Camp Muir

Camp Muir Part 2 - If At first you don't succeed, just go hike Mount St. Helens

After some blistering forecasts this past weekend, we were lucky to catch perfect weather for heading up to Camp Muir. This was a pleasant surprise as lately we have run headfirst into some pretty gruesome weather on our hikes (I won’t name any names, but a certain Skamania County volcano may never be getting a Christmas card from me again).

We left paradise around 1:45pm. The Skyline Trail was bustling as always and was crowded until Glacier Vista, where the foot traffic generally tends to thin out. The marmots were out snacking in the meadows and while the wildflowers have paled, they still provide wonderfully scenic landscapes for your trip up the mountain.

When we broke off the Skyline Trail for Pebble creek, we heard some reports of crevasses opening up on the Muir snowfield. We didn’t end up encountering any of those troubling fractures, but supposedly they were appearing east of Muir, so keep your eyes out for those when making your ascent.

Even though we were heading up later in the day, the snow on the field wasn’t too soft. There were still some nice sets of stamped tracks to follow, which contributed heavily to making this hike more bearable. If you’re doing a lot of sloshing and slipping on the snowfield, it’s really going to take a toll on you. Evidence of which can be seen in the collection of tired, dazed souls taking refuge on the rocks, a feeling I know all too well from last year.

I was using poles and trail crampons for the snowfield, but you could probably get by kick stepping with poles if you forgot your traction devices or just want to look like an old pro. To reiterate every trail report ever on Muir, sunscreen, a good pair of sunglasses and an overabundance of water are essential on the snowfield (Having a GPS on an overcast or foggy day when the markers are harder to see is also a good idea).

We made Camp Muir by 6:00pm. Everyone at the camp looked pretty exhausted, but they were also pleasant and welcoming. I know it’s a regular commute for a lot of the guides and seasoned climbers, but I was excited to finally make it up there. This was a hike I’ve wanted to check off my list since I arrived in Washington. I probably won’t take a shot at the summit until next summer, but it was still an intoxicating feeling to be at 10,000 feet. I had a strong (and very ill-advised) desire to try to sneak into one of the departing summit teams and see how long it would take for them to notice and shoo me out of the towline.

It was getting late, so we didn’t linger too long and after some rest and light snacking, we headed back down. With the sheer exhaustion of the hike, glissading down the snowfield is always inviting, but our garbage bag diaper glissading provided mixed results and less than stylish summer looks. We made it back to the car by 8:45pm to round out a challenging but rewarding seven hours on the mountain.

Overall, this was not as excruciating as our first attempt at Muir and a big part of it was having proper gear, better conditioning and friendlier weather. Also, it was such a cakewalk compared to the death march that was Mount St. Helens. But I was proud of our group. Some of our team’s pre-hike conditioning for the week had been limited to beer and pontoon boats, but everyone made it to Muir and back in one piece, and no one threatened to quit nature or steal the keys and try to make a break for the car. Not even once.

I’m sure at some point I will take up more sedentary hobbies that don’t leave me hobbled the next day, but until then, the mountains remain a bit of an obsession. And to borrow an overused John Muir quote, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”


Recommended reading for the trail: Day Hiking Rainier

Soundtrack for the trail: Don't Stop Believing

Original post on WTA

Camp Muir


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.