A Hiking Guide to Camp Muir
DATE HIKED: 5/11/19
TOTAL DISTANCE/ASCENT: 8 MILES AND 4,640 FT
HIGHEST POINT: 10,080 FT
DIFFICULTY: VERY DIFFICULT
REQUIRED PERMIT: DAY HIKE NO/ CAMP YES
DOG FRIENDLY: NO
LOCATION: MT. RAINIER NATIONAL PARK
RECREATION PASS: NATIONAL PARK PASS
This was my third time up to Camp Muir, so I thought I would write up a trail guide for it! This is an amazing day hike that is challenging, beautiful and leaves you dreaming of the summit.
Camp Muir is the base camp to summit Mt. Rainier. To get to base camp requires different skills in different seasons. In prime summertime, microspikes and hiking poles are sufficient enough. In winter conditions, one would want skis or snowshoes, crampons and an ice axe. This trip, we brought all the winter essentials, being not quite sure what we would come across. There is one steep section going up to Camp Muir, but the rest is long snow fields.
Even if you aren’t planning to summit, you can spend the night at Camp Muir, something I haven’t done yet. Permits can be acquired through the ranger station for this.
One last note about this hike- I have seen this hike come up as one of the top 10 dangerous hikes in the country. In white out conditions it can be easy to get off the main route and travel on to a glacier. The glaciers have crevasses where people have fallen in and died. It is important to bring some kind of navigation tool with and know how to use it if these conditions were to occur. I always download the route onto Gaia ahead of time to track that I am following the correct route.
May is a tricky month for hiking in Washington. There is still a lot of snow in the high country, which we were fully prepared for planning to go to 10,000 feet. We wanted an early start to get the best chance of firm snow to climb up in. We left Seattle at 2:30 AM and arrived to Paradise after 5:00. The rest of our group met up with us and we were on trail by 6:00 AM. I carried out 4L of water, snowshoes, crampons, an ice axe and lots of snacks.
The part up to Panorama Point is the steepest part of the climb. We put on our crampons and took out our ice axes. Both were overkill for the conditions and good bootpack, but it was still good practice. Microspikes would’ve been fine in this section.
This hike really becomes a mental battle. There is so much up and it always feels like you are never getting closer. I started to feel some of the altitude around 8,500-9,000 feet. I felt nauseous and super exhausted. We took our second break going up and I ate and drank liquids. When we began again I felt much better.
We reached Camp Muir at 11:30, so it took us 5.5 hours to get up. It was very cold and windy. We stayed for an hour and explored the area. Right beyond Camp Muir, there are crevasses right away so do not travel too far without a rope on. It was so fun to see climbing groups coming down after a successful summit. You could feel the mountain joy in the air.
After eating lunch, we donned our glissade outfits (rain pants, rain shell, waterproof gloves). I put away the camera and took out the ice axe. There were actually quite a few good glissade shoots to go down. The snow was soft, so it was easy to control speed. In-between glissade shoots, there was lots of postholing going on. Not enough to want to take out the snowshoes between each run though. With glissading, it is important to use an ice axe to control speed and know how to stop yourself if need be. The glissade shoot off of Panorama Point was the steepest one, which I made sure to keep good control of my speed going down. After that, we put on our snowshoes for the last 1.5 mile hike out. It took us only 2 hours to get down with all of the glissading. During this time I wasn’t as good about putting on sunscreen like on the way up and my cheeks got a bit burnt. Even with snowshoes on, the last bit was super slippery and mushy snow.
We got back to the car at 3:30 to a crazy busy, bustling parking lot. It is nearly summer and it looked like it with the crowds.
Every day on Mt. Rainier is a good day, but when the weather is perfect and all the mountains are out, it is an amazing day. I love this hike for it’s physical and mental challenge and great conditioning. The views make it a little less painful too.
Going to base camp always makes me think about if I am ready to make the next push to the summit. After a couple days at home, I would say yes. I would love to make that last 4,000 foot push to the summit. I’ve walked around the mountain, and now it’s time to make it to the top.