Camp Muir is base camp for climbers wishing to summit Mount Rainier set at 10,188 ft. There are several shelters, a ranger station, climbing guide huts and pit toilets when you arrive. It was originally named Cloud Camp (how fitting) before it was changed to Muir when John summited the mountain in 1888. The unmarked route is 9 miles round trip with a 4,680 ft. elevation gain. You start at the Paradise parking lot at Mount Rainier National Park via the Skyline Trail and then finally through the Muir Snowfield. Muir is notorious for unexpected weather changes, so you can get caught in a white out and literally walk off the edge and die if you don't know your route. This is one of the three non-technical climbs that are on my goals list for this summer, so I was super determined to do it on this weekend because the weather was the most prime. I wasn't afraid of the difficulty, it was just the navigation since I suck at it (currently trying to improve it), so there was no way I was going to attempt this alone. Also, I had never glissaded, so I didn't want to kill myself on the way down. I met two other ladies who have taken some Mountaineers courses, and we were pretty confident in doing it together. We didn't end up finding another person to go with that had experience, so we decided we'd just follow another group if we felt nervous and prayed for a clear route.
Saturday, June 13th, 2015:
The night before, we grabbed burritos from Chipotle in Tacoma and stayed with friend, Jeff Marsh. Jeff was almost going to do it with us but he needed to find a sitter, and it was just a little too last minute, but he generously let us crash the night before at his precious little home. We didn't get to his house till late around 10pm, but he stayed up with us giving us words of wisdom and helped me take out all my useless junk I packed. My pack was a whopping 38 lbs, and I literally couldn't figure out why it was so heavy. I think I ended up just packing way too much food and clothes because I was afraid of freezing to death and getting altitude sickness. But most of the weight was water and clothes I think. A good rule of thumb is to pack 3L for the whole climb, so you don't have to boil water on the way up. Jeff let me borrow his sweet ice axe even thought I had no clue how to use it, but I wanted to carry one so I could look like a poser and take pics. We didn't actually get to bed till a little after midnight and needed to wake up at 4am to drive out to Rainier. Another pro tip is to get a good night's rest the day before a big climb.
On the road up to the park, a deer rammed into the side of Ellie (my car) and took off her side mirror. It was pretty scary because if we were a few seconds behind the deer, I would've hit it and it would've completely totaled my car. PTL. We were all safe but startled. I had no idea what you're supposed to do when you hit a deer, but apparently you should call the cops. I tried texting Jeff but my service cut out. SO, we drove back to see if I could get my mirror but found these crazy rednecks who ended up yelling at me and saying nasty things about how I killed it, except that I didn't. The deer committed suicide because he ran into my car, he was on the ground bleeding and panting, pretty sure it died shortly after. Anyways, it was crazy, but now I know what to do when if I have another run in with a deer. Sorry for the loss of the animal, but Ellie is one step closer to falling more apart.
I haven't went to Rainier in several years, and it was so good to be back. I love this park so much--I really need to get a parks pass. I am unfamiliar with the area, but it is so well maintained and beautiful but with more rules. Maybe one day. I think we started hiking around 7:30am. Pretty much the entire time it is uphill with no flats, not surprised. I definitely knew I'd be slow, my pack was so heavy, and I just wanted to take it easy and not sweat too much. The first part that is actually on the trail is sooo pretty--it's so well taken care of and the wildflowers are EVERYWHERE! And the views of Rainier were spectacular, so close and vivid. As soon as you enter the Snowfield, you just follow packed snow steps the whole time. I was excited to be on the snow. The sun was definitely blazing, so we put on sunscreen periodically. It was also my first time really wearing sunscreen because I've heard it can be crazy up there, so I didn't want to get some gnarly burn. There were tons of people, so I don't think we could've got lost. I loved my pace and knew it was going good. I sweated but it wasn't crazy and wasn't breathing super hard. It took us around 5 hours for the climb up.
I actually didn't know what Muir looked like until I finally saw the huts from afar. After that, it just felt like a long slog until you finally reached it. I started feeling a little sharp pain on my right hip for some reason. Never had that happen before, but it's something I am starting to feel if I'm pushing through the end of a big climb. Anyways, when we reached the huts, it felt like a tent city. There were a bunch of people practicing self-arrest and ropes, hanging out, eating and just loitering. It was interesting. Tons of skiers, snowboarders, day hikers, mountaineers, unprepared azn ladies, pretty much all of the kinds. Not sure what I was expecting, but it was just a little anti-climactic. I immediately ate my burrito, and it was the most amazing thing ever except when all the rice was falling all over the place. After that, we wanted to set up camp and just nap. I talked to some of the rangers who knew a friend of mine, and he told me what our camp options were: up on the snow ridge or down in the ditch. I guess I was afraid of wind at the ridge and didn't really have a shovel to dig up a good spot, so we ended up setting up in the ditch, and I highly regret that decision.
Snow camping with sun is the most relaxing thing ever too. I passed out in my tent and napped like a baby. My feet were throbbing for awhile, but it went away after I woke up. As soon as the sun went behind the mountain, it was FREEZING. I had dinner with the girls and we crawled into our tents. We wanted to wake up for sunset, but were so exhausted that we were like eff it.
Sunday June 14th, 2015:
As usual, I never really sleep while camping because I'm up all at different times during the night taking photos. I remember camp being just SO quiet at like 7pm because everyone hit the sack early for their midnight summits. And all throughout the daytime, people are super loud the whole time. It finally felt peaceful at bedtime. It's kind of hard to find a quiet secluded place at Muir if you're looking for some of that because it's so busy. I woke up to climbers getting ready to summit at midnight--I was observing and most didn't finish getting roped up and ready till after 1am. So that's when I got out of my tent to take photos. When I looked up at my tent, it looked like there was glitter all over it from the frost. It was definitely around 25 degrees. I was super disappointed because there was so much cloud coverage. I took a few whatever shots and then decided to climb up to the main hut area and set my camera out there on intervals hoping the clouds would move apart. Terrified that the wind would blow it off the rocks and shatter my lens, I came back to check on it after an hour, and it was fine. My lens did get covered in condensation so the most recent shots were all foggy. There were only like 1 or 2 shots where you could see the Milky Way, Adams, and St. Helens, success!
I woke up before the sunrise and it was blistering cold. I wore Jeff's huge kitchen mittens and they were awesome. It was SO cold that morning; only a few people were up during the sunrise. I kind of went crazy and took a million photos because you could see all around you, and the light was so good. It was so freezing because it was so clear out. I met the girls at their tent after the sunrise was over, and they wanted to pack out right away. My water in my bladder was frozen over, so I had nothing to drink. It was quite painful packing up when it's so cold out because your fingers literally feel like they're going to break off when you touch all the cold tent poles.
We put on our rain pants and started descending. It was around 7am, so all the snow was still frozen and crunchy, which made it easy on our feet with the spikes, but not so much for glissading. We found a few chutes and Katie taught us how to use the ice axe to control your speed. Glissading is a lot harder than it looks. Since we were sliding down ice, all the bumps and crappy corners hurt so much. We each had some bruises on our bums. It's also really hard to slow down. You have to have a solid grip on your axe, but it's so hard because you're getting tossed around so much. There were several times where I felt like I was going to let go of my axe and impale myself. I did notice that once the sun made the snow a little slushy, it made glissading way better. It's like you have to do it just at the right time, not too icy but not too slushy. Anyways, we finally made it down in 3.5 hours, and it felt awesome to be done. I couldn't believe we just did the thing we did. So proud of these ladies, it was Eileen's first time backpacking, and Katie's first time snow camping. I told them it's good to make your first trips challenging because now you're ready for pretty much anything! I love that.
It was such a cool experience and am so happy I accomplished 1 out of 3 of my goals so early on. I learned so much and am way more confident now in higher altitude. I am pretty determined to summit Rainier in 2017 and want to take the Basic Alpine Climbing course with The Mountaineers next fall. Next up on the list is, Mt. Adams. Who's in?