If you’re trying to reach Mount Rainier’s summit (14,410 ft./4,392 m.), most climbers pass through Camp Muir on its southern face. It makes sense. At 10,080 ft. (3,072 m.), it is the most accessible fixed camp to any trailheads to get you in position for the summit day, assuming you are trying to get up and down in two to three days.
It is named for John Muir (of course) because it is located at the same location that he, Philemon Beecher Van Trump and five others camped in during the ascent of August 1888. The site was suitably protected from some of the winds that strike the mountain by the nearby rock features. Since then, the area has been a common halfway point when ascending from the Paradise Valley.
The first hut was built there in 1916. It was the size of a large bathroom or a small bedroom and its stone walls were three feet thick. In 1921, a bigger hut was established and the 1916 structure was made into the Park Company’s guide house on the mountain and later into a cooking house used by the guide concessions. Today, the National Park Service says there is enough space to sleep 110 people there. But when they say “space,” they don’t mean within the walls of the buildings. While the camp is first come first served, permits from the National Park Service regulate the capacity of the Camp Muir area. Don’t be surprised if you need to pitch your tent nearby.
Climbing guide author Mike Gauthier recommends navigating by compass on the ascent; fog, white out or other conditions of low visibility can make the terrain very difficult to read. He also says a map from the park rangers with compass bearings to Camp Muir is also very helpful. Once you arrive, you can take a rest and take in the view, like at the Mount Rainier National Park’s new Camp Muir Webcam.
The route to the summit from Camp Muir takes several different paths, while the path to camp from Paradise is one herding trail. So in many ways, the route fans out from there, and the 110 capacity is often met in the popular summer months and around the weekends.
It has to be said: This is not a route to gain a wilderness experience. It is popular, crowded and often uncomfortable. People pack into the fixed shelters and sleep very close. Everyone still shares the established toilets. As Bette Filley put it in her book, The Big Fact Book About Mount Rainier, “Some have described Camp Muir as half way to Heaven, while others claim it’s half way to Hell.”
The key is to keep in mind you’re climbing to the summit and not Camp Muir. It’s just a check point along the journey.
Sources: 1) Gauthier, Mike, Mount Rainier: A Climbing Guide, The Mountaineers Books, 1999; 2) Filley, Bette, The Big Fact Book About Mount Rainier: Fascinating Facts, Records, Lists, Topics, Characters and Stories, Dunamis House, 1996; and 3) National Park Service website.