You don't have to think about it too long to figure out where the name of this peak came from. What would be noteworthy is the manner in which this naming took place over time. The peak has had other names. Early miners called it "Twin Bear Peaks." By 1902 it was being called "Glacier Peak." The Monte Cristo moniker has been in official existence since 1918, thanks to The Mountaineers.
The peak is named after the nearby mining ghost town, which in turn was named for that famous book by Alexsandre Dumas. But why name the town after a character of a book? As the story goes, on July 4, 1889 (115 years ago), prospector Joseph L. Pearsall spotted a glistening streak of ore on a nearby mountain (Wilmans Peak). He was to say, "It is as rich as Monte Cristo." Pearsall placed the first mining claims in the area. Only a few years later the town of Monte Cristo was bustling and the ore was bursting forth from the many adits in the area. Trams carried ores and miners carried 'ores. For more mining history, see the bottom of the Cadet Peak page.
Now back to the peak itself:
With a former name like Glacier Peak, one would expect a fair measure of active glaciation on the peak. This is partially legitimate. The peak has glaciers surrounding it but not mantling it. Three notable glaciers are nearby: the Pride on the east, the Columbia on the southwest, and the Wilmans on the north flank of the ridge leading west (there is also a Mayflower Glacier but it is more on Cadet Peak's flanks). There is also Glacier Basin below the north side. Glacier Basin is one of the most spectacular places in the Cascades that you can get to by trail. The basin is walled in almost completely and stays snowed over longer due to the reduced sunlight over these walls.
The peak is rugged both visually and underfoot. Its rock starts out solid but it soon turns to friable, uncomfortable, sharp breccia. Specifically, the last 200 feet to the summit is some of the worst rock I've ever trod upon. It's looks like huge pillows of loosely conglomerated nuts and bolts.
Monte Cristo Peak is the 4th-highest peak in the area known as the Monte Cristo Group. Only Kyes Peak (7,280+ ft), Cadet Peak (7,186 ft), and Columbia Peak (7,172 ft) are higher.
There is no trail to the top and really no easy route. The easiest route (North Col Route) entails steep snow and a few moves of mid-Class 5. Approaches can be made from the south, east, and northwest. Since I have only done the North Col Route, I will not speak of other routes. However, I will give a general description of the approaches for other routes.
To get to the south side of the peak, the best approach is by way of Blanca Lake and the Columbia Glacier. From the town of Index on Stevens Pass Highway (US-2), drive Index-Galena Road (FR-63) for 15 miles to the Blanca Lake Trail No. 1052 (1,900 ft). Hike the trail three miles to the pass then down the other side to the outlet of the lake (3,972 ft) in 3.5 miles. Cross the outlet and skirt the west side to eventually gain the broad Columbia Glacier above. One can hike NE above the glacier to the Monte Cristo-Kyes Col (c. 6,600 ft).
To get to the east side of the peak there are two approaches. One is by way of the Quartz Creek Trail to Curry Gap then over the long Northeast Ridge of Kyes Peak, crossing the middle portion of the Pride Glacier en route. The other is by way of Cadet Creek to the Pride Glacier. Since this route is all cross-country and arduous, I will omit further mention of it here.
To get to the Quartz Creek Trail No. 1050 drive Index-Galena Road (see above) for 17 miles. In 4 miles the trail reaches Curry Gap (c. 4,000 ft). Turn left (west) and follow the up and down ridge toward Kyes Peak, leaving the ridge when feasible to cross the Pride Glacier WNW to the cliffs below Monte Cristo Peak. The cliffs offer enough breaks to gain the upper east side of the peak. Expect a long day.
For the northwest approach, see the North Col Route page. The first four miles are on old road that's pretty flat (gains only 400 feet in those four miles), so mountain bike is a good choice.
The mountain is located in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness so standard wilderness policy applies. There is also a Trail Park Pass requirement for the Barlow Pass Trailhead (northwest approach) and probably for the Quartz Creek and Blanca Lake trails too. At the town of Monte Cristo much of the land is still private property and the property owners hope that you keep to the designated public areas. That is, stay out of the buildings still standing. Car prowls are also common at Barlow Pass, so beware.
When To Climb
This peak has been climbed in all seasons but the best time would be from May to the first significant snowfalls in autumn. Glacier Basin (c. 4,500 ft) is typically slow to melt out. However, once it does and the snow has gone, the climb up Monte Cristo's north slope would be a very tedious talus affair. Therefore, June might be the best month for making a go at the summit.
2.6 miles from Barlow Pass was Hap's Hill Campground ABANDONED
3.0 miles from Barlow Pass is Silvertip Campground ABANDONED
3.4 miles from Barlow Pass is Sauk Campground (across the river?) ABANDONED
4.2 miles from Barlow Pass just before the townsite is Monte Cristo Campground (an outhouse is available)
The owners of the land around Monte Cristo would prefer you don't camp right in town. Beyond that, there is camping in Glacier Basin, particularly on the 4,680+ ft timbered knoll in the middle of the basin.
Camping is also available at or near Blanca Lake. Curry Gap for the east approach wouldn't be a very aesthetic place to camp. However, a few places along the ridge to Kyes peak would be suitable.