Mike Beck and Doerte Mahanay watch as Mount Saint Helens give off some steam on the upper Muir Snowfield!

Camp Muir / Muir Snowfield Telemark Backcountry Ski 10,188'

Trip Report
Mount Rainier National Park


March 06, 2005




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The morning was warm. The sky was blue. The Paradise parking lot was almost empty. The joke among the 30 or so people heading up was that everyone cancelled because of the weather! There were mostly skiers, but several climbers and hikers too. We ran into fellow Washington Alpine Club telemark skiers Kirsten Hauge and Nate Riensche who were also heading up with two friends. Sunscreen was the order of the day. Mike Mahanay, Doerte Mahanay, and Mike Beck left Paradise shortly after 9 am carrying our skis. The snow cover looked more like June than it did early March. It was only a couple of feet deep. Usually there would be 8-10 feet of snow.

Visibility is essential for this trip. Several lives have been lost by a few who were unprepared or unwilling to turn back when weather deteriorated.

The climb to Camp Muir is a full day event that gives the skier a fantastic long run down the Muir snowfield after a long day of climbing. The climb to 10,800 feet is a challenging one!  This ski trip is wonderful in good weather and should only be done when visibility is reliable. A GPS or using wands will help if the weather turns bad while you are on the mountain, but a whiteout will not allow you to have that great day of turns you are looking for.

We met a couple on Panorama Point who said on Saturday it was very windy and they turned around. We took a short break and basked in the sun.

Above Panorama Point with the Tatoosh Range and Mount Adams in the background.  We soon put on our skis and skinned up the rest of the way.

Above Panorama Point we were able to put on the skins. Most everyone did the same. It sure beats carrying those skis on my back! We saw several people with snowshoes strapped on their packs. They were not necessary. The snow was packed and firm and there was an excellent boot track all the way to Camp Muir.

There were several parties of skiers, Telemarkers, randonee and some alpine. 

Doerte, Beck, and Mike at Camp Muir. There was no wind, blue skies, and warm temperatures.

Behind us is a bare Little Tahoma!

There was almost no one at Camp Muir! Ten people maximum. It was still sunny and warm, and we basked in the sun eating our lunch like a bunch of marmots. The Camp Muir Hut was built in 1916 as a climbers shelter and named to commemorate the recently deceased naturalist and Sierra Club founder, John Muir.

We talked about the incredible races they used to have from Camp Muir to Paradise. The first Silver Skis race in 1934, in which sixty racers ran from Camp Muir to Paradise simultaneously! In the first race there were 60 starters, and 44 finishers, with only one serious injury. Don Fraser won the April 22 race in a time of 10 minutes, 49.6 seconds. The racers reached speeds of 60 miles per hour.

Later times improved to less than 5 minutes! In 1942 Matt Broze of the Seattle Ski Club won the April 12 race in a time of 4 minutes, 57 seconds. Despite the fact that he reported fell twice. The last last was Silver Skis race was in 1948. For more info on the history of skiing in Washington just go to Lowell Skoog's Alpenglow Ski Mountaineering History Project at http://www.alpenglow.org/ski-history/

There was a route in place across the Cowlitz Glacier. It looks like the climbing season has already begun. We saw several climbers descending, but didn't get a chance to ask them how far they got. 

Doerte skiing the windblown hard pack below Camp Muir.

You can see in the photo how uneven the snow is.

The windblown hardpack was a bit difficult to ski. In some places there was a breakable crust. Speaking only for myself, I spent a wee bit of time in the backseat. Mike Beck say that "you have to be able to ski all conditions." We had about 2,000' of practice until the snow softened up and it became easier to ski.

We were often distracted by the steam coming from Mount Saint Helens. It started as some small spurts, and ended as a constant steady smoke. Two days later it let off a huge plume!

Instead of going back down Panorama Point we took the McClure rocks/skyline trail option and dropped away to skiers left onto southeast facing slopes. We found lots of forgiving soft snow and made plenty of fresh tracks. Beck did the route finding and we  made some great turns down to Edith Creek. We easily made the bridge.

The Bridge in the middle of the run!

There was plenty of nice gentle, mostly untracked snow, and we were avoiding the rocky descent of Panorama Point. I enjoyed this section the best, and the tree skiing at the end was bonus fun!

An absolutely beautiful day! We could see all the way to Mount Jefferson in Oregon, and the air was crystal clear. There was no better place to be!

A good view of Mt. Saint Helens behind Beck.

Having an active volcano is our backyard makes living here even better!


 Needless to say, a perfect day! Despite the lowest snow year in the Cascades since 1977 we still had a great day telemarking from Camp Muir all the way to road!

Camp Muir, Anvil Rock, The Paradise Glacier, and Little Tahoma!

4,600' of March skiing! 9 hours round trip, 8.2 miles, 4,600'  elevation gain.
Thanks to Mike Beck for leading the tour!

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