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Monte Cristo and Glacier Basin

Yesterday I headed out to Monte Cristo for a quick night out. I was in this area last fall when I visited Gothic Basin, but had not continued all the way down the main trail to the town site.

South Fork Sauk River

Monte Cristo is an old mining town that was founded in the 1890s and lasted until 1907. It’s now a ghost town, maintained by the Monte Cristo Preservation Association. The trail into town is an easy hike along the old railroad grade. Most of the buildings in the town itself have burned down or were long ago dismantled, leaving only a few remnants. More interesting than the buildings are the metal artifacts strewn about the site.

Monte Cristo

Railway Turntable in Monte Cristo

Peabody Garage

From Monte Cristo, my plan was to head up to Glacier Basin in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness (just the other side of Cadet Peak from Goat Lake) and see what the snow was doing. The hike up to the basin goes uphill alongside a waterfall that carries away the melting snow, as well as melt from Columbia Glacier.

Looking up to Glacier Basin

The whole drainage, including the trail, had been hit by at least one major avalanche somewhat recently, leaving lots of debris and snapped trees for me to climb over. The hike was hot, but enjoyable. I encountered no snow until just before the basin at 4,500 feet. Before venturing further, I stopped to put on my gaiters, take out my other trekking pole and put the snow baskets on both. I almost always forget to pack the snow baskets for my poles, so I was excited to have remembered them this time around. Heading on into the snow, my pace slowed. It was now late afternoon — just about the worst time to attempt to traverse a snow field on an inclined slope. The sun had been beating down on the snow all day, making it soft and prone to slipping. I managed not to fall off any mountains, but, due to my lack of snowshoes, did posthole up to my crotch two different times. Soon enough I made it to a scree field just inside the basin.

Glacier Basin

Glacier Basin

My original plan had been to spend the night up here, but it didn’t look very promising. I dropped my pack in order to be a little lighter on my feet and took off to survey the basin. Most of it was still covered in the same deep, wet snow that I struggled through at the entrance. I didn’t fancy sleeping on this. The areas that were melted were rocky and devoid of any flat spaces. I imagine it will be mostly cleared up in another couple weeks, but for now I decided to turn around and spend the night at a lower elevation.

I managed not to sink or slip on the snow field on the way out. Retracing my steps, I made my way back down along the waterfall. The avalanche had exposed a lot of smooth rock that, wet with snow melt, made for slippery going. Near the bottom I slipped and slid down about ten feet on my side, slicing open my left knee. It was a 3” long incision across the front of the patella, but not very deep. I continued on the trail for a bit, letting it bleed. As long as it’s not a gusher, letting wounds ooze a little blood helps to clean them out.

Five minutes further down I found a nice rock sit on. I dropped my pack, grabbed the first aid kit, and pulled out my syringe. It took just under a liter of water to fully clean the cut. I had noticed a patch of yarrow further up the trail, but there didn’t seem to be any around my rock. Instead, there was a large hemlock tree that must have been knocked down by the recent avalanche. It still looked green and alive. When I punctured it with my knife, it oozed sap. I used this to cover the cut. The sap is antiseptic and forms a barrier to keep dirt or anything else from the wound. Plus, it smells good! After the sap had dried, I bandaged it and carried on down the trail, arriving back at Monte Cristo at 7PM. I had dinner in the town and took advantage of the long summer evening to scout out an agreeable place to sleep in the surrounding forest.

Monte Cristo Evening

The following morning I breakfasted and started to head back to the trailhead. On the way out I decided to make a short detour up to Gothic Basin. As with neighboring Glacier Basin the climb was mostly clear, but I hit deep snow just at the entrance. After looking around a bit I climbed back down and finished the walk back to the road, arriving at the trailhead late that morning.

South Fork Sauk River

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