Rainier Part 2
After failing to reach Muir Camp at 10,000 feet last time (due to deep soft snow, no snowshoes, and snow soaked freezing feet) I return and attempt the same route from Paradise to Muir Camp, but his time I have snowshoes, extra water, extra socks, and a full pack with tent and sleeping bag to simulate the load I'll be carrying when I attempt summit. My friend Jamie joins me for the hike.
We leave Portland around 6:30am, reach Paradise by 9:30, and are hiking by 10am. The mountain is crowded today. Many guided groups are heading up, each with 6 to 10 people. We fall in behind one such group, and head slowly and steadily up Muir Snowfield. Today the snow is hard and packed, so I don't even need my snowshoes. The hike is beautiful and relatively uneventful. Jamie and I stop briefly on occasion for water and snacks, but try to keep moving to keep from getting cold and stiff. As we climb, the crowds spread out, and the wind begins to pick up. We reach Muir camp by 3 or 4. I cant exactly remember.
Muir camp is bustling with hikers and climbers. There are more permanent structures up here than I expected: a stone shelter perched on a hill, a rectangular wooden structure resembling a shoebox, some latrines, and a small shed sized a-frame structure of some sort with solar panels on the south side. Everyone up here has worked hard to get here, and most of them are camping here tonight in tents, and attempting summit at midnight. I am not one of those people. My mission today was to reach this camp and scope it out, and scope out the route above camp to get an idea of what I'll face when I attempt summit. I also hope to gather some beta from climbers returning from summit.
It's very cold at Muir Camp. The wind is penetrating. After being up here for twenty minutes, I've put on my windproof shell and am still cold. I'll need a down layer if I'm going to spend the night up here, and maybe even a better tent. I look at the climbing route above camp. It traverses a large snow field, then climbs up through Cathedral Gap, and disappears beyond a massive rock wall. I cannot see any of the route beyond Cathedral Gap. I talk to two climbers returning from the summit. They suggest camping at Ingrahm Flats beyond the gap. It's way less crowded there. I try to imagine camping way up here alone, and the thought is a little foreboding.
After staying at Muir Camp for about thirty minutes, Jamie and I start heading down. Both of us have numb fingers. It takes about thirty minutes for me to completely warm mine as we hike. I am wearing my light gloves, but have my heavy gloves in my pack. Next time, I'll make sure to wear only heavy gloves above 10,000. The good news is that my feet stayed relatively dry and warm this time. And with three liters of water, I stayed very well hydrated and felt great all day, with plenty to spare.
It takes us almost three hours to descend to Paradise. The total hike takes about nine hours. I feel like I'm getting closer and closer to making a summit bid. Technically it seems very doable. My largest remaining concern is the numerous crevasses above Muir Camp. I was unable to get a look at them, but have seen satellite images of them. I try to assess the risks of negotiating them solo, but don't yet feel capable of making that assessment. I'll need to gather more information about current climbing conditions, and maybe even find a climbing partner for this mountain.
Posted by Richard Foster