Camp Muir Backcountry Skiing
December 2-4, 2017
I was trying to acclimate for an upcoming mountaineering trip to South America, and Camp Muir, on the slopes of Mt Rainier, is one of the best places to do this in the wintertime. The road to the trailhead is plowed every night, and Camp Muir is just above 10,000ft.
After unsuccessful attempts to find partners to summit Rainier, I resigned to just go to Camp Muir solo and camp out a few nights. I left town Saturday morning, and drove up to the Paradise trailhead by 10am. From the overnight lot I put my skis on and started skinning up through several feet of powdery snow. The area was socked in with clouds and unfortunately there was no view of Rainier.
I eventually met up with ski tracks from a few other people ascending, and caught up to them just below Panorama Point. From there I took over breaking trail, and that was the last I saw of any other people. A few skiers said they were heading to Camp Muir also, but they must have turned back early.
Past Panorama point it turned into a whiteout, and I essentially navigated by GPS and memory of the route. By 3pm I made the shelter, but it wasn’t easy getting in. The entire structure was plastered in a sheet of thick rime ice, and it took me half an hour free the door and get inside.
I had the whole shelter to myself for the next two days. That night I realized that I had forgotten one critical item on the trip – my sleeping pad – but I managed to not get too cold by sleeping on top of extra clothes.
The next morning the whiteout was replaced with amazing undercast, with the cloud top just 1000 ft below me. However, it was extremely windy and cold, probably around 10F all day. I mostly hung out inside the shelter reading, occasionally going outside to briefly admire the view.
I stayed there again Sunday night, then Monday morning suited up for my descent. Luckily the cloud level had dropped even more so I could see the whole way down to the trailhead. I suited up in my big down jacket (it was now about 5F and very windy) and started skiing down. It was fun skiing the Muir snowfield, and most of the rocks had gotten covered in a foot of snow since I had ascended, but I still scratched my skis a few times.
I arrived at the car at 9:30am and, after digging it out of all the snow, successfully drove back to Seattle that afternoon.