The Enchanting Trail Trifecta Challenge

Written on Jun 13th, 2014 by , Category Trail Running

Colchuck Lake


By Amber King

Feeling quite ambitious, I poured over my trail map of the Wenatchee and Leavenworth areas. I was looking for a run that could fulfill my craving for running in the alpine. Glacial lakes, steep terrain and a setting that inspired wanderlust was the intention.

I had heard a lot about Colchuck Lake and the Enchantments. Numerous conversations had me picturing pristine glacial lakes with towering granite spires that implored the body to explore more. The lake, a gorgeous turquoise gem located in the tranquil granite amphitheater of the Enchantment Mountains, is renowned as one of the prettiest glacial lakes in all of Washington. Getting cabin fever in the valley, I knew it was time for some mountain lovin’.

Lake Colchuck itself is only an 8-mile, in-and-out hike. So needing extra mileage, I decided to add Stuart Lake and Eightmile Creek to the tick list for the day. Perfect, I thought, it will be an ‘Enchanting Trifecta’ of beautiful mountain trails teaming with views of big mountains, creeks, lakes, meadows, flowers, wildlife, birds and more!

Doing all of these trails in one day would give me upwards of 20 miles of running. Looking at the topo map, I noted that Stuart Lake and Eightmile Creek are flat after an initial uphill climb. Colchuck, on the other hand, looked steep most of the way. Taking that into consideration, I knew I was going to be hiking.

I decided to start with the Lake Stuart trail. I would run up to the lake and then backtrack to the junction of Stuart and Colchuck lakes (7.2 miles). Then I would head up Colchuck, relax and take in the views, then run back down (7.8). After that, I would run up Eightmile trail and back (7.6). This would bring me to a total mileage of 22.6 miles. I was stoked for a day of adventure and fun in the mountains!

The Colchuck Lake/Stuart Lake trailhead

By 6:30 a.m. Saturday, I was on my way to Leavenworth from Wenatchee. I got to the trailhead around 7:45 a.m. I slipped on my shoes, Nathan running pack, made sure that I had my Steripen© (water purification) and snacks. To my water I added an endurance fuel called ‘Tailwind’ that is full of calories and electrolytes.

I took some photos and carried on my way, passing a few hikers on the uphill. The trail up the junction was wonderful. It was nice and cool and the sun shone through the foliage of the deciduous and coniferous trees. The rocky and rooty trail required extra vigilance while the continual uphill forced my pace into low gear and tested my patience.

When arriving at the junction, I made a right. The trail began to flatten out and I felt like a million dollars. Jamming out to my new Macklemore album, I was in the zone. In stride, I jumped over downed trees, tromping through snow, weaved my way through new and interesting terrain. Views of the Enchantments came into view on the left about a mile down the trail. I was dumbfounded by the beauty of these jagged and tempting peaks and the borders of meadows and giant trees. As I continued, the meadows smoked like tea kettles as the early morning sun rays touched the cold green grass underbrush.

My first view of the Enchantments.

Smoking foliage

As I emerged from the pine forest, I encountered a large timber fall zone. These meadows reminded me of the cut blocks that I had replanted when I was a college student up in northern British Columbia. I thought to myself, ‘This is bear country.’ Instinctually, I stopped, took out my headphones and looked around.

I heard a branch break, which brought my gaze up to an open hillside on the right. A big round cinnamon brown rump of a bear was facing me and looked to be about four to five feet in diameter. It was deep in a berry bush and only a few hundred feet away.

I don’t think the bear saw me. If it did, it didn’t seem interested in what I was doing. Being alone, I decided that I wouldn’t chance continuing on this trail. So I slowly backed away until I could no longer see it and ran back to the junction.

The junction.

(It’s always nice to have a trail running partner.)

When I got there, I made a left and followed the trail for Colchuck Lake. This trail had an uphill but manageable gradient for about 1.5 miles from the junction with bouldery river crossings and technical rocky terrain. After this ‘easier’ section, the trail went straight uphill. My run turned into a fast paced hike.

A stream crossing along the way.

Up and up and up! It took me through forests, over downed trees, up rocked out and rooty trails to open vistas, perfect for lunch breaks and mid-afternoon naps. This run/hike featured gorgeous views of inspiring mountain acmes, blue skies, puffed cloud plumes and big granite slabs. Further up the trail was the glacial lake I had been hoping to see since I moved here two months ago.

Open slabs and beautiful peaks.

Colchuck Lake is awe-inspiring. The cerulean water gleamed at me, reflecting the clouds, snow and trees. Granite pinnacles surrounded it like a gargantuan amphitheater sitting at 5,600 feet. Most of the ice had melted off the lake and the Enchantments carried glistening tear drop snowlines through its couloirs. It was a beautiful sight that I took in for about an hour.

After I had gotten my fill, I started the downhill run. It was technical running at its finest. Arms out, body straight, trying not to fall flat on my face as the steeps forced fancy footwork. I felt fast, light and happy to move quickly once again. Abojut 45 minutes later, I was back at the car.

The need for nimble footing

I stopped, ate a little food and had some water. Ten minutes later, I jetted down the road to the Eightmile Creek Trailhead. This trailhead is just over a flat half-mile away. It was what my knees needed to get back into the game.

Jumping off to a steep trail, I moved into huge meadows dotted with strong and proud Ponderosa pine and lush healthy green underbrush painted with clumps of Lupin and Balsamroot flowers. The Enchantments provided the perfect backdrop to this area. Personally, I thought this hike was prettier than most of the Colchuck Lake jaunt as it was saturated with a plethora of colors and open views.

Up the Eightmile trail

Unfortunately I sprained my ankle a little ways up the trail, so I had to turn back before getting to the lake, so I don’t have a full description of this trail. I limped back to the car, stretched out and drove on home.

Even though I didn’t get to do my full ‘Enchantment Trifecta,’ I was still content with my day. I had completed 14 miles, seen amazing mountains and glacial lakes, encountered wildlife and — mostly importantly — had a new life experience. Despite my frustrations with a sprained ankle, I was a happy camper.

I'm a happy trail runner!

If you haven’t been up to the Colchuck Lake area near Leavenworth, it is a must-do trail. Whether you hike or run it, you will end your day feeling so lucky that you were able to immerse yourself in the craggy setting of Colchuck Mountain, Dragontail Peak and the viridescent glow of its glacial Colchuck Lake. The below description is specific for Colchuck Lake. However, the map shows information for all the trails described above.

Route beta — Colchuck Lake

Trail name: Colchuck Lake
Mileage: 8 miles (roundtrip)
Elevation gain: 2,200 feet
Difficulty: Intermediate to expert
Trail map reference: Start out at Mountaineer Creek Trailhead. Follow this until you hit the junction for Lake Stuart. Make a left and follow this up to Colchuck Lake.
Parking permits required: Northwest Forest Pass
Pros: Amazing pine laden trail, rocky terrain, bridge crossing, stream crossing, glacial lake, mountains, alpine environment
Cons: May be very busy on the weekends, try to leave this one for the week days. Note that bears and cougars are in the area.

Extra Resources

Washington Trails Association:

Directions from Wenatchee

1. Follow Highway 2 west towards Leavenworth and Seattle for approximately 18 miles.
2. Once you get into the town of Leavenworth, drive through it. At the end of town (before Tumwater Canyon), you will see Icicle Road. Take a left here.
3. Follow Icicle Road for 8.4 miles.
4. You will drive past Eightmile Campground. After this, make a left onto Eightmile Road (NF 7600).
5. Follow this road all the way to the end. You will pass the trailhead for Eightmile Creek along the way.
6. Park your car in the parking area.
7. The trailhead will be at the far end of the parking lot.

Now that you are inspired to get into the alpine – do it! Enjoy these trails. They are some of Washington’s finest!

Trailin’ Off,

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