We were looking for something a bit different and after searching through Hipcamp, found Bumps & Bruzas with sites right on the bank of the Carbon River. Pat was a great host and the site was a welcome change. His property is just outside of Carbonado which has an interesting background.
As settlers poured into the Puget Sound region in the second half of the nineteenth century, extraction industries, including timber and salmon fishing in addition to mining, flourished across the region. In eastern King and Pierce counties, companies developed coal mining operations and communities of workers grew up around the mines. Among these, Carbonado was one of the largest and long-lived of the company towns that came to life between the 1860s and the early twentieth century. Carbonado’s story shares many elements with its contemporaries in the region, including rapid development, labor conflicts, tragic accidents, and inter-ethnic struggles.
Like all mining towns, there were, unfortunately, many accidents and fatalities as a result of the dangerous work being done. Carbonado has the misfortune of being the site of Washingtons’ worst mining disaster.
In 1899 the morning shift arrived at Wingate Hill Mine No. 7 and the foreman gave the signal for “all clear,” indicating the mine was free of flammable gas. Of the 75 miners on the shift, one small team prepared for an explosive charge to dislodge a load of coal for removal.
Just after 11 a.m., a large explosion shook the mine. In the ensuing chaos, miners scrambled to get to safety and begin to rescue injured colleagues if possible. On the surface, the townspeople felt nothing, but those working in the mine nearer the entrance sounded the alarm. Chaos and uncertainty followed but by 9 p.m. the company declared the mine cleared of gas and allowed rescue teams to enter. Rescuers found no survivors; 33 men lost their lives in the explosion.
An investigation ruled that 20 year-old Ben Zedler triggered the explosion when he opened his headlamp to light a pipe, igniting flammable gas and touching off the dynamite charge. Rescuers found Zedler’s body near the blast site, lamp open and a pipe near his body.
The Carbon Rivers source stems from the north side of Mt. Rainier and the likewise named Carbon Glacier. As such it contains a heavy load of sediments such as silt and gravel giving it a milky appearance.
Still, we were anxious to explore the valley and surrounding area including the old abandoned ruins of Melmont; another coal community that once thrived in the valley.
The trailhead is near the Fairfax bridge but parking is very limited so we opted to head upstream to the Manley Moore bridge. It meant a longer hike but easier access to the trailhead.
After we parked and got situated it didn’t take long for us to realize that a small group was missing some of its members. They were on the bridge blowing whistles and calling names, but the roar of the whistle dampened the efficiency of the signals.
As we walked back to the car we asked if there was something we could do to help. Turns out that 3 youngsters had wondered from the group and not returned. Given the time that had elapsed just since we had been in the area, I was worried that the kids might be moving further away from the group rather than closer.
I overheard a couple of the adults discussing striking out after them but they had no means of communication; I suggested that they take our 2-way radios and that they could mail them back to me afterward. We exchanged information and I gave them my radios and we headed back to our car.
However, just leaving without knowing didn’t sit well so we quickly returned and came up with a plan to try and ‘pincher’ the kids. I took one of the adults back to their starting point and we moved upriver while the other team moved downriver. Evidently, the kids were rounded up and all was well. We were relieved but it did scrub our plans for finding the ghost town.
Melmont Ghost Trail
Early the next morning we gave it another try. It was cool and peaceful as we hit the trail. Being a Sunday morning we had the place to ourselves.
Coming from the opposite direction extended our hike to about 4 miles before we finally hit the old ghost town. I’m using the phrase in the popular name sense rather than an actual description. I think it been some time since there was any ‘town’ to explore. Rather we found the walls and foundation of a single building.
By far the best part was searching for the old railroad which Theresa found down a steep embankment opposite the location of the town. By that time the sun was high but we also found a well-hidden waterfall on the opposite bank while we ate our lunch.
Melmont was founded in 1900 when a subsidiary of the Northern Pacific Railway opened a coal mine. They had everything in town from a schoolhouse to a train depot and a hotel. The coal mined was used exclusively by Northern Pacific, but when they switched from steam locomotives to diesel and electric models, the economy of the town was pretty much destroyed.
Now almost nothing remains but its still worth a hike out.