Monday, January 18, 2021

Monte Cristo

Monte Cristo Trail (and resident)
Monte Cristo Trail (and resident)

Monte Cristo (town) -- in 1889, a vein of gold- and silver- ore was discovered in the mountains at the head of the South Fork Sauk River, and over the next twenty years, mines produced millions of dollars in ore.  A bustling town sprung up at the foot of these mines -- complete with a school, hotels, and a train to Everett.  This town of Monte Cristo is now a ghost town, 4 miles from Barlow Pass, on the Mountain Loop Highway, near Granite Falls.

Monte Cristo (trail) -- I've tried twice without success to get there (once on each side of the river).  I've come to terms with the probability that I will never see Monte Cristo.  The trail on one side of the river starts out promising, but it becomes narrow after a steep dip, and it eventually requires crossing the river without a bridge.  The other, longer side has a wide and rocky road, but it's very hilly, and the road surface is not always very firm.  Thus, on both sides I had to turn back way before reaching the town of Monte Cristo.  However, my attempts added a new picnic destination and trail to my repertoire -- short, but accessible, with mountain and river views, all kinds of berries, and wildlife.

Attempt #1: June 2020

Gate guarding entrance to Monte Cristo Trail
Since the road to Monte Cristo was damaged by flooding in 1980, a gate has been installed and locked at the trailhead on the west side of the Sauk River.  According to the trail guide provided by the Monte Cristo Preservation Association, keys are available to rent through the Snohomish County Department of Public Works, with MCPA members receiving a discount.  Hopefully this procedure works, since the hiker access space on either side of the gate is not wide enough for wheelchairs (I was able to manipulate the opening, with the help of a strong hiking companion, a second chair, and some creativity, so I haven't actually tried the key).

Beginning of Monte Cristo Trail
The first section of the trail is fantastic for wheelchairs.  The wide path, surfaced with hard-packed gravel, travels along the Sauk River through the trees, with mountains in the distance.  The vegetation is both inviting and threatening, as we saw blossoming berries and devil's club alongside the path.  At about .8 mile the trail comes to a short and steep downhill run, after which it narrows and becomes inaccessible for wheelchairs.  Eventually, an able-bodied hiker would cross the Sauk River over a log and join up with the Monte Cristo bypass road to town.  

Sauk River on MC Trail
We went a little farther, finally stopping for a picnic by the river before turning around at about 1.2 miles,  This is a great short hike, with beautiful scenery, wild berries in season, and the possibility of seeing bears.  As we were hiking along, we noticed a large pile of scat, that could have been bear scat.  A little farther on, we saw a second large pile that was definitely bear scat.  A little farther on, we noticed that the grasses were trampled down into an inviting bear-shaped nap spot.  When we stopped by the river for a picnic, we were treated to a perfectly Goldilocks-distanced (not too close, not too far) black bear!

Monte Cristo Trail Resident

Attempt #2: September 2020

Gate to Monte Cristo Road
We had been advised that the trail to Monte Cristo on the other side of the Sauk River was built upon an old access road and did not require any river crossing.  With this in mind, we set out for Monte Cristo on the east side of the river.  Again, the trail is guarded by a gate. On sides were hiker's passage ways sided by rocks and too narrow for a wheelchair.  

Monte Cristo Road
The trail is built on top of an old road and doesn't cross the river, but it is very hilly, and the surface is uneven, loose gravel.  It begins miles before the trail on the west side even starts, because of a turn in the Mt Loop Highway), making it even longer.  Maybe a power chair with off-road wheels would be able to drive this way, but it was too much for me!

Road surface
Monte Cristo Road

Hike #3: September 2020

View from Monte Cristo Trail
We returned to the trailhead on the west side of the Sauk River and did the short, accessible section down to the river.  The berries were gone.  There were no bears.  The mountains in the distance were out. It was a short but beautiful hike.

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