Finally, after six hours climbing a staircase carved into the side of Mt. Rainier, I made it to Camp Muir, the main launching station for those trying to summit the peak. As I came over the final crest at 10,080’, I could see the stone ranger station and sleeping hut. As I came up the steps, I felt exhilarated (despite my total exhaustion) as I looked out upon the rows of colorful tents and flags spread across the giant glacier field in front of me. It was everything I imagined it would be. When I finally found Alex, who had been waiting and resting in the sun, I discovered one more visual treat: the site of Alex’s CU Buff flag flying in the wind above our sleeping hut.
While resting, your first impression of Camp Muir is shaped by the clouds below you and the long vistas out to the ocean and at the south base of Mt. Rainer. Unlike Colorado, where mountains are stacked up together in huge groups, Mr. Rainer and the surrounding peaks like Mt. Hood and Mt. Baker are volcanic peaks which literally shoot right out of the low plains surrounding them.
After a short rest, we walked around and took in the other experiences which Camp Muir offers. You can meet climbers who come into camp in the mid afternoon following their 2:00 am trek to the top and are taking a quick rest before heading down. In the large glacial bowl, you can watch the groups practicing their ice climbing skills and getting ready for their early morning attempt. Or, as in our case, you can meet people who came up to have an amazing day hike and are heading down that afternoon.
An addition that made our trip more convenient and fun was staying in the public hut which has bunks for about 20 mountaineers following the rule: First in time, first in right. The shelter also has an indoor ventilated cooking area for your camp stove. In addition to warmth from the cold night air and the sounds of falling rock throughout the night, we got to enjoy the warmth of other climbers who had plenty of stories to share (as well as food to trade) about their experience on the mountain. Our favorite was the father and thirteen year old son pair who were gearing up to leave at two and then camp out on an eastern snow field about three quarters the way to the summit. They were then planning on doing the summit the next evening. Talk about an AdventrueDad!
The final treat of our stay at Camp Muir was seeing a helicopter fly in to drop of supplies and hall out trash and propane canisters from the ranger station. As you learn at the base ranger station, everything that comes up the mountain must come down. That meant that we had to take our CU flag along with us for our quick descent down the mountain.