Monte Cristo Peak - North Col (attempt), September 2001
Intrigued by the history behind the now virtually non-existent Monte Cristo townsite, I decided to experience the area for myself and climb the town's namesake peak located at the end of the valley. The route to Monte Cristo Peak involves a 4-mile bike ride from Barlow Pass to the old townsite. It used to be a mining mecca sometime in the late 1800's. Following natural and economic disasters, the town closed down in the early 20th century, leaving behind an eery collection of deserted shacks and mining equipment (some people still live up there today). With all the natural vegetation having reclaimed so much of what once was, it is hard to imagine that a town existed here at all. Frustrated by my previous failed attempt only less than a month earlier (poor weather), I returned to climb Monte Cristo. It was a crisp September morning when I arrived at Barlow Pass and started pedaling my bike. This time, I would encounter two others on bikes headed to Glacier Basin and a hiker whose destination was Blanca Lake. Aside from that, however, I would once again be completely alone.
The going up the loose rock/scree rib was worse than I had remembered. With the only remaining snow now locked deeply within the shady recesses up near the base of the summit, I spent most of my time scrambling up, over and around a crazy rock maze. Being already late September, the snow had turned to ice and had melted away from the walls of the main gully I was ascending, forming strange ice caverns and walls. I cut steps into the ice wall so that I could gain the main frozen snow ramp leading to the final scramble up the summit rocks. I carefully made my way up the steepening ice and became increasingly aware of the potential for serious injury should I loose my footing on the ice.
I stopped at a point just before retreat would have been difficult, if not extremely unsafe without sharp tools and protection. Not yet prepared to admit defeat, I proceeded to chop more steps through the steep ice and worked my way to the relative security of rock a short distance away. Nearing the rock wall, however, I discovered that the ice had melted away from the rock and I was in fact working my way up an ever-thinning ledge of ice which would most likely break and fall to the rocks below under my weight. I wisely retreated and thus lived to climb another day.
No more than 100ft below the summit, I was able to savor views to the northwest including Wilmans, Gothic, Del Campo, Sperry, Big4, and Gemini peaks, left to right. Montecristo Peak itself will have to wait for another day...
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