This trip report covers a multi-night backpack which included Glacier Basin, Silver Lake, and Gothic Basin spanning from Thursday morning until Saturday night. The Monte Cristo ghost town was used as a connection hub for each hike, and it was somewhat of our home base if hammock camping wasn't viable at any of the aforementioned locations.
The first day we chose to hike into Monte Cristo on the main trail from Barlow Pass. The trail is extremely easy-going and popular for all types of recreational enthusiasts. You will see day hikers, backpackers, mountain bikers, and even vehicles heading up the the town! There is a wagon road approximately ~2.5 into the trail which allows vehicle access to the Monte Cristo townsite. Hiking to the townsite will take you upon a 4 mile trail with only 400 feet of elevation gain throughout. The river crossing was easy to negotiate, and we even saw a couple of mountain bikers walk their bikes across the log bridge with minimal difficulty. The established campsites at Monte Cristo are outside of the final bridge to enter the townsite, so be aware of that if you plan to camp here. There are also ample campsites peppered along the river throughout the 4 mile hike into the townsite. Monte Cristo was beautiful as always. Ensure to wander around the bridges and find Dumas St., since this is the most prominent street left in Monte Cristo. It features a vast array of historical artifacts and standing structures.
After eating lunch at the townsite we packed up for Glacier Basin. The trailhead is accessed by crossing the eastern facing bridge into Dumas St. and heading south down Dumas St. until you arrive at a Glacier Basin trailhead sign just past the Comet Mine Terminal. The register isn't much further in from that sign. The trail itself is rough and not well maintained. It's basically a bush wack most of the way, but the first section is well maintained until you start pushing heavily uphill near the main Glacier Creek waterfall section. We chose to stop at the main waterfall section for a snack and photo opportunity as Silvertip Peak was looming heavily in the backdrop. Directly after the snack break we were presented a rope climb up a slanted boulder face. It was just steep and large enough to constitute running a rope down. You'll be glad it's there, especially based on how steep the surrounding drop-offs are. This trail also features so many wildflowers that it's hard to decide exactly where you want to focus your attention. As you're hiking up into the basin you'll be eyeing cathedral mountains with Foggy Peak sitting above. Blueberries and salmon berries were sparse and few between. I'm confident more will ripen later into the season.
As you begin to crest around the hillside and curl west/southwest you'll be following glacier creek directly up to Glacier Basin. Keep your eyes peeled on the opposite hillside as you can find old mining tunnels still open! There is even a section of old mining material and quartz on the trail right as you enter the basin area. Monte Cristo peak greets you from the front while Wilmans Peaks stands guard over the basin with it's daunting razor-sharp peaks. A truly incredible sight to behold. There weren't any critters minus the annoying bugs which would be periodically drained out by the wind. A bug net would serve you well if you intend to camp overnight. We setup our hammock camp and the wind chill definitely made the night much colder than anticipated, but it was a beautiful site nonetheless. The weather changes on a dime up there, and you're basically hanging out right below the clouds if the sun isn't shining. When the sun does shine it will make for extremely dramatic landscapes, so be ready to take some photos! Overall, the trail is steep and challenging. I wouldn't recommend it for beginners or novice hikers. Trekking poles were knee and life-savers on this one. The views are immense throughout the entire hike, and you're sun-exposed for about 90% of the hike up from Monte Cristo to the Glacier Basin. From the Monte Cristo townsite to Glacier Basin you will also travel 2.5 miles (one-way) while gaining 1600 feet of elevation.
The next day we hiked down from Glacier Basin back into Monte Cristo. We left our camp at approximately 9:30 am and the clouds finally lifted since our initial arrival the day before. This made for a proper farewell as we began our 1600 foot descent into the townsite. The hike out was much quicker, and we swiftly arrived back to Monte Cristo for lunch before heading for Silver Lake. After eating lunch at one of the townsite benches we began trekking on the Silver Lake/Twin Lakes trail via Poodle Dog Pass. The trail to Silver Lake isn't as unfriendly as Glacier Basin was, and it utilizes switchbacks opposed to a direct uphill route. You'll meander through switchback forests for a while before the view periodically opens up to Wimans Peaks and Foggy Peak. Not too long after you'll crest over the hill and drop a couple hundred feet into the Silver Lake area. There is a large wooded section which fell victim to forest fire, and this serves as a cautious reminder for everybody. The lake itself is still fairly frozen over, but the ice sheets seem more like thin veneer at this point in the season. We only ran into a couple of day hikers on this trail, and there weren't any signs of backpackers at the lake. After having some snacks we decided the wind chill was too cold to hammock camp, so we enjoyed the sun right on the waterside and counted waterfalls through binoculars for about an hour before packing out and heading back to Monte Cristo for the night. The total trip from Monte Cristo to Silver Lake was ~1.5 miles (one-way) over 1700 feet of elevation gain. After arriving back to Monte Cristo we had another snack break and continued another 1.5 miles north on the Monte Cristo trail to the Silvertip Campground which offers a nicely established fire pit and plentiful hammock and tent options. The surrounding views are expensive and immense for such an easily attainable destination.
On our final morning we awoke with intentions of reaching Gothic Basin, and we were certainly glad to avoid camping at Silver Lake and having to add an extra 1700 feet of declination to our daily hiking regiment. For a side note, somebody stole my blue Black Diamond trekking pole which was posted right next to our toilet/trowel hole. We suspect it was a nearby camper who wandered into our site asking if we were staying or leaving because he wanted that site. Just a reminder that even people in the back country camping areas are shady; although this occurred just 3 miles in on a popular and well-accessed trail where all types of people roam. Nonetheless, somebody willfully took my trekking pole which was a bummer. Anyway, we left our campsite at about 11:30 am to conquer Gothic Basin. A couple hundred feet after crossing the log jam again we followed a shortcut trail which cut west into the forest and circumvented the initial 0.25 miles of the Gothic Basin trail. A good tip to keep in mind if you happen to be traveling the same route. The trail to Gothic Basin is easily one of the roughest trails I've hiked on before. It's well maintained and isn't a bushwhack whatsoever. Unfortunately it's extremely steep and basically goes directly uphill most of the way. We saw groups splitting up at many points since the inclines challenge people in various ways. This is never a good idea to split up, especially on such a difficult and steep trail. We actually had to help summon SOS two months ago for a girl who took an ill-advised route through the snow and ended up sliding down a snow hill and breaking her leg against a tree. Always stay together no matter your ability!
Gothic Basin will trick many hikers into believing this is an easy hike due to the low mileage, but that's far from the truth. This is the most difficult hike in the Monte Cristo area, but it's well worth the painstaking effort. I've never witnessed such a majestic work of art in my life such as the Gothic Basin. The most disappointing part was knowing we had to hike back down to the car before dark. It was simply too windy and far too cold for hammock camping in the basin, and the trees are very small. We saw many tent camps established among the basin area. When you initially enter the basin you can climb the hillside to your right and receive sweeping panoramic views of Gothic Peak, Foggy Pass, Del Campo Peak, Silvertip Peak, and the Gothic Basin leading down into Weeden Lake below. The initial lake that you are greeted with is just Gothic Lake, and Gothic Peak sits right above the backside of it. The entire basin is snowed out, and many of the connector trails require a moderate trek through snow to continue through the basin area. Some trails are snow free, but there will be snow crossings if you want to explore further. Due to our timing and schedule we decided to find a campsite near the entrance and have lunch. We enjoyed the views and nourished ourselves while playing a couple rounds of mountainside Uno. The entire group agrees that Gothic Basin definitely constitutes a two-day backpack with a trip to Weeden Lake in addition to Foggy Lake. The route up to Foggy Pass was well packed with snow, and you could see line markings from people glissading down the pass back into the main basin area. We hiked back down the trail and the only truly difficult part to navigate is the final creek crossing which presents a dropoff about 4-5 feet down in the creek. We ended up going above the main crossing section and scrambled down a rock face instead. Either way be very careful in these sections, and know your limits. The trail was blooming with flowers of all sorts, but the berries were sparsely scattered throughout. We arrived back at the trailhead to a darkly lit forest and fleeting daylight. The final mile to the car was hiked in ominously dark woods which was a nice cap on the entire experience. From the beginning of the actual trailhead we covered 3.6 miles over 2800 feet. Much steeper than Glacier Basin or Silver Lake.
In the entirety of the trip we traveled a total distance of ~21.2 miles and covered a total elevation (between ascents and descents) of 10,340 feet. I would gladly do this hike again, but I would probably cut out Silver Lake and spend more time in Glacier Basin and Gothic Basin. Monte Cristo is an awe-inspiring area and I truly thank the volunteers of the MCPA for keeping this area preserved, pristine, and accessible for all of us.