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.

Cooling off at Boardman Lake

A few weeks ago, daughter Lenora took a late summer break from Arizona’s heat to luxuriate in northwest Washington’s green coolness. We decided to drive to the Robe valley, where as a little girl she’d spent many happy days at her grandparents’ former home. While there, we hiked to Boardman Lake, off the Mountain Loop Highway, to see if the huckleberries were ripe. We stopped first at little Evans Lake to picnic. Here’s Lenora enjoying the scenery.

The mile-long trail to Boardman Lake is well-used. The footing is tricky, and steeper than we remembered. (Of course, Hank and I are not as young as the first time we hiked the trail.)

Here is a denizen of the woods enjoying a beam of sunlight.

Lenora reached the lake long before we did, but we made it.

We met people who’d camped at primitive sites on the far side of the outlet, on the hill behind Lenora. To get there they scrambled across a jumble of logs. We saw some plunge into the lake’s cold waters to swim.


The berries were scarce this year, but as we headed back to the trail, we each picked a handful of blue huckleberries and carried them home in a plastic bag. Mmm! Huckleberry hotcakes next morning to remind us of a special afternoon in the mountains!

Snohomish County’s Favorite Hike…The Big 4 Ice Caves

Early visitors at the ice caves.
Photo courtesty of Granite Falls Historical Museum

Hot Weather Weakens Ice Caves. This recent headline told a familiar story. The ice caves at Big Four Mountain are a favorite hiking destination for people in our part of Washington State and have been ever since Big Four Resort was built in 1921 at the foot of its namesake mountain.

Every spring, snow avalanches fall from Big Four’s sheer cliffs and pack to glacier hardness. Cascading waterfalls burrow under the ice, forming caves that tempt the ignorant or foolhardy to enter. Almost every year, in spite of warning signs at the trailhead, someone is hurt. A few people have died under collapsing ice. The newspaper story in question was triggered by another such incident. Someone, probably climbing on the glaciers or the cliffs above, had slipped and fallen. Rescuers passed through one of the caves to help him, and got out just as chunks of ice came crashing down behind them.

But for those who use good sense, the ice caves make a spectacular outing. The trail is smooth and mostly level for a good part of its one-mile length, making it handicapped-accessible to and even past the newly installed bridge over the Stillaguamish. It begins as a plank walkway over wetlands, where you can lean over a railing to watch small trout schooling in the shallow water. Walkers have a choice of turning off on a trail which loops back to the trailhead via the roadbed of the old Everett to Monte Cristo Railroad or continuing on through some old growth trees to the river and up to the foot of the mountain.

Steve and Lenora Anderson on the new metal bridge

Beyond the bridge, the stream from the glaciers enters the river and the trail begins a moderate climb. Along the way, hikers see all stages in the life of the forest, from seedlings growing on nurse logs to decaying snags that house bugs and birds. Once we were lucky enough to see one of these snags topple to the ground without warning. We were also fortunate to be far enough away that the many-ton behemoth missed us!

Yes, if a tree falls in the forest, it does make a noise.

The last part of the trail is the most difficult. A recent winter’s avalanches, adding to the devastation of previous slides, snapped trees in half or completely uprooted them. One of the avalanches took out part of the trail, necessitating a detour. But the new gaps in the forest afford one a sneak preview of what awaits around the last corner. The massive wall of rock, with snowfields sloping upward from the base, is breathtaking.

Below: Avalanche passed this way

Up close, wildflowers springing from newly uncovered ground bloom madly to finish their cycles before snow comes again.

Tiger lilies and budding fireweed

In fact, in whichever direction you turn, the scene is breathtaking, even with a summer’s worth of dirt begriming the glaciers. Just remember, if you go, obey the signs warning against too close an inspection!

Snowfields at the base of Big Four

Don’t climb on this cave’s roof !

Cooling off in the rush of chill air from the caves

Feeling close to creation and its Creator