Alternate title: The Long Schlep 🙂
Hike: On Monday May 10th, 2021, we set out on day 1 of a 3-day “hike”–more of a “climb” but we’ll go with hike–from the Paradise Visitors Center parking lot, to Camp Muir.
Camp Muir is about halfway from the base (at Paradise) to the summit of Mount Rainier, approximately 4.5 miles and 4,600 feet gain in elevation.
Goal: Make it to Camp Muir with plenty of energy left, no blisters, no tummy troubles, and no muscle soreness.
Gear: I carried about 31 pounds of gear (check out my gear list from yesterday), including 2 full liters of water in my Nalgene bottles–one of which I mixed in Countrytime lemonade, for a little boost 🙂
I wore my Smartwool shirt & 1/4 zip long-sleeve, Athleta sports bra, Outdoor Research pants and gaiters, Pro Compression socks, Smartwool medium hiking socks, La Sportiva Nepal boots, Nuun visor, Julbo glacier glasses (rented), and used my Black Diamond trekking poles with snow basket attachments.
Weather: About 54° and sunny when we started out from Paradise. Felt cold, but we shed a mid-layer right before starting out, knowing that movement would warm us up. It didn’t take long to get very, very hot, due to the solar radiation–pretty soon we were all sweating profusely!
Pre-Hike: I woke up at 6 after a nervous night’s sleep, and took my last shower for a few days.
I remembered to pack my little toothpaste tube, and iPhone charging cable, and slowly ate my last “real” meal for a few days, the leftover French toast and coffee from yesterday.
I quietly stepped outside, and a gorgeous sunny day greeted me. A beautiful day to start this grand adventure up Mount Rainier.
I called Javi from the rental car, so I wouldn’t wake anyone up (thin walls at the hotel). He wished me a great time, and I started to feel more excited than nervous.
Since we packed last night, all that was left to do was wait around until our meet-up time at IMG, at 8 AM.
We drove the 1 mile up the road to IMG’s headquarters, and there “shot the breeze” with Mike for a bit. I used the restroom, got a parking pass for the rental car, and we had a brief team meeting. Since COVID, we had to drive separately, vs. riding in the IMG 12-passenger van. So we got in a little convoy, with Joel and I bringing up the rear in our GMC Terrain SUV rental. I had to pass a slow van to stay with the group, but we made the 45 minute drive up to the Paradise long-term parking lot without a hitch.
We learned to put on our gaiters properly (thanks to Jim for teaching me the strap goes on the back of the heel!), applied sunscreen, and made sure to lock the car. I debated bringing my wallet with me, but knew it would be dead weight (and have a chance of getting lost on the mountain), so we took Peter’s recommendation and hid our wallets in the glove compartment of the car–no one would think to look there, right?!
We had a 3 minute walk over to the visitor center area, where we could use a real bathroom one more time, and fill up on water. The guides showed us how to fit our bags snuggly and properly.
The guides told us the hike up to Camp Muir would take about 5 hours, and we would be taking 4 breaks–about one break per hour. At each break, we were expected to drink 1/2 liter of water (~16 oz) and eat a snack of roughly 200 calories, to keep our energy up.
At 9:38, after cinching our waist and shoulder straps on our packs, and grabbing our trekking poles, we were ready to conquer part 1 of this mountain!
I stupidly put my Garmin in “climb” mode instead of hike mode, so I got a very skewed workout later on, as you’ll see below in the Map section.
Hike: I like to remind myself to just take a big task, like this one, a bit at a time.
The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. ~Lao Tzu
I think we were all anxious/excited to get going, but I hoped–and I’m sure the others did too–that the guides wouldn’t set a blistering pace. After all, most if not all of us came from sea level, so we definitely weren’t acclimated to the high altitudes of Mount Rainier.
Thankfully, we settled into a doable pace.
The cool air smelled of fragrant fir trees as we began, but within an hour or two, we were above the treeline.
At this point, the going got tougher/steeper very quickly. The guides taught us how to “rest step”–basically take a pause before taking another step. Sort of like slow-motion walking. That helped!
My heart rate was higher than my desired Zone 1 (above 146 BPM) for most of the hike, but I didn’t feel like I was too out of breath.
As expected, we took a break each hour, for about 10 minutes. In that 10 min, we had to drink our half liter of water, get a snack in, and reapply sunscreen, so the 10 minutes went quickly.
For most of the walk, I chatted with others, or listened to others chatting, which made it go faster.
I felt calm and content for most of the climb. I struggled a bit with some steeper sections, but I knew I could make it.
When no one talked, or I couldn’t hear the conversation at the moment, I sang to myself, mainly Sia’s “The Greatest“–Don’t give up, don’t give up, I got stamina… I’m free to be the greatest, I’m alive.
As sometimes happens when I’m running or hiking, I had a sort of meditative trance going on (in the zone, as I call it) and most of the 6 hours went by very fast! I savored the fresh air, sunshine, and incredible mountain views. At one point towards the end, I thought, I’m ready for a break. And not 1 minute later, it was break time!
I have nothing but positive things to say about our guides: very upbeat, helpful, and fun.
No feet issues, just a little rubbing on my right ankle, but it didn’t cause a blister. Stomach felt fine, head felt fine. So thankful for how this first day is going so far.
The 2 PhD students (Jim and Cathy-Anne) fell back pretty early, so one guide stayed with them while the other 6 of us continued on. I didn’t know what happened (didn’t want to be nosy) but found out later that Jim’s hip was hurting, so they had to slow down.
Another hour of walking… up and up and up.
During the hike, the guides taught us to kick step–basically the first person kicks a step into the snow, trying to create a level step that everyone else can use behind him. That way, for each person behind person #1, it takes less energy, as the steps are already created in the snow. So our task was to step in the same bootprints as the person in front of us. This video shows the kick and rest steps.
Finally, we got to break #4, finished all the water we brought with, and could see Camp Muir up the mountain, in the distance. It seemed crazy that it was still an hour’s walk away, but… it was. I needed to throw on my TNF jacket during the breaks, as the air seemed significantly colder at 9,000 or so feet, where we took that last break.
Nearly six hours after starting out, at nearly 4 PM, we made it to Camp Muir!
On the little ridge in the middle of the camp, the guides gave us a quick orientation: pit toilets on the left (while looking down the mountain, as shown in the pano pic below), a few bunkhouses and ranger station buildings on the right, and a mini “tent-city” for RMI Mountaineering (IMG’s competitor, but they all get along so nicely and work together in the mountains as needed), just beyond that.
Post-Hike: Our tent-city was over a little knoll, but after walking for 6 hours, that last little hill and last minute or 2 of walking felt difficult. Regardless of my burning leg muscles, WE MADE IT TO CAMP MUIR! Halfway up the mountain.
At last, we got to the tents, our temporary “home sweet home.” We each got our own two-person tent, and each contained two foam sleeping pads. The perfect size tent… half for sleeping, the other half for all the gear!
I unpacked a little, then sent Javi a message using my Garmin InReach Mini (GPS device). I walked over to the ridge to see if I could get cell signal, and I did! I called Javi and got to talk for 8 minutes 🙂
I headed back to the tent (or sauna, as it felt with the heat of the sun baking it), munched on some trail mix and drank Nuun electrolytes, then took a glorious little cat nap. All the hiking had somewhat wore me out. I set my alarm so I wouldn’t oversleep for dinner.
We met at 5 for an early dinner. The guides heated up water, and added it to our freeze-dried dinners. I brought the same dinner as two others, Mountain House Beef Stroganoff (I had fond memories of woofing down the entire thing while on the PCT!)
Peter advised us to allow extra time for the water to rehydrate the food, and ensure the food was fully rehydrated prior to eating, otherwise some serious stomach distress could ensue. I gave mine extra time, just in case.
I couldn’t finish the whole meal, so the guides disposed of my leftovers for me (on the mountain, it’s a Leave No Trace situation, so every piece of trash must be packed out and disposed of properly). I was grateful for one less thing to need to carry upwards tomorrow!
After dinner, we all dispersed to our tents to relax and settle in for the evening.
I did this quick tent tour:
Then realized that my previously sweaty feet had turned ice cold. I put my base layer pants on, and changed into my two pairs of fresh socks, but it didn’t help much. I added my winter hat, and big puffy coat, but even then… feet were still cold.
I thought I’d relax by listening to music very low (I didn’t pack headphones), so for the next hour or so, I listened to songs and nearly fell asleep between each song… over and over. I realized that I should take the drowsiness as a hint, and got up to use the bathroom one more time. (I successfully used the pee funnel several times while standing up, but realized it was faster/easier to just go the normal way, so I stopped using the pee funnel for anything other than middle-of-the-night needs).
The dusk sky and views were absolutely spectacular!
I went to bed by 8:30, and set my alarm for 6:30 (knowing I’d probably wake up sooner, but breakfast was at 7). Hopefully I can get a decent night’s sleep, and not freeze!
Hand warmers & ear plugs, for the win
I woke up around 11, with cold feet bordering on numb, and I needed to pee. I used the funnel + water bottle method, and managed not to make a mess anywhere (yay!) I prefer this method to getting on cold, soggy boots and trudging outside in the darkness, that’s for sure!
I got out the only set of hand warmers that I packed, shook them vigorously, and put them in my outer socks, by my toes. I also removed the wet socks from the day, which were drying on my stomach, and replaced them with the pee bottle (I know it sounds gross, but why not use the warmth?–got the idea from Backpacker magazine, I think). Between the warm bottle and the hand warmers on my feet, within about 20 minutes, I felt much better. Surprisingly, I slept soundly.
A note on ear plugs: I brought little foam ear plugs and was so glad I did! When I woke up, I could hear Joel snoring on my left, and Joe snoring on my right, but both were very faint–thanks to the ear plugs!
When I woke up, I felt rested and toasty warm 🙂 So thankful for that energizing night of sleep. Bring on day 2!
Map: this doesn’t show the true distance (4-5 miles) or elevation (4,600 ft)
Next up: Day 2 on Mount Rainier, going from Camp Muir to Ingraham Flats