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Rainier ’13, Part 2: The hike to Camp Muir

As promised, Saturday dawned bright and beautiful, portending near-perfect weather for our climb.  We met up for breakfast at the Whittaker Bunkhouse…not because it’s owned by the famous twin Whittaker brothers (Jim was the first American to climb Everest), but because it’s pretty much the only game in town in Ashford.  One cup of coffee and a breakfast burrito later, we were ready to load up the gear and head up to the Visitors Center at Paradise.  Brian Wadtke’s wife and a friend (both Airmen as well) joined us to make the hike as far as Camp Muir.  Named for the famous naturalist John Muir (who founded the Sierra Club), Camp Muir hugs the flanks of Rainier at 10,000’, a 4.5 mile and 4600’ climb from the parking lot at Paradise.  Ambitious park visitors make the hike to the top of the Muir snowfield as a day trip, and this outpost of a few stone buildings and a large tent city serves as high camp for the majority of climbers who attempt the summit.

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Mark shoulders his 50+ pound pack.

After distributing stoves, fuel, food, tents and snow pickets, everyone’s pack was tipping the scales at 50 pounds or more.  We shouldered our loads and walked the short distance from long-term parking up to the visitor center, stopping to fill water bottles and pose for a team photo.  Rob got the group in the right frame of mind with a couple quotes from a well-worn book he’s carried since his days as a ranger at Philmont Scout Ranch.   My favorite, from the aforementioned John Muir:

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”

With that bit of inspiration, we headed up the trail.

As you might expect on a sunny Saturday in July, the trail was crowded with everyone from casual tourists out for a stroll among the wildflowers to a few dedicated skiers heading up to the snowfield to bag a few summer turns.  Our heavy packs with ice axes lashed to them made our intentions pretty obvious.  We encountered snow within an hour’s hiking, and from that point on were on snow almost continuously.  Despite the surroundings, it was shorts & t-shirts weather, and sunburn was a much bigger worry than frostbite.


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The team at Paradise Visitor Center.

After six hours of steady uphill climbing, we struggled into Camp Muir, shrugged off the heavy packs, and began digging out snow platforms for our tents, overlooking the Cowlitz Glacier.  A snow slope is improvised furniture waiting to happen, and in no time we had hacked out a kitchen counter with room for two stoves and two cooks, and soon Rob and Graydon were serving up a delicious dinner of tuna noodle casserole.

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Slogging into Camp Muir after a long hard climb.


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Graydon and Rob in the kitchen







As the sun set, we enjoyed spectacular views of Mt Saint Helens, Mt Hood, and the other peaks of the Cascades.  A few ambitious souls scaled up Muir Peak in the moonlight, before turning in for some well earned rest.

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Moonrise over Muir Peak


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