Hike Distance: 8.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,259 feet
Highest Point: 5,614 feet
Colchuck Lake is one of the lakes that make up the Enchantments area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This wilderness area features some of the most rugged topography in the Cascade Range with craggy peaks and ridges, deep glacial valleys, and granite walls spotted with over 700 mountain lakes. This topo map spots lights just a few of the lakes in this region of the Enchantments.
The hike begins on Stuart Lake Trail #1599 (located at the Stuart Lake Trailhead) with a gradual climb through a dense forest.
Mountaineer Creek runs parallel to the trail so we were never far from the sound of rushing water.
As we continued, the forest began to thin out and more light filtered through the canopy.
Occasional breaks in the trees provided views of the surrounding mountains of the central Cascade Range.
After 1.5 miles, the trail crosses Mountaineer Creek on a sturdy log bridge.
The recent period of triple-digit temperatures had caused significant melting of the snow pack in higher elevations and swelled the creek. The turbulent waters cascaded over rock, fallen trees and any other debris in its path.
After the bridge, the route steepened and grew rockier. Memories and nightmares of navigating the rocky and root covered trails of the White Mountains in New Hampshire ran through our minds at this point.
The trail leveled off slightly and we were teased with yet another mountain view.
After 30 minutes, we reached the second crossing of Mountaineer Creek; a less sturdy, narrow bridge that led to a large talus slide.
Despite boulders the size of small cars, there was sufficient openings for a ‘scramble-free‘ passage.
After the talus slope, the trail took a steep uphill route with rocky terrain and exposed tree roots.
We took a short break and relaxed on a large rock slab that provided expansive views of the valley below.
The movement of glaciers sculpted the Cascades into the jagged alpine range they are today. During the last 2.4 million years numerous ice ages have repeatedly blanketed much of the range with ice. The large valley glaciers carved out deep valleys like the one pictured below.
Climbing intensified again on the steep final stretch.
The trail leveled off and as we walked through a clearing in the trees, we were greeted by the turquoise-colored water of Cholchuck Lake.
Many people consider this one of the finest lake views in the Cascades and it's easy to see why. The lake is ringed by rugged granite peaks. Dragontail Peak (located left of center), known for its thin jagged ridge, dominates the view. Colchuck Peak (8,705 ft) is located right of center and between these two peaks is the remnants of Cholchick Glacier.
We followed one of the many social paths that led down to the shore.
We found the perfect isolated spot and jumped in the sub 50°F temperature water. There was no way we were passing on this opportunity; cold but refreshing.
Located in the center between these two mountains is Aasgard Pass, an unbelievably steep “shortcut” to the high-elevation basin in the Enchantments. From this angle, the pass looks typical but it is a relentless trail, covered in loose rock that gains nearly 2,000 feet of elevation in less than one mile.
When snow-covered, the Aasgard Pass can be a dangerous hike for ill-prepared climbers. We aren't up for a snow climb but we might consider tackling Aasgard Pass to experience the beauty of the Enchantments if we return.
After completing this hike, it's easy to understand why Weston and Mackenzie consider Cholchuck Lake hike one of their favorites in the central Cascades.
Before heading back to West Seattle, we stopped in Leavenworth. Leavenworth is a small, beautifully designed, old world Alpine/Bavarian style village.
If you envision a small town, somewhere in Germany, nestled in a narrow valley and surrounded by snow-covered mountains, Leavenworth could be that very place.
For lunch the choice was obvious; sausage and a beer.
Weston and Dave enjoying a well-deserved beer.
There was a strong Christmas theme that ran throughout the town which seemed a little out of place with a daytime temperature of 106°F.