Trip Report    

Winter Scramble - Camp Muir

Classic winter overnight experience.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Snow hard on the way up - difficult to kick steps. Variable, but mostly comfortable to plunge step on the way down thanks to some overnight snowfall. Last 10 feet to Muir all ice, thinly covered by snow - walk carefully.

We anticipated less than optimal conditions, with the various forecast sources calling  for 20-30mph winds, wind chill temps down to single digits, some snow and rain overnight at Muir. The forecast was mostly accurate, except the morning that ended up being unexpectedly calm, dry, and sunny, and not even that chilly. Just about perfect.

Gear for the conditions made for heavier packs, but since the main goal of this trip was to get in shape for winter climbs, it worked as intended. The extra ballast was welcome and appreciated.

We planned to head up directly from the overnight lot, but ended up taking a stop at Paradise, and that proved helpful, because the rangers there warned us of crevasses at around 7,500 that may not yet have been filled by now. They could not pinpoint the exact location (there apparently were several  "kind of all over" and ranging from a few to at least a couple dozen feet deep). We didn't run into any on the way up or down, but just like with bears, they were surely there and saw us, even if we didn't see them.

We hit the trail from the Paradise  parking lot at ~10:30am.


Lots of skiers, hikers, and snowshoers on the way up on a nice sunny day. 



We made it to Pan point in about an hour, and took a 15-minute break there to rest, adjust gear, appreciate the great all-round views on this wonderful blue bird day, and to knock down the first sandwich. Nutrition is important.



Started moving again 11:45am. The snow on the snowfield was pretty hard, and most of the way we did not have any steps to use. As a result, walking in 4-season boots on an incline was a bit less comfortable than it could be, but the nice hard surface dusted by an inch or two of powder made for easy uphill travel nevertheless.


Another 15-min. break some 40 minutes later at 7,400, right past McClure rock. Second sandwich down,  three more to go.

The great views made for easy going. Throughout the day, we met a lot of skiers, probably several dozen at least enjoying the conditions. I would imagine the snow being mostly good for skiing, although it varied considerably from place to place, from several inches of powder to hard crust.





As we moved up, the wind finally started picking up, forcing us to start putting on layers, but the wind was relatively warm, maybe in the low 30s, so it was still quite pleasant.

A bunch of folks heading down from Muir warned us of high winds blowing "40 or 50" at Muir. At first, we were surprised by this, and started contemplating alternative locations, but eventually figured it must have been 40-50 km/h, which would be just about what we were expecting as well.


Yet another 20-min. break, and another cold sandwich, at about 2:30pm at 9000 feet.


Moving was getting slower with the elevation and the fatigue lugging the heavy gear. Skies were still clear, but we could see the thick band of clouds over the Olympics heading in our direction, albeit still far on the horizon. This was the snow and rain we were going to get overnight. The prospect of the somewhat deteriorating conditions motivated us to keep moving at a good pace.



Started moving again 2:50pm to make the final push, and soon thereafter, we could see Muir, and that made for some happy faces.



As usual, space around the camp was curved, and last couple hundred feet took disproportionately long. We watched the last group of skiers go down, and we entered the camp shortly after 4pm, and almost exactly at the moment when the sun slipped behind the horizon.




The last 10-20 feet right below the camp were bare ice and ice over rocks, in places covered by a inch of snow. The person who got to the camp before us (and was also going to spend the night) warned me that he slipped and had to self-arrest. The path over the rocks to the right proved to be the safest. Putting on crampons even just for this section may not be overkill. We certainly did put crampons for the descent next day in the morning (and kept them on all the way down to the cars).

The wind in the camp wasn't too bad, but the occasional gusts were strong enough that it required following the proper protocol in staking out, securing the base and opposite guylines before raising the tent walls.

Expecting intense overnight action (some forecast was calling for up to 35mph), everyone put in a good effort to protect against the conditions. Some of us carved out caves in a snow slope. I ended up using all the 12 snow stakes I brought, some pounded into hard crust or ice. It took a  couple of hours before everyone was fully settled, warm, and cozy.


While bunkered in out tents, at night we certainly got a decent amount of of wind action, and at some point freezing rain pounding on our tents. Noone bothered to stick their head out to check what was going down, though.

I discovered that a zip lock bag makes for a pretty functional pee bottle. Certainly beats chasing down boot inserts in the dark corners of the sleeping bag, and having to go through the whole annoying protocol putting on boots trying not to get the insides wet while it's snowing outside and raining condensation from tent walls, only to have to take them off a few minutes later.

We woke up to a surprisingly calm, windless morning, with perfectly clear skies. Summit seemed within reach.






The first order of business, though, was getting enough hot coffee into the system. The nice views had to wait. 



Several inches of snow and some icy rain overnight built up a nice crust of ice over our tents and on the guylines.



While everyone else was enjoying their coffee as well, I went around to say "hello" and visit other tent setups. Most of us dug out half-caves in a snow slope. Justin built a wall of snow blocks and a full kitchen! We were sorry to have to tear it all down later.






We initially planned to move out of the camp by around 10am, but with the nice conditions and great views, it was a lazy morning, and tearing down the camp took longer than expected. While waiting, we took the opportunity to snap some more pictures and enjoy the views from the camp.

















We started moving down around 10:30am, incidentally same as last morning. The clouds were far below us, and it looked like they kept lowering.

Snow on the descent was mostly pleasant for plunge stepping after collecting several inches of new powder overnight. It varied, from deeper pockets to hard surface in places, but for the most part it was very easy to travel on, and the going was fast.

We first hit an edge of a cloud and a bit of a light fog an hour into the descent, at around 7,500. We switched on our radios in preparation for the potentially worsened visibility, and we agreed to stay within visual distance at all times.

Within a few minutes, though, the cloud lowered below us. We did not hit the fog again until we pretty much got off the snowfield. Visibility started to drop right above Pan point, but never really got to the point where it would complicate navigation. Did not really need GPS at any point during the descent.

We reached 6,800 right above Pain point around 12pm and took a 15-min. break to eat and hydrate.

Looking from Pan point at the foggy mountain.


On our way down from Pan point, we ran into a group of rangers going up to Muir, who must have decided we seemed suspicious, because they showered us with questions, and pondered for a short while in apparent disbelief looking at our permit, but eventually decided that we must be legit and concluded that The Mountaineers are pretty good at following the rules.

Back to cars 1pm.

Overall, conditions were better than expected, but noone complained about the bonus clear skies, calm morning, and great views.