Mazama Ridge Snow Camping
You can reference my first time snow camping at Rainier further back, but this time I was ready to explore a different area than the first time and bring my husband on his first snow camping adventure. My friend Nate graciously invited us to go with his group since we all had planned on going to Rainier the same day anyways. The goal was to hike to the Mazama Ridge area and camp up there.
Permits/ where to start: You drive to Longmire first and it is best to get there at 9:00 when they open to get the permits right away. Many other people had the same idea as us, but getting permits for our group of 10 was no problem.
other random notes about snow camping:
- you need to use a "blue" bag to do your #2 business (the rangers will provide this)
- pay attention to where you can and cannot camp (there are very few limitations actually)
- permits are free
- you need to put your food in a bear canister (mice, foxes and birds are still a problem in the winter)
At this point in the morning it was pouring out and I was nervous it would continue as we started our hike. * sidenote- you also need to carry chains for your car in the winter up the road to paradise, we didn't need to put them on but had them with. We made the long drive up to paradise and parked in the overnight parking section. We donned our big packs, snowshoes and hit the road. The skies cleared up, the mountain came out and we had perfect weather! To get to the mazama ridge area you have to hike down the road past Paradise. You go down the road a bit and then the climb starts. We hiked 2.5 miles to our campsite- past mazama ridge a bit and to a bowl area. The hike up was really hard with a heavy pack and snowshoes, but the short discomfort was worth the amazing views. We ate lunch, set up camp and enjoyed the beautiful weather. We brought a shovel incase needing to build a base for our tent, but the snow was pretty compact and windblown, so we didn't need to dig out a platform. Some in our group built snow trenches that were so freaking cool. Some day I will learn to build one and sleep in it!
After camp was set up the snowshoers set off to explore the area around and the skiers in the group did as well. We hiked up in the bowl a bit and did about a mile and came back to camp. Taking in amazing views of Mt. St. Helen's, Mt. Adam's and Mt. Hood.
After getting back to camp we relaxed, ate dinner and enjoyed the early sunset. That is the one really hard part of snow camping.. the early darkness. It was dark by 4:30 or so. The sunset was spectacular though as the colors kept changing across the mountainsides. This is one of the true highlights of snow camping- seeing sunsets and sunrises in places you don't normally get to in the winter. After the light went away it was hard to stay up very late at all. Everyone was in there tents by 7:30. I wasn't tired or cold at this point, so I stayed up for another hour playing around with night shots. Something I am still learning on the new camera. I felt so at peace being the only one outside with Mt. Rainier. No sounds. Just the millions of stars. Pure bliss.
I didn't sleep that well because I normally don't outside and I only got a little cold. My first time snow camping I got miserably cold at night and almost sworn off ever doing it again. One thing that fixed this issue was bringing a second sleeping pad- the z-lite foam one. I used that plus my inflatable one and it really helped a lot. I woke up at around 7 and saw the first light was coming out so I hurried out of the tent to get ready for sunrise. The light slowly filled the sky and Rainier bursted with pink colors waking up the mountain. We made coffee, had breakfast and enjoyed the slow start to the day. The rest of the group would stay to play in the snow more, but we needed to make it back to Seattle so we packed up camp and headed out. We could not have had more perfect weather for snow camping and glad we got to go with a new group and make new friends.
I think every 3 season backpacker should make the jump to snow camping, in the ideal conditions. The experience of being able to camp almost anywhere in a national park that you otherwise can't in the summer, is such a unique experience. I think more people should take advantage of this and snow camp at Mt. Rainier. There are definitely more places I want to go to snow camp, but how can you beat these views?!