Camp Muir and Muir Snowfield Winter and Spring Conditions 2008
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.