|Monte Cristo Ghost Town|
Difficulty: Easy-moderate; river crossing on log and a few eroded sections of trail
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Northwest Forest Pass required
The rugged peaks of the Monte Cristo Group in Washington State's North Cascades hide the crumbling ruins of a mining town with an outsized impact on the history of both Washington State and these United States. The Monte Cristo Ghost Town is the remnant of what was once a bustling silver mining town that brought investment and fortune-seekers to the Northwest; the failure of the mines to produced the promised quantities of silver led to the town's demise. This fairly easy hike visits the town by following an old road trace down to the ghost town from the Mountain Loop Highway. While the history at the end of the trail is itself worth the trip, the hike delivers some nice views of the Cascades along the way as well as a fun-for-some, difficult-for-others log crossing over the Sauk River.
I hiked to Monte Cristo with two friends on a June day that was sunny in Seattle but overcast with showers at times in the mountains. We headed northwest from Seattle to Granite Falls via Everett, then followed the Mountain Loop Highway east about 30 miles past the Verlot Ranger Station to the trailhead at Barlow Pass. There was parking both alongside the road and in a gravel lot to the north of the road at the pass. After putting up a Northwest Forest Pass, we walked briefly east along the road to a gated road on the south side of the Mountain Loop Highway. This road, which was once the main vehicle route to Monte Cristo, is still the principal trail leading to the ghost town today.
The first mile of the hike was a straightforward walk along the old road to Monte Cristo; this road was once the main access route to Monte Cristo and was open to traffic until 1980. The primary route to Monte Cristo varied greatly over the course of the town's short history: the earliest miners arrived from what was perhaps the most rugged route, climbing over Poodle Dog Pass to reach the townsite from Index, Galena, and other points in the Skykomish River watershed. A later route connected the town to the Skagit Valley via a road along the Sauk River, while a railroad connection funded in part by the Rockefeller family connected Monte Cristo with Everett through Barlow Pass and the Stillaguimish River, a route that is today covered by the Mountain Loop Highway.
At points, the road was washed out by the ever-changing course of the Sauk River, so the trail was frequently rerouted around those washouts. A little over a mile into the hike, the trail emerged alongside the Sauk River, with decent views of the surrounding mountains. Here, the road was mostly washed out but the trail had yet to be rerouted, so a short stretch of trail required following the narrow remaining strip of road along the riverbank, which may be challenging for some hikers.
After the narrow riverbank trail, we found ourselves on a much narrower single track through the forest. At this point, I became a little confused about the route: the smaller trail seemed as if it might be the Gothic Basin Trail rather than the trail to Monte Cristo, which made me worry that we had missed the river crossing over the Sauk River. My concern was poorly founded; the actual crossing point was about 300 yards further along. We hiked further along the trail past a sign for Gothic Basin and past a turnoff to Weeden Creek down to the riverbank of the Sauk River, where we crossed the river on a fairly wide log. We found good views of the surrounding peaks at the river crossing.
|Sauk River with peaks of the Monte Cristo group rising in the distance|
|Sauk River crossing|
The remaining three miles to Monte Cristo consisted of easy hiking along the road with occasional detours at washouts. While the trail came to clearings with views of the nearby mountains at multiple points, many of the summits remained cloaked in clouds for the remainder of the day. The mossy forest and views of waterfalls tumbling down distant cliffs kept us good company. We were joined along this stretch of trail by Renee, who was also headed to Monte Cristo and like us had experienced a brief moment of confusion on the trail near the river crossing.
Four miles into the hike, we arrived at an info board with a hand-drawn map informing us that the Monte Cristo townsite was just ahead. After crossing a bridge over the South Fork Sauk River, two faded signs welcomed us to Monte Cristo.
|Entering Monte Cristo|
|Well-preserved houses at Monte Cristo|
|This pail has seen better days|
|Railway turntable- it still turns!|
In 1894, Frederich Trump, a German immigrant who had arrived in Seattle after the city's great fire, sold his restaurant in Seattle and traveled to Monte Cristo. Instead of joining the miners, Trump sensed a more lucrative opportunity, opening a hotel near the town's train station to mine the miners. By the late 1890s, as it became apparent that the promised silver lodes of Monte Cristo were only a myth, Trump was one of the few people to walk out of the town with more in his pocket than when he arrived. Frederich Trump later participated in the Klondike Gold Rush, opening a restaurant in the Yukon to feed miners heading to Dawson. With his combined earnings from the silver veins of Monte Cristo and the gold of the Klondike, Trump returned to Germany, married Elizabeth Christ, and moved to Queens, New York. Following his death, Elizabeth Christ Trump and their son Fred founded a real estate development company; a little over a cenutury after Monte Cristo's heyday, Frederich Trump's grandson became the president of the United States.
Events in the United States today likely reflect underlying concern about the future due to accelerating economic, social, and technological change and are perhaps not as strongly shaped by individual public figures as we'd like to imagine; but still, I couldn't help but wonder throughout this hike what the world would look like now had Frederich Trump's time at Monte Cristo turned out differently.
We chose to continue past the clearing and explore the ghost town further. We first came to the foundation of the Monte Cristo Resort, which operated in the town after the end of silver mining but burned down by the second half of the 20th century. A little further, we came to an info board detailing the trails to Glacier Basin and Silver Lake; at the trail junction just past the info board, we followed the bridge across the Sauk River towards Glacier Basin.
|Decaying house on Dumas St.|