After spending one day of hiking in the Enchantments, my husband and I knew we’d be back soon – little did we know it would be the following weekend! With an extended weekend on the calendar for the Labor Day holiday, we knew it was the perfect time to get out and explore the Alpine Lakes Wilderness further. We knew there would be challenges with getting a good camping spot during a holiday weekend, but created a plan to beat the crowds.
On Thursday morning I left Seattle on my own at 7:00 am with the car loaded full of camping and backpacking gear. The plan was for me to go ahead of my husband and find a great camping spot along Icicle Road. Then, he would take the train to Leavenworth the following day where I’d pick him up. As planned, I arrived early enough to claim a beautiful camping spot in Lower Johnny Creek Campground just alongside Icicle River. As I setup camp, the weather threatened rain but luckily it stayed dry throughout the morning.
That afternoon I took a trip into Leavenworth for lunch, grocery shopping, and a stop at the USFS Ranger Station for questions about hiking trails and backpacking permits. We were hoping to possibly grab one of the first-come, first-serve permits for one night in the Enchantments during our trip. After discussion with the park ranger, my husband and I decided it wasn’t worth driving back into Leavenworth so early in the morning for a very small chance of getting a permit.
As I headed back to the campground for the evening, dark clouds increasingly filled the sky. I arrived at camp just soon enough to tie a tarp up over our spot before it began to rain. After dinner, I spent the evening reading while enjoying the peaceful sound tapping of the rain on the tarp above me. As soon as it got dark, I climbed into my tent where I continued to read into the night. I enjoyed the solitude of solo camping for the second time now. The sound of the rain lulled me to sleep that night as I lay in my tent alone.
It continued to rain into the following morning. I stayed in my tent as long as I could stand it, and finally climbed out and hurried to the car. I decided to spend the day exploring Leavenworth as I waited for my husband to arrive on the train. As I began my walk around town, I was greeted by a mountain goat in a fenced area near the Enzian Falls Putting Greens.
I always love exploring new trails, so I couldn’t resist a visit to the Waterfront Park along the Wenatchee River. I spent part of the day hiking around the trails and reading during dry spouts in the weather.
After making my way to the end of the park and back taking various trails, I found a great spot in the rocks along the riverside. I enjoyed watching a family fishing across the river, and noticed several fish jumping in all directions.
Of course while I was in Leavenworth I had to have a pretzel and a pint of cider. I may have also spent a little time shopping at the various stores in town.
While I certainly enjoyed my time alone, I was happy to pick my husband up at the train station that night. The two of us stayed in Leavenworth long enough to have dinner before heading to our home in the forest for the next three nights.
The following morning, my husband and I woke up to a beautiful, sunny Saturday excited to go hiking in the Enchantments once again. Since we hiked to Lake Stuart the previous weekend, we decided to explore a different valley in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Our destination for the day was Eightmile Lake in hopes of finding a slightly less crowded trail than the more popular areas of the surrounding National Forest.
Eightmile Lake: 6.6 miles round trip / 1300′ elevation gain
The trail to Eightmile Lake starts its’ upward climb right away. This section of the trail is the toughest having the steepest climb, so it was nice to get it out of the way early in the hike. The sounds of the rushing waters from Eightmile Creek can be heard as the trail snakes along beside it. After the first mile the trail becomes easier, gradually gaining elevation with the assistance of several long switchbacks. At times we were surrounded by pink flowers that speckled the forested landscape.
Even though the weather was nice in the valley, things changed as we climbed up in elevation towards the mountaintops. The higher we climbed, rain became less of a threat and more of a reality. We welcomed the cool rainy mist on our bodies warmed from the hike. As we neared Little Eightmile Lake it appeared like a small, marshy pond from a distance. This was a nice little spot to rest as we were lucky enough to have a small break in the rain.
The last half mile of the trail towards the lake was my favorite. We picked our way through a large boulder field with the sounds of pika calls in every direction. We were lucky enough to see a pika, and even pointed it out to a family passing by who were excited to see one for the first time. Unfortunately, the weather kept me from taking my camera out, so the only picture is in my memory. As Eightmile Lake finally came into view, the weather tried its’ best to hide it from us. The weather was only successful in enhancing our experience as we stood beside the lake in the pouring rain watching the clouds dance with the sun.
As we rested and enjoyed the views around us, our once warm bodies were now chilled by the rain. The frigid air urged us to move on not allowing us much time to linger. After exploring the edges of the lake, the rain continued to increase pushing us to head back down the valley. We quickly began our journey towards the trail-head. We left the rain behind us as we neared the parking lot down below. While the clouds still hugged the mountaintops behind us, the valley was filled with sunshine just as we had left it that morning.
It was nice to return to the comforts of our camp including dry clothes, warm food, and cold beverages. After dinner, we enjoyed the warmth of a roaring fire and small glimpses of starry skies between passing clouds. Late in the evening, we climbed into our tent and fell asleep to the sounds of Icicle Creek rushing by.
We awoke to another sun filled sky, excited with the anticipation of hiking to Colchuck Lake. I was so thrilled to finally see the lake in person that I had only seen in pictures. We made our way down the familiar forest road climbing up into the valley once more. Just as expected, cars lined the side of the road over a mile from the trail-head. This would add two more miles to our already 8 mile hike.
Colchuck Lake: 8 miles round trip / 2280′ elevation gain
The first two miles of the trail were familiar from our hike to Lake Stuart the previous weekend. We hit unfamiliar territory as we made a left at the trail junction towards Colchuck Lake, climbing up to explore a new valley of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
Just like the day before, the higher we climbed the clouds increased and quickly turned into rain. I’m not going to lie – this trail tested me! As soon as it breaks away, the trail crosses Mountaineer Creek. The log crossing was my first challenge, as it was a bit of a stretch for my short legs to reach. Once we crossed the creek, the combination of the pouring rain while navigating the talus slope gave me a bit of anxiety. This was the first time I almost turned around and quit the hike. After resting in a dry spot under a tree near the creek, I was able to push forward and continue to make my way up towards Colchuck Lake.
At first the trail gradually makes its’ way up, but it wasn’t long before it became more and more steep and the rain continued to increase. The higher we climbed, the trail became steeper, rockier, and wetter – a combination I am not very fond of. I questioned my abilities several times during this stretch of the trail, almost turning around again and again. It seemed like every time I reached what seemed like the final stretch, someone was there to tell me “it’s just a little farther.” When Colchuck Lake finally came into view, the feelings of anxiety washed away as I took in the surrounding beauty. I had made it!
The frigid air forced us to move along quickly and once again, we weren’t able to spend much time exploring. I was mentally and physically exhausted, using the last bit of energy I had to make my way back down the steep, rocky, and wet trail. Just like the previous day, the closer we got to the parking lot, the lighter the rain became. By the time we reached the end of our long journey, the valley skies were clear and sunny just as we had left it. The drive back down towards our campsite was bittersweet, as I knew that was our last adventure in the wilderness for the weekend.
Our last night alongside Icicle Creek was peaceful as we reminisced on the adventures we had just experienced in the Enchantments. The following day my husband and I left knowing this would not be our last journey into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
As we made our way back over Stevens Pass towards Seattle, we stopped at the Deception Falls National Recreation Area for a picnic lunch and a short hike. This was a great little spot to stop and stretch our legs while hiking along the Tye River and Deception Creek.
Deception Falls: <1 mile round trip / 50′ elevation gain