- Ranking: 4/5 Since this route has everything you need to train for climbing the mountain, it holds the top spot for up close and personal views of Mt. Rainier. Also, there is a lot of history here, as many famous mountaineers have been to Camp Muir, the base camp for climbing the mountain. From the camp, you’ll look across the Cowlitz glacier to Cathedral Rocks and see the climbers route to the Disappointment Cleaver route to the the top. Also, you’ll hear rock and ice fall coming off of nearby Nisqually Glacier that cascades down from the top of the mountain.
- Difficulty: 8/10 The way is steep and long, over 4500ft of elevation gain, over 4 miles. You’ll cross snowfields and later in the summer, like this trip, the snow has melted off of the Muir snowfield, and reveals the deep crevasses hidden under the snow, leaving for more challenging route finding across the open crevasse. Also, at 10,100ft elevation, you are high enough to feel the effects of high altitude, so watch for signs of altitude sickness!
Maps: I used the Natl. Geographic map of Mt. Rainier Natl. Park. It’s waterproof and tear resistant. And, of course, the park service hands out paper maps of the trails in the region. The route is well used, and during sunny clear days, the route is fairly easy to follow, once you leave the trails at Pebble Creek. To check for conditions on the mountain, before going, go toMt. Rainier Natl. Park website, and look for conditions on the mountain. Also, check out theClimbing Rangers website on conditions for Camp Muir.
Permits: Only permit you will need, will be the fee that you pay to get into the park, $15.
Camp Muir is situated at the 10,100ft mark, about 4500 ft above the parking lot at Paradise, so naturally, it is a great dayhike for those that want a challenge, or those that are training for climbing the Mountain.
After arriving in the parking lot, I was dismayed to see…Nothing at all! It was completely socked in with heavy fog…Drat!
Normally, this is a dayhike we like to do when there is plenty of snow left on the Muir Snowfield, but I was hoping for more trail views and meadow shots, so it just made more sense to do it at this time of the year. After arriving in the parking lot, I was dismayed to see…Nothing at all! It was completely socked in with heavy fog…Drat!
I almost give up hope, but decide to ask at the ranger climbing station what the weather conditions are further up, and am told that above the 7000ft mark, it is clear and sunny. Good news, so I gear up, and head out into the lingering gray. And, right on schedule, as I get above Pebble Creek and start to tread on snowfields, the fog becomes scattered, giving me first views of the mountain.
At last! Something to take pictures of! Before I know it, the sky has cleared, and looking back, I can see that I am now above cloud cover, only the distant peaks rise above the cover. At the 8000ft mark, there is a large group of people that I stop and talk to, and find out that they are visiting from New Hampshire. Nice to meet you, Mike Wellington! Very nice people and we talk for several minutes, taking pictures, before I head out again.
Everywhere I look, crevasses have opened up, revealing dark maws that gape toothlessly skyward.
At the Muir snow field, I am surprised to see so much open ice, with small rivulets running across its surface, and that’s not all. Everywhere I look, crevasses have opened up, revealing dark maws that gape toothlessly skyward. Wow, now I wish that I had brought crampons, for the slick ice looks treacherous. Carefully, I step onto the ice, and begin in earnest to find safe passage around the crevasses, the largest are close to 3 feet wide, with no bottom in sight.
…I quickly step across the bridge, not wanting to rest my full weight upon either foot…
After walking back and forth along the lips of the widest, I find a couple spots that have small snow bridges across the gaps, and after poking and prodding the crusty snow with my trekking poles to see if it will hold my weight, I quickly step across the bridge, not wanting to rest my full weight upon either foot. This becomes the formula that I follow all across the snowfield, until I reach the safety of Camp Muir.
…the hole does not have vertical sides, either as the snow is cupped out underneath my feet and all around the edges of the hole. I quickly retreat, with heart racing…
However, it is not without incident. At one point, as I’m intently following footsteps that have gone before me, I almost walk right into a gaping hole the size of a manhole! And, I can see that the hole does not have vertical sides, either as the snow is cupped out underneath my feet and all around the edges of the hole. I quickly retreat, with heart racing. If that lip of snow had crumbled…I don’t want to dwell on that.
Sanctuary! I reach Camp Muir, and it is a beautiful day on the mountain. Lots of people have made the sojourn, either as I did for a day hike, or to reach base camp before summiting the mountain. There are several tents pitched on the Cowlitz glacier, and it appears that room at the inn (the warming hut) has also been snatched up. No matter, as I break out my seat cushion, and sit down to admire a view that has been earned.
…I want to be careful, for the last thing that I want is to do the slick rock shuffle across the wet ice, and go skating into a bottomless abyss!!!
Its early afternoon, and several climbing parties have now returned to Camp Muir across the Cowlitz glacier, and I feel a twinge of jealousy, knowing what it feels like to return from a successful bid. Reluctantly, I leave the camp, and the many conversations that are going on around me, and head back downhill. Again, there is no rush to get across the snow field, I want to be careful, for the last thing that I want is to do the slick rock shuffle across the wet ice, and go skating into a bottomless abyss!!! I have already watched several people slip and fall, splashing as they land on their backsides in the slop.
Once across the crevasses and back onto the snow fields below, it’s easy to eat up ground, as you can plunge step, semi-ski (it’s easier when you have big feet like mine!), or glissade down the steep slopes.
The dense cloud/fog cover has not lifted, and I descend once again into it’s midst. It’s unfortunate, for I was hoping to get some pictures of the flowers that decorate the meadows and trailside here at Paradise. After returning to the car, I load gear into the car and head for home.