Story written by Marlene Farrell. Photos by Kevin Farrell.
The days are shorter, the early morning air has a bite to it, but the forecast is for clear sunny days—that’s when my husband, Kevin, and I long to run the Enchantments. Snow will soon hit the higher elevations and we must go now, to savor this final turning from summer.
Luckily, as my desire builds, some friends from Seattle call to say they’ll be here this weekend for just that. It comes together—we have companions, Grammy will watch the kids, and we stuff daypacks with layers, water bottles and filter, map, first aid, headlamp and about 1000 calories of food.
If you run or hike through the Enchantments in a day, you don’t need a special permit. It’s a bypass of the system that regulates the number of people scampering along lakes rimmed in delicate heathers and moss. In exchange, we are guests in this place of stone and bright water for only the briefest of moments.
Our group of seven starts early and jogs the easy stretches to Colchuck. We stop long enough to regroup and shed layers. We pick our way through the boulder fields at Colchuck Lake; we hop lightly, still feeling fresh. We’ve been here before, so we know to veer left as we begin the trudge up to Aasgard Pass. I look down to check my feet with each steep step, but remind myself to look up now and then for the next beckoning cairn and back at Colchuck’s diminishing blue teardrop.
For the second half of the climb up Aasgard, summer feels far away as hands turn to ice in the chill winds sweeping off the summit. We spread out but keep moving, toward the pass’ promise of relief for calf muscles and shelter from the gales of wind.
We’ve earned our peanut butter and bacon after 3,400 feet of elevation gain. It “feels” like it’s all downhill from Aasgard Pass, but there are thirteen rocky miles to go.
Now we relax our pace and wander along heather and huckleberry-lined trails and over speckled rock slabs. We pass golden-tipped larches and granite erratics, silent sentries since the last ice age. We don’t have to look for mountain goats—they find us and our gift of salty rocks. A lone goat lingers on a large boulder, its thick fur ruffled by the breeze, a willing subject for the camera and iPhones.
This is not a day for a dip in Leprechaun Lake. The heavy gray clouds have scuttled out of sight, but they could be back. So we keep moving, sometimes chatting, but often in individual reveries, making snapshot memories of the rugged beauty.
As quickly as we enter this aloof, stark heaven, we leave it. Below Lake Viviane the canopy closes over us again, yielding only pocket views of Snow Lake as it looms ever closer. Now, not so springy, we descend and wind our way through the lower Enchantments, blazing by clumps of backpackers coming and going. In my weariness I run with gravity-assist but must concentrate to keep from tripping over the endless sharp rocks that protrude from the well-worn trail.
Finally, seven and a half hours and 19 miles later, we’re done, cooling our feet in the rush of Icicle Creek. Kevin and I have it easy—we only need drag ourselves to the car and a five-minute drive home to showers and sustenance. For the rest of the day I’ll float in a drowsy euphoria, returning, in my mind, to the high country. The images will return over the cold months, and in the spring they will nurture an ambition to go through the Enchantments again.