Trip Report    

Basic Alpine Climb - Camp Muir

Cold, windy, icy, and in a whiteout all the way, but winter scrambling route in pretty decent shape, and we enjoyed our hard-earned views from above the clouds.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Very hard and icy cover and exposed ice higher up. Powder pretty much all blown off by the wind. Crampons indispensable. Snowshoes not useful. Terrible skiing.

Given the Muir Snowfield's reputation for having crevasses opening up around this time of the year, and the recent reports of one person getting rescued after falling 40 feet into a crevasse near Anvil Rock and another near miss during the first week of October, I wanted to give it a margin of safety, so opted to run this as a Basic Climb and rope up for the upper portion of the snowfield. We had a team of 3 on a 60m rope.

With the cold rolling into the region, the forecast was calling for 15F temps and 10-15mph wind at Muir, wind chill in low single digits, mostly cloudy, temps and freezing level dropping throughout the day, but no new precipitation, and some clearing in the cloud cover by around 1-2pm. Frosting was expected near trail head elevations in the morning.

We gathered at 8am around the gate in Longmire, which was closed, and rumor was that it would stay closed until at least 1pm. You can't find it anywhere on the website, but the rangers consider the winter to already have started, and the gate is opening and closing as per the winter schedule.

Fortunately, the rumors were greatly exaggerated. Gate opened around 8:15am.

Started ~9:15am from Paradise in foggy and chilly conditions, but with a dusting  of snow on the ground coming all the way to Paradise, about an inch or so in places.



As we moved up, we collected frost all over our gear. It was chilly, and somewhat windy at lower elevations. We crossed slushy icy water in a couple places, which mostly all froze up by the time we were coming down in the evening. We were accompanied on the way up by 20 or so skiers, who didn't know it yet at the time, but who were in for a major disappointment.



We crossed Pebble Creek at around 11:15am.

Right around Pebble Creek, we put on crampons due to it being hard and icy. There was barely half an inch to an inch of powder over a hard pack, and even less higher up. Kicking steps was not really feasible, and venturing onto the snowfield without crampons, as I hear some considered, would be extremely unwise in these conditions.

While putting on crampons, we ate some food, and roped up and geared up, expecting a whiteout and difficult upwards travel on the snowfield.

Indeed, our route up the snowfield was in the fog and in the clouds all the way, with ~10-30 foot visibility, but we were prepared for it, so we pressed on. Some time after we stepped on the snowfield, the winds let go. It was still very chilly, but not getting blasted in the face was nice.

As we moved up, we contemplated the quantum nature of the sun as a wave function. It definitely did not occupy a fixed position in the sky.



With the whiteout and being out of shape, going was somewhat slow.

By around ~1:30pm, we made it to a flat area between some rocks around around 8500, where we decided to refuel and spend an hour or so running some crevasse rescue refresher and practice, as planned. Conditions were better than expected, with powder blown away, and exposed hard and icy crust  all over the snowfield, but I did not want to take any chances.


While we were doing the rescue, it momentarily cleared up and we saw a glimpse of Anvil Rock popping out from the clouds. But, that did not last long, and shortly thereafter, we were back in the fog all over.


While practicing, we started to hear skiers shaving the ice from the snowfield from far away.

Wrapped up practice and started moving by 2:45pm to make sure we can get back down below the most sketchy part of the upper snowfield before dark.

The last 1000-1500 feet of the snowfield is very icy, and pretty much exposed. I could see each of the individual 12 crampon spikes punched into the ice in each of the occasional footsteps made by others before us, that greatly helped in navigation.

Total whiteout continued until around 9500-9600, after which we started to see temporary breaks in the cloud cover, and could recognize Camp Muir in front of us. It was interesting to see an edge of the cloud right below Muir swirling around in place and moving back and forth.



The final 200 feet to the camp, we were finally out of the clouds.


Stepped into the camp ~4:45pm. A nice reward for all the type 2 fun leading up until this point.



Summit still quite a ways from here. Not today!


Some gnarly crevasses right past the camp. Danger!


Time was of essence, so we only spent 30 minutes inhaling some food and water, and taking in the views from the camp. The moon was out by now, but it was small and shabby. Not like the moon I remember.





We started walking back down around 5:20pm.



The clouds seemed to have receded a little bit, as expected, although not by very much. We were back in the clouds and low-vis conditions by around 9500.




Back in the clouds, visibility dropped dramatically, and I had to take off sunglasses to see the ski and boot marks. By now, a very light dusting of half an inch of snow or so covered much of it, so relying on GPS on the way down was a must (fortunately, between the 3 of us on the rope, we had something like 7 independent GPS-powered devices plus compass bearings).

But, the route is very straightforward, and easy to walk on in crampons, so going was very fast, we cleared the snowfield in about 1.5 hours, and were back to Pebble Creek by around 6:45pm.

Below the snowfield, visibility improved dramatically, but the wind picked back up a bit by then. Temps and the freezing level have fallen. We walked as a rope team in crampons all the way back to the parking lot.

Back to cars 8pm, extremely cold at Paradise. Could not manage to carry my gear 200 feet to the car with gloves off.

Back to the Longmire gate 9pm.

Overall, it was a pretty long day at close to 11 hours car to car, some of which we spent dusting off crevasse rescue, but for the most part, a timely reminder that regular cardio is not optional. Glad to have made a good use of the crappy weather. Erika and Josh did a fantastic job enjoying the suck, and we were all in good spirits throughout, glad to have stuck our noses out to enjoy outdoors this weekend.