Camp Muir and Muir Snowfield Winter and Spring Conditions 2008

Camp Muir and Muir Snowfield Winter and Spring Conditions 2008

June 19th

The Muir Snowfield remains in great shape for skiing. Snow has melted away from two rock bands requiring skiers to unclip twice on their way down. Be sure to stay on the trail when crossing these rock bands! Helicopter flights for human waste removal occurred earlier this week from both Camp Muir and Schurman. We are expecting to do more flights in the next couple weeks. Remember not to set up a tent or "explode" your pack out onto the gravel helipad, located in the center of Camp Muir, so we can work there.

Lots of hikers have been making it up to Camp Muir. The boot pack is in good shape - hikers have not needed snowshoes as of late. The sunshine has melted out many wands along the boot pack - please don't depend on wands for navigation. The full moon has enabled many climbers to navigate at night for a true "alpine start" up the mountain. Hopefully these calm, clear nights will continue.

June 14th

The hike to Camp Muir this weekend was beautiful; the weather was warm, the sun was shining and the skies were clear. The trek from Paradise to Camp Muir was BUSY, bursting with a diverse user group of casual hikers to climbers. Visitors in the park were clearly taking advantage of the short break in weather.

Despite the recent snowfall, the trail up by Pebble Creek continues to melt out, and by the afternoon was overflowing with water. SUNSCREEN and SUNGLASSES, as always, a must on this trek up the snowfield. It was more obvious this weekend with glaring conditions, but the sun can effect hikers even in the early morning when the sun is lower or when the skies are cloudy, so please be diligent with these essentials. The heat also brought some impressive slide activity and rockfall, which could be clearly seen and heard.

The boot track up to Camp Muir from Paradise is pretty well set and the route well flagged. From the trail head at the lower parking lot at Paradise, follow the summer route up to Panorama Point. On the descent from Muir the boot track down was super slick and off the trail hikers faced knee deep post holing in spots. Skiing or snowboarding down the snowfield was definately the way to go this weekend.

June 3rd

Another skiff of snow (4-5 inches) fell Sunday night/Monday on the snowfield. This covered up some of the rock bands that skiers had to "pop out" of their bindings for - making for a straight ski from Muir to Paradise. Make sure to stay "on-trail" when crossing rock bands which have melted out. Most foot paths across fragile meadows occur this time of year when climbers mistake a little piece of dirt for the trail.

Lower freezing levels and light precipitation forecasted this week are going to bring some good ski days.

Some of the wands have been knocked down by high winds. Don't depend on these for navigation.

May 25th

Over a foot of new snow fell on the upper mountain above 8000 ft. over the holiday weekend. The winds picked up to a steady 30-40mph, causing significant snow transport. Below 8000 ft. significant rainfall was reported.

As reported previously and confirmed this weekend, the Ingraham Direct is no longer direct. All the visitors this weekend chose to climb the DC.

The Muir Snowfield is still offering great skiing with only a few rocky sections to negotiate. The freezing level this weekend was about 8000 ft.- with considerable rainfall Saturday night. On Memorial Day, the snowfield offered good corn skiing from Camp Muir. Down below Panorama Point the snow conditions became a bit softer and grabby but it is still a quality 4600 vertical feet of skiing to Paradise.

May 23rd

Today's trip to Camp Muir was met with "full-on" winter conditions. There wasn't much traffic throughout the day....probably 8 different climbing parties in all... 3 of them being guided trips. The weather definitely seems to have taken its toll on the numbers of weekend climbers as well as those of us who dealt with it today.

There was a strong northerly to northwesterly wind blowing consistently throughout the day at approx. 20-25 miles an hour with gusts much higher. It snowed periodically but with no accumulation. There was, however, significant wind drifting of fresh snow above 8000 ft. on route. In addition to this, in the more wind scoured areas, it was quite icy but not to the point of needing crampons. I debated on whether or not to bring skis and I’m glad I didnfont>’t due to extremely variable snow conditions and very poor visibility. I would imagine we will all have to wait for the next warm cycle for the good skiing to come back.

On the topic of avalanche activity from the last storm, I did not observe any major natural activity on the lower portion of the mountain. However, there were some small point releasing sluffs on the east and south aspects mixed with significant rock fall from the west side of the lower Nisqually Glacier.

May 17th

The approach to Camp Muir from Paradise is still almost entirely on snow though short portions of the main route are starting to melt out above Panorama Point. However, flotation with either snowshoes or skis is highly recommended as freezing levels have not dipped below 13000 ft in the last four days making for soft snow and the potential for post-holing. Two climbing rangers skied the snowfield around 10:30 am sunday and found relatively good stable conditions to 7000 ft below which the snow had already become gloppy and heavily saturated. A fresh spring wax on your boards is highly recommended in these wet conditions. There has been some natural avalanche activity, particularly around the Nisqually Icefall; please use caution when traveling away from the main track to Camp Muir as the snowpack is still experiencing significant weakening as a result of the high temps.

Plenty of hikers are enjoying the hike to Camp Muir even without flotation but trekking poles will certainly help with balance in the soft snow. With generally clear skies and warm conditions bring plenty of water and sunscreen on the snowfield.

May 9th

Rocks are beginning to melt out on the snowfield, but there is still plenty of snow to ski from Camp Muir to the parking lot without walking. The sun's radiation has made the lower part of the snowfield a sloppy mess by mid-afternoon for the last couple of days. Skiers have been wishing for more wax below 6500 feet. The track to Muir is still well defined and marked with wands in some of the trickier sections. No running water is available along the main track yet. Be prepared to melt snow with a stove if you need more water than you're carrying. Enjoy!

April 28th, 2008

The crowds came for the warm sunny spring weather last weekend (see photo right). Snow conditions from Pebble Creek (7200') up to Camp Muir were crusty; below Pebble Creek skiers found softer more enjoyable slush. Some kind of snow floatation (snow shoes) is recommended for travelling on the snow field right now. Storms are in the forecast for this week. Make sure you're prepared for wintry conditions before heading out.

March 6th

The trail from Jackson Visitor Center was well "beat in" and easy to follow all the way to Panorama Point. There are switchbacks up Panorama Point, so now it's not a straight uphill slog like it was last week! Until this point, our team was hiking in tee-shirts and soaking in the sun. But after a little ways, the wind picked up and we had to put on our fleece on to stay comfortable.

We encountered two sets of climbers coming down. 1. An independent party of 3 that spent 2 days at Camp Muir. They tried to follow a guided team to the summit but didn't make it. A second team, 2., a party of two guides (up there independently of work) did make summit successfully via another route. The independent group turned around because they didn't have the proper gear to navigate the rappel off the Beehive, which is one approach to Gib Ledges.

On the snowfield, we continued up to about 8100' when the wind really starting whipping. At this point, it was quite cold and windy, so windy that I need my Gore-tex parka zipped up over my fleece and gloves to stay warm. Even when standing still, the wind and temps were gnarly enough to make us shiver. Because of this, we didn't break for long and pushed on (mostly to stay warm).

By the time we made sight of the Camp Muir huts, the wind was really howling!! When we finally reached Camp Muir, the wind was encasing anything warm with rime-ice. Also, the sound was so loud that when even shouting, it was difficult to hear each other. Our hands were nearly frozen and we immediately turned around and headed back to Paradise. The warmth and use of my hands only slightly returned after about 1/2 mile... But it never really got "warm" because it was windy all the way to the parking lot. Just another day in Paradise.

~ Ian Harper

January 21st

Climbing ranger Chris Olson spent the night at Camp Muir on January 17, and provided this report with photos.

It's January and the mountain is showing full winter colors. I got a chance to ski up to Camp Muir and enjoy a very cold night there. The weather was about as good as it gets this time of year. Windy conditions stopped me dead in my tracks more than once on the ascent to Muir (mostly above 9,000 ft) but visibility was good and the sun was out for me all day. (Tatoosh Range with Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and Mount Adams).

Conditions on the snowfield were a little less than desirable for skiers or boarders. The snow had been sculpted into sandstone-like structures that are usually only found near the summit in June. The consistency was like styrofoam, which is very good for crampons. The few snowshoers that made it up the snowfield were using their snow shoes only for traction.

The wind abated during the night and I awoke to a very summery morning. Cold and loneliness killed that feeling in a hurry, though. Camp Muir is weathering this big winter very well. All of the buildings are holding up and the wind has kept them mostly free of snow. A couple scoops of a shovel will get you into the public shelter and the outhouse. They are both snow-free on the inside too, thanks to recent maintenance. But the outhouse on the west end of camp is not well sealed and is packed with wind blown snow. I removed the snow but fear it will fill up again in very short period of time. So use the outhouse (the middle of the three) on the east end of camp if you decide to venture up there. (Outhouses with a view)

Wind has transported snow all around the upper mountain. From what I observed, the lower areas like the Nisqually and the Cowlitz glaciers have filled with snow and very few crevasses are visible. The ridges, including the Muir Snowfield are well-scoured with lots of exposed rock. Windblown snow has accumulated on east- facing slopes with abundant evidence of recent avalanche activity. West facing slopes are more exposed and may provide someone with very good climbing conditions. The wind off the summit was out of the north though, which will mix things up a bit (exposing anybody on southern exposures to possible avalanche danger). These are simple observations I made, so if you are planning a winter ascent, research conditions and follow the weather as best you can.

Skiing down the snowfield was not too shy of horrendous. I found patches of smooth and very firm snow on which I could turn but most of it was wind sculpted torture. It was a magical day on the mountain, but if turns are your goal stay below Panorama Point until it snows again. Below 6500 the snow was smooth and creamy, softened by the sun so that it was almost springlike. (Not-so-great skiing on the snowfield)

For more information on previous Camp Muir and Muir Snowfield reports, check out our archives.

Mount Rainier Winter Ski Conditions - 2008

Reflection and Louise Lakes--March 7

On March 7, I skied to Reflection Lake via Narada Falls and Inspiration Point.

I had not been to Reflection Lakes in years and never in winter. I have a vague summer memory of being attacked by hungy birds there, but
maybe I was somewhere else in the park.

I've seen so many pictures of this famous lake that I can't actually remember if I've ever been there in person or not. (I forgot my camera so you'll have to content yourself with this photo from

Whatever my previous experience, I loved going there in winter. We had the place to ourselves (it was a Friday) and it was snowy and serene, with peekaboo views of the mountain -- all a mellowish mile and a half from the Paradise road.

We didn't get to see the famous "reflection" but you can see that in summer when there are a gazillion people there (who drive, rather than ski, in). This time of year there are almost more animal tracks than people prints -- though we did see some snowhoe tracks and a couple skin tracks heading up towards Castle Saddle.

We looked at them longingly but the snow was uninviting for turns that day except in the forest. We also debated skiing down to Louise Lake, but it just didn't seem worth it with the crusty, wind-scoured snow. At least there was a nice litle powder stash in the forest below Inspiration Point on the way back to Barn Flats, and skiing back to Narada Falls from there was fun too.

We ended the day with dinner in the National Park Inn. Tasty, although the service was a bit slow (ahem!). All in all, a great mellow afternoon and evening at the mountain that I would recommend to anyone seeking an easy-to-find dose of winter solitude.

Mazama Ridge -- February 28th

Rebecca and I got to do a quick tour of Mazama Ridge today from Paradise. The weather was very warm and springlike, a little odd for this time of year. The ski across Edith Basin was very fast. The skis weren't sinking more than an inch or two but there was a thin breakable crust. (Photo -- Edith Creek Basin. Note the avalanche fracture.)

We then proceeded straight up to the ridge crest at 6400 feet. The southwest aspects of the ridge were very firm with about an inch of pretty good corn on the surface. Skinning was a little tricky in the steeper areas so we booted the last 100 feet or so.

Skiing down the ridge was entertaining with a breakable crust on the eastern aspects and good corn on the sun-baked southwest side. Once we dropped into the Paradise River drainage it was all very soft and fun, reminiscent of a hot April day. A short skin up the Paradise Valley road led us back to Paradise. It was a nice short tour (about 2 1/2 hours).

I would not recommend this tour on a day when the avalanche danger is higher. The exposure in Edith Creek basin is very bad. The danger today was low, a good day for Mazama Ridge. We are expecting some snow Friday night and Saturday, maybe as much as a foot. Hopefully winter will return for us in March. It has a habit of doing so. Keep checking back for the latest reports. (Photo - On Mazama Ridge. Note evidence of Rebecca's wipeout on the "entertaining" breakable crust near top of slope.)

~ Chris Olson

In General at Mount Rainier - Feb. 11th

Things aren't so grand. The road to Paradise is closed (from Longmire up) and the avalanche hazard has consistently hovered between high to extreme. Though things have settled down with the latest warm trend, the road to Paradise will likely remain closed through President's Day weekend. You should find another place to hang out if you intend to ski or climbing the backcountry. Rainier just isn't "in" right now.

Eagle Peak Trip Report - January 29.

The park is finally getting some snow after a long dry spell. In fact, the last two days it has been dumping and the southern Cascades are getting hit the hardest in the state. We should have close to two feet of new snow by Wednesday morning. The visibility in the Paradise area has been awful so I didn't get to ski up there but I did skin part way up the Eagle Peak trail (near Longmire) this afternoon.

The new snow had a relatively low density for being so low in elevation and breaking trail was easy. There was about eight inches of accumulation under the dense canopy and quite a bit more in the treeless patches. The crust underneath is hard but there was just enough fresh snow so I rarely felt it.

I took my skins off as it turned dark and was forced to follow my tracks back down with the light of my headlamp. It felt like a bobsled run in the dark--a good way to hit trees if you get going too fast. I made it unscathed am looking forward to lots of good snow this week.

The park is setting up for some very high, possibly extreme avalanche conditions so refer to the latest forecast before making your trip up here.

~ Chris Olson

Paradise ski report - January 24

The ski conditions between Panorama Point and Paradise are not very good at the moment. A week of high pressure along with direct sun and cold east wind has left us with no soft snow. In fact, in many places today it was simply a sheet of ice. I also encountered hard wind pack, breakable crust and all sorts of anoying wind lips and ridges. Some of the west facing slopes (below Mazama Ridge for example) may have some soft wind-deposited snow but I didn't get a chance to explore those areas. There is still some soft snow in the trees below Paradise. We need some new snow to freshen things up a bit around and above tree line. If you're willing to explore a bit, though, you may find some good snow.

I did not encounter any signs of recent avalanche activity between Paradise and Panorama Point. However, numerous recent avalanches are visible on the upper mountain and Nisqually Glacier. Some of the cornices in the Paradise vicinity are getting very large as well, so watch out for those. They tend to hang over steep eastern slopes. Always refer to the
Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center for current conditions before heading out.

~ Chris Olson

Nisqually Icefall - 2008

Nisqually Icefall Route Conditions - March 2008

This report was provided by Ben Kurdt, a guide with International Mountain Guides.

This past Monday Eben Reckord and I (Ben Kurdt) set out for a winter adventure on Mt. Rainier. We had our sites set on climbing the Nisqually Icefall. We had both looked at the route way too many times and had the itch to get up it. Our weather window was great and the avalanche conditions were looking satisfactory. So, we decided to stick our noses in it and see what we found.

We set out from Muir at 6:45 a.m. on the 5th of March. We post-holed (about mid-shin to knee deep) down to and across the Nisqually Glacier. This was a time consuming and tiring process, but it was just the beginning of the post-holing. Ten seconds after being out of the main icefall hazard (the area that pukes huge ice blocks very frequently) a huge boulder came bouncing down it. We knew that we dodged a bullet and were tired from post-holing so we took a well-deserved break by 8:30 a.m. at around 10,700 ft. behind shelter.

Back at it, we found wind-deposited crust layers between 3 and 7 inches thick on top. This crust did have a sliding surface under it, but we were satisfied with not finding too much of the 7 inch crust and a majority of 3 inch crust. Other than the disagreeable mostly thin crust we were happy with the snow conditions, which were fairly unconsolidated. However, progress did involve wallowing up to our waist.

Snow bridges were fairly stable, although at one point Eben had to employ the belly crawl over a thin bridge. This was entertaining to watch, though I must admit that I employed the same technique. At about 11,300 ft., we were sick of snow swimming so we popped onto the glacial ice and climbed some AI4 (Alpine Ice) to gain more ground. This was nice but only lasted about 400 feet. At 12,100 ft. we were able to jump up onto the Wapowety Cleaver. Oh boy, it was nice to walk on windswept snow. We made good time on the cleaver up to 13,000 ft. We then headed back onto the Nisqually glacier and up to the summit. To our displeasure, we found more post-holing (about mid-shin) between 13,000' and 14,000'. However, we made it up to the summit by 5 p.m.

Our first choice of descent was Gib Ledges, but we ran out of light and opted for the sure/straightforward descent of Gib Chute. While walking down this scary chute, we walked on the debris of a grade 4 avalanche for about 45 minutes. This was sobering, knowing that it ripped at some point that day while we were up on our route. It is assumed that the avalanche was propagated by icefall from the ice cliffs above. We made it back to Muir around 8:30 p.m. completely spent. On this day, we earned our dinner. Photos provided by Ben Kurdt.

For more reports on the Nisqually Cleaver, Icefall and Icecliff, check out our archives.