Date of Adventure: August 10, 2014
We have heard Monte Cristo called the Disneyland of ghost towns in Washington State. Who wouldn't be mesmerized by that description? For years we had contemplated the trip, but were daunted by the mileage. Nine miles seemed like a lot. But after a summer spent on the trails, plenty of research, and well-equipped daypacks, we knew we were ready.
The drive to Monte Cristo took us into uncharted territory, but nothing as remote as our trip to Lester. It was simple enough to follow the directions to our first stop - the Verlot Ranger Station. We always try to stop in at the local ranger station before an adventure. There you can find the people who can give you the best up-to-the-minute information about your destination.
The biggest surprise was the awesome interpretive exhibits inside. After exploring these we were even more excited to find Monte Cristo.
Back on the road we enjoyed the scenic drive, but were a little worried about all the people we saw camping in the pull-outs alongside the road. We hoped everyone wanted to camp and not hike. We hoped wrong. Cars lined both sides of the road and spilled out of the parking areas. Usually this is when we turn back, but we'd come too far.
After posting our permit in the window, we began the unexpected warm-up hike from car to trailhead. Fortunately the crowd had thinned out once we arrived, but the entrance was not too welcoming.
Clearly parking had a been a problem for a while. And by the looks of it, so had shotgun vandalism.
The first part of the trail to Monte Cristo is the old road. At about 1/4 of a mile, you can see why the town couldn't last. A large mudslide had come through and washed out the road. A trail had been built to bypass the slide, but by the time we arrived it was easy to cross. A well-built information board kiosk stood next to the junction of mud slide and alternate trail.
The kiosk appears to have been the work of the Monte Cristo Preservation Association. This non-profit volunteer group has been credited with leading the effort to keep the history of Monte Cristo alive. Being curious adventurers, we opened the flap atop a weathered old box on the kiosk. lucky for us, we found brochures that plotted out the historic town where we were headed.
After we hit the one mile mark, we started looking for a river crossing. While the Sauk is a beautiful, clear river, it's also full of poison. Extremely high levels of arsenic and other heavy metals have been found in the water. Another remnant of Monte Cristo's mining history. While a hazmat clean-up is in the works, we chose the "look but don't touch" approach to the river.
It turns out that finding where the old car bridge washed out was the easy part. The hard part is finding the location of the newer fallen tree log bridge. We missed it on the way in, but if you look really closely at the right side of the photo below, you will see a tiny yellow sign on a tree. That's the trail to the log bridge.
Since we didn't see the bypass trail, we opted for crossing the river via a log jam. We always assess safety first and in this case the log jam seemed solid. Knowing our own limits, we slowly made our way across while "thinking like a raccoon" which is a trick we learned in our early days as naturalists.
We also found another bridge which still crosses a side stream of the main channel.
The trail resumes in a lush forest with glimpses of the Sauk River as you go along. The next couple miles went by in a breeze on a gentle upward grade. While the tracks are gone, it almost felt like we were walking the rails back in time. Then we came upon our first sign of the historic town.
A tiny sign tucked in the woods below this one said that Weden House was a station along the Everett Monte Cristo Railroad.
The last stretch into town provided us with glimpses of the surrounding peaks. We knew we were getting closer!
Soon we came to a branching trail to the campground and a childlike sign honoring Monte Cristo's history. After heeding yet another warning about water quality, we proceeded down the main trail. Around the next bend we came to the official Monte Cristo townsite sign and bridge.
Crossing the bridge felt like crossing into another world. The glacier fed creek was splashing away under the summer sun as it had during the time folks flocked here with gold lust in their hearts.
On the other side the path was smaller, and wound around to another small creek and signs of the near-past when you could drive right into town and stay at the lodge.
Beyond this point history jumbles together. Cabins from the lodge days surround rusty relics from mining days.
This open area is also where you can find the train turn table, which still moves today.
Just beyond the clearing, the trail branches. We went left first, as the brochure told us this was the way to the primary townsite. After climbing a short switch-back we found a few fragile sheds.
Beyond those we found lots of flagging and a few signs of town, but not the interpretive signs we had been hoping for. Instead we found stakes and flagging everywhere. We think this is part of the hazmat clean-up process and possibly a related historic assessment. We did our best to follow the map drawing and our imaginations.
Where it looked like Dumas Street (named for the author of the novel that inspired the town name) went left, so did we. Our hope was to find the site of the concentrator. We didn't have to travel far to find it.
History says this was the site of a 5 story factory, built in the 1890s, to perform the first step in separating metals from rock. There were many mines above Monte Cristo, and they all brought their hard-won riches here.
We wandered back to the clearing and up the right-hand path. Here we found another cabin and a trail beyond.
By this time we had put in at least 6 miles and still had to hike out. So reluctantly we left the Monte Cristo townsite, with the hopes of returning to explore the mines on another day.
On the way back we found the true river crossing.
Thank you for reading about our adventure to the ghost town of Monte Cristo. If you choose your own adventure to Monte Cristo, drop us a line. We'd love to hear about it.