Posted by: Jack | September 12, 2007

Mount Rainier

Yesterday Anna and I finally made a trip out to Mount Rainier. With our affinity for hiking and a clear view of Rainier from Olympia year round, it’s a wonder we hadn’t been out sooner. We reached the park mid morning with the intention of doing a casual hike somewhere in the foothills which would provide a good view of the mountain. But with our upcoming move out of the area and the idyllic weather, we decided to make the most of our trek and take on something a little more adventurous.

Starting from the area known as Paradise with an elevation of ~5500′, we set our sights on Camp Muir located 4.5 miles away at just over 10,000′. Initially, Skyline Trail is a steep, paved path but the abundance of wildlife easily makes up for whatever diminishing effect the asphalt has on the natural setting. Less than ten minutes into our hike we were standing at the edge of the path scanning for an animal that was making a very curious noise. We both jumped when we finally spotted the origin of the noise standing inches away from our feet; a female blue grouse about sixteen inches tall.

Rounding the next bend in the path we spotted a marmot, and then another, and another. Soon they were everywhere we looked and also seemed happy to pose for pictures.

Continuing right along as if at the zoo, we came upon the black-tailed deer exhibit.

Not much later the pavement ended and we hiked on a more natural trail for about a half hour before stepping onto the Muir Snowfield; a series of glaciers that sat between us and Camp Muir. The warm air and even hotter sun made for pretty slushy footing and our pace quickly dropped to well below one mile per hour. Quickly growing weary, we took a break for lunch and took in the scenery. Since nearly the start of the hike, Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens had become increasingly visible and by this point, Mt. Hood was just barely discernable in the distance.

Lunch was refreshing but didn’t quite prepare us for the next two hours of steep ascent. As we alternated between slick glaciers and loose rock, the climb began to take it’s toll.

After what seemed like an entire day of shuffling at an agonizingly slow pace, we finally spotted Camp Muir. All that remained was to cross one expansive glacier which ended with a very steep push to the camp. We could see other hikers taking unusually indirect routes down the glacier but soon after we discovered why.

A number of ~twenty foot deep crevices stretched across this glacier adding significant distance to a safe route. But eventually we made it, relishing the sense of pride in completing the unplanned ascent. After a small snack we quickly grew tired of sitting in the intense sun and took a few minutes to explore the camp before beginning our descent.

In a welcome contrast to the ascent, we found that with a bit of practice, glacading down the steeper sections of glacier was quite efficient and super fun. The ice wasn’t flat enough to sit down and glacade in the traditional manner so instead we basically skied down on foot. Brief example:

Although aerobically easier, the steep descent was very trying on the joints and by the time we reached the developed trail we were ready to be done for the day. But, another two+ miles remained and the views were still spectacular so we tried our best to keep spirits up while will diminished.

Not a minute too soon we made it back to the car and, knowing where we had been, were able to see just how far we had gone. The following two pictures are both taken from the car which is where we started the hike. The first is taken at full zoom and I’ve labeled Camp Muir. The second is taken at the wide angle and I’ve drawn a box which represents the area shown in the first picture. In addition to showing the extent of our hike, this demonstrates the telephoto capability of my new camera with which I’m very pleased.

If you ever decide to attempt this hike I have a few suggestions:

  1. Pack two meals per person. One just wasn’t enough.
  2. Pack more water than we did.
  3. Apply more sunscreen than we did.
  4. Bring trekking poles.

Other than being unprepared for a 6.5 hour, strenuous hike, it was an awesome day and one of the greatest hikes we’ve ever done.

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