For those winter enthusiasts who enjoy a bit of Pacific Northwest history, a visit to the Monte Cristo Ghost Town of the North Cascades is a must. The town was built during the mining boom of the late 1800s and was the first on-site mining community in the western Cascades. During its peak, the town grew to a population of more than 1,000 people. Not much remains of the original infrastructure, but the trek through the wide river valley gives you the freedom to paint a primitive mental picture of the bustling hillside activity and the constant chugging of lead and silver-filled tram cars on the freshly built railroad.
Unfortunately, the snowshoe and ski route has a short window for access on either side of the season due to the Mountain Loop Highway winter closures. Keeping a close eye on the snow level is the only way to ensure access to the trailhead at Barlow Pass. After parking, maneuver around the gate and head south down the old Monte Cristo road, which now serves as the trail due to massive bridge washouts and flood damage in 2003 and 2006. At 1.5 miles, the trail enters the forest and climbs along the bank of the South Fork of the Sauk River to the Weden Creek/Gothic Basin Trailhead. Continue beyond the junction for a few hundred feet back down to the river's edge where a giant log stretches across to the opposite shore. Slowly and carefully scoot your way to safety on the other side for some awesome views of the river valley, with Monte Cristo and Cadet peaks to the east and Sheep Mountain rising to the north above a remaining section of destroyed bridge.
The trail resumes at an intact bridge over a small creek about 100 yards east of the log crossing. Here it enters shadowy hemlock corridors where it parallels the river for a final 3 miles of undemanding forest travel. A wooden sign and a sturdy bridge crossing back over the South Fork of the Sauk River mark your arrival at the townsite.
Plans to clean up the hazardous mining materials that remain in the area are in place, though a timetable is not quite predictable. Check the Monte Cristo Preservation Association's site for more information.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.