With the early plowing to reopen the Mt. Loop Highway for access to Darrington, we have an unexpected April start to the hiking season. Both the Big Four picnic area and the Mt. Dickerman/Perry Creek trailhead parking lots are open and clear, At Barlow Pass the highway parking area is mostly clear, but the upper lot still is snow bound. Above Silverton the Deer Creek road is open at least two miles, The Coal Lake road is open for three. The Sunrise Mine trail road is accessible, but with no estimate on how far it is snow free. From Barlow Pass the Monte Cristo county road is drivable to the MCPA picnic table/avalanche chute, but with some snow on the road. At that point the avalanche zone still features approximately eight to ten feet deep at its maximum depth and roughly two hundred feet across. From there the road and trail is quite walkable, with too much snow for bikes and too little for skis. At the Devil’s Elbow there are some small trees and debris across the road. Movement at the clay slide appears to be only several inches, fortunately. Two obstructing trees, ten to twelve inch diameter dry alders also are at the slide, one prior to and one after it. Both are easy step overs. The river is running hard at the start of the bypass trail, which is walkable with no major issues. Due to extreme danger, crossing the river here is not recommended.
Helping reduce the isolation of Darrington following the tragic slide on SR 530 east of Oso, the road out to Granite Falls via Barlow Pass and down to Silverton was repaired and plowed this week. It provides a slow, rough, alternative route not suitable for freight or large vehicles. Prior to that the only access into and out of the town was east on SR 20 through Skagit County to Rockport, then south on 530.
As most of us well know, driving the unpaved one lane with turnouts portion of the Mountain Loop between the Whitechuck River and Barlow Pass requires headlights, slow speed, and close attention to poor sight lines. We heard one Seattle radio reporter refer to it as “scary.” So, be aware that some drivers will be experiencing unfamiliar conditions as well as a new route.
Winter road damage has been minor, save for repairs to the clay slump just north of Bedal close to the intersection with Forest Service Road #49 up the North Fork Sauk River. Be alert to clay spots, tumbling debris, and rough, muddy sections, especially as we still are in the very early spring rainy season. Snowy periods are possible for the next month as well, often in the steep last mile from the Mowich bridge to Barlow Pass. Barlow ‘s elevation is 2360′.
No time frame has been given for the reopening of SR 530 through the slide area. Given its scope, depth, and recovery issues, it may not be soon.
Our thoughts, best wishes, and support go out to all those involved with the disaster. It has been a hard time.
Public access to Monte Cristo very early this season will be possible until access road work shuts it down for safety reasons. At our Winter Social February 1 the Forest Service explained that finishing their new route from the Mowich crossing below Barlow Pass on the Darrington side to its junction with the existing county road near the base of Hap’s Hill (m.p. 2 on the county road) remains to be done. That primarily consists of laying permanent decking on the first of its three long stringer bridges, then construction of the remaining two.
No timetable was given, as their starting date will depend upon snow and soil conditions, along with contractor agreements and arrival of the log stringers.
Until the bridges are done, hikers and bikers will be able to utilize the existing county road. When access ends, there is a possibility that the public will be able to go as far as Twin Bridges and the Gothic Basin trailhead, but that has yet to be decided. We will post the information as soon as it becomes available.
There are other undecided issues. One is how Glacier Creek will be crossed temporarily for equipment to reach the United Companies’ concentrator and other nearby contaminated sites. A second includes final determination of the size and boundaries of the hazardous materials repository. This will be located at the railway switchback below town next to the start of private property and was tested for suitability in 2013.
A new point is the possibility that the removal may be extended into 2015. One option being discussed is to focus on the townsite locations this summer, then the mines in the Jackson Wilderness next year. This would result in a larger capacity two-cell repository rather than one, as each must be permanently sealed at the end of a working season.
Cascade Earth Sciences of Spokane Valley is the prime contractor for the cleanup. They expect the Palm Construction Co. of Winthrop to return as the road and removal subcontractor. Their workers’ camp recreational vehicles will be located near the end of the county road below the Monte Cristo campground and may also utilize neighboring private land. Cultural resources subcontractor is ASM Affiliates of Stanwood, which will have on-site observation and monitoring to reduce damage to physical remains and artifacts. They already have been working to protect the old Sauk River wagon road.
Access to the Rainy mine, which is on the right bank of Glacier Creek upstream from the concentrator, will require construction of a temporary road to its portal and tailings pile. This is across the creek from the Pride/Mystery terminal and bunkers on the townsite side, also slated for cleanup.
STATE CLEANUP ALSO CONTINUES
Overseeing the federal cleanup to ensure it meets state laws, the Washington State Department of Ecology also is conducting its own studies and monitoring plan. For the past several years its teams have been conducting field research to evaluate the project’s effect on terrestrial and aquatic life forms, including plants and insects this past summer. Aquatic work is just beginning. Its area extends downstream below Monte Cristo Lake almost to Elliott Creek. Background and site sampling have been going on to establish base lines for comparison as materials are exposed, removed, and replaced with covering and new plantings. Monitoring by both agencies is expected to last for decades. Meanwhile, their first lab results are expected in late spring.
Mark your new 2014 calendar for Saturday February 1. That will be our annual Winter Social potluck and gathering to meet, greet, and learn more about plans for the forthcoming hazardous materials cleanup scheduled for this coming summer at Monte Cristo. Last year’s event was highly popular and extremely informative, a chance to ask questions and receive answers from Forest Service and state DOE folks in charge. We will return to The Barn at Jennings Park, 6915 Armar Road, in Marysville. Our potluck meal starts at 5:30 p.m., with program to follow. Please bring along a food item to share, while we will provide drinks and utensils. More information and reminders will be coming up.
The mild weather to date has allowed hikers to visit the townsite late this fall. No appreciable storm or flood damage has occurred, but of course that can change overnight. Wet and freezing weather make footing hazardous, as can high water at creek and river crossings. Please check weather forecasts and condition updates before making your trip.
Of concern has been a rash of vehicle trailhead break-ins and vandalism in the area. From Mt. Pilchuck to Barlow Pass cases of smashed windows, theft, and tire slashing recently have been reported. Suspects have been detained, but it is too early to confirm that the crimes have ceased. Take precautions, and report to the sheriff any suspicious activity.
Check your mailbox or click on the Newsletter link to read our current MCPA newsletter. This month’s issue features a wrap-up of the season, along with the final installment of the 1902 article from “The Coast” magazine describing a railroad trip to Monte Cristo in the summer of 1902 when the second round of mining activity was well underway. Its description of the ore processing at the concentrator and Everett smelter are especially valuable.
NEED A HOLIDAY GIFT IDEA?
Give a membership in MCPA to someone who would appreciate that thoughtfulness, or check our photo CD or t-shirts. Order and membership forms are at the end of the Newsletter.
The storms which ended September also ended our working season for
Monte Cristo. We had hoped for another day in the town site, but over
eight inches of rain have made the new access road impassable at its
upper end. Based on river guage readings downstream, water also was
flowing well over the crossing log above Twin Bridges.
On Thursday October 3 the road contractor will be pulling out his
crew and equipment. They have finished the first of three bridges on
the middle section of the new road, meeting their goal and indicating
good progress toward finishing when next working season begins. The
road will be closed and gated until soils dry out late next spring.
Thank you to the Forest Service and contractors who have made this
late access possible, and thanks too to those members and friends who
joined in making Monte as ready for winter as possible.
A note to autumn hikers: All our interpretive signs now have been
removed and stored until after the hazmat cleanup. This makes
visualizing what used to be there a century ago that much harder, but we
need to preserve these assets for 2015. If you would like one of our
townsite brochures as an aid, we have a very limited number left but
would be glad to send you one. Let us know.
On Saturday September 21 MCPA volunteers in 4×4 vehicles were convoyed in to Monte Cristo by the hazmat cleanup project head Tim Otis and his wife. We had the opportunity to view progress on the new three mile access road being constructed for the cleanup plus spend time readying the town area for winter and forthcoming public exclusion. While the first and last portions of the new route utilize previous road grades, the middle section is entirely new. As it adds additional hills, rises, and dips with little appreciable elevation gain, it would not surprise us to see reduced numbers of hikers and cyclists using the now 10 mile round trip when it is done.
To date little improvement has been accomplished on the two miles of existing county road from Hap’s Hill onward. Minor widening and removal of a small stump were done where river erosion has dug out a hole in the grade and exposed rails from the old Everett & Monte Cristo/Hartford Eastern Railway. Focus has been to construct the first of three bridges which will be required for the new middle section. When that is done sometime in early October work will be suspended until next season and the area closed to public access.
The 16 adults and two boys made excellent use of their time in town before the convoy headed back down the South Fork Sauk River valley. All MCPA interpretive signs were brought in, photographed, inventoried, and stored. Drainage bars were rebuilt to protect Dumas Street and other public paths. Major brushing was done from the end of the road through the old parking lot/railway yards and turntable (which still works). Broken windows from recent vandalism to a Forest Service cabin were boarded up. Blown down logs blocking Glacier Street were removed.
Our thanks to the U.S. Forest Service for allowing this opportunity, and thanks too to those who came out on such short notice to see the new route and take a probable last look at historic locations before they are affected by next year’s removal of hazardous wastes.
We were just informed that there will be a tour for MCPA folk into the townsite on each of the following Saturdays: September 21 and 28 and October 5. This will allow us to see progress on the new access route and have some time to work on readying the area for this winter and next year’s exclusion for the hazardous materials cleanup. If you would like to join us and help out, please let David Cameron know at firstname.lastname@example.org or (360) 793-1534 by Thursday the 19th for this weekend, as we need to have a count by then. We will meet at Barlow Pass at 9 a.m. Saturday, follow a contractor’s pilot truck, and leave Monte Cristo at 4 p.m. the same way. This will be passable only by four-wheeled drive vehicles, so the count is important for passenger space. Bring along lunch, drinking water, suitable clothes for the weather, and tools for brushing or tread work.
A change in route has made this access possible. Instead of intersecting the current county road atop Hap’s Hill at M.P. 2, it will instead follow Forest Service road #6714 to its junction with the the county road just before the base of the hill. This reduces the amount of new construction impacts, but retains the troublesome approach near the camping area, which is highly susceptible to washing out.
Contractor work is expected to end by mid-October with the onset of fall rains and snow. Conditions change within the day, especially with storms and swiftly rising river levels.
On Monday September 16 we will meet with Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes and hazmat On-Site Coordinator Joe Gibbens to discuss our need for transporting work party volunteers into Monte Cristo to prepare for the exclusion. We hope to be able to finish taking down and storing the interpretive signs, maintain drainage and trail treads, and brush as much as possible along Dumas Street, the turntable, and the town site. Results of the meeting will be posted as soon as we know them.