Mt. Rainier Hiking

So back to my stay in Washington… I didn’t have too much planned when I arrived in Seattle earlier in the week.  I have a couple friends who live there so I had a place to crash.  In fact, I had my own room and a real bed.  Since I’ve been to Seattle several times, I wasn’t interested in checking out the usual touristy places.  I was looking for something really different and my friend Miguel, who I was staying with, suggested I attempt a hike to Camp Muir. It serves as base camp for climbers attempting the summit of Mt. Rainier.  Although the summit requires some training and technical gear, the hike to Muir can be done in a day if you start early enough and don’t develop altitude sickness on your way to the 10,000 ft camp.  I started researching it, and the more I read, the more I wanted to try the hike.  With good hiking boots, food, water, adequate clothing and perhaps a hiking stick, it can be done.  I’ve been doing a lot of hiking and general urban walking on my trip.  I hiked to several peaks in Colorado, Utah, Southern Cali, and Oregon, so felt ready to make the attempt. I’m good about listenting to my body, so I figured if the altitude or cold weather got to me, I’d bail.

I set out with my day bag containing plenty of water, Cliff Bars, extra clothes, and a first aid kit. The drive to the park was a little over 2 hours from Seattle, but then it took another 30 minutes to reach the trail head for the hike to Camp Muir.  During the summer months, it’s possible to see Rainier from downtown Seattle, but it’s about 100 miles away.  Even on a clear day, it doesn’t take much haze on the horizon to obscure it.  However, upon arrival in the park, there’s no avoiding it… it’s right there and easily the most gorgeous mountain I’ve seen up close.  You’re greeted with fields of wildflowers and tall evergreen trees along with the Cascade mountains as a backdrop.

And Mt. Rainer itself, of course.It’s 5,000 ft of vertical elevation to Camp Muir from the trailhead and all uphill.  It levels out a bit in some places, but you’re always climbing.  After the first 1,000 ft, you get to the point where there’s still snow on the ground.  It’s a novelty to see in August, and I couldn’t resist making a snowball.  I was making really good progress and felt like I might be moving too fast.  I got behind a group that had hired a guide to make it to the summit.  They had 60-80 lb packs, so were trudging along slowly.  They offered to let me pass, but I figured I’d take my time since I had started early enough.  We hit a few patches of snow followed by more rocky trail, but eventually, we reached the Muir Snowfield.  After about half a mile, I wondered aloud if the snow ended, and learned that we’d have snow until we reached base camp… another 2 and half miles up 2,500 ft of elevation.

With the snowy and very steep terrain, I really wished I had a pair of those hiking sticks I saw everyone else using.  I didn’t know there would be this much snow to climb.  I was about to stop, and got out of the way of the other climbers, but then someone offered to let me use one of his sticks.  He assured me he’d be fine with one, and I was so grateful because it allowed me to continue.

It’s just a series of one steep hill after another.  There’s a sense of accomplishment when you reach the top of one, but then you look up and see nothing but more of the same ahead.  The snow had ceased to be a novelty, and I had the same feeling people in Ohio have about snow in February.  We stopped to take a break with about 1,000 ft of vertical elevation to go, and I was still feeling great…
I’m sure all the climbing I’ve done lately helped.  I really just wanted to get to the camp at this point, so after our brief break, I charged up the remaining 1,000 ft without  stopping.  It was easily the most challenging hike I’ve ever done, but I was rewarded with Camp Muir and its views…

You can see three mountains from camp… Mt. Adams straight ahead, Mt. Hood just to the right, and what I’m guessing is Mt St. Helens due to it’s flattened top.  Base camp is pretty cool… there’s a stone structure with sleeping space for about 25 climbers.  There’s also a ranger and weather station and a bunch of solar panels to power it all.  

The summit is another 2 miles of climbing and hiking, but ascends another 5,000 ft.  According to the guides, it takes about 6 hours from base camp.

People were setting up tents, preparing meals, and all looked very happy to reach the camp.  I spent about an hour and half taking in the views while refueling and getting some pics of everything.  Since you can’t consider it a successful hike until you make it back, I still had some concerns.  There’s really no trail to go down unlike the well marked boot tracks up.  Everyone just kind of picks a spot, and heads down.  It’s actually a lot of fun because you end up sliding on your heels most of the way.  They also have these chutes where you can slide down on your butt.  I read about them, and so was prepared with some snowpants.  Good thing too, because not only are they a blast to ride, they save a ton of time.

All in all, great day.  Easily the most challenging hike of my life, but well worth it.  I’m so glad I made the trip out there.  I felt my time in Washington was well spent, and I got to accomplish my goal of doing something challenging and fun.

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