Thursday, April 16, 2009

Camp Muir 4/11/2009

The plan for the weekend was to head to Camp Muir. As the weekend approached, the forecast did not look all that good with “mostly cloudy” prediction and winds of up to 35 mph at Muir. We decided to still give it a shot with an option we can always turn if we find the conditions too dangerous.

Ready to brave the winter weather, we drove to the south side of Mt. Rainier.
Road to Paradise was clear all the way up. We found the parking lot not overly crowded but still there were quite a few people there.

Soon afterwards we started our trip heading towards Panorama Point. This part was easy and to our surprise we found the area except for few breezy spots rather windless. Once atop we took a short break (no views to enjoy here today) and proceeded further. With not much snow, following the rocky route was reasonably easy and we did not encounter any major route finding issues on the way up but we marked few spots that could be tricky in foul weather on the way down with flags Aaron brought for this purpose.

Our ascend was surprisingly calm. There was nearly no sign of the winds that were supposed to rage in the area and the occasional breezy spots felt actually pretty good on this relatively warm day.

We could not see any of the glorious mountains around. The grand views remained hidden for most of our ascend but on the other hand the conditions made everything close to us even more beautiful making us admire little things like frosted shrubs or ice literary growing from the rocks we passed.

The conditions improved greatly once we approached Muir Snowfield. We walked out of the clouds to a glory of blue sky and perfectly clear summit of Rainier in front of us. It was magical to walk the last 500 vertical feet, but for me also the most difficult part of the trip. The altitude of above 9000 ft once again kicked my butt. I made the last stretch way faster than last time but still nowhere near my desired performance level. With Mt. Adams climb in couple months I have some serious VO2 training to do.

The wind picked up in the camp and we found a refuge inside the climbers building where we met a group from East Coast planning summit climb sometime in next few days if the weather allows.

After a nice lunch break it was time to head down. It felt so good to be here and enjoy the views from above the clouds including Mt. Adams but our watch said firmly we needed to head down. Soon we walked back in the clouds leaving the beauty of gorgeous winter day at Muir behind. The conditions worsened on our descend. The wind arrived, blasting at us at full force. When we walked to the first flag we planted just few hours ago, we found about an inch of rim ice growing on it.

Navigated down was little more difficult than on the way up. We proceeded slowly from one flag to another. Aaron did a magnificent job leading the way. The really tricky part came when we reached Panorama Point and tried to find our way down. We spend a little bit of time here and eventually find the sign pointing towards lower Pam Point and from there the descend was easy and uneventful. Until....

.... we got close to our car and the watch showed little after 8:30 p.m. We quickly realized that the gate at Longmire closes at 9:00 p.m. We rushed the last stretch, threw our gear in the car and down the hill we went. Fortunately the road was clear and mostly dry too so that we could maintain steady speed. At 8:58 p.m. we arrived at the gate… and found it closed and chained up.

We were lucky and after just about a minute of trying to figure out what we can do, a ranger drove by and let us out. It appeared he closed the gate about 15 minutes earlier and made his last round to make sure he did not lock anybody in.

After a long and interesting day in the mountains, we were finally heading home.

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