The Long, Windy Hike to Camp Muir

CampMuir60212-1(Photo by Jon Mancuso,

The warning signs were there.

About 1.5 miles along our 10-mile roundtrip, 5,000-foot elevation gain to Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier, we saw a group of three climbers coming down toward us.

"There's no break up there. It doesn't get better. We're headed back," a woman in the group told us.

We had already taken a 40-minute detour toward the Nisqually Glacier because of vertigo-like whiteout conditions, but we were nevertheless determined to continue onward and reach our goal.

My coworker Jon was in town from Sun Valley and asked about climbing to Camp Muir -- base camp for Rainier summit attempts -- earlier in the week. I wanted to try the strenuous climb and of course drug Amanda along with me. Scott and Mike called me the night before about climbing Yakima Peak and I convinced them to join us at Paradise, Mt. Rainier, at 8 a.m. on Saturday.

The group got on the trail around 8: 30 a.m. Despite our early misstep and passing the woman with the warning, we were climbing strong and kept a good pace for the first few hours. Amanda changed socks during the first break because her boots were already soaked from snow. After the break, Scott and I started alternating packs as his was about 75 lbs. of ski equipment and mine was 10 lbs. of water, clothing layers and food (who packed smarter?). Normally, Scott would never let anyone else carry his pack on a climb, but he was fairly hungover from the previous night. Mike, also carrying a heavy ski pack and Jon, carrying camera equipment, led the way.

Unfortunately, Jon and Mike got a little too far ahead when Amanda and I were ready to call it quits. We were about 2/3 of the way up the hike, which we originally anticipated would be the whole length of the hike, and with winds reaching 50 mph and snow torpedoing along with it, we weren't motivated to keep going. Scott was with us at that leg, and we all convinced each other to keep going to catch up. We kept a slow and steady pace until we broke above the cloud layer and could see Camp Muir. I relieved Scott again and carried his pack to the top while Amanda nearly sprinted ahead as she was ready to reach the top and rest.

Scott hobbled in behind me and took a breath, not so easy at 10,080 feet. Camp Muir is slightly more elaborate than a homeless camp. The sheds, occupied by independent climbers and guided summit groups are small and cramped. Modern luxuries are sparse. At least there's a bathroom. Amanda, Jon and I kicked it with the NPS Rangers in their hut until Scott and Mike skied down the hill. We took off shortly thereafter, alternating between slushing down in the warmed snow and glissading where we had the chance. My lips felt burnt, but otherwise I felt in great shape especially after a climb in unfavorable conditions like that.

That was until the next morning. More on that later. For now, more pictures courtesy of Jon and Amanda...

Me, Scott and Amanda hiking back from the Nisqually Glacier "detour." Photo by Jon Mancuso, CampMuir60212-2

Mike smiling about the visibility. IMG_1763

Me and Amanda with a glimpse of Rainier in the background. IMG_1776

Me and Scott. IMG_1780

Amanda relieved to be above the cloud layer. IMG_1784

I've looked better, but I just hiked a 5,000-foot elevation and have a 75-lb. backpack on, OK? Photo by Jon Mancuso, CampMuir60212-3

Mike relaxing at Camp Muir. IMG_1795

Me and Amanda at Camp Muir. IMG_1799

NPS Rangers at Camp Muir. IMG_1801

Amanda jumping a huge crevasse. Kidding. It's just a stream. IMG_1810

Me, Jon and Amanda back in the Paradise parking lot after the descent. IMG_1811