I have always wanted to snowshoe to the Monte-Cristo Townsite during winter. In the past year of my life I’ve lost my father, gotten a diagnosis of PTSD, and left two jobs as a result of the tumult. My marriage failed and to top it off I am facing financial struggles. I felt badly in need of some solitude and so it seemed the perfect time to test out the trip.
With the deer creek gate closed for winter, Monte Cristo is miles from the nearest inhabited area. What better place to go for some peace and quiet? I have only managed to find 1 other trip report for doing this, so I was on my own with planning. The first section of the road is easy, and if you can get there by sunrise, Big Four Mountain is spectacular in the first light of the day. You will want to leave as early as possible to beat the crowds that come for the Big Four Ice Caves Snowshoe.
I began at 6 am from the Deer Creek Gate and meandered along Mountain Loop Highway for about 7 miles. After that, you will come to Barlow Pass. Once I arrived at the pass, I set up my tent and dug out a kitchen. I had made grand plans for a hot meal and silence after the snowshoe to Monte Cristo. These plans would not come to fruition.
After a short break and a snack I headed down Mountain Loop Highway. The log crossing is unpredictable this time of year and I did not want to use it to snowshoe to Monte Cristo. I would expect it to be icy and snow-covered. The new road installed in 2015 leads to the townsite. It’s installation aided in the decontamination efforts around the ghost town. But, the road is available for hikers to use.
I thought that the new Monte Cristo road would be easy, but that was my first mistake of this trip. In snowshoes it is difficult as it loses and gains elevation rapidly. This made for some sore thighs and calves after about 9 miles. I wasn’t going to give up on my goal and had plenty of time in my day. So, I pressed forward enjoying the views and the fact that there was nobody around.
I was finally feeling the absolute solitude I was looking for. Once the new road meets the old, it is about 2 miles until the town-site. The roadway lies before you crowned with snow-capped peaks. Del Campo and the foot of the Monte Cristo Group make their appearances. These are not the views I have grown so accustomed to in summer. They are worlds apart. Watching the views made the rest of the trail melt away as I snowshoed toward the Monte Cristo townsite.
Reaching Monte Cristo after 13.75 miles of snowshoeing felt unreal. I have hiked that far in boots many times, but on snowshoes it took everything I had. The 2 snowmobilers in the townsite seemed concerned. One offered me a ride and I told him that would feel like cheating. Once they were gone, I realized how alone I was.
It is hard to describe how silent it felt. A light snow had begun falling. It was getting dark. I was completely alone…
At this point I realized I had Given Little Consideration to the time of day. It was time to leave Monte Cristo.It took no time at all for the sun to fall behind the horizon. By the time I had made back to the junction of the old and new roads, the forest was almost pitch black. My choices were, take the new road back and have 6 miles to my tent. Or, tempt the old road and it’s log crossing, but cut the trip down to 4 more miles.
After a brief debate with myself, I decided on taking the old road. With little sunlight remaining in the day and an undying hunger in my belly it seemed best. 15 energy bars isn’t enough when you snowshoe this far! Doubt began to swell in my mind as I moved through the untouched snow. I felt that I had committed to my route, but the questions got louder in my head. In contrast to my fear the view of my solitary footprints in the snow was magical and calmed my mind.
Being that alone, no matter the danger, felt calming to me at this point. I slowed my mind down, sang a few songs and kept my feet moving. There are times where you need to be confident in your skills in the hills. This point on the Monte Cristo snowshoe became one of those when I reached the log.
The first thing I noticed was how the snow completely obstructed where the log even is. I stood there with dimming light for a good 10 minutes racking my brain about where I saw it last. Finally I decided on a hump in the snow cover and went with it. I shuffled across, slipped twice and caught myself both times. It was a harrowing few minutes. I would like to say that I do not condone anyone repeating this crossing. Make sure to allow time to take the new road both ways if you want to try snowshoeing to Monte Cristo.
If you feel the strength you could also carry your gear all the way up and camp closer to the town.With the log crossing behind me, I now had to find the old road which proved quite difficult. I had my map and a compass out, yet it still took me a half-hour to get through several overgrown areas and back on track.
Once I was back onto the old road I was ecstatic. There is nothing as invigorating as facing extreme moments and overcoming. But, my excitement lasted only 20 minutes. My clothes were wet from the past few hours and my strength was gone.
Arriving at my tent I found it had leaked from the trees dropping snow on it all day. My sleeping bag lay soaked, my refuge was gone. After a few minutes of thought, the only choice seemed to be retreat. There were times during this last part of snowshoeing that I cursed at myself. I remember bribing myself with fast food at one point. Then I got to a point where I was challenging myself to “go one hundred steps and you can have a break”. It took everything inside to get back to my car.
Over 26 miles in one day is definitely too much… After arriving at the car, I made myself the bag meal meant to be dinner. I managed to change my socks and wet clothes. Then I headed for home. Along the way I ate McDonalds twice. When I arrived home I ate another full meal.
By this time, I had taken 67,000 steps and been awake for nearly 20 hours. I ended up sleeping for 16 hours and had trouble walking for 2 days. Not a trip for everyone, but, if you want to try to hike Monte Cristo in summer it is much easier