Hiking at Monte Cristo

Two tales of long-ago hikes remind us that adventure can still be found in the mountains around Monte Cristo.

In my historical novel, Heart’s Gold, Melinda and Katie Dale, Monte Cristo’s new schoolteacher, go hiking. They take along two of Katie’s future pupils, mischievous brothers Tom and Isaac. The boys discover some acid left in an old miner’s cabin and Tom manages to splash it on himself. He plunges into a nearby pond to ease the burning. Katie thinks they should take him to a doctor:

         “It doesn’t hurt as much as it did,” Tom answered. “Can’t we see the lake first?”

“If you’re sure you’re all right. You’ve washed off the acid, so it probably won’t get worse,” Melinda said. “Silver Lake should be just over this rise.”

The subdued boys were glad to follow as Melinda led the way.

A short while later, she stopped, entranced at the scene before her. The trail led across a heathery slope to a deep blue lake surrounded on three sides by steep walls. Among the heather, low bush huckleberries grew thick. The entire scene was backed by a rugged mountain peak, and a breeze springing off snowfields at the base of the cliffs pushed a flotilla of little white icebergs across the rippled surface.

Isaac headed for the nearest patch of snow. “C’mon, Tom. Bet I can beat you.”

Melinda watched Tom limp after Isaac, apparently unable to pass up a challenge in spite of his burns. “Guess it doesn’t matter if Tom’s clothes are wet. They’re both going to get soaked anyway,” she told Katie.

The boys’ whoops echoed from the walls of the cirque as they slid down the snowy slope on the seat of their pants. Melinda and Katie removed their shoes and stockings to wade at the edge of the icy lake.

That fictional incident took place in 1897. Some 60 years later, my younger brother Dave, recently out of high school and working for the Forest Service near our home in Verlot, decided to take a couple of days off to go hiking at Monte Cristo with some friends. He invited younger cousin Bill Wislen to come along.

By then, Monte Cristo was a ghost town. The boys hiked the same trail Melinda and Katie took, past the Boston-American Mine on Toad Mountain. But they passed Silver Lake and continued on toward Twin Lakes. They camped for the night somewhere between Silver and Twin Lakes.

Dave knew that he might be called back to the job early if he was needed. Because he still lived with our parents, he’d arranged a way for Mom to contact him if he got that call. The next morning while the guys broke camp, Dave tuned his transistor radio to a popular call-in station. If he’d received a message to come to work, Mom was to request a certain song to be played. Sure enough, the scratchy voice of the announcer filtering past the surrounding peaks introduced that song, requested by Mrs. Marie Rawlins.

Hurriedly, the young men started back toward Monte Cristo. They were hungry by the time they reached Silver Lake, but had no time to cook something. They grabbed handfuls of the low-bush huckleberries growing near the lake. They also mixed some of their dry cocoa mix into cupfuls of cold lake water.

Cousin Bill said it wasn’t very good, but they gulped it down anyway. His stomach felt sick all the way back to their car. It was a long time before he wanted chocolate again.

When Bill read about Melinda and Katie’s hike, he could imagine every detail because he’d been there too.

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