In the last several months I’ve been trying to spend as much time as feasible out having adventures. Given the limitations on my resources – both practical and psychic – I’ve sought out what I think of as single serving vacations. Never longer than a weekend, and sometimes just an overnight, these little mini-break holidays go a long way toward helping me feel like I am not withering away in my convalescence and wasting my life in bed.

Both Pinterest and Instagram have been remarkably robust sources of inspiration for these trips, and several weeks ago, looking at the PNWonderland feed I saw a photo of Colchuck Lake and was completely smitten. Research implied the hike was roughly 4 miles and and a 4 hour drive away to encounter what appeared to be a breathtaking alpine lake ringed by dramatic rocky peaks. I knew I could toss the ol’ futon in the back of Quincy and make a pretty great job of the trek and set it as #1 on my list of must see spots.

After weeks of contemplation – and delays due mostly to illness – I finally had the wherewithal to undertake the journey. I re-read the trail guide and was gratified it seemed to strike all the criteria I prefer; stunning vistas (the review described arriving at the lake as a “religious experience”) a decent though not outrageous out and back distance, and enough elevation gain to scare off most casual hikers. I noted Google considered the trip a 5.5 hr drive, but given my experience was generally that I could reliably expect to shave an hour off any estimate, I felt sure I’d arrive much more quickly.

In an effort to do so and just outside of Hood River, I got pulled over and issued a citation for speeding. I deserved it. I wasn’t paying attention and made absolutely no effort to defend my actions. The officer was polite; the fine substantial. Boo.


Stonehenge at Maryhill

Taking his admonition to slow down to heart, I made small detours in the interest of scenery a few times and tried to enjoy the drive through Eastern Washington as much as something like that can be enjoyed. There are – interspersed among long stretches of folded brown rolling landscape – occasionally sights of great loveliness, and I made an effort to savor them in the fading daylight.

That being the case, it took every bit as long to get to Leavenworth as Google had implied. After 5+ hours in the car, I was delighted to roll into the eastern end of town to encounter the comforting fluorescent glow of the Safeway. Arming myself with a few additional supplies and some deli General Tsao’s, I prepared to complete the last leg of the trip in the fading twilight. Ascending the 4 miles of rutted gravel road in low light was an adventure all its own.

I hadn’t bothered to secure a campsite, as I was intending to a) Sleep in the back of the car and b) Rise at the crack of dawn to start my hike. This worked perfectly well as I simply tucked Quincy into a parking spot in the corner of the lot at the trailhead popped in my headphones to block the noise of the other folks who had done just exactly the same thing and went to sleep.

Long about 5:15 a.m. my eyes popped open and I started to sort through my gear to prepare for ascent. Having done some further reading on other websites, I had amended my expectation that this trail would be quiet. It was variously described as “busy” and “extremely popular.” Knowing that to be true, and paired with my inability to sleep past the first faint light in the sky, I thought taking advantage of an early start was my best bet. I stuffed my swimsuit, a snack, a bottle of water, and a jacket into my daypack and set out within the hour.


Stuart Lake Trail: Gateway to The Enchantments

I took off at a good clip and made decent time to the river crossing at 1.5 miles. The trail was well-maintained and had a pleasant, variable character. Mostly packed dirt with rocks and roots to avoid, the most notable feature in the early morning was the remarkable din of the creek running alongside. It was a chattering and lovely sound that filled in air in the otherwise silent morning.

Once across the first bridge, the personality of the trail changed notably. Almost immediately, I began to see and feel the climb ahead of me. I realized pretty quickly my knees were going to be in for a rough time on the way down. This hike is rather dramatically lopsided; it is very much all up one direction and all down the other. What had been a rolling walk turned into a stair-step tramp of some challenge.


Even at that early hour, it wasn’t more than 45 minutes or so before a group came in around me. Though I am determined and unrelenting – much like when I run – distance is achieved at a much slower than average pace. With hiking in particular I have to be especially careful; given my lack of depth perception and questionable balance, I tend to trip, slip, and fall with shocking regularity. Moving slowly and choosing my route with great care helps mitigate this outcome, but never eliminates it entirely. I fell no less than 6-7 times over the course of this hike. I have learned how to do so in such a way that I wasn’t hurt at all, but it injures my dignity to have other people witness my clumsy and lumbering progress. As such, encountering a crowd of skilled and fast-moving hikers is kind of a bummer for me.

Another footbridge across the creek left me momentarily stumped. Heretofore, the trail had been clear and easy to follow. At the terminus of the railing, there was nothing but a huge tumbled rockfall and no discernible route away from the landing. It took me a full and thorough investigation of the shore to realize the trial snaked around behind a large rock and away to the right. Once again, my lack of depth perception left me at a disadvantage; I could not readily see the distance between the rocks when confronting them from directly in front. This continued to be a challenge for the rest of the hike, as it increasingly bent its way back and forth along a cliffside littered with boulders and stones.


Find The Trail; Colchuck Lake Edition!

It was also at this point that the stripe of the ramble changed again. Most of the elevation gain was realized in the next 1.5 miles. At times, it felt like a climb rather than a hike. More than once, I was gripping rocks and hoisting myself over and up to regain the trail. I was increasingly dubious that anyone would reasonably consider this “moderate.”

Finally after 2.5 hours of hard haul I reached Colchuck and its deep teal waters.


Colchuck Lake

While the lake was undeniably lovely, and the setting dramatic, it was actually rather difficult to get down anywhere near the shore to take in the spectacle in any encompassing way. Calling this view a religious experience seemed a bit hyperbolic; similar only in being won by dint of a grueling and demoralizing progress. The photos I was hoping to get were all constrained by the angle I could manage given my vantage. More, after weeks of all but unrelenting heat it was not only cool, but raining. The weight of my useless swimsuit hung heavy in my daypack, indeed.



The descent was its own brand of brutal. My knees were protesting the unrelenting downward progress after the first half mile and had four more to tolerate besides. By that time of the morning, the traffic on the trail was nothing less than hectic. Progress, already slowed by aforementioned caution, was further hampered by the need to frequently step aside for uphill traffic.

All things considered, though it was beautiful, I didn’t consider the effort-to-reward ratio on this particular trip to have worked out that well. Given a companion, a longer timeline, and a clearer expectation of what was coming, I think it would warrant a return trip. The area boasts several other lakes in a looped trail system called The Enchantments. It seems like it’d be a worthy use of a weekend to see more of the landscape thereabouts. On the whole, I’ve had pretty good success with the Instagram-Pinterest Adventurelark Trip Planning Method. Call this one a qualified win.