If you’ve known me for a while or follow the blog regularly, you know that I hiked the Appalachian Trail. That was a pretty tough hike! These days, I mostly day hike and while I might be slow on my way up to a mountain, I don’t often doubt my ability to get to my destination. The hike to Camp Muir, an 8 mile round trip with an elevation gain of over 4,000 feet on the other hand was a test of both my physical and mental stamina.
Check out the video of the hike to Camp Muir
The day started on a rainy, gray and cold note with fog all around. The Skyline trail immediately behind the visitor center is paved but begins to gradually climb almost immediately. The trail soon becomes a rocky path with hairpin switchbacks and leads you to a subalpine meadow. I briefly saw a glimpse of the Mt. Rainier Summit at this point. But my long close-up view of this majestic mountain came nearly two miles into the hike, just below Pebble Creek. At this point, I also saw ominous warnings signs of continuing on the trail. As with any tall mountain, the weather on Mt. Rainier can change suddenly and if a storm sets in there could be white out conditions. Luckily for me, the temperature started to warm and the fog cleared and brought with it the promise of a beautiful day.
Reaching Pebble Creek is another slog uphill with a mix of make-shift stairs and rocky trail. My next challenge after getting to the Creek was figuring out a way to cross it. The water ran pretty strong for a creek and I wanted to find a way to cross it without loosing my footing and getting my trail runners wet. With the help of my trekking poles, I managed this feat fairly easily.
On the side side of the Creek was the Muir Snowfield. When I got to this part, I was mostly excited and ready to trek the remaining 1.5 miles to the top. I’d made great time up to that point and I didn’t have a single doubt in my mind. As I was making way up through the quite steep snow mound, I realized just how difficult this hike was going to be. It was a clear day and I had perfect views of Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood. Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy the view because I made some serious rooky mistakes! First (and very importantly), I forgot my sunglasses. One a bright sunny day, the sun reflected off the snow and quite literally hurt and burned my eyes. I also left my sun block in the car (and yes, even with dark skin the sun was burning me!). I also wasn’t mentally prepared for the steepness of the climb nor the difficulty of making this hike in the snow.
Nearly half way to Camp Muir, I found myself sitting on some rock outcroppings debating with myself whether to push ahead or turn back. While I wasn’t physically exhausted, mentally I felt like giving up. I don’t usually have many of these moments when I’m hiking, so I almost didn’t know how to pull myself out of the self doubt. Luckily, a fellow hiker, on his way down from Camp Muir, stopped to chat with me. He was so kind and reassuring that it felt like he spoke confidence into me. Soon after, I decided to make my way up. And I had to make little bargains with myself – hike to the next rock outcropping and take a five minute break. This was my mantra until I reached around 8,000 feet where the trail seemed to flatten a bit.
Shortly thereafter I gained another 1,000 feet of elevation and finally Camp Muir was within sight. At first glimpse I felt a tremendous sense of relief and adrenaline kicked in because I was almost there. I thought it would take me just a few more minutes. An hour later, as I was still trudging my way up, the wooden structure seemed to be no closer than an hour before. I was so close that I couldn’t turn around, so I really had to dredge some inner will to keep pushing myself. At this point, I was physically exhausted and uncomfortable. With every step, I also had to fight the mental exhaustion of taking tiny steps and not feeling like I was getting anywhere. The toughest part of the hike was the last 250 feet, which was almost a straight incline. At this point, I wanted to scream at the mountain for making this last bit so hard.
Two months later, sitting in my comfortable bedroom, I can say the hike to Camp Muir was one of the most rewarding hikes! I literally felt like I was sitting above the clouds and could understand why this place was originally called Cloud Camp. For the first time in my life, I saw a crevasses, seracs, hanging glaciers and each thing had an immense and unique beauty of its own. I’m not an emotional person but I was overwhelmed with emotion that day.
After such a high note, I thought the climb down would be easy and quick. Boy was I wrong! My third rookie mistake was not bringing any micro spikes with me, especially since I was hiking in trail runners. The snow was soft and slushy. While there were some places to glissade, I found the trek to be quite treacherous. I fell more times than I’d like to count and definitely hit my head on a rock or two as I lost my balance in the snowfield. Climbing down was a physical and mental exhaustion of its own!
Thirteen hours later, I was soaking wet from the snow, and I had never been so happy to see a car. I changed into some dry clothes and rewarded myself with a nice, expensive meal at Paradise Inn!
While this hike is worth every ounce of pain and discomfort, be physically and mentally prepared to take this on! It is not for the faint of heart but the hard work is absolutely rewarding when you enjoy the most perfect view from Camp Muir.