The road to Camp Muir often draws a lot of comparisons to more accessible training grounds like Mailbox or a power run up Mount Si, but Mt. Rainier is a different beast altogether. There are going to be more things at work sapping your strength and will on Tahoma, whether it be the altitude, the weather, the emotional strain of watching a seven year old with boundless energy blow by you on the snowfield like they’ve running up an escalator at the mall, or the sun discovering new and creative ways and places to burn you (can you get sunburn on the roof of your mouth? If you can, I’m claiming I did, because eating was unpleasant for the rest of the evening).
This is Washington’s largest peak, so it stands as fairly obvious advice to say this is no walk in the park to make it to 10,000 feet, but I’m still going to say it regardless - don’t underestimate this hike on any front, from conditioning to supplies and weather prep - if you do, the mountain can be brutal. The good news is that Rainier will often go out of its way to remind you that you are on a 14,000 foot volcano, mostly by just being a 14,000 foot volcano, which is warning enough. If that’s not enough, you will constantly be reminded of this fact, as the higher you go, the more exhausted weather-beaten summiters (well done by the way) you will encounter, being willed down the mountain by their guides, the prospects of food and soft sleeping surfaces only seeming to keep them on their feet. However, as most know, if you take your time, set a slow and steady pace, get a good stretch of weather and are well prepared, you should do fine with this challenging day hike.
That being said, what a day it was to be on Rainier. We headed out from the Paradise parking lot about 12:45pm with beautiful weather and clear skies. The trail was mostly dry until you get to the Muir Snowfield, but you will still run into periodical patches of snow along the way (you should be able to get by without traction devices until Pebble Creek though). Also note that part of the Skyline Trail was closed for restoration, but the diversion only adds about 10-15 minutes to the ascent (the longer delay will likely occur on the road to Paradise, where summer construction just after the Nisqually entrance can add 30-40 minutes to your commute, so factor that into your arrival time).
When you finally get to the Muir Snowfield, you will find that it contains the kind of thin crunchy snow that doesn’t make it particularly fun to hike up or slide down, which as far as I’m concerned defeats the purpose of snow. Either way, unless you have a trash bag, it’s not prime glissading conditions right now (if you’re really tired, I guess you can roll down the hill, but I wouldn’t advise it as people are likely to stare, silently judge you or assume you need help. And again, it’s a 14,000 foot volcano with crevasses and moulins, so probably best to stay on your feet when you can).
We made it to about 9,000 feet with Camp Muir in sight and called it a day due to a late start and a just-returning-from-vacation level of conditioning. We will come back at some point this summer to make the camp officially. It’s a taxing hike, but there are times, especially when you hit the snowfield, that you forget you started the day in an apartment that has non-pit toilets and next day shipping from Amazon, and not some climbing shack nestled into the Himalayas. It seems like a place far far away when you approach the summit and hear the peak groan as the ice and rock crack and flake away under the scrutiny of the summer sun. You can’t help but stop and sit, expecting David Attenborough to step out from behind a boulder and start his narration of the grand mountain. A most impressive sight indeed.