Sunday, October 13, 2013

Enchant Me, Enchant Me Not

Ask a backpacker what the most spectacular wilderness area is in Washington state, and there's a good chance they'll say "The Enchantments." Part of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area to the southwest of Leavenworth, the Enchantments is an area of lakes and tarns surrounded by the peaks of the Stuart Range. Friends have described the area as stunning, alien, unique within the Cascades, and truly breathtaking.

Not surprisingly, the Enchantments are incredibly popular--so much so that staying overnight requires a permit through a lottery system. It is the only backcountry camping lottery permit in Washington state, and one of only a handful of lottery systems in the whole United States. The lottery application is in late February, then the winners are picked in March. That determines who will get to camp there during the prime (less likely to be covered in snow) time of June 15 to October 15.

Last year I wanted to go, and my friend Katie applied for a permit for us. She didn't get it, but I still REALLY wanted to go. I rallied a few crazy friends who decided we would try to do the whole hike in one day in September, since you don't need a permit if you're not staying overnight. It's a pretty burly day trip--18 miles long and 5,000 feet of elevation gain. That is far more strenuous than my average day hike, but for the Enchantments I was willing to do it. I would get up at 4am or whatever it took-- I WOULD do the Enchantments that year.

Lo and behold, by the time lovely September came--sunny clear skies, leaves just starting to turn--the wildfires came too. You may not remember, but last year there were huge fires in eastern WA, creating hazardous air quality conditions and shutting down our long-awaited trail for the season. It just wasn't meant to be in 2012.

So this year, I approached the lottery system more determined and more strategic. I talked to five other groups of friends applying for permits, and we agreed that whoever got a permit would take the other party along. In March, we eagerly awaited the results. And then, NONE of us got one.

However, I had just started dating Max, and he had applied on a whim right before the deadline, and got a permit! It was for the end of September, which is a great time for seeing the larch change color, but also risky for late season weather. Nonetheless, I was excited and hoped we would still be dating in 7 months! He got a group of 7 of us together, plans were made, packing lists disseminated, and we looked forward to it for over half the year.

Then, the DAY BEFORE we were going to leave, western Washington got hit with a crazy huge uncharacteristic freakish storm. Like torrential downpours, possible flooding, and snow around 6,000 feet and above. At first, just thinking we were going to get a little rain, our party was still planning to go on the backpacking trip. I had a few friends though who expressed their concern and pointed out that this was not just going to be a rainy weekend. Once we looked at the forecast more, it became clear that the trip was not possible. Our highest point would be Asgard Pass at 7,800 feet, putting much of the upper part of our trail under a dumping of fresh snow and up to 40 mph winds.

So the day before the long-awaited date, we called it off. I could not believe that my Enchantment plans were foiled again.

We considered going somewhere else at a lower elevation that wouldn't be hit by snow. Maybe the Olympics? Max called a ranger station, and spoke with a ranger who advised against backpacking due to flood danger. He called the upcoming weather conditions "apocalyptic."

With that, I officially decided that an outdoor adventure was not in the cards for the weekend, and to just enjoy some indoor activities. I read a book. A WHOLE BOOK. I went to the University farmer's market for some goodies that I would cook that day: pears to can in a brandied vanilla syrup; leeks to make soup with potatoes from my garden; bok choy to do a sesame garlic sauté for dinner; and napa cabbage to start brining to make kimchi. I also baked drop biscuits, ginger-pumpkin muffins, and a pumpkin cheesecake. I listened to music and drank hard cider and just enjoyed having time to make things in the kitchen.

Turns out I haven't made a lot of time for that lately since when it's nice I just want to be outside. But sometimes a weekend of crazy rain is what you need to just hunker down. And once again, I will wait for the Enchantments and hope that 2014 is the year.