Camp Muir and Muir Snowfield 2011

April 14, 2012

After a shaky start to this year's snowfall, we rallied the second half of the season.  Paradise is currently about 120% of normal with 203 inches on the ground.  It's safe to say there is good coverage.  The good news continues from Paradise on up!

Today, the ski penetration was about 1cm, so skinning was easy on some dust on crust.  Most people could make it all the way to Camp Muir just with boots as long as they stayed in the path.  However, skis were the tool of choice if you were anywhere off the main path to Muir.  Ski pen maxed out around 9000 feet, breaking through only about 5-10 cm in most places.

Strong work to the nearly 100 people that made it up in the sun today.  Most folks were leaving the parking lot somewhere between 8:00 and 10:00 am.  The wind was calm and the temps were in the 20's.  With a bright sun through filtered clouds, this made for a base layer only ascent all the way up for me.

It was truly a sit in the sun and enjoy the view day.  By about 14:00, the cloud deck rose and began to filter through camp, so it got a little chillier.

On the way down, the skiing was 8/10 all the way back down to Paradise (scale is relative to Muir - not a powder day at Alta).  I thought I might hit some bare spots and chatter on the way down, but it was smooth snow the entire way back down.  Muir to Paradise in about 30 minutes.  What a nice way to get down the hill.

November 3rd, 2011

Temps are in the single digits this morning up at Camp Muir. Winds have calmed to 30 mph but it was sure howling yesterday with sustained speeds over 80 mph with maximum gusts over 100.

Most importantly it is still super icy up here and on the snowfield, with boilerplate ibare ice in large stretches and under a very few inches of snow in others. There aren't many times that one wants a pair of crampons to get up to Camp Muir, but this is one of 'em (see Stefan's post just below).

October 28th, 2011

Glenn and I left Paradise on one of those really nice autumn days for a good fall check-up on Camp Muir. It had been at least 10 days since we've had rangers up there. There was snow in the shadowy places on the trail leaving Paradise. By Glacier Vista, there was a good 3" covering the trail. It turns out we weren't the only people looking for a good hike today, as there were many people ahead of us.

Since it hadn't been that cold yet, there was still water flowing at Pebble Creek when we crossed it. We hopped up on the snow below Sugarloaf at about 7300 feet. On steeper sections we were having trouble getting any traction. We'd slip and quickly slide 10-15 back. That was quite an ice layer that was put down a week ago. This caused some problems for us all the way.

I am surprised to say that by the time we were at about 8000 feet we were having a really hard time taking any more steps up than we were sliding back. We made it to the top of Moon Rocks (9,200') and it seemed really silly to think that we wouldn't be able to make it up to Muir. The 3-5 inches of snow was adhering well enough to the ice layer that skiers were having no problem skinning up, but anyone walking without crampons like we were wasn't making very fast progress.

I followed the rocks to the right of Moon Rocks toward Anvil Rock, but that only led me to the top of a convexity that if I were to fall, the resulting trajectory would carry me straight into a jumble of large boulders. I glanced over at Glenn and he was making slow (2 step up, 1 slid back) progress straight up from Moon Rocks.

I managed to use a technique of sticking my poles into the ice, then stepping on the upper sides of them. This acted like having 1-point crampons. I did this until I got to the flat area above Anvil Rock at around 9600. Once there, the ice gave way to a surface with a little more traction.

Skiers had a great descent. 3-5 inches of powder. Stay off those edges! It was just ice underneath. But between 20-40 people had a nice ski down.

I relate this story to show that this time of year, please bring crampons, shoe chains, or instep crampons, at the very least, on your winter trips to Camp Muir. After having been to Camp Muir around 500 times in the last 20 years, I can still be caught with my pants down. Keep your pants up!

September 19th -

Last weekend brought the incredible finale to an amazing season on the Muir Snowfield. A record amount of snow lingering in the area covered the crevasses and icy patches on the snowfield for the entire season. Usually by late July or early August glacial ice begins to show itself near Moon Rocks, requiring climbers and day hikers to don crampons on the snowfield. The first snow of the winter blew in over the last weekend adding even more snow to the snowfield.

Though skiers and snowboarders have been eeking out turns, the general conditions for carving turns are bad. Patches of loose wind-packed snow checker the hard consolidated snow surface that's been rotting in the sun all summer.

Flowers and trails around Paradise are still in great shape. Snow did not accumulate below 8000 feet, thus trails are still snow free, and the flora has a nice sheen of dew. Come on up and enjoy the ephemeral Washington Autumn in Paradise!

September 10th

The Labor Day holiday and the "summer" season have come and gone. That said, the route up to Camp Muir is more pleasant than ever. The meadows are mostly melted out, making for excellent marmot watching and flower photos. As the previous post mentioned, please stay on the rock-lined trail to preserve the fragile meadows with their extremely short growing season.

The route from Pebble Creek up to Muir is in excellent condition, being 95% snow. Travel in the early to mid day is most pleasant right now with the warm temperatures, offering solid footing. The route is still wanded, and being traveled by the guide services, and lots of day hikers on the weekends, but as always be ready to do some route finding if any unexpected fall weather rolls in.

Camp Muir itself is in excellent shape, being melted out, and quite beach-like lately with the high temperatures. The skies have been a little smokey lately due to the wildfires burning around the Northwest, making for some interesting and colorful sunrises and sunsets. Come on up and say hello, and take in the beautiful views.

August 25th

The record snowpack is finally starting to yield the the heather and flowers of the Paradise meadows making for some great photos ops on your approach. This also increases the importance of staying on the trail. With all the snow patches on the trail, and the amount of melt every day the trail may not always look like the most direct line. If you take a second to look for the maintained trail before you step off the snow you will prevent a lot of resource damage. Un-stomped flowers make much better photos than those crushed by a size 11 mountaineering boot.

The route up from Pebble Creek is still 95% snow covered and very direct. Only the most die-hard skiers will find it worthy to pack your skis up the snowfield. Large sun cups on the upper snowfield make for a pretty bumpy ride. If you just can't wait to make some turns, try scouting out the Paradise Glacier. Camp Muir will be staffed by climbing rangers for several more weeks. Climber traffic has begun to drop off a little so if you think you want to avoid the crowds come up and pay us a visit.

August 23rd

A thank you is in order for all of you that have helped out at Camp Muir this season. We rangers and your fellow climbers greatly appreciate it when people step up and pack out other people's trash from the public shelter. Camp Muir gets thousands of visitors every season and unfortunately there is always the 10% of people who are not on board with the pack-it-in/pack-it-out ethic.

Some even go further. Here is a pic of Patrick from Ellensburg helping rangers move rocks back from the tent area to stabilize the chossy berm that is Camp Muir. When climbers remove rocks from the berm to anchor their tents it causes a considerable amount of erosion. Just look at our heli-pad. Here's a way to anchor your tent and clean up the mountain at the same time. While hiking up the snowfield collect the broken wands that used to mark the route but now are just litter. Break them up into 8 inch segments and girth hitch a bunch of them together and use them as a dead man anchor for your guy lines. When you leave dig up your; free, organic, fair trade, sustainable, light-weight, reusable, multipurpose tent anchors, pack them out and use them to start your camp fire on your next outing(below timberline in a proper fire pit, of course!).

August 9th

We are now setting records each day at Paradise for total snow on the ground for these days in August. The former record was in 1974 after one of the 1000+" years we had back then. There's never been this much snow at Paradise in August in recorded history (since 1916).

I just skied all the way up to Camp Muir from Paradise. I only had to take my skis off 3 times between Pan Point and Pebble Creek. Otherwise you can ski all the way back down to Paradise from Muir.
Here's the beta. Ski the Paradise Glacier - or at least the western margin nearest to the Muir Snowfield. Yes. It is a glacier. There are crevasses, but for those who are prepared with the proper gear, the skiing is far superior.

Expect a some rather large and unpleasant suncups from Camp Muir to 9700 feet, but as soon as you're around the bottom of Muir Rocks, cut skier's left and head over towards Anvil Rock. The snow gets smoother near Anvil Rock and for the rest of the way down. Stay next to anvil and ski the steeper section. On your way over Anvil, veer right and hug the rocks on the west side of the glacier.

August 4th

August weather has finally started to melt some of the snow from the Paradise meadows. Please be cautious when transitioning from melted out patches of trail back to snow patches - the alpine meadows are extremely fragile at this point in the season. The snowfield has lots of snow still hanging around. Though ski conditions are becoming more technical and challenging, it's still possible to ski 90% of the way from Camp Muir back to Paradise.

No icy sections or crevasses have appeared on the snowfield. Crampons and ice axes may be nice to have once the snow firms up at night time or early in the morning, but other than those times a sturdy pair of hiking boots and trekking poles will work.

July 22

Camp Muir has been a busy and mostly sunny place over the past week. We have had many climbers, campers, skiers and day hikers out playing in the park. The weather looks like it is going to stay mostly nice (at least above the clouds) so come on up and visit.

The travel from Paradise to Camp
Muir remains about 98% snow at the moment. There are a few spots in the upper Paradise meadows and around Panorama Point that are down to dirt but that is about it. Expect these sections of bare trail to become more prevalent as the snow continues to melt, and help protect the meadows by following the wanded trails and paying extra close attention to where you are stepping in the snow to dirt transition areas. Above Pebble Creek the travel is 100% snow, and the route is currently very well traveled and wanded. Snowshoes are not needed, due to well consolidated snow but on really hot days leaving early will make things easier.

If you are staying at Muir please remember a few important things to do while you are there. One of these is to pick up a plastic food storage container from the rangers to use during your stay. These containers help protect your food from creatures such as foxes, ravens, and mice. They are also a convenient and dry place to keep food during your stay so you have more space in your tent. Secondly please help us keep Muir clean by packing everything you brought up back down the mountain with you. In the Public Shelter trash and abandoned gear is becoming increasingly common. There is no trash service at Muir and rangers have to pack down their own trash, and don't like to add yours to their load. Trash includes unopened food, unused fuel, jugs of water, wands as well as all the normal stuff. This is your shelter please keep it clean for others!

Skiing on the snowfield is becoming increasingly bumpy with sun-cups, but there are still large areas of good snow. If you are still into skiing try checking out some of the lesser traveled areas...some of them are holding the goods still. Explore and be creative!

Remember sunscreen, sunglasses and lots of water, even if you leave Paradise in the clouds.

July 14

That said, the Muir snowfield is still mostly snow, and if you go slowly and cautiously, it is almost impossible to get lost. The boot pack is deep and obvious, and the majority of the route is still wanded. Pay attention up at Pan Point to areas that have been roped off. These are potential danger zones, and ecologically sensitive areas. Stay on the path, and have FUN!

July 7

So it's early July and yesterday I skied from camp Muir to Paradise without removing my skis once. That's pretty unprecedented for this time of year, but at the same time summer is now upon us with full days of sunshine and very warm temps, so conditions will change rapidly in the near future. So if skiing in July is your thing get out now.

For all you people out there who are foot travelers
or who are just plain over wearing your ski boots, the traveling on the snowfield is best done early in the morning, or later in the evening. Although the snow is starting to consolidate and there is a very well entrenched boot pack, the radiation and warm temperatures make mid-day travel kind of sloppy.

As the winter's snow melts, please be sure to stay on the trails and avoid traveling over the very fragile meadows above Paradise. The appropriate trails will be marked with wands and bamboo as much as possible, but please be self aware of where your feet are going.

And last but certainly not least congratulations to Patrick and Ami (please forgive the misspelling) who tied the knot on our heli-pad on July 4th! The groom even carried up his own watermelon for the celebration, which was graciously shared with rangers and other climbers. Thanks again you guys!

June 16

The Snowfield/Muir Corridor has been seeing lots of traffic despite variability in weather conditions. The skiing is excellent. Keep in mind
that continuing past Camp Muir requires a climbing pass and climbers and skiers should be prepared for crevassed glacial terrain. Please be prepared for inclement weather and navigation issues.

We have had some issues with a fox following climbers and hikers up the snowfield and picking up scraps left behind by careless visitors. Please do not encourage the fox and please be mindful of leave no trace ethics in the wilderness.

The snow is becoming more and more consolidated. Snow shoes are generally not needed unless you plan to climb after a large storm cycle. Keep an eye on the weather to help you determine current conditions.

June 9th

There have been some absolutely gorgeous days on the snowfield lately, and plenty of people coming out to play. The route from Paradise to Muir is still 100% snow covered. The route is also very well wanded, so navigation should be fairly easy, but having a map and compass or GPS is still always recommended.

If you are staying overnight at Muir please remember to clean up your area of all food and store it safely in your tent. Our alpine fox is back and had been raiding unattended food, as well as tearing into people's packs to steal a tasty morsel or two. So please help us keep the wildlife wild by not feeding the fox...even accidentally...and letting him forage for more natural food such as mice, which we could use a few less of around camp.

May 26th

The Muir snowfield is a snowy playground at the moment. A cold winter with ample snowfall (still) has provided excellent conditions for skiing, hiking, and enjoying the winter beauty of Mount Rainier. This past week the snowfield and Muir have enjoyed many sunny days, even though there are clouds obscuring the view into the lowlands.

The winter route from Paradise to Muir is very well wanded at the moment, but visitors should not rely on wands and other footprints 100%. Stop by the Jackson Visiotr Center or Climbing Information Center to get the latest info on snowfield conditions and to pick up a route guide containing compass bearings and GPS points.

Remember your sunscreen and sunglasses even if it is cloudy and raining when you leave could be in the sun before you know it. Enjoy!

April 24th

With good weather the last two days, and lots of traffic, a great skin-track and a braided boot-track was established all the way to Camp Muir. The snow up high (near Camp Muir) was mostly wind packed powder, while down low (around the Paradise Area) was mashed potatoes in the sun and ice in the shade. The route to Camp Muir has some bamboo wands marking the way, but they are not reliable, or evenly spaced. Please remember to bring your own system to navigate to and from Camp Muir. With more storm cycles passing through soon, there should be some fresh powder by next weekend!

April 13th - There's above average snow pack out there this year and it shows. Skis and snowshoes are necessary for anybody wanting to leave the Paradise Parking Lot. Please check the weather forecast and avalanche danger before heading out. For 2010's conditions check this