July 15, 2017
In July, I went on another hike I’d never done before, an 8 mile round-trip hike over a relatively flat route to a gold and silver mining site. The ghost town of Monte Cristo.
Between 1890 and 1907, Monte Cristo experienced a huge boom, growing to over 1,000 people at its peak, with 13 active mines and 211 active mining claims. It was the first mine site on the west side of the Cascade Mountain range. John D. Rockefeller took an interest in the site and for a period of time Frederick Trump, grandfather of President Trump, operated a boom-town hotel and brothel there.
At first the town and the mines were profitable, but over-estimates of the ground’s ore potential and frequent floods took their toll. Most of the ore was near the surface; it was rarely profitable to go more than 500 feet down below the surface. The river also flooded several times, requiring expensive repairs to the road and the railroad line in order to keep the ore flowing out to the smelter.
After mining operations ceased in 1907, for several decades there were attempts to keep the town going as a resort destination, with only limited success. The county road to Monte Cristo was flooded in 1980 and not rebuilt, and the only remaining business, a lodge, burned down in 1983. Monte Cristo is a ghost town today. A few original buildings and relics remain, as well as several more cabins from the various resort town efforts. The forests have grown back, so it is tough to imagine the bare hillsides with tramways and men bringing ore down from the steep mountains.
The route follows most of the old route taken by the miners over a century ago. Floods over the years have washed out the road alongside the South Fork of the Sauk River. The hike starts at the Barlow Pass trailhead on the North Cascades – Mountain Loop Highway and travels along the road for about 4 miles. You have to cross over the river on a large fallen tree at one point, but it is wide and flat enough that it doesn’t feel treacherous.
There is a slight incline the entire way, with a total elevation gain of 700 feet to a final elevation of 2,800 feet. The scenery is stunning, with the shallow river showing its rocky bed, and the craggy mountains above. The 8 miles are pretty easy miles as long as you can handle the distance.
Once in the town it was fun to just wander around, seeing the old cabins and reading the signs showing where other buildings used to be. There has been some remediation done in the area, in order to clean up the heavy metals that still exist in the mine tailings. There is still a lot more work to be done, so they recommend you don’t drink the water there, or at a minimum filter it.
There is a pack-in campsite; it looks like a fun place to stay the night and explore the town. I wonder if there are ghosts!