Hike of the Week for Friday, August 26, 2011
Cobalt blue waters beneath a wall of rock and ice
Article and photo by Craig Romano
A hiker stands in awe of Colchuck Lake's stark beauty.
Location: Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Icicle River Valley
Land Agency: National Forest Service
Roundtrip: 8.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,200 feet
Green Trails Map: The Enchantments- No. 209S
Contact: Wenatchee River Ranger District (Leavenworth): Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest; www.fs.fed.us/r6/wenatchee
Notes: Northwest Forest Pass required; Dogs prohibited; Special Enchantment Permit required for overnight visits.
Access: From Milepost 99 on US 2 on the western edge of Leavenworth, follow Icicle Creek Road (FR 76) for 8.4 miles turning left onto Eightmile Road (FR 7601). Continue for 3.8 miles to trailhead.
Set in a granite bathtub beneath spiraling peaks adorned with shimmering strands of glacial ice, Colchuck ranks as one of the most beautiful alpine lakes in all of Washington. So, not surprisingly it is also one of the state’s most popular lakes too! Get an early start or avoid the weekends if sharing this cobalt blue lake with hundreds of other hikers doesn’t appeal to you.
From the large and oft filled parking lot, set out immediately entering a cool dark forest. The way starts off easy enough following alongside Mountaineer Creek. After entering the Alpine Lake Wilderness, you’ll transition into open lodgepole pine forest.
On decent tread and a good grade weave through big boulders and cross babbling side creeks all while staying within constant eyesight and earshot of tumbling Mountaineer Creek. At about 1.75 miles cross Mountaineer Creek on an attractive log bridge spanning deep pools fed by crashing rapids. The way then begins to climb in earnest. Through fields of big boulders, up and around granite ledges, and through open forest granting views of the craggy Enchantment Peaks, the way steeply climbs.
At 2.5 miles, come to a junction. The main trail continues straight for a fairly easy amble to Stuart Lake. But, you’re heading left for the more challenging and more scenic journey. After once again crossing Mountaineer Creek; begin working your way through a boulder field. Then re-enter forest before making a big sweep up a ledge.
Ascend a series of granite ledges between steep stretches of rocky and rooty tread before reaching the deep rocky pocket cradling the lake. A short spur takes off left .1 mile to a small lagoon on Colchuck’s south end where breathtaking views of the backdrop spires Dragontail and Colchuck Peaks can be enjoyed. Tucked between that pair of precipitous peaks is the Colchuck Glacier, one of the many icy sources feeding the chilling waters of the lake. Colchuck is derived from the Chinook Jargon meaning cold water. Care for a swim?
Feel free to explore the lakeshore looking for sunny slabs perfect for snacking and napping. But treat this area with care. Despite the durable appearance, plants have a tough time surviving in this harsh environment. Keep to rock and use the available backcountry privy if nature calls.
For more information on this hike and others nearby, check out my Day Hiking Central Cascades book.