Our Hiking Time: 4h 15m
Total Ascent: 600ft
Highest Point: 2900ft
Total Distance: 9.5 miles
Location: N 47° 59.1180, W 121° 23.5620
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
As Halloween approaches, a lot of folks start thinking about ghosts, goblins and haunted houses. While we’ve yet to find a hike out to a haunted house, we do occasionally get the chance to visit a ghost town. Recently we trekked out to Monte Cristo, one of Washington’s most famous ghost towns and the site of the state’s biggest gold rush.
In 1889 an prospector named Joe L. Pearsall was living in Mineral City looking to strike it rich. As the snows receded, he climbed nearby Hubbart Peak to survey the area, and saw something metallic shining in the afternoon sun. Pearsall gathered a few samples and had his partner Frank Peabody take them to Seattle for analysis. Testing indicated silver and gold. On July 4, 1889, Pearsall and Peabody staked the first claim in the area, calling it the Independence of 1776 in honor of the holiday. Today it’s referred to as ’76 Gulch.
By 1907, over 300,000 tons of copper, gold, silver and zinc were pulled out of the mines, worth millions of dollars. But the cost of operating the mines and keeping the railroad running was digging into profits and many of the miners had moved on to find their fortunes in Alaska. A market collapse in 1907 put an end to mining in Monte Cristo, and attempts to revive the industry failed. In 1936 the railroad, which had long suffered washouts from seasonal flooding, was removed and Monte Cristo became something of a ghost town.
Still, attempts were made to attract tourists, using the old Royal Hotel and other remaining structures. After World War II, interest picked up and Monte Cristo saw hundreds of visitors on summer weekends, all driving down a county road built on the old railroad bed. In 1980 a flood washed out the bridge over the South Fork Sauk River and it was never repaired. The lodge burned down in 1983 and the U.S. Forest Service gained control of most of Monte Cristo in 1994. Today, the Monte Cristo Preservation Society helps to maintain and highlight the history of the former mining town. The area also serves as a gateway to number of trails in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness.
Gothic Basin. A 2006 flood further eroded the trail here, forcing you to take a narrow path through the trees to a large log spanning the river. During the summer months the river is low enough that it is easy to wade across. Many chose to brave the log crossing – use caution if you attempt this route as the log could be slippery.
Once across the river and back on the road, it’s another three miles to the town site. Along the way you might be able to pick out Twin Peaks or Monte Cristo Peak up ahead, and Lewis Peak and Del Campo Peak make appearances to the west. At four miles, reach the Monte Cristo Campground, and just beyond the bridge over Glacier Creek leading into the townsite. Once you arrive, take some time to explore the few remaining structures still standing and pick through the rusting artifacts from the mining days. Be sure to wander down Dumas street – named for Alexander Dumas, the author of the Count of Monte Cristo – to get an idea of how the town was laid out. Bring a healthy amount of imagination, as most of the town is long gone, leaving only signs to mark the former location of buildings.
This hike’s only challenge is the river crossing, but that may soon be changing. A new access road will be on the other side of the river, connecting with the current road after the washout. The road is being built to support a massive cleanup effort focusing on containing the arsenic and other heavy metals churned up by Monte Cristo’s mining past. The cleanup will begin in spring of 2013 lasting to the summer of 2015, during that time the plan is to close the townsite. How the new road will be used after the cleanup is still undecided. Luckily, even though a little snow has fallen, you still have some weekends left to visit Monte Cristo before it’s shuttered until 2015.
To get there, take I-5 North to Exit 194. Follow Highway 2 for about two miles. Stay in the left lane and merge onto Lake Stevens Highway 204. Follow for two miles to Highway 9. Take the left onto Highway 9 toward Lake Stevens. In just under two miles, you’ll reach Highway 92 to Granite Falls. Take a right and follow for about nine miles to the Mountain Loop Highway. Take the MLH for 31 miles to Barlow Pass. Park and find the gated Monte Cristo Road on the right side of the road, opposite the trailhead parking lot. -Nathan
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