Autumn in the Alpine
The Fall season on this side of the state is downright the best, weather wise, to climb and adventure. Spring comes in second. But the early Fall season we had here in particular, was one that produced a slow decline in temps and below normal precipitation, leaving the days mild and dry and full of opportunity.
The last weekend of September was the weekend I spend in Leavenworth traversing The Enchantments with two of my college friends, Lauren & Bess. It was my second time up there without securing camping permits, so we planned to run/hike the entire thing in a day with small packs on our backs and a pair of good trail shoes. Bess, a long distance and marathon runner, estimated it would take us about 8 hours, but we definitely underestimated the amount of pauses we'd take for photos and snacks. The scenery up there, spiked with snowy peaks and golden larches, was almost overwhelming, and in the end, we didn't do much running at all. We started at Colchuck Lake early in the morning and meandered our way to the iconic opening of Aasgard Pass. Over the 2,000 foot ascent, we were hit with below-freezing winds and the occasional snow shower. It was brutal, but we hit the summit with partly sunny skies and continued through to our first alpine lake. The views were breathtaking at every turn. We simply could not run due to the distractions and number of casual hikers on the trail. We'd run for five minutes, and then have to stop for a selfie.
By the afternoon, the day was mild and sunny and we pushed through our last stretch down Snow Lake. Of all areas in The Enchantments, this zone is the most ideal for trail running. The decent was gradual but by this time, my knee had started throbbing and I knew my "runner's knee" condition was flaring. Trying to run all 22-ish miles in one day was pushing it and I must accept that my knees no longer have the endurance for 20+ mile adventures.
We tackled the last few miles at a slow hobble pace. I was near tears and not able to bend my right knee at this point. Meanwhile Bess and Lauren took the lead. Even with my knee pain, the day was fantastic, the weather had held, and we got in some alpine views that every person needs to experience at some point. Lauren, Bess, and I finished our night with burgers and beer at a tavern in Leavenworth, and then each went our separate ways home. Another solid trip in the books. Cheers to my badass friends and wicked views!
The Mad Meadows
A couple weekends after I traversed The Enchantments, I found myself back in Leavenworth for a whole new type of adventure. Down Icicle Creek Road, you'll find the entrance into the alpine with trailheads dotted every mile. And unbeknownst to me, on the opposite side of the street, lies a meadow of boulders that even world class climbers come to train on. Leavenworth is a bouldering mecca and my friends and I were excited to spend the weekend out there and get in some hard climbs.
I typically climb sport routes, so climbing boulder style problems would be challenging in its own way. The
climbing is different and shorter and packed full of crux moves. The rock in Leavenworth is mainly granite and not the chossy basalt you get at Vantage. The holds are invisible and instead you must heavily rely on sticky aggressive shoes to balance on micro divots while your fingers grab hold of razor thin chips. I soon realized I was not a fan of this type of climbing. My La Sportiva Finales weren't ideal for bouldering, and I found myself struggling to hit V1's and V2's. My bestie Elise and her boyfriend, Bradley, where the ones with me that weekend. Bradley was absolutely slaying the routes and was sending really hard stuff. Meanwhile Elise and I snacked on hummus and took lots of photos. We finished up Saturday early and headed to town for dinner and drinks. Then headed back out to a secret free camp spot (shhhh) among the trees for the night.
I've spent almost every weekend this fall climbing with Elise and Bradley. Not only have we all drastically improved our climbing skill, but our little clan has mastered camping when were out at a crag. We've realized how easy it is to prep and cook amazing meals on camping stoves. And E&B were gifted a habatchi style stove that we've used to make steak fajitas, fish tacos, the whole nine yards. The next morning, we grilled up some egg burrito bowls with bacon, while soaking in the warmth of a real campfire.
We soon headed out to the meadows to attempt a few more bouldering problems. I was able to climb a couple V1's and muscled up part of this popular V3, but Bradley again took to the spotlight and climbed really well. Just being outside and in the trees was awesome, but I still feel like outdoor bouldering isn't my thing. After we packed up that day, we hit Leavenworth Mountain Sports on the way out. Elise and I both picked up some pretty aggressive shoes that would work well for bouldering. I got a pair of the La Sportiva Muira's and Elise some Scarpas. I plan to utilize them on aggressive sport climbs, which is where I plan to put my focus on training-wise come next spring.
This Fall was really something else. Leavenworth puts a spell on you. Whether it's a weekend exploring in town, a couple days in the alpine hiking under shadow of Mt. Stuart, pumping adrenaline on a multipitch, or fighting your way up a boulder... I have a new love for this town and Central Washington in general. We will be back.