Bottom line: Several online resources help you make an educated guess about wildfire smoke and air quality for your through hike of the Enchantments.
First off, hiking in unhealthy smoke is never a good idea. Sometimes, we just have to save it for another day. If you decide to go anyway during fire season, see the last section of this post, about being prepared for smoke.
A little lingering smoke creates amazing sunrise and sunset colors, and gives your Enchantments photos a mysterious foggy look.
Note: The map shown above is a snapshot and does not represent current conditions. Read on to find a link to that map and more.
Here are some online resources for researching Northwest smoke and air quality levels for your through hike of the Enchantments.
Smoke and air quality index sites
AirNow (US EPA). Map of air quality monitors. (Leavenworth, the closest, is Zip Code 98826.)
AirFire (USFS). Maps of 24-72 hour smoke forecasts. Scroll to “Northwest,” then in the “Today” column, click “MAP” for any of the available models. It can be useful once you learn your way around.
Leavenworth downtown webcams provide a visual clue. This camera at the Icicle Creek Chalet is the closest camera I’ve found to the Enchantments. The golf course camera is nearby. Mountain Home Lodge is east of the Enchantments at about 2000 feet elevation.
Facebook groups include posts of trip reports and photos by hikers who have recently through-hiked the Enchantments. The best of these in my opinion is the “Enchantments Hiking and Backpacking” group.
How to prepare for smoke while on a day hike in the Enchantments
If you’ve determined that the smoke levels are OK, then you should be ready for sudden changes in smoke in the Enchantments.
The best preparation for smoke is to carry one N-95 face mask per person. The kind with a ventilator valve are best because you don’t have to rebreathe your exhaled air. That makes a mask more comfortable to wear when exerting, which means you’re likely to keep your mask on until you’re done exercising or the smoke clears up. Keep masks handy and keep them dry.
A bandana or other cloth mask is not nearly as effective against smoke as an N-95 mask. The N-95 mask (or P-100) filters a lot of the nasty chemicals that make smoke so unhealthy and dangerous to breathe.
A disposable mask can’t make it totally safe to exercise in smoke. If you or someone in your party starts showing symptoms, stop and reassess your plans. Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, headache, chest pain and fast pulse, among others.
Hikers with respiratory concerns, such as asthma, should definitely carry their medications and let companions know of the condition before the hike.
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