“I’m so fucking sweaty.” “A fat fuck and a recent appendectomy patient go to climb a 7,000ft peak, what did you expect?” “It’s okay, you can say two fat fucks.” I laughed. Calvin and I were on our first trip of the year. I was coming off of a brutal few months of being very sedentary, and Calvin was what, three weeks post appendectomy? And a winter of no climbs? Yeah. So we figured we’d do Monte Cristo, and we’d roll up at 9pm and camp and take it easy in the morning. I mean, how hard could it be? 20 years ago it was basically a walk up.
- Distance:16mi round trip? Ish?
- Elevation Gain: 5000ft, 7000ft highest point
- Weather: 50’s and sunny
- Commute from Seattle: 2hrs with no traffic
- Did I Trip: No but I hit a tree on the bike
Well, as it turns out there are a few things I’ve taken for granted getting out so often over the past few years. Like always knowing snow levels. And snow conditions. And overnight freezing levels. And recent weather. A strong Facebook presence and weekly beta spray. And in my dark months I avoided Facebook and I hoped for rain every weekend and I did not care to know when we had powder days.
Calvin and I met at the trailhead around 4:30, and took off on bikes. I was borrowing Tricia’s bike, which was a small frame. I am not a small frame. I am a solid medium, which I figured out within 10 minutes of being hunched over on a bike with a 45lb pack on my back. Also, biking with a pack for the first time is like skiing with a pack for the first time. Inertia is different and turning is harder and you don’t just sit there (or stand in the case of skiing), you actually have to use muscles and do stuff. I learned that when I hit a tree immediately on the first turn.
We rolled up to Monte Cristo around 6. I had lost Calvin, who toasted me on the ride in, but with some shouting we reconvened and parked the bikes. “What’s the combo of the lock?” Oh shit. Owen told me once. “Uhhh… 5730. If it’s not that then… then I don’t know. I’m not sure why I think it’s even that.” Well, it was right (now you all know) and we hitched the bikes to the rack. I marveled at the views from the meadow and how the hell this area used to be a bustling mining town. Here’s a quick link to some history on the mining boom, decline, tourism, and eventual abandonment of the town. The prominent old sites are still labeled (Royal Hotel, Dumas Street, homesteads) and it’s just wild seeing how much the river and forest have taken back. Flat plots of land have been eroded by streams, trees have regrown to block views, buildings have fallen with only pieces of foundations left. I grabbed a pamphlet from the sign in the meadows for bedtime reading at camp and we headed up the trail to Glacier Basin.
The trail starts in two places, either from the campsites up the road before the turnoff to Monte Cristo, or from just beyond the bike racks where you immediately cross the river after the clearing in town (down Dumas street). The trail is nice and only a mild incline for maybe a half mile, and then it turns into Boston Basin Lite. High steps, slick rock, dust in the air, veggie belays, they even put a hand line (rope) in place for one section. We climbed higher and higher and finally turned the corner into the basin, and WOW. This place is spectacular. I couldn’t believe Surafel didn’t want to spend the night. It’s breathtaking and you don’t need any technical gear to get there. I marveled at the area around me as we tried to not kill moss and dodged newly grown slide alder. Calvin had been here last in 2001, when it was just a meadow of wildflowers, and it’s incredible hearing how it has changed.
We set up camp dead in the center and buried our food under some rocks.I’m scared of bears. I read the Monte Cristo pamphlet, and it’s pretty incredible what that town used to be and how quickly the forest has reclaimed it. I barely slept (bc bears, jeez). It barely gets dark this time of year, especially when you’e surrounded by snow. We basically didn’t need headlamps at any point. We woke up at 6am, had a casual breakfast, and got started up at 7:30.
Calvin was cruising up and I hesitated. Soft moat, basically ice, no ice gear, no real ice axe…. yeaah, I’m not going that way. And I’d strongly prefer to not downclimb this. I was having flashbacks to downclimbing the Sherpa Glacier in 2017, except this was even more firm. Can we go up and around? Calvin downclimbed (“the downclimbing was fine, i was more concerned by the soft step” he says. i don’t think my butthole unpuckered the entire time he was downclimbing) and started up and around the runnels, which worked out very well. Still spicier than I’d have liked given the gear we had, but nothing unmanageable, and soon enough we were back on crampon friendly slopes.
We topped out soon after, took a snack break, and made the quick traverse to the start of the rock pitch. We waited for Fletcher’s group, which unfortunately delayed us long enough that Calvin’s coffee kicked in and forced him to take a shit right there on the rock step 2 ft below the last climber in Fletcher’s group. Yes, he brought a blue bag. Yes, I was nearly in tears laughing. Yes, we won’t ever let him live it down. Between that and the moaning and groaning of climbers trying to do a wet 5.6 in mountaineering boots, I was right at home.
That pitch is wicked uncomfortable in slick boots, and it was covered in snow too so soon enough your hands are numb and you can’t feel where you’re stepping because you’re in boots so you just muscle up it and hope for the best. There were a bunch of old slings and it really is just a few moves. Above that, the rock ramp was covered in sloppy snow, which we stayed roped up for. I felt pretty fine on the snow. By the time I got there, everything was kicked so firm nothing was collapsing. Calvin had the opposite experience, f bombs flying in every direction. In a flash of brilliance, we had left our ice axes at the base of the rock pitch thinking the rest was a scramble. Funny joke. It’s snow. We topped out at the summit, sent some “hey gonna be late getting back” messages, had a beer, and ran into Colin, another Facebook acquaintance! Calvin was anxious about getting down the sloppy snow and I was anxious about getting down the runnels, so we got off of there pretty quickly.
We made good time back to Monte Cristo, where the bikes hadn’t been stolen! Woohoo! And I still remembered the lock combo, which Calvin had responsibly written down in case we didn’t get another miracle memory. I had been hoping we’d have time to explore the town on the way down, but again, that freaking hockey game. Priorities, guys. Calvin had dropped his helmet and ice axe somewhere on the trail, but we weren’t going back up (you know… hockey).* We hopped on bikes and enjoyed the loooong mostly downhill ride back to the river crossing. From there we had to carry the bikes up the single track trail, I passed a couple hiking with their cat, and then we faced the mild uphill ride back to the trailhead (ugh, my back). The game was starting and I wasn’t even back in cell service yet. Gah!
We left notes on everyone’s cars about the lost gear and who to call if they had found it and hauled ass back to Granite Falls, where we went to a local bar and caught the last 12 minutes of the game. I demolished a steak slathered in blue cheese They had steaks, the had blue cheese for salads, and I asked if they would be so kind and combine the two, and they did. It was unbelievable, and the Bruins won (but then lost in game 7, and I’m still sick about it and I don’t want to talk about it and don’t say oh there’s always next year oh Boston has enough championships oh it was a great series I WANTED TO WIN brb crying) and I got to drive home to a comfy bed and a great night of bear-free sleep and the satisfaction of a great first trip back out. It may not have gone exactly as planned, but we ended up using actual skills and making sure basic techniques, decision making, and mental game were right back on point. Turned into more of an improvisation climb than a basic snow climb, but that’s exactly what I like about climbing. Thanks to Calvin for getting my ass out of the house, hopefully there will be many more!