantments – Snow Lakes Trail to Nada Lake

Right up until the moment that we put on our backpacks in the parking lot by the trailhead, we felt fortunate to be able to go on this particular backpacking trip, yet not quite sure that we could do it.  First off, the Enchantments area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is a very unique and fragile environment. To protect it, the U.S. Forest Service limits the number of backpackers allowed into the area at any given time by holding an annual lottery for permits. In order to obtain our permit, we submitted our application last February indicating the dates we desired, and did not find out until March if our permit was accepted. Also, at just over 4,000′ elevation gain over the six miles from the trailhead to where our permit allowed us to camp our first night out, this was the steepest and longest backpacking trip we had ever done. Our backpacks were heavier than usual as it had snowed the night before and weather forecasts predicted the temperature to drop to 27 degrees our first night out. We carried extra layers of warm clothes and more food than we usually packed for a week in the backcountry. We left the parking lot prepared for the snow that had already fallen and the low temperatures, planning on a tough day of hiking. Because the trailhead is about a four-hour drive from our home, the night before we headed to son Brian’s home as he lives just under an hour’s drive from the trail so we could begin our hike as early as possible. Here Maybee, Brian’s trusty dog, bids us her good-bye as we head out the door.

Kent Doughty saying goodbye to Maybee the Dog
Kent Doughty saying goodbye to Maybee the Dog

Then, it just so happened that the 2013 Government shutdown began the day before the date of our permitted trip, and with all National Parks closed, we didn’t even know for sure if we would be allowed on the trail. It wasn’t like we could simply call the parks office and ask them because, after all, their offices were closed and all unessential employees had been furloughed. We had stopped at the parks office in Leavenworth on our way to Brian’s the night before, and discovered a note taped to their window indicating that if people had printed out their permits, they should leave them on the dashboard of their vehicles and go on their trip. The Government websites had all been taken off-line a few days before, so if you had not printed your permit before the Government shutdown, it sounded like it was just too bad. Fortunately, we had printed our permit the weekend before we left home!

Foggy at the trailhead parking lot
Foggy at the trailhead parking lot

It had snowed the day before at the higher elevations, and because of the Government shutdown, getting accurate weather information and current snow levels and trail conditions was impossible, unless you ran into someone in the parking lot or something that had just come out of the area. We were lucky, and found a guy that had spent the night in his van because some of the campgrounds were also closed due to the Government shutdown when we arrived at the trailhead early that morning. He told us that he had been on a different trail near the area that was at about the same elevation and that in some places he had found himself plowing through shoulder high snow. He had also heard that Aasgard Pass was closed due to there being three-foot drifts of snow. Aasgard Pass is another, even steeper but shorter, way of entering the Enchantments – but seriously, if you know me at all, you would pretty much figure that any pass with a name that sounds even remotely like “Aasgard” (regardless of how it might be spelled!) is a route that I would avoid, and we had planned our route along the Snow Lakes Trail and planned to camp at Nada Lake the first night. We headed out from the trailhead expecting to run into snow at higher elevations near Nada Lake, and set off ready for a long, steep day of hiking.

With Kent Doughty at the trailhead
With Kent Doughty at the trailhead

First off, we crossed Icicle Creek.

(pic by Kenton Doughty) Rose crossing Icicle Creek
(pic by Kenton Doughty) Rose crossing Icicle Creek

Then the trail started to climb. One switchback after another, up, up, up we hiked. By then, the fog had cleared and it was a beautiful blue-sky kind of day.

It's a steep trail with lots of switchbacks
It’s a steep trail with lots of switchbacks

We had lots of talus slopes to cross. Long, steep talus slopes, so were forever glad that they were not covered with ice and snow.

There were plenty of talus slope trails
There were plenty of talus slope trails

Four thousand feet of elevation gain over six miles of trail makes for a long hike – especially considering that for this trip, my pack weighed in at somewhere over forty pounds. Whew, I needed a little break here before continuing on.

(pic by Kenton Doughty) Taking a break on the climb up
(pic by Kenton Doughty) Taking a break on the climb up

The views were beautiful along the trail. Great views always seem to make it a little easier for me – especially on long, steep trails. I think this is a view of the famous Aasgard Pass. Just look at all that fresh snow! I couldn’t imagine my climbing that one with this pack!

View from the trail
View from the trail

After awhile, we had gained enough elevation that we started hitting snow and ice on those talus slopes. Fortunately, I had brought my trekking pole and had ice trekkers handy in my pack if the going got slippery.

Snow and ice on the talus trail
Snow and ice on the talus trail

Yep, before long, the trail was completely covered with snow, and it was cold. Time to pull out the neck gator, hat and warm gloves.

(pic by Kenton Doughty) Snow at higher elevations along the trail
(pic by Kenton Doughty) Snow at higher elevations along the trail

Finally! We reached Nada Lake and found a spot that was relatively snow free in which to set up camp.

Setting up camp at Nada Lake
Setting up camp at Nada Lake

Not a bad view of Nada Lake from camp as we sipped hot chocolate and ate a vegetable soup for dinner.

Nada Lake from Camp
Nada Lake from Camp

For more information on obtaining a permit to hike into the Enchantments and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, go here –   http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/okawen/passes-permits/recreation/?cid=fsbdev3_053607 . Stay tuned, we were here for a week, and had some great day hikes – and more!

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