Climbing
Snow/glacier/ice route
Alpine climbing NCCS rating
Grade II
Elevation Gain
6,800.00 ft (2,072.64 m)
Distance
20.00 mi (32.19 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

The Enchantments are one of the most storied backcountry areas in Washington State. They're hugely hyped and publicized, and for good reason - they're nothing short of simply spectacular. The Enchantments, as a day-hike, are an enormous adventure for most folks, as they require 18 miles and 4500' of rough trails. However, one of the reasons the Enchantments are so special is that this high alpine basin is ringed by rugged peaks with beautiful and evocative names - Little Annapurna, Prusik Peak, and Dragontail Peak, among many others. A standard thru-hike doesn't typically summit any of these peaks (though some will do walkups on Little Annapurna or McClellan). However the bigger and steeper peaks, make for enticing objectives for mountaineers and rock climbers.

This brings us to Dragontail Peak - perhaps the most physically imposing mountain through the Enchantments. It's immediately visible when you reach Colchuck Lake, and features a wide variety of routes - from a walkup on the SE side to long (13 pitch) alpine rock routes, complex mixed routes in the winter, and this route - Colchuck Glacier to Pandora's Box - which requires glacial travel and alpine scrambling.

Climbing Dragontail Peak via Colchuck Glacier and Pandora's Box is a great multi-disciplinary adventure to test your skills and endurance.

Notes

Seasonality

  • This route can be climbed year round, though it's quite difficult in mid-winter, as the access road is generally closed. However, any time the Mountaineers Creek road is open, this route is doable, though early season travelers will find significantly more snow will slow them down on the approach and descent from the route and will change the nature of the glacier/scramble.
  • This route is in best shape from late June to early August, though depending on the season, the glacier may be getting pretty bare by August, which means more blue ice and less secure footing.
  • The photos in this report are from mid-August and show the exposed blue ice.

Equipment

  • This trip requires several thousand feet of travel on a glacier. You will need to decide whether you want to rope up based on your comfort and experience.
  • Depending on the season, you may need avalanche rescue gear, floatation (skis/snowshoes), pickets, ice screws, ropes, etc.
  • Regardless of the season, you'll need crampons and an ice axe, and the know-how to use them, as well as any gear you need to keep you safe in case of trouble.

Backcountry Permits/Number of Days

  • If you are lucky enough to get a permit to camp in this area, you could make this a longer trip by camping below Dragontail Peak at Colchuck Lake or camp up in the Enchantments Core (the area between Aasgard Pass and Lake Viviane). But most people will do this in a single day because it's so difficult to get a backcountry permit here.

Navigation

  • You'll be off-trail scrambling in the alpine, so you'll want a GPS, map and compass in case of bad weather, which can blow in quickly.

Exit

  • Once you've climbed Dragontail Peak and descended down to top of Asgard Pass, you'll have options on how you want to exit. You can either descend Asgard Pass and head back to your car via Colchuck Lake (making for a round trip day of 12 miles and ~6,400' of gain), or you can complete the thru-hike by hiking down to the Snow Lake Trailhead (making for a 20 mile and ~6,800' day).
    • If you choose to hike out via Snow Lake Trailhead, you'll need to figure out a way to get back to your vehicle at the Mountaineer's Creek Trailhead.

Leave No Trace

The Enchangments sees a ton of traffic, and every year it is getting more. Unfortunately this area is very actively being damaged by ignorant users, and land managers are beginning to consider permitting day-travelers to this area. The Enchantments, as they currently appear, will not survive the treatment they're getting. If you travel to this area, we expect that you will follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles (listed below) and to respectfully encourage others around you to do the same. Anyone who has ever been in the Enchantments will recognize how uniquely valuable they are. We need to protect this area from ourselves.

  1. Plan ahead and Prepare - by reading this guide you're already starting this process, but you'll need to make sure you're adequately prepared for this trip.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces - Alpine heather is extremely fragile. Whenever possible, step on trails or rocks.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly - carry out all trash you see - even if it's not your trash. And use the beautiful alpine toilets, they're well-signed and scattered throughout the Enchantments area.
  4. Leave What You Find - Follow the classic saying - "take only photos, leave only footprints".
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts - fires aren't allowed in the Enchantments, and you're doing a dayhike - you don't need a fire!
  6. Respect Wildlife - you'll probably see mountain goats and other alpine wildlife (like marmots and pikas). Give them space and don't crowd them for a photograph. Don't feed them.
  7. Be Considerate of Other Users - you'll see a lot of other backcountry travelers while you're up there. Practice respectful hiking etiquette - allow uphill travelers the right of way, don't take breaks in the trail, and when you're on steep sections, be careful with rockfall that you cause.

If we can all follow these simple steps, the Enchantments will be around for us all to enjoy in the future.

The Climb

This report will describe completing the thru-hike after climbing Dragontail Peak. If you choose to descend back to your car at the Mountaineer's Creek Trailhead, there will only be minor differences.

This will be a big day, no matter how you descend, so get started early. You'll hike up the Colchuck Lake trail in the pre-dawn light. In a few hours, this area will be packed with hikers, but you should have it to yourself at this point. The trail winds its way through typical east-side Cascade coniferous forests, following Mountaineer's Creek before reaching a junction leading up to Colchuck Lake. This is where the trail gets pretty steep, and you'll need to pace yourself well for the climb. Once you top out the climb, you'll suddenly see Colchuck Lake and the enormous mass of Dragontail' Peak's imposing north face.

From this viewpoint, see the photos for a Peak ID and overview.

Wrap around Colchuck Lake following the trail, and refill on water at the lake if you need to (this is your last water until you're in the Enchantments valley). At roughly the southeast corner of Colchuck Lake, you'll head off trail, up the large and loose talus. You'll aim up and climber's left, being careful of rockfall off Colchuck. Depending on the season, you should be nearing the glacier. Transition onto the glacier, being careful of rockfall off Dragontail Peak (to your left) and Colchuck Peak (to your right).

Once you top out the glacier, at the Dragontail/Colchuck Col, you can scramble up Colchuck's low angle south-eastern slope if you've got the time. Otherwise, you'll head slightly south, before heading straight east up a narrowing bowl to gully. This is the Pandora's Box scramble, which goes at class 3, with some exposure. Depending on the season, you may be on snow or rock here, but either way, just head straight up. You'll reach a big notch with a huge box-shaped rock hanging just to the side. This is Pandora's Box. From here, you'll have a ~30' downclimb. This can be tricky if it's still early season, so take your time.

After you downclimb from the notch, you've finished the tricky parts of the climb. Head northeast along the spine of Dragontail Peak to its true summit. From here you can look deeper into the Enchantments, over at the enormous Mount Stuart and Stuart Range, or down at Colchuck Lake and the Colchuck Glacier far beneath you.

Once you've enjoyed the view, head down the low angle snowfield to the northeast. This is the "Snow Creek Glacier", which is now just a permanent snowfield. You'll continue east/northeast until you join up with a well-cairned trail. This is the top of Aasgard Pass. Check the time, refill some water at one of the tarns, and figure out how much energy you have left. You can descend back to your starting point with a relatively simple 5.5 mile hike down, or opt to continue the thru-hike.

If you choose to descend the shorter route, you'll follow the well-cairned route back to Colchuck Lake, where you'll meet back up with the trail you ascended earlier in the day.

Note: If it's still snowy on Aasgard Pass, stay skier's right during the descent, and do not glissade. Many people have been killed or injured in this exact area by making poor route decisions and falling through the snowpack into rushing snowmelt.

As stated, this report will describe finishing the thru-hike. So get going, you've got a lot of mileage to cover. You'll snake through the famed Enchantments, trying not to step on the delicate alpine heather that dots the areas between the rocks. There are lakes everywhere, so you don't have to carry too much water. Just make sure you stay on the cairned trail, there are a lot of social trails up here and it's easy to get lost. Make sure you enjoy the views of Prusik Peak in particular, it's a very unique peak. 

It can be hard to hurry through this section due to its absurd beauty but don't underestimate the distance out once you reach the end of the Enchantments Core at Lake Viviane. You still have to hike out ~9 miles and descend 6,000 feet. The descent down to Snow Lake is surprisingly steep and slabby, so take your time. Once you're at Snow Lake, you'll be ready to be back at the car, and this section tends to drag on. But luckily this section of trail is well-maintained and relatively straightforward, and you'll almost certainly have the company of hikers who are also attempting the thru-hike.

You'll finally get to the end of the Snow Creek Valley and look out over a steep descent to the river below. Get ready to switchback, this section gets pretty inefficient. But once you cross the irrigation ditch, you're finally down. Cross the huge bridge over Icicle Creek, take a quick swim if you're in the mood, and finally get to your second car.

To finish up your day, you'll need to drive back up to the Mountaineer's Creek trailhead, grab the vehicle you started at, and then finally drive into Bavarian-themed Leavenworth, where you can enjoy a well-earned beer assuming it's not too late.

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Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

NW Forest Pass

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Complex route up a rugged mountain. Great way to get off the beaten track in the Enchantments. Great remote scrambling.

Cons

Much more committing than a standard Enchantments hike. Huge gain (6,800' if you do the thru-hike). Requires glacier/scrambling experience. High rock fall potential.

Pets allowed

Not Allowed

Trailhead Elevation

3,400.00 ft (1,036.32 m)

Highest point

8,840.00 ft (2,694.43 m)

Features

Glacier
Backcountry camping
Big vistas
Wildlife
Wildflowers

Access

Hike-in

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Primary aspect

North facing

Drinking water

Unfrozen water

Location

Nearby Adventures

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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