WA – Mount Rainier National Park, Chinook Pass (Oct 2021)

I knew I was pushing my luck finding peak autumn colors. But the hikes at Chinook Pass were on my POI list and since there was a nearby fire when I was in the area in early August, I took the detour on my southward journey.

When I got started in the morning I was feeling disappointed in myself. Why? Well first when I arrived at the trailhead the previous afternoon the light was optimal and I should have hiked the very popular Naches Peak Loop Trail but the hundreds of cars removed all motivation for that option. Second I missed a spectacular sunrise by arriving about 15 minutes late the next morning. Would it be a 3-strike trip? I certainly felt more optimistic when I turned around and found this view of Mount Rainier and Yakima Peak shortly after starting my hike.

I knew the only way I’d be able to enjoy this hike was to get an early morning start.

There was no doubt I was a couple weeks past peak colors and with the overcast skies I wasn’t going to get great reflections either. But look, no people! I had the pond to myself.

The northern section of the Naches Peak Loop Trail is shared with the PCT until it continues south dropping to Dewey Lake.

As I turned west, I found an obvious well used viewpoint and was happy to have the clouds part just enough for a little peek of these mountains.

As I stood there, I thought I saw more in the background. Is that snow? If so that must be Mount Rainer.

I watched the clouds drift in and out for a good 30 minutes, playing peek-a-boo with Mount Rainier.

Taking time to watch nature’s magic was exactly what I needed on this day.

As I continued the loop I was gifted this view of Naches Peak.

By the time I reached Tipsoo Lakes, the crowds were arriving and it started feeling like Disneyland.

I took a little break at my car before continuing my hike north on the PCT. My first stop was very popular Sheep Lake. I met a ton of people coming down from an overnight at the lake. Can you imagine sharing with 20-50 people? That’s what you get without permits and quotas and a lake 2 miles from a paved trailhead. My destination was Sourdough Gap at the top of the ridge.

This section of trail was much less busy.

Looking down at Sheep Lake as I climbed toward Sourdough Gap.

Sourdough Gap provided views of Three Way Peak. I thought I’d be able to see Mount Rainer as I’d gotten a glimpse as I climbed up to the pass.

The PCT continues north through Sourdough Gap, but after a short traverse it drops to the right below Three Peaks. The trail that stays high is Crystal Lakes Trail and the visible pass invited further exploration.

Success! That was the view I was hoping to find. Upper Crystal Lake is another popular overnight and day hike destination. It’s important to note these lakes are in the National Park. I don’t know permitting requirements but signs clearly indicated dogs prohibited. Sad to say I witnessed many who don’t believe rules apply to them.

Overall I’d call this day a win although I wouldn’t say it was in my top 10 and it’s unlikely I’d repeat except for hiking this full section of the PCT, which I’m still missing on my quest to complete Washington.

Do you know this tree? There were several along this section of the trail and they didn’t seem to belong but they sure were pretty.

I’m so pleased with my continued knee rehab progress.

ADVENTURE DATE(S): October 3-4, 2021

RESOURCES:

LINKS:

Enchanting Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA (8/25/14-8/28/14)

Selecting the starting and ending trailheads for this magical journey can be a challenging decision. My group elected to start from the Snow Lakes trailhead.

Nada Lake includes this forceful fountain from Lower Snow Lake. Enjoy this video I took showing the power of this fountain.

Upper and Lower Snow Lakes are used as base camp for many unable to obtain permits to camp in the Upper Enchantment zone.

This is the infamous rebar section. On a dry day, the steps are unnecessary, but when wet, icy, or snowy, this area makes hikers ponder whether to ascend, descend or avoid the Snow Lake Trailhead.

Lake Viviane is the first of the alpine lakes. The sun glare made it difficult to capture a photo equal to her beauty.

Leprechaun Lake, just as magical as it’s name.

A peninsula separates Leprechaun Lake and a granite wall highlighted by waterfalls.

Expect to see a few families of goats. We found them to be docile, seeking only our urine, which should be deposited only on or between rocks when an official toilet is not used.

Sprite Lake

Rune Lake

Inspiration Lake with Prusik Peak in the background.

Crystal Lake and McClellan Peak

Little Annapurna

The views from atop Little Annapurna were dramatic. To the south, the geology was much different than that in the Alpine Lake region.

Near the front right of the below photo is Crystal Lake, with an apparent infinity edge. In the middle are Perfection and Inspiration Lakes. Further in the distance is Leprechaun Lake with Lake Viviane above it, and in the far distance are Snow Lakes.

Rock Ptarmigan

Sunrises and sunsets can be dramatic.

Prusik Peak highlighted by the clouds signaling a change of weather.

An unnamed lake provided this stunning opportunity.

Tranquil Lake

Isolation Lake

Looking over the scree embankment down to Colchuck Lake

Looking up at the scree field of Aasgard Pass as well as the boulder field surrounding Colchuck Lake. Would you rather go up or down scree?

Colchuck Lake, another camping area for those without Upper Enchantment permits.

Ending at the Stuart Lake Trailhead

Here’s a general idea of what to expect.

Celebrating at the top of Little Annapurna

Jan’s Tips:

  • Resources:
  • Lighten your load! I can’t stress enough the challenges of hiking boulders and scree with an oversized weighty pack. I saw many miserable hikers. Your FUN meter will increase exponentially with a lighter leaner pack.
  • Some people run and hike the trail end to end in one day, others will take a week or more to enjoy the many alpine lakes and summits.
  • Be prepared for weather changes. We had one night of extremely strong winds, bringing with them a drop in temperature and clouds which could have easily dumped either rain or snow. Fires are prohibited.
  • Leavenworth is the nearest town. Besides it’s tourist charm, it meets a hiker’s basic needs with a Safeway and Starbucks. There was at least one outfitter, plus the Wenatchee River Ranger District Office for obtaining walk-up permits.  I stayed at the Best Western before and after my trip; they permitted me to leave my car in their parking lot.
  • Use this link to find other areas I’ve explored in Washington state.