Monday, September 28, 2009

2009 Hike on Mount Rainier to Camp Muir

Mount Rainier is the highest peak in the state of Washington and a National Park. Every year thousands of people climb it. Although I have always wanted to climb the mountain, it is a fairly large commitment in time (conditioning for the trip) and money (guide service + equipment), so I set a goal that is a fair bit more attainable: hiking to Camp Muir. Camp Muir is the base camp for most climbers of Mount Rainier, and at just above 10,000’ it is the highest point you can hike on the mountain without a climbing permit.

Every year I say I’m going to hike Mount Rainier to Camp Muir, but in the past ten years I have only done this trip 3 times (2003, 2006 and again this year). This year I brought my wife, her sister and husband (who hiked it with me in 2006). In the past we would get up at 3 a.m. drive to Paradise on Mount Rainier at 5,400’, and start hiking hopefully by 7 a.m. but usually closer to 8 a.m.. This year to avoid the super early wake up, and hopefully get an earlier start we stayed at the National Park Inn; a lodge inside the park 8 miles from Paradise at Longmire.

Unfortunately a late wake up and the lure of a hot breakfast at the Longmire lodge pushed our start time on the hike to 8:30 a.m.. Lack of snow meant the path up the mountain was going to be very icy or very rocky. Finally the approach to Camp Muir involved negotiating numerous crevasses, further slowing us down. In the end the hike took us 8 ½ hours, combined with one hour spent at Camp Muir and a wrong turn on the way down, the 9+ mile round trip was 9 ½ hours.

The hike follows excellent trails for the first 2 ½ miles. Then the trails promptly ends at an area called the Muir Snow field. There you begin your travel on snow following a compass heading and other people’s tracks. Before long the snowfield ends and the glaciers begin. Our group lacked crampons so we opted to travel on the rock fields as much as possible rather than travel on the steep icy glaciers. (In 2003 I had a friend slip on the glaciers while coming down. He slid several hundred feet before coming to a stop. The rough ice ripped up his leg, and the bacteria on the glaciers caused him to get a rather nasty infection in the wound).

Despite the long day the trip was well worth it. Our long hike was rewarded with amazing views of Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens and in the distance Mount Hood in Oregon.