Hey guys! Megan here again, you might remember me from my previous article, “Adventure Kitty: Leon.” Back in December one of my friends decided it would be fun to go backpacking in The Enchantments (The alpine wilderness area near Leavenworth). She sent out a Facebook invitation, and eight of us met multiple times to decide which permit to apply for and when to go. Only one of us had ever been there before and for another one had never been backpacking. We decided that we would all apply for a Core area permit (one permit is good for up to eight people) so we could take four days to hike the “famous” 17 mile through hike. There was a permit applying party Februrary 15th, and a long wait.
March 14th rolled around, and the bad news kept coming one rejection notice after another. None of us won the lottery.
However, a very determined member of our group didn’t give up. She kept checking the site that lets you know which permits were not claimed and are up for grabs. There was a permit available for the Eightmile/Caroline Zone on June 20. None of us had any idea where that was, but we were in. Five of us could make the dates work. We decided we would do the 3.5 mile hike in to Eightmile Lake, set up camp, and then day hike from there. This was ideal for me since I was still dealing with nerve damage pain in one of my shoulders and wasn’t sure if I could carry a backpack one mile, much less the 17 we originally planned on.
We got an early start and were at the trailhead by 9am. We were concerned because we’d read trip reports where parking was a huge problem, and that camp spots were sparse because of the fire that burned through the area. There were only a few other cars in the entire parking area which seemed like a good omen, and I was grateful that our hike started mid-week rather than on a weekend. We were in high spirits as we helped each other into giant backpacks. We were staying three nights and figured we could bring a few extra supplies since we would be camping in the same spot the whole time.
The hike in started up a fairly steep grade, then leveled out some, then steep again… the trail gains 1400 feet in about 3.5 miles. There were multiple water crossings which were fun and when we made it to Little Eightmile Lake we were so close yet so far as the last half mile was steep and rocky. Eightmile Lake is a beautiful little alpine lake surrounded by mountains, half forested and half burned. I’d heard that it was “ugly” because of the fire, but I thought the opposite. The burned section is closed off for wilderness recovery, and there is lots of new growth. The blackened trees were kind of cool looking and I didn’t think they detracted from the beauty of the place.
There were plenty of camping areas as there was only one other tent on the whole lake. The mosquitoes were bad. I came prepared with natural bug spray, regular mosquito spray, and pure Deet. I used all of them. I also had a full mosquito jacket and pants with a hood that zipped over my face. I pretty much wore them the whole time. When the wind came off the lake the buggers would disappear, and when it quit they’d be back.
I spent the next day hanging out in the hammock overlooking the lake reading a book. It was as heavenly as it sounds. My friends decided to do a super ambitious hike to Colchuck Lake which was out of my physical abilities at the time, so I stayed back and “held down the fort”. 10/10 highly recommend. They said Colchuck was amazing too, it’s one of those glacial fed lakes with water the color of light blue toothpaste. They even toted up some innertubes to float around in, apparently the water was absolutely freezing.
At night the mice come out. They’re the really cute kind that look like cartoon characters, but they do try to get into your food. One got a little close and nibbled on someone’s foot. They’re not real scared of people.
The next day I hiked to Lake Caroline, which meant backtracking about half a mile down the trail and then heading straight up a mountain for what seemed like years. It’s really only about three miles, but it’s steep. While Eightmile gains 1400ft, Lake Caroline gains 3100ft. The views are unbelievable on the way up. You get to the top of the mountain, then hike down a steep path to the lake.
Caroline is a bit smaller, is not as open, and is harder to see. I expected to find no one there as the hike was strenuous, but that’s where the parties were happening. Lots of younger backpackers! I hiked around the lake, through some snow fields, and turned around when I got to small and shallow Little Lake Caroline.
The next morning we had breakfast, broke camp, and headed out. It was Saturday and we saw more people in the first hour down the trail than we’d seen the whole time we were up there. By the time we got to the trailhead the parking lot was full and people were driving around in circles hoping someone was leaving. Being grateful again for our mid-week start, we happily gave our parking spot to someone else and headed back into Leavenworth for “real” food, drinks, showers, and a little shopping.
I’d recommend the Eightmile/Caroline Zone in a heartbeat. I think the only disadvantage is that once you’re up there, the only hiking trail that doesn’t require you to go back to the parking lot is the one to Lake Caroline and Windy Pass. And the mosquitoes, but they’re everywhere in the Northern Cascades.
To follow more of Megan’s adventures you can find her on Instagram at @leonadventurecat