Northwest is Best

A gripping, whiskey and bare buns filled, photo adventure of backpacking The Enchantments, one of the most protected natural areas
of the United States.


In March I applied for a permit to the Enchantments, a protected area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington state. Two weeks ago, I got to use that permit. Well, my friends and I.

There are two ways to hike the Enchantments. If you ever do it, start from the Stuart Lake Trailhead. The other way sucks. The trail climbed 4.5 miles up to Colchuck Lake. It started out dry at first, literally and figuratively, but soon we were crossing footbridges above pristine blue rivers and turning corners to suddenly find ourselves looking out over the entire valley that we just wound our way through.

We made it to Colchuck in a couple of hours. The water in that lake is a color that you can only truly appreciate in person. It looks like a painting.

We set up camp on the far shore that can barely be seen in the photo above. The water was down pretty low, since it was the end of the summer, which allowed for a soft, sandy beach to be our bed for the night.

The sand there was incredible. Like nothing I’ve ever seen. You could see the little metallic flakes that showed it had been ground down from the granite walls around us. It’s fascinating to think about how many millions of years it would take to grind those massive mountains into minuscule grains of sand. I didn’t get any photos of the sand, but here’s one of my sister in her onesie standing in it.

I woke up at 5 or 6am that first morning. It was still completely dark, barely even a trace of light, because we were surrounding by 9000+ foot peaks. I tried to get out of the tent without making too much noise, although I probably woke up my tent-mate. That morning was like nothing I had ever experienced.

Life didn’t matter in that moment. It was just myself, my friends, and the beautiful world around us. No stress. No worries.

Just being.

After munching down one of my bags of granola in complete silence (except my chewing, I hate the sound of chewing, even if I’m the one making it), I climbed back in to my tent and waited for someone else’s to start rustling.

Eventually everyone got out of bed, but while I waited I made a little time lapse of the clouds.

Sorry for the shitty quality. Medium only accepts images up to 10mb and big ass gifs are big ass files. Photo: Nick Kelly

We loaded our gear onto our backs and headed up Aasgard Pass, a 2000+ foot ascent in roughly .75 miles. It was hell. But worth every second. Even Thor would’ve struggled with it.

Once we made it to the top of the pass we were in the clouds. You could watch the moisture flow between your fingers.

At the top of Aasgard it was still only about 10:00am, we had a long day of adventuring ahead of us. We set up camp at Isolation Lake, which was aptly named because no one but us seemed to want to camp there. The area was beautiful but it sat at nearly 7500 feet and had wind ripping through it 60 percent of the day. The wind didn’t scare us.

We planked.

We rode imaginary bulls.

Jake fell off a cliff.

I levitated (thanks Heather).

Well, we all levitated actually.

And to wrap up the day we got a little weird.

Eventually we tired and moved our tents into a wind blocking pattern. We played Farkle and drank whiskey late into the night.

We fell asleep next to one another, together in proximity but separate in thought.

The moment between when you close your eyes and when you actually fall asleep is one I really enjoy. You are the truest you in that moment because no one is there but yourself and your thoughts.

The next morning I woke up before everyone else again. This time there was light outside. The best light, in fact. Morning light (almost as good as morning wood).

We packed up our gear again and wandered over to Inspiration Lake. I relaxed while the rest of the crew climbed up to the top of Little Annapurna. The relaxation was nice for me. I sat in the sun and listened to HAIM for three hours, but I’m kind of pissed that I missed these views.

We decided to leave Inspiration Lake that afternoon and head down to Leprechaun Lake. The terrain changed drastically as we moved farther down the valley. Remarks about Hobbits and the Shire were prevalent. Dylan also has a mean Gollum impression.

I captured one of my favorite portraits of all time. And it just so happened to be of my sister.

Then more Hobbit references.

We finally made it down to Leprechaun Lake just around dusk. The lack of light pollution there made for some incredible views. We sat and stared at the stars for hours while discussing who-knows-what and enjoying each other’s company.

I found the north star.

And Jake and Dylan played with lights.

Slowly, the darkness pulled our eyes shut and we drifted off to sleep.

In the morning we set out on our own mini adventures. Some of us hiked. Some of us swam and sun bathed. Some of us peed on rocks and almost got impaled by sheep horns (Dylan).

Our adventure eventually came to a close, but the memories had will never be forgotten.

It’s really wild to me, to think about how these memories that I gained will be the stories that I tell for the rest of my life. It makes me happy. Especially because I will forever be telling stories about my adventures with my weird-ass best friends.

The end.


Thank you everyone for checking out my photo story!

If you would like to talk to me or ask me questions, feel free to contact me:

email: nick-kelly@live.com
text: (425) 591–8581

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