Golden Alpine Larches reflecting in the turquoise waters of Crystal Lake
Our goals for the two days in the Lower Enchantments were modest: we wanted to explore the shores of Inspiration Lake and Talisman Lakes, and hike up to Gnome Tarn to get the classic and oft-repeated photograph of Prusik Peak reflecting in the tarn. Distances are not long up here, so our day hikes were to be at a leisurely pace, allowing us to photograph these Indian Summer days to our heart’s content.
One hike took us to Prusik Pass. When we reached the pass, there was a cold torrent of wind funneled over this low place on the ridge. We had to put on extra layers, and we watched as the forest fires on distant ridges blew up in billows of fresh smoke. I was photographing when I heard a sudden shout of horror: one of our group had his camera on a tripod, and a sudden blast of wind tossed it right off a ledge onto the rocks below, damaging an expensive piece of equipment. I learned a quick lesson by his experience, and clung to my gear as the wind howled.
Prusik Peak reflecting in Gnome Tarn
From Prusik Pass, we bushwhacked up and over a ridge to get to Gnome Tarn. The tarn was diminished in size by a seasonal drought, so the shores were extensive and muddy. Clouds skittered across the sky in the high winds, sending their shadows racing to keep up. A Peregrine Falcon zoomed overhead. Below us, a pair of male Mountain Bluebirds, the color of sky captured in feathers, were a perfect complement to the golden Alpine Larch needles where they foraged.
Since the shore was so muddy, I laid down atop a plastic bag and waited patiently or impatiently for the sun to light up the peak in between long periods of shadows. I also waited for the wind to subside, so that the ripples on the tarn would diminish, making for a better reflection. With my companions, I waited … and waited … and got chilled almost to the bone. But the peak was finally revealed enough that I got some good pictures of The Enchantments’ iconic peak. Toward dark, the clouds grew thicker, and several of us decided that the peak had passed. The most persistent among us (not me) hung on longer, and got the best pictures of the day. Oh well; it’s always hard to know when to hold em or fold em in poker, and sometimes photography is the same way.
Prusik Peak at Gnome Tarn, where sunlight and shadow fleetingly crossed the peak
We cooked a late dinner of Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai and crawled into our tents. Or at least most of us did, I stayed out in the dark to try and get a few more pictures. The sky had cleared substantially by now, though there were still some clouds racing by. I was struck by the look of all four of our tents lit up by headlamps, so I asked everyone to cooperate for photos of the group of illuminated tents looking like fragile, glowing nylon fairies in the night. Then I noticed the clouds over a distant ridge; a full moon was rising and backlighting the clouds that were racing over the ridge.
Our tents lit by faeries or headlamps at deep twilight after our cold photo session at Prusik Peak
The rising moon created a corona of light on the racing clouds
The full moon revealed briefly by a tear in the clouds
Later, the full moon cast larch shadows over smooth granite, and illuminated larches and peaks under the starry sky
The next morning was to be our hike into the Upper Enchantments, which I’ll describe in another blog post, but before beginning that hike we went about our regular morning activities. These included a pre-dawn hike up the rocky slope behind camp to Inspiration Lake, where there was lovely dawn light on the surrounding peaks–and where the outhouse was located. Actually, it was not really an outhouse, since the vault toilet had a seat, but no walls. It was more like a throne with a great view through a sheer curtain of golden larch needles. It was beautiful enough to encourage us to “Skip to the loo …” Sitting there, I knew I was missing some great light, so I tried to speed things along, and eventually finished and ran down to where I had left my camera and tripod. Fortunately, I was not too late and was able to capture the red glow on the ragged peaks towering over the lake.
Early red light on the peak above Inspiration Lake
Karen creating a dawn video of the beautiful light on Inspiration Lake–and thank goodness for that warm layer of down!
Each morning was cold in The Enchantments; after all, we were in the mountains in October, when the golden Alpine Larches were spreading the word that the end of warmth was near. One of our group was a young guy with not much meat on his bones, and he shivered and lay wide awake all night. He said: “It was almost the worst night of my life.” When I asked him what night had been worse, he replied “Well, I can’t think of any.” He decided he had gotten all the great pictures he needed, and decided to hike out on his own, two days early. It’s a good thing he got out when he did, because the next morning it was 16°F, which makes me shiver just thinking about it. It was so cold that it was painful to brush our teeth, and the water bottles were nearly frozen solid.
Ice formed overnight in our water bottles when the temperature dipped to 16°F
Mountain Bluebird feather on thin ice at the edge of an inlet stream for Perfection Lake; the ice surface had an almost featherlike texture and there were tiny air bubbles trapped in the ice
Needle ice formed in wet soil on the shore of Perfection Lake
We met occasional hikers in the high country, with more as the days sped by and people realized that The Enchantments weren’t going up in flames. I often wear a University of Michigan baseball cap, which advertises my alma mater. It is amazing how many people I encounter in the Pacific Northwest who grew up in Michigan, went to the University of Michigan, then moved out West for better economic opportunities. It is a real brain drain for Michigan, but that is another story.
Anyway, on one morning near Perfection Lake, there was a pretty, young woman hiking alone. She struck up a conversation when she saw my cap: it turned out that she had grown up in Ann Arbor and had recently gotten her medical degree from the University of Michigan Medical School and was now doing her emergency room residency at a Seattle hospital. Her mother from Michigan had hiked as far as Snow Lakes with her, but the steep climb from there was too much for her Midwestern legs, so she stayed back in camp. The bad part about meeting a new young doctor, as I get older, is the nagging feeling that “surely she can’t be old enough to be a doctor!”
Old and young Alpine Larches, blazing gold, were everywhere in the Lower Enchantments. As the week wore on and the cold and high winds took their toll, more and more needles lost their color and fell, but there were still concentrations of intense gold.
One of my companions looking across Perfection Lake toward Prusik Peak, with a vast panorama of golden Alpine Larches
I grew up in the Midwest and have lived in the Northeast and the Rocky Mountains, so I am well-acquainted with autumn colors: Red Maples burn with scarlet intensity in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan; Sugar Maples glow brilliantly in Vermont; and Trembling Aspens shiver with golden light in Colorado. Here in the Northwest, autumn color was a bit of a disappointment until I learned about the timberline Alpine Larches. These are unusual, in that larches are a decidious conifer that somewhere along the evolutionary path strayed from the law that conifers are evergreen. Even here in Washington, the Evergreen State, they drop their needles.
Alpine Larch with golden needles and a cone, with the aqua waters of Perfection Lake forming a beautiful backdrop
For a tree living at timberline, where snow falls by the foot rather than by the inch, there are certain advantages to losing needles. The trees don’t have to carry as heavy a snow load with all the needles gone, so branches are less likely to break. Without needles, the larches don’t have to feed hungry Mountain Goats all winter. The trees don’t suffer as much from the dessicating effects of frigid winter winds. Perhaps most important, the vital amino acids, which are the building blocks for healthy needles, are safely tucked away in the roots and trunks of these trees living on the edge.
Alpine Larches along Leprechaun Lake
Peak of color along Perfection Lake, aka Rune Lake
Seemingly growing from granite, this Alpine Larch looks like a bonsai; it has been stunted by the desiccating winds blowing near Prusik Pass
Shield Lake on the Lost World Plateau, shaped like one of the Red Delicious apples that nearby Wenatchee was always known for, viewed from Prusik Pass
The other trees growing at timberline were the Whitebark Pines. These pines were more scattered than the larches, and have a fascinating co-evolutionary relationship with Clark’s Nutcrackers that I described in an earlier post about Clark’s Nutcrackers in Banff National Park. We observed several of the nutcrackers flying through The Enchantments, commuting to their favorite trees. Whitebark Pines are threatened by White Pine Blister Rust, a disease imported from another part of the world, and by the Pine Bark Beetle, which has exploded in population as our climate has warmed.
Huckleberry leaves were scarlet, but there weren’t many berries to sample: it was another bad year for the bears. Mountain Bog Gentians bloomed in our campsite, and there were occasional purple asters along the trails. I associate these species with the last gasp of the dying summer in the high country, but it’s nice that they provide a bit of vivid purple to the landscape.
Scarlet Huckleberry leaves with a fallen Alpine Larch trunk
Gracefully weathered lines of a very old Alpine Larch trunk
When fallen Alpine Larch needles gather at the edge of a tarn, the end of autumn is nigh
We camped on Perfection Lake, or was it Rune Lake? Both names are used. The U.S. Forest Service originally established the place names of The Enchantments, and used such workable but rather dull names such as Perfection Lake, Inspiration Lake, and Isolation Lake. But the names got complicated when Bill and Peg Stark began visiting The Enchantments starting in 1959, and gave new names to the lakes, tarns, and peaks, based upon the legend of King Arthur and Norse mythology. Thus Perfection Lake also became Rune Lake. Inspiration Lake became Talisman Lake. Gnome Tarn is a name of their creation, as is Aasgard Pass. The place names of The Enchantments are now officially a blend of the two naming conventions, and there is enough overlap to cause plenty of confusion. Which makes the experience more fun. Myself: I love all the mythological names.
Karen cooking breakfast on one of our cold mornings
Snow for snowmen was scarce, but Karen make “Hula Girl” from a remnant snowbank of dirty snow, along with a skirt of fallen larch needles for modesty
Even grasses can take up the spirit of the season
Can you imagine a more beautiful setting for a campsite?
On these golden days in the Lower Enchantments, there was plenty of leisurely time for watching a pair of Meadow Voles leap from their grassy nest, and examining the texture of ice forming on the edge of a pond. Sometimes, people get so wrapped up in hiking long distances in the mountains that they fail to stop and smell the gentians. Not us: we revel in these long days of nature observation and photography.
A highlight was twice seeing a Douglas Squirrel race by, along the shore of Talisman Lake, with a big mushroom in its mouth. Mushrooms are a favorite food of squirrels, and they often store a mushroom among the twigs of a shrub, perhaps to dry it out for later storage or perhaps to let the rain leach out toxins. I’m not sure which, but I find the behavior fascinating. Can it really be instinctive to temporarily store a mushroom in the open? Other wildlife was scarce; the marmots had apparently already entered hibernation. We saw a single Pika and found its stored haypiles near our camp.
Inspiration Lake, aka Talisman Lake, just above our campsite
Karen crossing a log bridge over the outlet for Talisman Lake; we had a long stop here while I temporarily repaired my broken pack waist strap with duct tape (the kind young man who gave me the tape laid down on this log while waiting for my time-consuming repair to be completed, and he somehow rolled off the log into the stream and got soaked!).
Alpine Larch along Talisman Lake
Gentians in bloom near our campsite
Rune Lake viewed from a high granite outcrop above the lake
Larch shadows crossing the beautiful green waters of Talisman Lake
Trail through a subalpine meadow, with Little Annapurna in the distance
One last fond look at the magic of the Lower Enchantments: Prusik Peak, Alpine Larches, and Rune Lake
In the next and final installment of “The Enchantments in Autumn” story, I’ll go above timberline to the Upper Enchantments, which has a stark beauty all its own.
For more information about hiking in The Enchantments, go to Washington Trails Association and Recreation.gov. To read my other blogs about The Enchantments, go to The Long Ascent and Mountain Goats. There is also a good web site that is based upon the autumn experiences of the Starks and another couple called 50 Years in the Enchantments.
To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com (just ask to email you a small version of a particular photograph you like if you can’t find it on the site; my website is not up to date)
To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website
142 thoughts on “THE ENCHANTMENTS IN AUTUMN Part 3: When We Walked through Forests of Gold”
This is such a stunning post!Thanks alot!
Absolutely beautiful photos!
Gorgeous. Thanks, bill
Thank you, everyone! I don’t know of any place more beautiful.
Just incredible photos and its so interesting. The larches are amazing and they lose their needles? Nature finds a way!
Thanks for sharing this beautiful photos. I like sleeping in a tent too 🙂
I found your blog via the Nature Blog Network, and I will be returning:)
What stunning photographs.
From this side of the world I had never heard of The Enchantments and probably will never visit them, but your postings take me there in spirit.
Thank you for your kind comments; it is indeed a wonderful place.
.What amazing captures…The yellows and blues are so brilliant and beautiful.
Beautiful photographs of a stunning location….I lived the star filled skies in your night shots 🙂
I enjoyed reading your journey, your beautiful pictures, and your interesting facts about the pine trees and squirrels. I loom forward the the rest of the story.
All praise is ideed for God who created all these beutiful scenes for us!
and thank you so much for sharing with us brother, beautiful beautiful.
Fabulous blues and yellows go together so well in nature.
Unbelievable photos, really liked this! Nice work! Our world is precious, wild and strong all at the same fucking time!! much love!
Absolutely beautiful. Enjoyed the commentary too.
stunning photographs, thanx for sharing.
Excellent images – very well done
loving your art man it is so captivating how the way you highlight the different colors without taking away from the picture as whole.
Wow, what a cool place. The colors are so beautiful, and your photos are absolutely stunning.
Amazingly beautiful scenery compared to the currently dreary overcast scenery of Surrey, UK!
Thanks for the beautiful pictures, sharing your experiences and the links! Would love to visit this region!
Reblogged this on kenncf and commented:
BEAUTIFUL!! It is so ironic that my latest post was about a place exactly like this.
beautiful photographs. I would love to do this trail.
Reblogged this on simplyamericandotnet and commented:
Viva the Enchantments!
These photographs leave me breathless. Thank you for sharing your ventures, I hope to experience nature this way someday. Best wishes!
Some fantastic photos..
Wow, truly amazing photographs. I wish I was able to visit more places like that. Thanks for sharing.
Spectacular photos. Amazing.
The photos are amazing! I love them!
very nice photos
Superb post,enchanting pictures.This is a fantastic adventure .Blessings.jalal
Reblogged this on MDG BEADS.
Wow! Unbelievably gorgeous! I agree with you, I prefer the mythological names of these places. The mountain pictures took me back to reading “Lord of the Rings” and Tolkein’s beautiful descriptions of the landscape.
Gorgeous! I will be keeping an eye on you guys! What spectacular shots and experiences! Love the tiny hula girl!
Reblogged this on Beyond Beauty Tips and commented:
Super awesome photography. Check out ‘The Enchantments’!
Stunning, beautiful, awesome! Just reblogged this on My blog – Beyond Beauty Tips 🙂
Beautiful and enchanting!!
Wow and to think that’s only 100 miles from me. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.
Reblogged this on I Make things Two/Too and commented:
Wow – this is Icicle Creek area … Leavenworth – AWESOME photos – enjoy!
So beautiful it looks unreal!
Wow! very beautiful and amazing photographs! I like the golden colors of the pine trees, seems you were really having s much fun there 🙂
Beautiful photos. Loved your post.
Such an enchanting part of the world
Just wanted to comment on how beautiful those photos are. Absolutly stunning part of the world, well captured. Thank you for sharing.
Really beautiful photo’s!!! I love the one with the rising moon.
I loved reading your post. Great photos!!!
Wow! The pictures are amazing!!!!
Reblogged this on Donkey Whisperer Farm Blog and commented:
Look how beautiful Washington State is!
Re-blogged beautiful photos! Thank you for sharing.
the photos are surreal. great job!
This captures the Enchantments even better than I remember it. I climbed Prusik Peak however it was slightly before the larches turned into gold. I remember seeing a single golden larch next to the lake and thought that it was dead. Now I wish I would have taken a picture of that lone golden larch.
Wow really great images you got there!
woaw where is the prusik peak ?this is a wonderful journey ! Your eyes are open ! you catch the beauty !
Gorgeous shots here!
WOW! How awesome are THIS pictures! Somebody has a real artistic eye 😉 Congratulations! Astonishing!
Stunning photos, brings back the beauty of the world we live in, we need to appreciate it more!
including “needle ice” (wow)
Terrific photos! I can’t wait for spring to arrive so I can go hiking again. I love how you mixed close-up and panorama photos with people and tents and other human elements. Great photo essay and congrats on being Freshly Pressed.
Reblogged this on refugegardens's Blog and commented:
Reblogged this on Life and Photos by Andy and commented:
Stunning Photos of the Great Outdoors
I found your wonderful photo blog at random and fell in love with your photographs that so profoundly reminded me of my childhood in Wenatchee and climbs in the 1960s up into The Enchantments. I have written about those memorable trips extensively, but it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words. My father got many similar shots on old, fading Extachrome X; it’s great to see yours in clear, colorful digital glory. Thank you!
What great photos!!!
How beautiful! Thanks for sharing your stunning pictures!
beautiful pictures, beautiful place
I more than like this. These images are stunning! What adventurers you are. Wonderful.
The colors looked great together. That gold and blue and grey….everything just popped so nicely. Nice shoot.
Very beautiful photography. God paints the world beautifully to show us His love and glory, Thanks for sharing,
Stunning landscape and photos!
Absolutely amazing photography and great post. Followed!!!
Beautiful shots, a few are real stunners. I like the detail of the bluebird feather. I love larches too. Tried going up that way in September but the fires were just too intense then. Seems like you timed it right. Makes me want to hike in there soon, maybe this fall.
What breathtaking colours, it make me want to paint and travel and travel and paint. Thank you. Cheers
beautiful. thank you for sharing.
Just…….WOW! One day, I WILL do this! =D
Amazing pictures!!!! Specially the yellow trees! Rendered me speechless.
Reblogged this on shilpikabhanot and commented:
feels calmness inside
stunning images – really rich
The colors in your photographs are stunning! Beautiful pictures with a terrific post. Thank you for sharing.
The beauty of our Planet
Amazing imagery 🙂
Loving your captures, especially the reflections – WOW – Breathtaking:) I want to ESCAPE to the Great Outdoors now. Thanks for sharing.
Incredibly beautiful colors. Thanks a lot for sharing.
Wow what a perfect getaway! I enjoyed every photos you captured! Thanks for sharing of such wonderful photos! Well deserved in FP and congratulations!
Wow. Unbelievable. I’m moving The Enchantments to the top of my “Next time in Washington” list. Thank you for sharing such stunning photos!
Damn!!! Awesome shots. Thank you for sharing your talent with the world. Brad
Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.
Wonderful shots! I am in love with the beauty of the vivid yellow trees against the grey of the stark mountains. Thank you for sharing!!
Blown away! On my list of places to visit for sure!
What a gorgeous and rich post! You’ve captured the essence of Autumn beautifully.
Such an outstanding piece of work. Your skill in capturing the essence of the area is of the most high. Thank you for sharing. I am from Washington, wintering in Texas with the intent of getting winter canyon shots.
This has to be the most beautiful place i have seen through your eyes!!! Stunning and a day- maker!!!
I just found you on freshly pressed and I am so pleased I visited – your pictures are simply stunning, and the description wonderful!
Just found you on Freshly Pressed. Loved your post, beautiful pictures.
Reblogged this on gorillageoblog and commented:
Oh WOW! Incredible photos! real inspiration!
Extremely awesome and moving. Made me cry a little bit.
Reblogged this on gracealleytreasures and commented:
This is an incredible post with amazing photographs!
Reblogged this on Polly Grice and commented:
Such stunning photos. Incredible
Reblogged this on Adam Piotuch.
thank you for sharing the beautiful earth with your awesome eye for colors and light!
Perfect you are professional material 😉
An enchanting place indeed, true to its name, and your photography makes it come alive!
Oh Wow! Beautiful photos.
Luvin’ the Golds!
Amazing photos! Wow 😀 I love the sunset/sun rise pics! The colors are so vivid and lovely 🙂
It looks like a gorgeous place and you seem to have captured its beauty so well.
Incredibly beautiful photos!! You have captured natures splendor. Thanks for sharing.
Beautiful photos and locations.
Dang, I just would like to say fantastic shots. I’m a photographer/ cinematographer myself and I’m impressed. Be sure to check out my new short film on the conservation of trees http://youtu.be/6ZihKHKY0N8
stunning. makes me embarrassed to be indoors…
really wonderful fotos
Reblogged this on poetryandcollegeinnowhereland and commented:
beauty is never more real than it is in nature
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Reblogged this on pam kelso • Nature Photography • 2013 and commented:
What a gorgeous shot, I love it.
wonderful, i do have the feeling i have been under an enchantment…