Day Hike Brand Ambassador, Christina, escaped to Mount Rainier to visit Camp Muir. While snow is still speckling trails near and far, it’s hard to beat these views no matter the condition (as long as you’re safe)! Enjoy #TwoBeersInTheWild at your next summit and share with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
Region: Mt. Rainier
Difficulty of Hike: Difficult
Distance Round Trip: 8.5 miles
Did you encounter any of the following on your hike? Snow
Road conditions to trailhead: Road suitable for all vehicles
Bugs: No bugs
Trail Condition: Trail buried under snow
Distance from Seattle: 3 hours
Everyone should really do this hike once, for many reasons, whether it be for the awesome views, bragging rights, or getting as up close and personal with Mount Rainier as one can get without summiting. That said, once may be enough for most.
This hike starts from Paradise. Normally you just take the path behind the visitor’s center to Panorama Point and then follow the signs up to Camp Muir. However, as of last Saturday when we did this, there is no path because all of the area is still completely covered by snow. This means you will be hiking all 8 miles in snow, instead of half that, which is usually the case. Prepare accordingly. This hike requires solid preparation, physically, mentally, and gear-wise.
We were camping relatively close by off of 410, but the drive was still 1.5 hours. We arrived around 5am to the first light making its way into the sky. We used the restrooms and then started a little before 530. *note: ideally, you should start more like 4:30. By our descent, we wish we had, due to the ice cream-like texture of the snow…* We took awhile contemplating where to be start and where to go. We assumed that on a perfectly clear Saturday, we would have others to follow, but we were the only people around. We followed some boot prints (which were hard to distinguish because of dimples in the snow from melting) in the general direction that we remembered the trail to Panorama Point to follow. Though we had no cell service, we still could see the route on Google Maps and saw we were on the right path. As we continued, things got a little easier to navigate.
As the sun rose, the light started to illuminate the tip of Mount Rainier ahead of us. We stopped a lot to look at Tatoosh Range behind us turning pink and orange. The first mile or so isn’t too strenuous. Just before Panorama is a super steep section. Crest that and continue on a couple more steep sections. We finally could see one person ahead of us in the distance and another behind us. It felt kind of neat to have a place like this almost to ourselves. The benefits of alpine starts! Once at PP, you can walk out to the Point or just continue past the restroom. We stopped frequently for water and to have snacks. We found that constantly fueling a little bit kept us going. After Panorama Point, it’s just one big undulating snowfield for the last two miles. Just keep slogging away! Eventually, you will see the huge rock formation on the right that is around 9,000 ft and with that you know you are almost there… If you have to answer nature’s call, there aren’t too many places with privacy. There are some rocks at first about 30 feet from the main “trail” but they don’t provide much height. You kind of just have to time things right between climbers, who mostly likely will not be looking at you as they struggle up the snow. And don’t forget to turn around! We had a crystal clear day. We could see Mount Adams, Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens perfectly.
The last 1,000 vertical feet isn’t the steepest but you will begin to feel the elevation kick in. For me, my heart beat faster with less exertion. We kept looking for the Camp, but didn’t know what we were looking for, so by the time we saw it, we were only 300′ vertical away! Yippee! We made it and watched summiteers mill around camp and sat with some other day hikers on a mound overlooking it all.
We didn’t spend too much time at the top for the fear of the melting snow. Turns out it didn’t much matter. At first going down was fun because, the snow was more solid at the top. But a thousand feet down, you were just kind of sliding and by the end it was like skiing. It made it hard to stay upright–I fell probably 20 times but it’s more like toppling over the side into a snow pile. It doesn’t hurt and at least my joints didn’t ache like the normally do from the downhill pounding on solid ground. There are also some glissades that we didn’t really feel 100% comfortable because we didn’t have ice axes, but we saw lots of folks do it without. The snow was slushy enough to not go too quickly. The very steep section after PP though, is a steep glissade. I regret not going down it. My partner did. I struggled down the slushy steep part we had climbed up earlier and started my own glissade by slipping and falling and sliding, but this was not as fun as there several boulders in my path. Eventually I made it down this part and the end couldn’t come quick enough.
It took us longer to ascend than we thought, about 5 hours, but we took several water, food, and bathroom breaks. It took about 3 hours to descend and we spent about 40 minutes at the top.
- Sunscreen every exposed section, especially under your chin and nose. Wear a Buff if you have one to cover your face and a hat. We kept our long sleeves on the whole time except when we stopped at the top.
- Spikes and gaiters helped on the way up, but your boots and socks will get soaked on the way down. Bring poles.
- Drink a ton! It’s easier to dehydrate at higher altitudes and in the sun! Remember to replenish
electrolytes. Drinking too much water will cause hypoxia which can be just as dangerous. nuun tablets in water and Gu gels are great. Hydrate a ton the day prior as well.
- Be prepared for wind. The forecast said calm to 5mph wind, but we encounter 15-20mph at our faces from Paradise to about 8-9,000 feet (ironically no wind at Muir). It certainly slowed us down and made things semi-miserable.
- Eat often!
- Be familiar with the signs of altitude sickness and know when to turn around if you start feeling it. The camp will always be there for you to come back.
- Arrive early.
- Check the weather for both Paradise and the Camp. The temp is about 15-20 deg different between the two. Layers are key.
- Have fun and take lots of photos