Enchantments Sideways Thru-Hike

A Lost World

The Enchantments Thru-Hike is possibly the most famous hike in Washington. The overnight permit for the “Core Zone” is likely the most competitive backcountry permit in the country – if you enter the lottery, you have barely a 1% chance of getting a permit. I have been through the Enchantments many times, always on day trips – a few climbs of Prusik Peak, Dragontail, and even just a nice fall colors hike.

While the “Core Enchantments” might be one of the most crowded backcountry areas of Washington, that does not tell the entire story. If you look at a map of permit zones, the entire half of the Core Zone north of Prusik Pass sees very little traffic. Peaks, lakes, larches, and granite slabs occupy this zone, which is often referred to as the “Lost World Plateau”. I had gotten peeks into this zone from the top of Prusik Peak, but had never explored it.

As I dug into trip reports and research about the Lost World, I found a rich history of off trail exploration. There were no fewer than 6 different approaches from the north side that I read about not named Snow Lake or Colchuck Lake. While these approaches used to see more traffic, they have mostly faded into obscurity. One cause is the 1994 fire, which has created more blowdowns. But I believe the biggest factor is the popularity of the standard Enchantments Thru-Hike and the increasing competitiveness of the Core Zone Permit. If you got a Core Zone permit, why would you “waste” it on the Lost World?

Logan and I decided we wanted to explore the Lost World with the fall larches, so we dove into research about all the different approaches. Ultimately, we determined that two approaches, Hook Creek and Nada Creek, seemed the nicest. Hook Creek would deliver us to the Edward Mesa and the northern end of the region, so it worked best.

Furthermore, I realized that we could cross through the popular Core Zone and descend Crystal Creek to Ingalls Creek in the south. We had also been curious about these southern approaches to the Enchantments. Combined – we had mapped out “an Enchantments Thru-Hike” – not “the Enchantments Thru-Hike”. A little research about this idea revealed a trip report of the same route from Wenatchee Outdoors, calling it the “Enchantments Traverse – Sideways”. I loved the name!

After dropping a car at Ingalls Creek, Logan and I drove up the Icicle Canyon, past the Snow Lake Trailhead to a day use parking area just past Icicle Creek Rd. We used the Yellow Jacket Tower climbing approach, which starts through private property on Icicle Creek. After walking across the bridge, turn left and you will see a sign for “Yellowjacket”. This is the approach trail. Please be quiet and respectful because this trail does pass through private property. We chatted with a nice landowner on the road. It is important to keep good relations with private landowners so we can preserve access to the public lands beyond.

A beautiful Ponderosa growing out of the hillside.

We followed the steep climber’s trail until nearly at the base of Yellow Jacket Tower before branching off right into the Hook Creek Drainage. There was some brush, but we were able to avoid any real bushwhacking and stay mostly on boulders.

Traversing over towards Hook Creek. Notice the bright aspens!

Once in the center of the drainage, we picked our way past downed trees and bushes, following occasional cairns. It was never bad, but we had to pay attention to our next steps to avoid getting closed in by brush or logs.

Looking up the gut of Hook Creek.

As we got higher, we eventually left the trees and logs behind. The trickiest section was actually around 5000 feet. At this elevation, there was often an invisible frost on the boulders, making them extremely slick. But as we got higher, the frost fortunately disappeared.

Ascending through massive boulders towards the larches and spires.

The golden larches and towering spires got closer and closer until we were right beneath them. These spires have funny names – The Hook, Blockhead, Monkey’s Head, Crocodile Fang, The Mole. The rock looks superb, but the long approach probably keeps most climbers away.

The spires of Hook Creek – often collectively referred to as the Rat Creek Group.

A dusting of snow began around 6000 ft and by 7000 ft, we were scrambling through at least six inches of cold, dry snow. Fortunately, the snow gripped quite well on the boulders. The narrowest constriction was probably class 2 when dry, so it was still pretty easy even with snow.

Logan wearing his “larch” colored fleece.
The nights have been cold!

After a long 5500 ft climb, we finally entered the brilliant sunshine and the remarkably flat Edward Mesa. From a steep world of granite we entered a bizarre flat, sandy, larch-filled plateau. It was quite the transition!

Views across the Edward Mesa.
It was cold overnight!

We continued northwards towards Toketie Pass. As we entered the clear, we encountered the most wonderful view – the steep snowy crags of the Temple Massif, a sea of larches, and sparkling blue lakes. Our eyes were filled with a mosaic of white, gray, blue, green, and yellow. A Lost World – a beautiful world!

Welcome to the Lost World!
The high spires on Mount Temple.
A little island in Earle Lake.

We scrambled down to Toketie Pass, hearing voices. We ran into two other trail runners who were equally surprised about finding someone else out here! They lived down near the Snow Creek Trailhead and had come up Toketie, but never heard of Hook Creek. You know you are doing well when you’re able to give the locals some new beta!

Beautiful slabs of Mesa Lake.

We refilled water at Mesa Lake and followed the valley past Earle Lake towards Shield Lake. There were old trails to follow through the lime green larches. The terrain felt much more vegetated than the popular Core, but there were still the signature Enchantment crystal blue lakes and towering granite spires.

The most climbing I have done in months… a nice flaring hand crack boulder.

Shield Lake was a real gem – huge, beautiful, aqua green, with a wonderful sandy beach. Logan took a nice “beach break” to enjoy the soft sand and warm sun.

Call us the Beach Boys…
Shield Lake is stunning!

It was a wonderful walk along the shore of Shield Lake, gazing up at the lime green larches that turned golden beneath the steep snowy spires on Mount Temple Ridge.

From lime green to gold, the larches change with elevation!
Golden larches high on the ridge.

The snow began to get deeper quickly as we climbed towards Prusik Pass. We shared trail breaking duties with the other couple. By the time we neared Prusik Pass, we were post holing in nearly a foot of fresh snow!

Magical light amongst the needles.
Nearing Prusik Pass with Shield Lake and Edward Mesa behind us.

After crossing Prusik Pass, we were in the typical “Core”. The familiar shores of Perfection Lake and Inspiration Lake greeted us, along with the slopes of Little Annapurna. It was a dazzling day!

Finally into the “Core”.
Aqua blue waters of Inspiration Lake.

We took a short detour to Gnome Tarn, which had unfortunately frozen over! No reflection for us. There were some beautiful dry granite slabs so Logan took off his shoes and let them dry out during our lunch break.

No reflection for us!

Down at Perfection Lake, we briefly joined the real Enchantments Thru-Hike. Enough people had crossed the Core already that the snow was well packed down and even completely melted out in places. But as quickly as we found the crowds, we left it behind and were once again breaking trail towards Crystal Lake.

A little waterfall at the Perfection Lake Inlet.
Little Annapurna from Perfection.

Alone again at Crystal Lake, we took a break to soak in the Core before leaving for good. I still maintain that the Enchantments are generally overrated – there are so many other beautiful, maybe even more beautiful, places in Washington. But during the fall, with fresh snow and golden larches, I have to admit that the Enchantments are pretty special.

Golden light at Crystal Lake.

We followed Crystal Creek down from Enchantment Pass into “Nightmare Gorge”. This deep valley betrays its name; it is quite impressive with its steep granite walls and sparse larches. The amount of granite out here is wild.

Dropping into Nightmare Gorge.
A paraglider soaring above the Enchantments.

There is a flat meadow around 6,000 ft with some incredible boulders. Below, we continued through surprisingly rocky terrain. We were able to pick up on old cairns leading us through the complex, bouldering, slabby landscape. Traveling off trail forces you to be so alert and in tune with your surroundings. My eyes are trained to notice an old bootprint, a distant cairn, or stray strand of goat hair. My senses are heightened, following the path of least resistance, which other creatures, both human and animal, have traveled before me.

Dry, rocky hillsides of the Stuart Range.

We sniffed out the trail, which led us brush free to the valley floor. It was a remarkably easy, straightforward exit! We had an enjoyable jog 7 miles out Ingalls Creek, which is a lovely river trail!

Views from Ingalls Creek.

Our “Enchantments Sideways Thru-Hike” was a really unique way to experience a familiar place. For me, it satisfied years of curiosity about the other Core, the Lost World Plateau. Part of me feels sad to see such a beautiful area relegated to relative obscurity by the hustle and bustle of the Enchantment Thru-Hike. But a different part of me feels grateful that obscurity can remain so close to the most famous of hikes. The Cascades are a wondrous range of extremes, with some trailheads more populous than a small town, yet vast valleys completely abandoned just further down the road. As one area becomes “overrun”, another disappears off the map, like a Lost World.


  • Our route was 17 miles and 7300 ft gain. It took us nearly 11 hours. Some of that was due to snow, but also the travel is pretty slow with no real trails on the ascent and descent.
  • As noted, be respectful to private land owners if accessing Yellow Jacket Tower.
  • I would not do this route in spring or early summer. You would be covered in ticks.
  • Incredibly, there was no bushwhacking on this route, and not even that much brush walking. There was lots of boulder hopping and some easy scrambling near the top of Hook Creek.
  • There are many other obscure approaches to the Enchantments – I encourage you to read through old NWHikers posts and try some of them out!

2 thoughts on “Enchantments Sideways Thru-Hike”

  1. 😯😲 How long did it take to get to Prusik Pass this way? How would you rate the difficulty compared to Aasgard?

    1. Maybe 5 hours? The difficulty is much greater – lots of boulder hopping, some bush, and third class at the top.

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