Late Season Backpacking Tips!

Late Season Backpacking Tips!

P.S. If you want to listen to a voiceover for this post, you can find that here.

Dear AMA: I was hoping to get some tips/tricks/must know’s about backpacking the Enchantments in October! We scored some permits this year for mid October, but it’s tough finding info from people who have hiked during that time of year!

I’m going to start this post with a poem that I wrote about hiking — beautifully illustrated by Kula Cloth creative director, and my dear friend, Amanda McIntyre (note: this is from our collaborative art x poetry book that we’ve been working on for many years now):

When this question arrived, I think my heart did a little somersault… because I have only ever backpacked the Enchantments in Late October - so I feel uniquely qualified and thrilled to answer this question. As I started writing this post, I quickly realized that there is so much to share and I get really excited when I start talking about backpacking and hiking. What started out as a relatively short paragraph… has rapidly grown into a comprehensive guide to high alpine late-season backpacking. I hope that all of you with golden larch trees in your eyes find this information helpful and valuable as you are planning your trip. As always — trust yourself above anything else, and do what feels best to you in order to have the best experience.

Waking up after a blizzard in the Upper Enchantments - October, 2015.
For those of you who are not from Washington State, let me give you a little primer on the Enchantments - but even if you don’t foresee a trip to WA anytime soon… I promise that all of these tips are going to apply to backpacking trips in the high alpine anywhere you go (for the most part). It is my hope that this post will leave you feeling confident, empowered and excited to venture into beautiful areas in the ‘shoulder’ seasons.

The Enchantments is the name for a small cluster of lakes that are high in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness here in WA. In order to mitigate overuse issues from being ‘loved too much’ …this fragile wilderness area is currently protected by a lottery-based permit season that lasts from May 15 - October 31st. There are two routes into the Enchantments: from the Snow Lakes Trailhead and from the Stuart Lake Trailhead. Many backpackers (but not all) complete the route as a ‘thru-hike’, meaning that they start at one trailhead and end at the other… and need two vehicles (or a shuttle or hitch) to get back to the starting place to retrieve their car.

Why do so many people want to visit the Enchantments? Well… let’s just say that the Enchantments are like visiting something out of a Dr. Suess book: twisty larch trees (that turn a fiery golden color in the fall) line the edges of crystal-clear turquoise lakes and tarns that are nestled amidst sloping slabs of granite. Just when you think it can’t get more beautiful… you walk around a corner and see a waterfall. And just when you think it can’t get more beautiful than that… you come around another corner and watch a mountain goat family tip-toeing on granite boulders above a lake that looks like the deepest aquamarine you’ve ever seen. It really is that special. The ‘Core Enchantment’ zone is about 5.5 miles long… but the entire route from trailhead to trailhead is around 18-20 miles total… but there are many, many opportunities for side trips, day hikes from camp and mid-route summits.

Golden larches, turquoise lakes and granite slabs.
So, if you’ve received a permit for the Enchantments: Congratulations!

My favorite time of year to backpack is September and October… and sometimes even creeping into November (depending on snow levels in WA). Why? Two reasons: no bugs and no people. Basically - you are going to be able to experience solitude, wilderness and natural beauty in a special way that most people won’t get to experience. Sometimes, however, that does come with a little price: an increased risk of very cold weather, and, depending on what elevation you are camping, the chance of snow.

When I teach backpacking, I tend to take a pretty different approach than most instructors. I’ve listened to a zillion different backpacking experts before and the majority of them seem to focus on all the things that could go wrong - but I’m going to write this post with a little bit of a different spin on it. Namely, we are going to focus on all of the things that are going to go right on your trip. When you can go into this trip feeling confident and prepared — you are setting yourself up for success. In fact, even reaching out and asking the question about what would help to be the most prepared during the shoulder season is a great start (and probably more than what most people do).

I’ve backpacked the Enchantments in the 3rd week of October before and also in the first week of November. I’ve ‘thru-hiked’ the Enchantments about 5 different times — all of them in mid to late October. I’ve experienced a wide range of environmental conditions: freezing lakes, ice flows on Aasgard pass, a small snowstorm… and even a blizzard that dumped 8 inches of snow overnight. In all of the situations, I felt really prepared and I was able to enjoy the entire experience. The Enchantments are a magical, special place - and it is truly a gift to be able to spend time in them.

For this particular piece, I’m going to break down the basics of backpacking, and then describe considerations that you might need to take prior to your late season high alpine trip.

Weather is, most likely, going to be an extremely important variable to pay attention to in the week and days leading up to your trip. Wherever you are going, the most important thing is going to be getting a forecast that is accurate for the location that you are going and the elevation where you are going to be spending time. Looking at the weather app on your iPhone that says it’s going to be 60 degrees in Seattle… is not going to reflect what might be happening at 8,000ft in the alpine.

When I check weather before a trip, I do a few pretty important things:

I use NOAA.GOV to locate the closest town to the area where I am backpacking

I scroll down on the NOAA.GOV page and I find the small, clickable map located on the same page

I ZOOM in on that map and move it around until I can find the exact spot in the mountains where I am planning to backpack

Once I’ve located that spot, I click on the map … which will then refresh to give an updated forecast at the same elevation.

For kicks, let’s do this for the weather today. I’m going to use the Enchantments as an example… so I’m going to look at the local forecast today in Leavenworth, WA on my iPhone:

And now, I’m going to share the forecast from NOAA.GOV for an area around 8238'. When I did this forecast, I clicked on an area on the map directly next to Inspiration Lake, which is one of the lakes in the Core Enchantments Zone:

Obviously, from looking at these forecasts - it’s pretty clear that the forecast up at 8238’ is about 30+ degrees colder than the forecast down in Leavenworth. Since we are currently in the first week of August, the temperature is still somewhat mild - but towards the end of October, if it’s in the 40s or 50s in Leavenworth, there is a very good chance that the high alpine areas in the Enchantments could see temperatures in the ‘teens. In addition - the precipitation forecasts for urban areas are typically lower than in the mountains. The big takeaway is that you will feel so much more confident about what to bring with you when you can start to paint a picture of exactly what to expect.

ALSO IMPORTANT: When you click on the map and zoom in on the area where you will be backpacking… look down below the map and you will see a hyperlink called ‘FORECAST DISCUSSION’. Click on this link and you will be able to read a very detailed version of the forecast — that usually gives some good clues as to how confident the meteorologists are in the forecast… as well as a much more detailed description of what to expect during the time you will be out (plus, you’ll get to learn a lot about the weather … including cool words like ‘trough’ and ‘shortwave ridge’). Reading this forecast discussion has really helped me to determine whether or not I’m going to get a ‘weather window’ during my time outside.

The weather prior to your trip is important: Remember when I suggested that you should be looking at the weather for a few weeks prior to your trip? This is important, because if a huge storm system blows through about 2 weeks prior to your backpacking trip… and freezing temps are sustained… it is pretty likely that you can expect snowy conditions. Start paying attention to the weather a few weeks before, and that will really help you feel confident about what to pack for your trip (in addition to scoping recent trip reports - which I will discuss in a moment).

One final word on the weather: if the weather looks horrible, don’t be afraid of bailing. I know that a trip to the Enchantments feels like a once in a lifetime experience — but I promise you that a trip to the Enchantments in horrible weather will not be the experience you are looking for. In situations where the weather has pushed me in a different direction, I choose to see it as that — simply a nudge to something else. Sometimes the backpacking trips that we don’t go on teach us the most, in an unexpected way.

Pre-Trip Beta
Prior to your trip, in addition to checking the weather, it’s important to look for recent trip reports and photos so that you can get the most updated trail conditions. A few places to look:

NWHikers.Net is one of my favorite hiking resources for trip reports. Since the Enchantments is such a popular hike, look in the trip report forum under the ‘thread for lazy trip reports’ and you might find a few folks mentioning their Enchantment trips. If you are planning a non-WA based trip, search in your local area for a local trip report forum or hiking group. I’ve had way more luck with non-Facebook related hiking groups — which tend to turn into an unorganized clump of way too many arguments to try and wade through to find any really valuable route information.

Search Instagram for hashtags such as #Enchantments #AlpineLakesWilderness and see if you can find recent photos from trips to the Enchantments (or for whatever area you are visiting!). is another fantastic resource in Washington State - you can search specifically for the Enchantments Area and then read the recent trip reports by scrolling down to the bottom of the page.

All Trails - if you pay for the All Trails subscription, you will be able to look at recent trip reports from the area.

As you are scouting these trip reports, you are looking for information on: current snow conditions, current trail conditions, anything out of the ordinary that you need to be aware of, etc… I usually save screen shots of these to my cell phone and I also print them up and carry them with me in a ziploc bag so that I have access to important beta about the route that I might want to reference during my hike (cell phones fail!).

I bring a battery pack with me so that I can keep my phone charged during my trip!

The clothing that you bring on your high alpine backpacking trip will vary, mostly dependent upon aforementioned weather forecast. In general, this is what my backpacking kit would look like for a 3-4 day trip to the Enchantments in Late October:
Pair of hiking pants (worn)

2 pairs of hiking underwear (1 worn, one in backpack)

2 pairs of socks (1 worn, one in backpack)

1 sports bra (worn)

1 synthetic t-shirt (worn)

1 long sleeve shirt (worn - if it’s cool outside)

1 pair long underwear bottoms (worn for sleeping at night or hiking if its very cold)

1 heavy-ish fleece (in backpack)

1 mid-weight or slightly heavier puffy jacket (in backpack - I have an Arc’teryx Synthetic Puffy that I use if it’s not going to be sub-freezing temps… and a Mountain Hardwear ‘Sub Zero’ jacket if it’s going to be really cold)

Down vest - this is a layer I’ve started using recently, and I love it! It’s super lightweight - but it allows you to hike while wearing it without overheating - but it keeps your core temps really warm.

Warm Hat

Sun hat (baseball cap)


Fleece gaiter for face or to use as a headband, etc…

Lightweight gloves for hiking

Warmer Mittens if the temps are going to be frigid

Gaiters (for boots) - I will use these if I know that there is snow up there or there is snow predicted.

Boots - if there is no snow predicted, I would probably wear my trail runners or lightweight hiking boots. If snow or very cold weather is predicted, I might consider wearing a bulkier boot.

Camp shoes - if there is snow, I probably won’t bring these because they would be a waste of weight. If there isn’t snow, I might have a pair of Crocs to wear around camp. Keep in mind that if temps are in the teens, you will be far less likely to want to wander around in a pair of Crocs or flip flops.

If rain or wind are predicted…. a pair of hardshell pants and hardshell jacket.

Things I have brought before in frigid conditions: Feathered Friends Volant Down Pants, Down Booties. These are both great options if it’s going to be 5 degrees out and you think you will be standing around at camp - however, they do add some weight to your pack - so before you throw them in, really consider whether or not you will be using them.

Another note: if the weather is good, keep in mind that you can use your sleeping bag as an additional layer at camp. If you sit outside on a rock at night to watch the sunset, you can bring your sleeping bag outside and wrap it around you. Try and utilize everything that you are already carrying with you so that you don’t end up hauling 70lbs of gear up Aasgard pass.

Prior to your trip, download the map of the Enchantments on your GAIA app or your AllTrails app. Once you lose cell service, it’s imperative that you already have this downloaded, or else you won’t be able to use it. If possible, search for .gpx tracks of the route that you can upload to your app to use as a reference.

Before I leave for my trips, I do a few things to make sure that I can navigate safely:

Download the map of the area to my GAIA app

Print out a route description and paper map (CalTopo works great for this) or purchase the Green Trails Map of the area. (I always bring a paper map and compass - but remember, a compass and paper map are only helpful if you know how to use them together… REI has a great primer series on using a map and compass ).

Save screenshots of the map and/or gps track to my cell phone

Charge my Garmin InReach Device

Test my Garmin InReach Device

Make sure that my Garmin InReach app on my phone hasn’t ‘undownloaded itself’ from my cell phone before I head into the backcountry.

A basic description of the Enchantments Route (from the Aasgard side) is this:

hike to Colchuck Lake

See Aasgard pass for the first time and freak out that you have to climb up that thing

Go around the right side of the lake (if you are looking at the pass)

Climb up and over a ton of boulders (yep, it’s the route!) until you make it to the base of Aasgard Pass

You will start to see the ‘trail’ up Aasgard Pass as you near the bottom of it - gradually pick your way up the path, which follows a route on the climber’s left side of the pass. The route itself is steep, but relatively easy to follow to the top.

Once you are in the Enchantments, the trail ranges from ‘following cairns across granite slabs’ to ‘easy to follow trails’ to ‘where did the trail go?’. In general, the trail is not difficult to find - however, it becomes more challenging if you have to navigate it through fresh snow that nobody else has walked on yet. I’ve navigated through the Enchantments in a blizzard, and even with 8 inches of fresh snow, I was still able to see the cairns and, in general, follow most of the ‘trail’. A good .gpx track will be your friend if snow or whiteout conditions are predicted.

If you are entering the Enchantments from the Snow Lake side, you will have a very long slog up the trail into the Core… just keep in mind that as you descend Aasgard Pass (if you are doing a thru hike), stay to skier’s right on the way down. The skier’s left side of Aasgard pass is not the correct route down, and it typically causes all sorts of not-fun issues for folks who accidentally end up over there.

Food and Water:
Eating and drinking are always important while backpacking, but they play a really important role in keeping you warm when the weather is cold. If you are hiking in the Enchantments in cold weather and you start feeling really cold… it could be sign that you need to add some ‘fuel’ to the fire … aka … calories into your body. I still remember my first overnight trip to the Enchantments: when my mom and I made it to the top of Aasgard pass, we were pretty exhausted and really, really cold. It was probably about 12 degrees, and we were having a hard time staying warm. We quickly made dinner, and I vividly remember feeling the warmth begin to spread through my body after I ate.

For food, I am a ‘food-in-bag’ person, so if you are the same, I’d recommend bringing some backpacking foods that you know that you’d like… and a Food Cozy will help you make sure that your food isn’t cold before you end up eating it.

Water treatment can be a bit tricker in cold temperatures, because water filters, in general, should never freeze. When I went to the Enchantments the first time, we actually had to use our hiking poles to break the ice in the lake next to us in the morning so that we could get water. In really cold temperatures, things like hydration hoses and water filters will freeze - so it will take a little bit more effort to get water and make sure you have a steady flow of it. Currently, I use a gravity filter - and I bring along a small plastic cup that I use to fill the filter bag (see photo below). If you leave this filter hanging in your campsite for any period of time in freezing weather, it is going to freeze solid and it will not be usable. If you are using a gravity filter, you will need to use it and then disassemble it and make sure that you are storing the filter piece itself in a spot where it won’t freeze. At night, I will actually put the water filter in the bottom of my sleeping bag or in my tent so that it doesn’t freeze overnight. If you are 100% certain than temperatures will be below freezing for most of your trip, consider using a treatment option like Aqua Mira, which does not rely on a filter.

Hydration hoses don’t function well in freezing weather, so make sure that you are either using a neoprene-lined hose and/or tucking your bite valve into your jacket while you are hiking. There is nothing worse than being really thirsty and then trying to take a sip from your hose before you realize that it is frozen solid.

Electrolytes: I tend to drink far less in cold weather, which means I’m more prone to dehydration. I always make sure to drink electrolytes while I’m backpacking, even in the winter. The best option I’ve found for this is the LMNT Chocolate Salt electrolytes. You can drink these just like hot chocolate with hot water - they have actually replaced my sugary-hot-cocoa drinks completely, because I just genuinely enjoy the taste so much!

Melting snow: if running water is completely unavailable (which would be very unlikely in mid-October… but could be possible in the Upper Enchantments), and you need to melt snow… just make sure you have enough fuel, since melting snow uses a lot of fuel. Prior to melting snow in your stove, make sure that you have at least 1-2 inches of water in the bottom of your stove before you start trying to melt it. If you pack your Jetboil full of snow and turn on the flame, the stove will heat improperly for the first minute or so and it will melt the neoprene sleeve on your stove and scare the absolute crap out of you … ask me how I know. Ha!

Sleeping in the Cold
When I’ve backpacked in the high alpine in late season, I typically use a 0 degrees sleeping bag to stay warm. Again, watch the weather and make a decision based on that. If you live in the WA area and need to borrow a 0 degrees bag… just ask… I have one!

What I’ve learned about backpacking in cold weather is that the sleeping pad is far more important for keeping you warm than the sleeping bag. Look at your current sleeping pad and see if you can find the ‘R-value’ for your pad. The R-value is the insulation value of your sleeping pad, and a higher number means that it has a higher level of insulation from the ground. An R-level of .5 will keep you warm on a cool day in Hawaii… but you wouldn’t sleep a wink, even with a really warm sleeping bag, on a 10 degrees day in the Enchantments. I once took a friend backpacking at Mt. Rainier when there was still snow on the ground and her sleeping pad popped in the middle of the night, which meant that she was basically sleeping on the snow. Even though she had a really warm sleeping bag… let’s just say, she didn’t sleep much (and neither did I).

A great option for late season cold-weather backpacking is to use a closed-cell foam pad under your normal sleeping pad. This will boost the R-value of your pad significantly and insulate you from the cold ground and you will sleep about 10,000x better than if you are sleeping on the ground using your summer-weight sleeping pad. My sleep system for the Enchantments (or any high alpine area) in cold weather would look like this:

For the image above, I used a Nemo foam pad… a Nemo Tensor sleeping pad and a Mountain Hardwear Phantom 0 degrees sleeping bag. Keep in mind that there are many, many options for these items in a variety of price-points - so if you are not in a position right now to run out and purchase a $1200 sleep set up, don’t let that dissuade you. There are numerous companies that rent gear (check out Alpine Ascents in Seattle!)… and I am even happy to loan some of my personal gear (seriously).

Another little trick to keep warm at night: prior to bed, boil water and fill a hard-sided Nalgene with hot water and (after verifying that it isn’t leaking), place it at the toe of your sleeping bag and you’ll have an instant heater for your feet!

Drying your socks and gloves: Place them in your long underwear directly onto your thighs, stomach or chest overnight. They might feel clammy for a few minutes, but the feeling will pass. When you wake up in the morning, they will be completely dry!

Other considerations:
Traction: If temperatures are going to be below freezing, you could end up having to walk on some icy patches. When my mom and I ascended Aasgard pass at the end of October, a few of the ‘waterfalls’ had frozen into large sections of ice. While these weren’t super challenging to navigate, they did require you to do some awkward moves to avoid stepping on the ice. If there is a chance of snow … if there has been snow (that has been walked on and packed down)… or if there is a chance of ice, microspikes will be a great addition to your pack. There are a few steep sections in the Enchantments that wouldn’t be much fun without traction on your feet. I use the Kahtoohla Microspikes, and have found them to be really effective in slippery conditions.

Poles: In my last post, I already shared my personal love of hiking poles. Personally, I would never hike the Enchantments (or any other backpacking trip) without hiking poles… but if the ground is slick or snowy, and you are a person who usually opts out of using poles, I would highly suggest being open to trying them. Carrying a pack on steep, uneven terrain is already challenging. Carrying a pack on steep, uneven terrain that is slippery, icy or snowy is even more challenging. Trust me: you will be glad you have the poles with you.

Lining your pack with a trash bag (keep wet tent sequestered) - Out of habit, I always line my pack with a compactor-style garbage bag. This weatherproofs my bag from the inside out (I don’t use a pack cover) and it serves an additional purpose: you can use the bag to lay out your gear on the ground while you are packing up your tent (this is super handy if there is snow on the ground). When you are ready to put the trash bag back in your pack, you can temporarily lay things on the inside of a shell jacket that is lying on the ground. The trashbag also gives you a way to ‘sequester’ your wet tent (if you encounter non-ideal weather). If it has rained or snowed overnight and my tent is wet, I will put my wet tent in the bottom of my pack, and then put the trashbag in over the wet tent so that I’m keeping my sleeping gear and clothing nice and dry). If I’m just moving campsites for the night, I’ll take my tent out at the next campsite and lay it out to dry if possible before setting my tent back up for the evening.

Extra warm drinks + tent games: If it’s really cold, considering packing some extra hot drinks than you would normally bring on a backpacking trip (and increase your fuel accordingly). If it’s absolutely frigid or snowing and you anticipate spending some extra time in your tent, make sure that you are prepared with a book pre-loaded onto your cell-phone… or bring a pack of miniature playing cards… or some crossword puzzles that can keep you entertained, should you end up having to ‘hunker down’ for a longer period of time than expected.

Preparing for everything to go right
When I teach backpacking, I love teaching people how to prepare and how to feel confident going into a trip — and one of the most important aspects of that process is to shift your focus in a forward direction. As you begin to think about this trip and plan this trip, you will notice that your brain will automatically want to drift in the direction of everything that could, ‘go wrong’ - but I’d love for you to start noticing when you are doing that… and then taking those micro-opportunities to shift your thinking to a better feeling direction.

For example:

“I hope I’m not too cold and I’m really worried about the route-finding and whether or not I’ll be able to find the trail.”


“I trust myself to bring the right clothing, based on my evaluation of the weather and conditions. I will evaluate the conditions to the best of my abilities and I trust myself to make the right decision and handle things in the moment. I know that there is so much information out there about the route, and I know that I’ll be able to go into this trip feeling empowered and confident, based on my preparation.”

This might seem silly, but in order to set yourself up for success - you have to really see it and feel it and believe it now. Take a photo of yourself and photo-shop (or Canva) it into the area where you are planning your trip and write down a list of the things you want to experience on your trip:

Think about these feelings that you want to experience and ask yourself the following question: How can I feel the feelings right now? Over the next few months as you begin to visualize yourself on this trip - focus on really seeing yourself there and begin to feel a trust in yourself that you will handle anything that arises in the moment. If it feels good to you, write out the best case scenario for this trip: if the trip went perfectly, how would it go? What would you feel like? How would you experience it? See yourself on the climb in… see yourself setting up your campsite… see yourself snuggling into your tent at night - how do you feel? And what do you feel like at the end of the trip?

The more that you see and feel the things that you want to create - the more that you will invite those things into your life experience. Namely, you will have ‘pre hiked’ the Enchantments (or any high alpine area) in late October before the hike itself even happens. By the time you actually put your feet on the trail - you’ll have done it so many times in your mind that realizing the best case scenario will simply be the culmination of the beautiful, loving energy that you’ve put into this trip.

Overall — and I’ve already said it — trust yourself to handle things in the moment. As you hike this hike, be with each step and trust that you will be able to handle the next one, whatever it is.

I’ll end with this short video that I made a few years ago for a backpacking class that I taught - it features photos that I’ve taken on my backpacking trips throughout the years and my favorite passages from Eckhart Tolle talking about experiencing nature. I hope that your adventures - wherever they are - bring you to a deeper connection with yourself, the people you love, our amazing planet — and beyond.

Sending you all so much love today!




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