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More Training Info > Hiking to Camp Muir

Hiking to Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier
By Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS September 2007

Camp Muir is the highest non-technical point* (10,080 feet) in the state of Washington that you can reach without technical training. Situated on Mt. Rainier’s south side a 4.5 mile hike (and 4,660 feet of elevation gain) above Paradise, Muir is a popular destination for many day-hikers and a great conditioner for anyone planning a high-altitude ascent of Mt. Rainier or other Cascade volcanoes.

On any hike up from Paradise you will likely encounter heavily laden climbers heading slowly up to Camp Muir for an attempt at the summit via the Disappointment Cleaver (DC) route. The Camp itself consists of a Ranger Station, Rainier Mountaineering Inc. (RMI) bunkhouse, the Muir Public Shelter (which accommodates 25 people on a first-come, first-served basis), and solar toilets – for more information see http://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/things-to-know-before-you-climb.htm. Other than the entrance fee to the park, no climber’s pass or overnight fee is required for day hikes to Camp Muir. Anyone going above Camp Muir (or 10,000 feet) or onto any glacier must pay the $30 climber’s fee.

Just because the approach to Camp Muir along the Muir Snowfield is non-technical does not mean it should be considered an “easy outing” or “just another day hike.” While it is true that in perfect conditions you can follow the line of people making a beeline to high camp, remember that Mt. Rainier makes her own weather, and it often changes at a moment’s notice. What was a clear day merely an hour earlier can turn into a white-out that makes route finding and navigation very tricky even for the trained map and compass user. Particularly in off-season (especially for winter trips when there are fewer users above the Skyline Trail and far more snow to mask the trail) be sure you can have the necessary skills to get you down safely. Whether you are training for a summit attempt or you aspire to see the mountain closer up with equally beautiful views of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood from 10,000 feet, the tips below will help make sure you know what to expect and are adequately prepared.

Top 7 Tips to Prepare for a Muir Day Hike

  1. Adequate Conditioning: In order to even consider trying the hike to Camp Muir, be sure that you are quite comfortable hiking 8 miles round trip in less than 5 hours with a 15-20 pound pack. The equivalent distance and grade conditioning hike close to Seattle would be Mt. Si (please refer to www.bodyresults.com/S2I90hikes.asp for more information about hikes along the I-90 Corridor). However, since you will start your trip over a mile higher (Paradise is at 5,420’ elevation) the altitude is the first challenge, and the second is the continuous grade (over 1000’ per mile for 4 miles).
  2. Navigation: Go with someone who either a) knows the route, b) can navigate in poor conditions, or c) know, yourself, how to use a GPS, map and compass under any visibility. Take the Skyline Trail as far and as high as it will go, and if you do not have navigation skills, make sure you turn around at Pebble Creek (7,200’ elevation) and stay on the trail at all times. Above Pebble Creek you will enter Muir Snowfield and features are less defined and more confusing, especially in a white-out and without wands.
  3. Consumption: Bring plenty of water and food. Load up on beverage and food on the drive up to Paradise at least 30 minutes ahead of time. Altitude affects everyone differently, but a good way to avoid Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is to sip water every 30-45 minutes and eat just as often. If you start to feel nauseous and you have quite a ways to go to reach Camp, turn around and try another day.
  4. Altitude skills: Learn how to use the rest step and pressure breathing anytime you start to get a headache. (see www.bodyresults.com/E2altitudecoping.asp, #4 and #5 for more on rest step and pressure breathing). Proper use of these two skills alone can mean the difference between safely reaching Camp and turning around early.
  5. Weather: Before you go, check the forecast to see what wind, temperature, freezing levels, and weather conditions will be. A great resource for Mt. Rainier conditions (including Muir and Paradise) is included toward the bottom of www.bodyresults.com/climbing-rainier-training.asp. Keep an eye on the clouds, especially what is happening high up on the mountain. A wispy lenticular cloud up high means strong winds; a low marine cloud layer means you may be able to poke out from the clouds and have clear conditions higher up. Fog means turn around. A white out means stay where you are until visibility improves, unless you are confident in your whereabouts and navigation skills.
  6. Gear: The hike up to Camp Muir is not a place for tennis shoes and shorts or blue jeans. Proper boots, layered clothing, and extra warm or water resistant clothing (in case the weather turns foul), map, compass, food, and water (or filter) are all essential. A GPS and cell phone may also come in handy though you can not always count on cell phone coverage. A camera is a given – squirrels, marmots, deer and gorgeous wildflowers are ubiquitous, not to mention views of the mountain itself and glaciers everywhere. And one piece of clothing I find invaluable every time I go to Camp Muir is a good pair of slick pants (though a trash compactor bag also will suffice), for fast and fun glissading down the Muir Snowfield!
  7. Time Tips: Guides usually suggest that climbers laden with 40-60# of gear plan on taking roughly 6 hours to get to Camp. With half that weight, well-conditioned hikers who have no issues with altitude can do the hike in half that, or plan on the 8.2 miles round trip in 5-6 hours, under optimal conditions. In any case, plan on spending the better part of a day heading up to and back down from Camp Muir. If you are hiking in off-season, pay particular attention to gate openings and closures so you do not get locked in the park!

Be sure you take what you will need and a little extra just in case you find yourself stranded on the mountain. Stay safe. And know your own physical limitations when you start your hike. If the altitude starts to affect you, turn around and go back. The lower you go, the better you will feel.

(*As a side note, there will always be those people who will insist that the “dog route” scramble up Mt. Adams, at 12,276’, deserves to be in the classification of “non-technical.” Because even the basic South Spur route requires use of--and skill with--an ice axe, we don’t include it as “non-technical” ourselves.)


Construction of new visitors’ center as of mid-August 2007


Profile of Rainier from Skyline Trail, July 30 2005


On approach to Pebble Creek, mountaineers practice snow travel and ice axe skills


Nisqually Glacier with narrow snow band showing middle of glacier; this was shot in 2005; in August 2007 the entire glacier had receded noticeably and was dirty gray throughout


Final 750-1000’ of elevation heading up to Camp Muir on the Snowfield


Courtenay on a winter attempt (March 2003) of Gib Ledges route before a white-out storm weathered us off. Muir is in background about 10-15 minutes away.


Pit toilets at Camp Muir


Tents galore at Camp Muir. Also visible is diagonal line (route) showing route toward Ingraham Flats. Beyond the tents climbers must have a climbers permit and be roped up for safety.


Taken July 2005, Court enjoys the beautiful weather and stunning wildflowers on the way down from Camp Muir.



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