Muir Snowfield Party Time – Rainier

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

A few days without snow, rock climbing. That is a problem for me that may require medication. Fortunately Mount Rainier exists and has so much snow coating it this summer you can hear the glaciers singing alleluia. On with the skis, put away that chalk bag and leave those pills alone!

Louie cranks out a few on the Muir.

Louie cranks out a few on the Muir. Even with a thousand people up there, you could still find untracked and roomy terrain. Amazing how big Mount Rainier is.

Muir is a nice, mostly low angled tour of around 4,000 vertical feet. Endpoint is a logical spot known as Camp Muir (10,000 feet), where a few mildew ridden shelters are used by the guide services, and hundreds of people tent camp during busy times. After days of fun and travel, we didn’t feel motivated for a big summit push so we just skied the Muir for a few days. That was probably best, as doing a summit with the mountain this crowded would have been frustrating or even dangerous with inexperienced rope teams that could fall and rip you off the mountain.

Mount Rainier view from southest while driving from Leavenworth.

Got this photo of Rainier during the drive over from Leavenworth. Muir Snowfield is left of center, taking the mountain up to where the rocks start outcropping. The big brown stain in the middle is where the Nisqually Cliffs peeled off in a recent gigantic landslide. The slide area is still dropping effluvia, you can hear it as you're climbing. If you're fortunate, you'll get to see a fairly large rockslide as you're passing by, as such are still occurring several times a day.

Below, a vid from ‘Tube showing the June 25 landslide that made the huge scar you can see in our photos.

While Camp Muir has a few structures deemed historic, what dominates the place are the big brown weathered privies. Understandably, at Muir the Park Service provides toilets to prevent what could easily become a turd apocalypse. Yes, the Armageddon of human waste is just a toilet malfunction away because literally thousands of individuals trudge up and down this area, day in and day out. And of course, humans have digestive systems, and…

Indeed, the second day we toured up here, Saturday before July 4, you could see an almost steady stream of people from the trailhead to Camp Muir. I’m talking about, yes, what appeared to be upwards of around a thousand human metabolisms. The crowds were truly stunning, way more radical than anything I’ve seen in Europe, and making the West Buttress route on Denali look totally deserted.

My contribution? As luck would have it, I didn’t need to visit the pits. That’s luck with a big L, because according to reports those things are possibly the most disgusting privies you can visit this side of the Santiago Barrio. Oh well, might as well keep the climbing experience exciting. Just remember your hand sanitizer.

Family climb on Mount Rainier

A couple of the WildSnow clan jogging around on Muir Snowfield.

True corn snow.

Now this is corn snow. Click to enlarge.

Camp Muir tent city.

The Camp Muir tent city reminded us of any Denali West Buttress camp. Huge.

Lisa does the corn picnic. Click to enlarge.

Blogster being amused by Nisqually landslide.

Blogster being amused by Nisqually landslide doing its thing. Lots of noise and dust that makes you use up space on your camera card. Makes you wonder if and when this huge volcano is going blow like Helens did. Click to enlarge.

One of the weirder things that happened while we were at Rainier involved the climbing information center. We went over there to find out what phone numbers one would use in an emergency, assuming one had a satphone that wouldn’t work for a simple 911 call. “We don’t give out our dispatch number,” sniffed the public servant. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’ll depend on my cell phone but look up some phone numbers in the phone book just in case.”

Funny thing, my Colorado/Verizon phone didn’t work up there. I guess that’s punishment for not being a local.

I grabbed a phone book and did look up some phone numbers for Pierce County (seemed like the right county for Rainier). No idea why the so called “Climbing Information Center” couldn’t give us this information. Perhaps county phone numbers don’t help with getting a rescue to some kind of childish politics between the National Park and local authorities. Anyone know the details?

Whatever. In the case of SAR and getting the fastest rescue possible, it is frequently best to call as many phone numbers as possible. You never know when your needs are going to get hung up in politics or bureaucracy. Thus, for what it’s worth, if you’re visiting Rainier and need some emergency phone numbers other than 911, we list a few below. As for the so called “Climbing Information Center,” I’d ask why the heck they can’t give a functional phone number one can use with a sat phone. Just ignorant bureaucrats, or something more sinister?

- Pierce County SAR Info, 253-798-6175 or 253-531-8530

- Pierce County Incidents, 253-798-6363

- Pierce County Sheriff (non emergency, call for emergency contact info), 253-798-4721

Another note about climbing logistics on Rainier: You need a climbing permit/registration if you go above 10,000 feet. But permits are only available during business hours (no self-registration), so don’t expect to get there for an alpine start and be able to register. We found that to be weird, but then, if they can’t give you phone numbers then one would expect other weirdness, eh?

Comments

9 Responses to “Muir Snowfield Party Time – Rainier”

  1. AndyC July 4th, 2011 2:16 pm

    Nothing sinister, yes ignorance, much of the staff is seasonal and really not well informed (that’s called mismanagement). Too bad you didn’t ski the Paradise Glacier from Muir, we skied the Paradise/Willilwakis Glacier Canyon the 1st, the 2nd, and 4th (today); really nice snow and no people besides my wife and I. :D

  2. DannyIrie July 4th, 2011 4:53 pm

    Louie I am heading to WA later this week. I have a new project called the “Mountain Niceness~West-topia Tour” where I’ll be traveling around doing all the fun stuff we via a really sweet VW Syncro Camper. I’ll be looking for some bata and a possible partner to ski some volcanoes.

    ….I’m the tele skier in the K2 banner !

    Thanks…keep up the good work.

  3. Lou July 5th, 2011 9:12 am

    Andy, we were considering some alternates but enjoyed joining the crowd and experiencing the most people on a mountain I think I’ve ever encountered. Grows old fast, however, so next time we’ll take some other routes. I’ve done on summit descent, years ago, but would like to do another via Emmons that would include a bivvy for aesthetics. Perhaps next spring…

  4. Chris July 5th, 2011 9:55 am

    Few years back I spent the night at Emmons Flats on the 4th of July, which was great to look down and see six fireworks shows going at once. I recommend it.

  5. Bryce M. July 5th, 2011 12:34 pm

    If you’re in a mood for a less crowded and more “authentic” (as the Rangers put it) northwest glacier experience, try the other side of the mountain next time. The Emmons-Winthrop route is far, far less crowded and much safer (no rockfall hazard, and no choke-points like the Disappointment Cleaver to turn your summit day experience into a lame Conga dance). The guide services are forbidden during the week to climb up from Camp Schurman leaving the route open for local indy groups.

  6. Rob July 5th, 2011 12:40 pm

    Hopefully things will improve when Dave Uberaga soon leaves the park superintendency. It’s just a pity the federal prosecutor decided not to go after him regarding his dubious and cozy financial arrangements with a park franchisee.

    His attitude and officious behavior has spread like a virus through Rainier park employees.

  7. Lou July 5th, 2011 12:41 pm

    Bryce, thanks, heading for Emmons next time. And yeah, the thought of crowds on Cleaver is one of the things that turned us off on a summit attempt, as we were trying to be realistic.

  8. Bryce M. July 5th, 2011 1:44 pm

    I recently headed up that route with a bunch of guys up from the Fort Collins branch of the Colorada Mountain Club – http://www.flickr.com/photos/brycemilton/sets/72157626907429523/show/ a great trip. I was booting it because of my companions, but the ski conditions looked awesome.

  9. Jason Hummel July 9th, 2011 10:56 am

    Another good option is to bike up to Mowich Lake (n. side rainier) and ski from there up to observation rock and area. It would be a great place to ski and see no one for days…at least until the road opens. After that all bets are off.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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