The Lower Enchantments – Car Camping and Day Hiking: Part 2

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.

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Mountain Goat, Leavenworth, WA

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.

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Bear Warning Sign, Waterfront Park, Leavenworth, WA

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Waterfront Park, Leavenworth, WA

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.

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Fish jumping in the Wenatchee River, Waterfront Park, Leavenworth, WA

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Fish jumping in the Wenatchee River, Waterfront Park, Leavenworth, WA

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.

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Pretzel and a cider, Leavenworth Sausage Garden, Leavenworth, WA

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.

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Eightmile Lake, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

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.

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Eightmile Lake Trail, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

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.

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Little Eightmile Lake, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

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.

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Eightmile Lake, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

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.

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Road to Colchuck Lake parking lot, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

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.

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Trail sign, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

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!

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Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

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

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Deception Falls Trail, Deception Falls National Recreation Area, WA

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Deception Falls Trail, Deception Falls National Recreation Area, WA

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Deception Falls Trail, Deception Falls National Recreation Area, WA

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Deception Creek, Deception Falls National Recreation Area, WA

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Deception Falls, Deception Falls, National Recreation Area, WA

 

Return to the Enchanted Valley – An Overnight Backpacking Trip

2 days, 1 night / 27 miles round trip / 1700′ elevation gain

Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park

Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park

Last March my husband and I went on our very first wilderness backpacking trip ever.  After reading through several blogs and trip reports, I decided that the Enchanted Valley in Olympic National Park would be the perfect location for a first time backpacker.  I was mesmerized by images of the chalet almost 14 miles into the Quinault River Valley and determined to see it.  Descriptions of the trail with low elevation gains built my confidence up even though I had never hiked distances farther than 10 miles in my entire life.  We made our way into the valley with our packs stuffed to the brim including items that seemed very essential at the time, carrying over seventy pounds between the two of us.  Needless to say, we never made it to the chalet – we barely made it halfway!  After developing very large blisters on the heels of my feet, I practically crawled into camp at O’Neil Creek only hiking 6.5 miles.  The disappointment of not reaching the chalet  during that first trip has loomed over me for the last year, even though we have made many amazing wilderness backpacking trips since that very first trip into the Enchanted Valley.

As we prepared for the new backpacking season and started to plan our first trip of the year, I knew I had to go back to the Enchanted Valley.  With more experience than ever before, I was more determined to see the chalet even though it would still be the farthest distance I had ever hiked.  This time around I packed with more knowledge of the essential items needed to survive in the wilderness, with my pack weighing only 20 pounds.  I know this is not ultra light backpacking my any means, but for the first time I was confident I was only carrying items I felt were necessary.  Backpacking with a partner makes packing lighter a little easier since we get to divide the items amongst each other.  Thankfully my husband enjoys carrying a heavier weighted pack; therefore, I get to enjoy camping luxuries without the suffering of carrying the weight myself.

With another beautiful forecast for the Pacific Northwest including sunny skies and temperatures in the low 70’s, it was the perfect weekend for our first wilderness backpacking trip of the year.  We woke up early enough to catch the 6:50 am ferry across the Puget Sound headed west towards the Olympic Mountains.  After a three hours drive to the Quinault Forest Ranger Station we self registered and continued to drive almost one more hour down a rough, forest road.  We arrived at Graves Creek campground where trailhead parking is provided just before 12:00 pm.  The parking lot was packed as expected on a beautiful, sunny Saturday in Washington state.  With everything we needed for the next 36 hours loaded onto our backs, we could barely contain our excitement as ours boots hit the trail.

Enchanted Valley trailhead at Graves Creek, Olympic National Park

Enchanted Valley trailhead at Graves Creek, Olympic National Park

Even though this trail has little total elevation gain, do not be fooled!  Right away the trail climbs, and climbs, and climbs some more and instantly had me thinking about my painful blisters from the previous years’ hike.  After that painful experience, I did extensive amounts of research on blisters including how to avoid and treat them.  Although I was educated and prepared, the thought of that agonizing hike loomed in the back of my mind as we made our way alongside the Quinault River.  It wasn’t long before old memories were washed away and replaced with new exciting ones of the Enchanted Valley trail.  The trail winds along the riverside through the Quinault Rainforest.  At times the trail pulls itself away from the river climbing upwards into the mountainside and eventually dips back down into the valley.  Very early in our hike we encountered a large blown down where I chose to maneuver myself and my pack underneath it, while my husband climbed up and over it.  We only had to navigate around a few blown downs during the entire trip, and none of them were too difficult to get around.  It wasn’t long before we arrived at Pony Bridge crossing the Quinault River where we stopped for our first break.  Another group of backpackers were resting nearby and several day hikers were making there way down the trail headed out of the valley.

We left the canyoned river and Pony Bridge behind and continued along the trail towards the Enchanted Valley.  It wasn’t long until we arrived at O’Neil Creek, our halfway point and the point at which I had barely made it to during my first trip.  I felt great!  I had reached this point with ease, and after another quick rest and lunch stop I was excited to continue our hike.  I was ready to see new parts of the wilderness and the thought of finally seeing the chalet filled me with the adrenaline I needed to reach our destination.  After this point we didn’t see many other hikers with the exception of one gentleman who was moving at a similar pace.  We took turns passing each other and exchanging pleasantries as we made our way along the valley floor.  I was certain we must be the last group headed towards the Enchanted Valley and nervous camping spaces would be limited upon our late arrival.  Somewhere around seven to eight miles into our hike we startled a large herd of elk causing them to quickly get up from their resting spots and run into the forest.  A few of the curious animals lingered just alongside the trail observing our movements as we peacefully made our way past them.

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A herd of elk alongside the Enchanted Valley Trail, Olympic National Park

We stopped for a rest one last time just after nine miles at Pyrites Creek camp, but didn’t stay long with hopes of arriving to camp before the sun set.  The suns’ rays stayed just out of our reach during the rest of hike urging us to move more quickly.  We were stopped by the wildlife once again, this time being a black bear and her cub.  The two animals didn’t seem to notice us, so we made sure to make noise notifying of our presence.  They briefly looked up noticing us as we hiked along, but quickly returned to rummaging for food.  We made sure to keep a safe distance between ourselves and the bears and continued to make plenty of noise until we were out of their sight.

A black bear and her cub, Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park

A black bear and her cub, Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park

Still filled with the excitement from our encounter with the black bears, the last few miles of the trail seemed to fly by.  Before we knew it, the valley floor opened up before us and the chalet came into view in the distance.  The chalet was a beautiful sight, but the backdrop of the valley walls made the landscape breathtaking!  The trail crosses the river one last time and it became almost impossible to stay on its’ track because I couldn’t take my eyes off the sights in front of me.  The snow capped mountainside had many waterfalls cascading down towards the Quinault River.  The valley floor was speckled with backpackers and their colorful tents and we knew right away we would not have a problem finding a spot to camp.

Enchanted Valley Chalet, Olympic National Park

Enchanted Valley Chalet, Olympic National Park

Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park

Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park

After over six hours of hiking, we hurriedly picked out a suitable camping spot with an existing fire ring and each of us began working on our individual camp chores.  As I was trying to pick out the best spot for our tent, the farthest distance away from large piles of bear dung, my husband was nearby looking for firewood.  After only a few minutes, he returned to camp empty handed pointing in the direction of a very large black bear less than 50 yards from our campsite.  He decided to look for firewood elsewhere as I decided it didn’t matter where our tent would go – we were sleeping with the bears!  Unfortunately due to time constraints, I was only able to take a mental picture of the wild animal so very close to our camping spot for the evening.  Just as the sun made its’ final appearance and dipped behind the mountains, our camp was set up, water was replenished, and dinner was cooking on the fire.  We were finally resting our aching feet and muscles from the days journey into the Enchanted Valley.  As we ended our evening and climbed into the warmth of our tent, the sounds of cascading waterfalls and the meandering river lulled us to sleep.

In spite of the nearly freezing temperatures overnight, we woke up well rested and welcomed one of the best views as we unzipped our tent window.  Everything including our camp chairs were very wet from the morning dew, so we stayed in the tent as long as we could waiting for the sun to reach the valley floor.  We finally crawled out of the tent after packing up all of our belongings inside, and began to make breakfast.  The sun finally reached our campsite as we were finishing up our meal and began to pack up the remainder of our gear.  We left our tent up until the very last minute hoping the sun would dry it off, but it was still slightly damp as rolled it up and stuffed it into its’ bag.  We were the last group to arrive at the Enchanted Valley the previous night, and we were the last ones to hike out at almost noon that day.

Enchanted Valley

Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park

After stopping at the chalet for a few more photos we met two hikers who had spent their morning hiking down from Anderson Pass.  We exchanged stories about hiking throughout the Pacific Northwest all agreeing that this wilderness has some of the most breathtaking views we had ever seen.  We left our new friends behind and started our journey back down the meandering Enchanted Valley trail.  The trail crosses many creeks along the way with beautifully crafted bridges and log crossings.  Besides the wildlife we had encountered during our trip, some of the worlds’ largest trees live in this rainforest as well.

Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park

Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park

Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park

Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park

As we hiked towards Pyrites Creek once again, we ran into a family that had startled looks on their faces.  They explained to us that they had seen a black bear and her cub only few yards up the trail.  Each one of the bears had separately climbed up a tree nearby, and the family was scanning the rainforest canopy looking for the two animals.  This was the very same area we had seen the two bears on the previous days’ hike.  We continued along the trail keeping our eyes looking upwards in hopes of seeing the black bears one last time, but they never made a second appearance.

Making sure to take good care of my feet, we stopped on occasion to rest along the way.  By the time we reached O’Neil Creek I had a few hot spots that had yet to turn into blisters; therefore, I carefully taped them up and made sure to keep changing into dry socks each time we stopped.  The last two miles seemed to last forever as the trail climbed up and away from the Quinault River one last time.  After 27 miles of hiking in less than 36 hours, we had finally made it to our final destination.  It felt so rewarding knowing that I had just hiked the farthest distance I had ever hiked in my entire life, and with a 20 pound pack on!  I knew this was just the beginning of a very exciting year of backpacking adventures in the Pacific Northwest.

Teneriffe Falls (Kamikaze Falls) Day Hike

6 miles roundtrip / 1420′ elevation gain

With another beautiful weekend in the forecast for the Pacific Northwest my husband and I were anxious to get outdoors.  We woke up before sunrise Saturday morning and headed to Teneriffe Falls for a day hike with friends.  Even though our strategy was to reach the parking area early enough to beat the crowds, we barely arrived at the trailhead in time – parking in what appeared to be the last space!

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View from Teneriffe Falls (Kamikaze Falls) trail

Our journey up towards Teneriffe Falls began by hiking up Mount Teneriffe Road; a slowly ascending, wide dirt and gravel service road.  The road winds through the forested mountainside for the first mile and a half of our journey which allowed for an easy hike with great conversation.  After the first half of the hike we arrived at a fork in the road with a sign pointing us towards Teneriffe Falls.  As we made our way along Mount Teneriffe Trail it became much more steep, slowly switching back and forth towards our destination.  We made our way along the narrow, rocky trail opening up at times showing panoramic views and abundant sunshine.  As we neared Teneriffe Falls the trail became very steep and finding a viewing spot among the crowds was not easy.  After soaking in the view and snapping a few photographs we were ready to find a resting spot.

Teneriffe Falls (Kamikaze Falls)

Teneriffe Falls (Kamikaze Falls)

We headed back down the trail a few yards below the Teneriffe Creek waterfall, and were thankful to rest our aching muscles from the climb we had just made.  Once chilled from the cold mornings air, we were now happy to have the shade of our forested surroundings cooling us from our heated exhaustion.  We enjoyed the sound of cascading water in the distance as we refueled for the return trip down Mount Teneriffe.  Once well rested with renewed energy it was time to leave the sound of the the rushing waterfall behind.  Our journey downwards was easy as we swiftly made our way across the rocks and boulders along the trail.  Within no time we reached the wider portion of the trail back on Mount Teneriffe Road.  We passed many hikers throughout the day also enjoying the outdoors in the unseasonably warm weather on the last day of January.  As we reached the parking area we were glad to hand over our parking space to adventurers just about to start their own journey for the day.  The memories of the warm sun atop Mount Teneriffe that morning lingered as we made our way back into the foggy Puget Sound area that afternoon.