Enchantments thru hike – Snow Lakes to Stuart Lake Trailhead

It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.

Hugh Laurie

There is a lot of information all over the internet about this thru hike. Everything I’ve come across talks specifically about taking it via Stuart Lake TH and ending at Snow Lakes TH. This post is about doing it in the opposite direction and of course, after the logistics, there will be a tad bit more about my story throughout the hike. Here are some valuable links to get you started in your own planning for a thru hike, whether the standard or non-standard route.



Read this! Even if you are going down Aasgard, it’s helpful to understand the scale and difficulty as well as the risks. https://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/aasgard-pass. Watch this video for a good reminder about risks.

My tips for planning the reverse thru-hike, solo (along with some highlighted tips, which I botched, regardless of which direction you go):

  • Make sure you have a valid Northwest Forest Pass
  • Bring cash for the day fee (2021, day fee was $5, pay at the Trailhead)
  • Bring a pen for the day fee envelope and registration tag
  • Fill out the paperwork and pay the fee at Stuart Lake Trailhead (I forgot and had to do it all at the end at Snow Lakes TH when I picked up my bike)
  • Bring a bike (I don’t recommend a bike with slicks as they might be too slick for the NF-7601 road that you drove up Stuart Lake Trailhead). I brought my mountain bike for the shock absorption and better traction on the loose gravel and uneven road.
  • Go early (doesn’t have to be super early, unless you want to max out your midday in the core enchantments).
  • Leave your car at Stuart Lake TH and bike to Snow Lakes TH, make sure you have everything you need in your backpack before you leave. Biking back for anything would be painful. This took me about 40 minutes to go about 8 miles (I took it slow on the gravel, rutted road). You are riding down from about 3,382 ft elevation to about 1,400 ft elevation. Ride carefully!

My Stats

Some of my stats and obligatory selfie at the finish. πŸ™‚ Total elapsed time was 9:55:29 with an average pace of 25:20 /mi. I was hoping to complete it in 8 hours but it was so beautiful up there that I didn’t want to miss the opportunity for photos and of course a lunch break in the crystal clear waters up in the Core.

Blow-by-Blow, all you need to know

Check out the following blogs for a blow-by-blow and visit my previous trip up to Prusik for a look into how things haven’t really changed up there. Lots of tips and gear notes in there, too. Lots of good stats and information to help with planning. I preferred to go in a little blind and did not dissect this whole thing before heading out on my adventure. However, these people spent a lot of time pulling a lot of details together for you so I won’t try to repeat their work. My short personal story and photos follow below.

My Personal Story

Now that I’ve been doing some bigger and longer hikes, I thought it was time to tackle the Enchantments thru hike. It’s a big one and ideal because it’s not an out and back, which adds to the logistics and provides for a continuous journey with new sights at every turn. There’s no mind-numbing return to face, just different milestones or targets to look forward to. One of those targets was Prusik Peak — I couldn’t wait to see it again. It had been some years since Jens Holsten and I went up Der Sportsman, see older blog post. The other milestone would be Aasgard pass. Jens and I went up this pass in the dark both times (up and down) and when we were going down, the batteries in my headlamp were failing so it was not only precarious because of the terrain, it was a bit scarier not being able to see well. I was looking forward to experiencing Aasgard, hopefully in the daylight this time.

Weather up in Leavenworth where the Enchantments are, was looking incredibly hot for the near future that any hopes of doing a thru hike could be dashed. I was looking forward to returning to work by mid-August and was running out of time to get personal stuff done to prepare for that. With the weather and my personal situation being a challenge, I almost thought there was no way I would be able to do it.

I’d also need to be flexible and spontaneous if an opportunity arose. I had been talking with two friends who were also interested in doing the hike with me but since I was managing all of the logistics and what not, I didn’t think they would be able to pull off a spontaneous green light to go. So, it was I go solo or I wouldn’t likely get the chance this year.

Looking back down Icicle Canyon Rd from one of the switchbacks on Snow Lake trail

Solo Hiking (my fear in brief)

Going solo had huge implications for me. First, I’m scared to go alone into the backcountry. I literally believe a bear, cougar, or malicious human is around every corner. Next, I’ve been afraid of being alone for too long with the overwhelming emotional state I fall into from time to time. I’ve literally entered a phase of anxiety and panic attacks. The overwhelming feeling of loss still comes on without notice and can incapacitate me for a period of time. The tears come and go multiple times throughout the day and last until the moment fades. But the anxiety and panic attacks, these can last hours and keep me in a scary place. Hiking or doing something strenuous has helped dissipate the gravity of the feelings and helped me get through these periods. More on that later. Finally, I had bruised my toes so severely on a previous hike not yet blogged (but coming soon) that I worried I’d be unable to make the distance due to pain or worse further damaging them. We’ll see how it all turned out, below. Meanwhile, I was very happy to have done this hike and relieved that no bear, cougar, or malicious humans were met.

Some forest views around Nada Lake


Looking at the forecast hour-by-hour and after seeing a thru hike report from a friend who did it on that Saturday (and some back and forth texts about some questions I had about it), I decided Sunday night that Monday was the day. I mapped and packed in preparation. Then off to sleep a bit late given the spontaneous nature of the planning, but set the alarm for 4 am regardless. Ideally I would have wanted to sleep up near the Trailheads and start early to avoid any excessive heat, but the way it was turning out, I’d have to drive out early in the morning and start later than ideal.

When the alarm went off, I was not eager to get up. For the last few months, I’ve had trouble getting sleep and therefore trouble getting up in the morning. I still feel incredibly tired and when I do get myself out of bed, it’s a determined effort. I am finally getting out of bed more consistently every day, though not consistently when I set my mind or alarm to. This morning was no different. 4 am came and went. The alarm was turned off and the battle of my will and mind set off instead.

I’ve long been a believer of just “try”. Even if it feels like I’m operating in a fog, distanced from my body, get up and try. My desire for things has been numbed and there remains a thick, deep, and heavy feeling within. It’s hard to feel, except when I have no choice. Somewhere around 5 am, as if I was having an out-of-body experience, I dragged my legs over the edge of the bed, stood up, and started walking. This separation of self happens frequently to me right now. It’s really bizarre. I just go through the motions of getting ready, eating breakfast, then packing the car. Next thing you know, I’m driving to Leavenworth and from here, it’s just executing everything I had planned about how to do this hike.

Nada Lake

Arriving at Stuart Lake Trailhead (TH)

After 2.5 hours of driving, I arrive at Stuart Lake TH. The parking lot is already full so I’m parked along the side of the road. I don’t really care about this because I’m biking down to Snow Lakes, whose parking lot is also already full. So long as I found a spot, I’m just not going to focus on the number of people I could potentially be surrounded by the entire hike.

Everything went off without a problem. I brought my e-bike since it’s a good mountain bike, but I left the battery behind because I knew the entire way from Stuart Lake TH to Snow Lake TH was downhill. I could pedal just fine without an assist on any lesser grade. I wanted something with shock absorption because the road to the Stuart Lake TH is rutted, steep, uneven, gravelly, and has exposed rocks in places. It seemed like a better bike choice to ride but I did see two road bikes locked at Snow Lake so not sure if they did the same thing.

The only thing I forgot was to pay the day fee at Stuart Lake TH. I didn’t have any money on me when I got to Snow Lakes and that meant my car had no permit tags. Before setting off, I met a ranger and discussed my situation. I had filled out the permit tag and put it in the box with a note about my car (whose license plate I couldn’t remember). He said not to worry and that I wouldn’t get a ticket or anything. I was relieved and paid the $5 day fee when I returned to Snow Lakes with my car to pick up my bike at the end of my hike. I did not meet any rangers along the hike or at Stuart Lake TH.

Looking back at Nada Lake

Snow Lakes Hike

I remember driving past this parking area some time ago and a friend pointing out to me that this is where you end the thru hike. They said it was very steep going up that way and I remember gazing out at it every time since, in awe of those that do it — imagining what it was like up there because I never saw myself capable of doing something big like that myself. Even going up to do Der Sportsman with Jens scared me. I was afraid I’d be slow (I was and still am). I was afraid I’d hold him up (I did) or be clueless about what to do in the alpine (I was, a little) and be unprepared (I did my homework but still forgot things like a spare set of good batteries for my headlamp). Over the years, I have learned that no matter how much you prepare, there will be surprises and things for which you will be “unprepared.” These are not reasons to tell yourself you “can’t” do something.

Tackling the Snow Lakes hike was a bit about tackling all of the fears I had about this hike: my preconceived notions, my fears, my uncertainty about my ability, and what would happen if I tried. Getting established at Snow Lakes took a little time. I had layered for the bike ride because the temps were cool and going downhill for 40 minutes freezing would not have been pleasant. Now, I had to change and stash any bike and extras somewhere, along with finding a suitable place to lock my bike.

It was now nearing 10 am. I couldn’t believe how much time I’d lost already! 😐 Doing some math, I thought if I could make it out in 8 hours, it would be 6 pm. That’s plenty of time and daylight if I miss the mark, unless it took more more than ~10.5 hours because after that it would be dark. I didn’t think about the worst case scenario, though I packed a light tarp and puffy, just in case. I made sure to apply the sunscreen before starting and left it in my stash but took bug spray, just in case. I did not apply any bug spray and did not have any issues with bugs, except when I stopped for a toilet break at Snow Lake. Two mosquitos quickly found my ass and those would remain the only two bites I’d have from the entire trek. After a snap of the map at the trailhead and a quick chat with the ranger regarding the day fee I didn’t pay, I set off. It was 10:15 am.

I had read that you see the parking area well before you ever arrive so I kept looking back to see how high I would get before it would be out of site. Now that I’ve done the thru hike, I can say that your knees are probably disappointed to find that the parking doesn’t come soon after you spot it, coming down.

Snow Creek Falls

Upper Snow Creek Falls

The trail just goes up and up and up and up pretty much until you reach Aasgard Pass, some 15 miles later. When I hit Nada lake there was a nice reprieve and some gorgeous views but I didn’t linger too long before continuing on to Lower and Upper Snow Lake. More gorgeous views and Snow Creek to sneak off to every now and again for some marvelous waterfall moments.

Up to this point, I had the trail mostly to myself. I mean, I really only passed a few groups of people. 2 couples coming up Snow Creek but were paused on the trail. One group sitting on a log by the rushing water of Lower Snow Creek that I couldn’t tell if they were going up or down. 1 person trail running out in a stretch I was trying to run (we high-fived, but he really deserved it more than I did because I felt I was going soooo slow by comparison). I did try to run as much of the stretches I felt I could because I really wanted to get the 8 hours. It felt totally possible, too, after covering the first 5 miles in 2 hours.

Through the Lower and Upper Snow Lake portion, there were a few more parties I passed, all hiking down Snow Lake and a traffic jam of people on the slabs at Upper Snow Creek. After that stretch I was back to being alone again for long stretches with a random encounter until Lunch.

Some hikers on the slabs on their way to Snow Lake Trailhead

Core Enchantments

Just before the 10 mile mark was Lake Viviane. It was almost 3 pm by that point. I had stopped to take a few pictures, use the restroom, admire the views, talk with a few folks in passing, and route find. I guess it all adds up! By this point I was really hungry and wanted to stop to enjoy the lake and eat lunch. I found a nice spot, took some photos, settled in with my feet in the water and ate as I watched people come and go around me. No one was coming up my direction, everyone was coming down.

From here it was a mission of following cairns, finding cairns, staying on the path, finding the path, and not straying too far before realizing you missed your turn. I’m not sure if things are more visible coming the other way, but there were points where the trail would become a lookout, or campground, or water crossing but the sign or cairn to the trail was either missing or non-obvious. I lost a lot of time course correcting throughout. But, I did get to see and take in the marvelous lakes, meadows and most of all, when Prusik came into view I became giddy! I just love that peak! And the views! Stunning. I didn’t recognize much of the hike from here to Aasgard though I desperately tried to remember anything from that prior trip up here.

Aasgard Pass

Aasgard has a reputation for a good reason. It’s steep! And, has real dangers to it. For instance, when there is snow, you need to know where to go to avoid the waterfall that could be frozen or running and not visible. People have glissaded down and accidentally found themselves sliding into a hole and becoming buried under the snow as the waterfall took them down. Here’s one survivors account of this. With the unusual warming of the pass this summer as temperatures and freezing levels quickly skyrocketed, the ground warmed and snow melted much faster than it usually does. This has caused more instability in the terrain. Be careful! Always! Everytime you go up or down Aasgard, it is a pass to respect.

Rockfall on Aasgard, early July 2021.

Watch for the waterfall, cross on the climbers left to avoid it (notes tell you to stay left from the tree going up). Cairns are there but can be difficult to see in spots. On the way down, stay right of the waterfall and only cross low when the cairns take you. This is not bad advice with snow either. If you know where the water flows, stay as much away from that flow line. Think of it like hugging the Colchuck peak wall as much as you can for as far as you can up and down.

Colchuck lake is a sight to see from high on the Pass and it just gets better and better as you come down. Take your time and yes, it will feel like forever before you have reached the top or bottom.

Colchuck trail to Stuart Lake Trailhead

This trail feels like a typical Northwest trail. Dirty, varied, a boulder field, lots of tree roots, some water crossings with very nice bridges. It’s not particularly scenic but it’s beautiful in it’s own right. After you leave Colchuck Lake, things just get pretty boring by comparison of what you’ve just experienced. However, now that you are off Aasgard Pass, there is very little climbing and mostly descending to be done. I barely ran into anyone on this trail on my way out. It was 5:20 when I hit the top of Aasgard Pass and 8:10 when I exited the trail.

I was surprised it took me so long! The last Colchuck Lake photo I took was at 6:50, from there it was all interior trail to the exit. It seemed like forever to exit but the terrain being what it was, it wasn’t until the last 1.5 miles or so when the trail became more dirt, and less tree roots, rocky and varied terrain. I just wanted this trail to go by quickly, which it did not. I can’t imagine hiking it up but then I guess you also have Aasgard to look forward to and the deeper in you get, the more interesting and varied the terrain gets, which keeps it interesting.

By this point, I have various body tweaks and while I haven’t posted about my Green Creek adventure, yet, my toes are wrecked. I think because so many other things hurt by this point and my body was just tired that I forgot about my toes and couldn’t tell whether they were in pain or not. I wasn’t tracking my time, I was tracking my body and my ability to push it, or not. I did the best I could and hoped that I would exit before dark, ideally in under 10 hours, and I did! 9:55:29 total elapsed time with 8:50:28 moving time. I was happy about that.

The parking lot was significantly less full when I exited that it seemed like I parked on the road for no reason. My lone car sat far down the path that at first I worried I came out the wrong exit! After finding it and sorting myself, I drove down to Snow Lake hoping to collect my bike and get on the road before dark. It was close!

I stopped at the gas station at the end of the road before getting on US 2 and heading home. Note, there is no bathroom available at the station so use it at Snow Lake TH. The drive home was uneventful, except for a flipped vehicle on the side of the road at one point (take care on those roads!). Driving out with no traffic was blissful. I never go up that way because of traffic. I mean, it gets ridiculous! A 2.5 hour drive can easily take twice that just sitting in stop and go traffic for miles back from Monroe through Sultan, Gold Bar and well up the US 2. This night I enjoyed the out and back with no traffic.

Leaving Colchuck Lake, Aasgard pass and Dragontail Peak in the distance

Final Thoughts

I was pretty happy with myself for tackling this fear and going out there solo. There wasn’t anything to be afraid of and my mini-objective and the constant elevation gain kept my mind occupied for the most part. I did have a lot of time to ponder, reflect, and enjoy the environment. I slept well that night and when I woke up the next day, wrecked and tired from nearly 50 total hiking miles (aggressive hiking, too) in about a week, I felt good. I couldn’t feel anything except the tiredness of my body and for once since Josh passed, I walked around with my head high and my spirits in tact. I was smiling, though I hurt all over. I looked over my bruised body and toes, taking stock of my tired muscles asking for a reprieve and wondered, what’s next? How do I top this? What is too much for these toes….how much can they handle before I do them damage? Have I damaged them already? What if I can’t hike or run or climb for the next week, what will I do? How long before I can go out again? When is too soon? Is this drive healthy? Is it helping or am I creating a new problem?

It took 1.5 days of rest before the anxiety attacks returned and even though I had plans to go out, I was worried I’d have to bail because it was so bad. New fears arose. I’ve been getting out into the mountains to find peace and been able to do so while I was mostly numb inside. I’m not as numb right now but I’m flat and there’s too much to feel that while I’ve been writing this, I’ve had multiple break downs, out of nowhere. It’s all unrelated but somehow related. His voice, a vision of him, a memory, and once again I’m lost for a time. Then I come out of it and try to keep making progress on this blog. I don’t know how long it will take for the waves to come further apart…at least so I can go back to work and appear normal again. It’s so random when these things happen. These hikes have and continue to really help and I wonder how far I will take it while trying to continue to heal my elbow to get back into climbing as my body and mind allows.

There’s so much more to this story that I hope I’m brave enough to share one day. In the meantime, I’m behind in my blog posts. I still have Green Creek and how I hurt my toes and Alaska (my 24 hour sun project) to finish and post. For now, I think I’ve got the important ones done. If you’ve read this far, then you are equipped for this hike.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out! I’m always happy to help. Happy Trails and thank you for reading my story.

About Audrey Sniezek

Audrey Sniezek is a rock climbing athlete and computer software/technology enthusiast.
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