Camp Muir Mt. Rainier Day Hike Tips

Published:  08/08/2016

climbers on snow

Maria Faires, RD with Climb For Clean Air Hiking to Camp Muir in white out conditions

These tips are for climbing to Mt. Rainier Camp Muir but could also be for any high altitude base camp or glacier travel.

The Camp Muir Trail hike isn't for everyone since it is exposed and does involve substantial snow travel and may require good route finding skills.

Backpacker Magazine called it "one of the 10 deadliest hikes in America". Fierce storms can come in rapidly and dramatically and can bring a whiteout. It can get cold fast and the route can be obscured. Hikers have wandered blindly over cliffs so please be prepared by checking the weather forecast and road conditions before you go. Even if you expect good weather be prepared for sudden weather changes. I personally have experienced many occassions of blinding fog and snow. If I and my partners didn't have the necessary skills, it could have been deadly. 

It is imperative that you check the weather forecast and only go in optimal conditions. Plan ahead and take the things you would need to survive if conditions change.

Refer to this packing list for what to bring on this hike. And refer to this blog about my last day trip up to Camp Muir so you know what to expect.

Maria Faires, RD is a mountaineering fitness and nutrition expert. 


It's easy to get very sunburned when hiking on snow. The rays of the sun bounce off the snow and into places you've mostly likely never been burned before such as up your nose, inside your ears and up your shorts. Once an hour, stop, pat to dry off any sweaty areas and reapply a mineral sunscreen containing a high percentage of zinc oxide to these frequently overlooked areas in addition to all exposed skin. Be sure to use sunscreen on your lips and the parts in your hair. This Sun Bum is frequently used by climbers. Avoid using the stick sunscreen as studies show that it has to applied in multiple layers to reach the advertised spf. (LabMuffin) 

Rest Step

The rest step that is used by mountain climbers to slow their cadence, rest their leg muscles and preserve their energy during a climb on steep terrain at altitude. Essentially, the "rest step" takes pressure and strain off quad and glute muscles and transfers it to the bone structure. Practice this important skill at home on a staircase like I show you here in this video How to Do The Rest Step

Continuous movement is a great strain on your muscles! Also, stopping and starting, like slowing down and speeding up, wastes energy. The key to preserving your energy for the long haul is to be slow and steady. The "rest step" is a technique used by mountaineers to slow their tempo, rest their muscles and conserve their energy while climbing on steep terrain at high altitudes. The rest step transfers the weight of your body to your bone structure and allows the lower body muscles to rest.

Here is how you do it: As you step forward up the hill, swing your leg forward keeping the muscles in that leg relaxed. Lock your rear knee and keep all of your weight on that rear leg. Once your forward foot comes to rest on the ground, don’t put weight on it. Rest in that position as long as you need. (As you're swinging your other leg forward, relax the muscles in that leg). The locked rear knee provides support for your weight without requiring help from the leg muscle. That means your leg, hip and back muscles get a rest, if only for a short moment. When you're ready to take the next step, shift your weight to the front foot, swing your rear leg forward and lock the rear knee again, repeating the entire process.

Get into a rhythm much like a wedding march. Another tip: lead with your hips instead of your feet. Be sure to walk slowly, steadily and take smaller steps. By walking more slowly, you can walk continuously without taking breaks. Walking more slowly prevents you from getting sweaty too quickly, keeping you warm and better hydrated. Synchronize breathing with this sequence.

A mountain climber in the Himalayas may stay motionless between steps for 10 seconds or more. At lower altitudes, you might only need a second pause. The key is to get into a steady rhythm of doing the same thing for each step you take.

Altitude Illness

Some people get altitude sickness and some people don't, and some people are more susceptible than others. Most people can go up to 8,000 feet with minimal effect. If you haven't been to high altitude before, be cautious. To prepare and minimize the effects: hydrate well the day before and stay properly hydrated during your hike. Do not drink alcohol the day before. Eat and drink something at each rest stop. Take a dose of ibuprofen as you are gearing up. Utilize the rest step and pressure breathing. If you feel nauseas suck on a hard peppermint candy or chew peppermint gum. For more on preventing altitude illness go here  Being overheated can cause you to not feel well. Take off a layer if needed. For more on mountaineering in the heat go here. 

For detailed information about Acute Mountain Sickness see this blog. 

Pressure Breathing

At higher elevations you'll need to make a conscious effort to breathe deeply and often. Pressure breathing is used to provide extra oxygen to the working hiker at altitude.

During your rest step, inhale quickly, and fill your lungs completely, expanding both ribcage then exhale explosively through pursed lips, emptying your lungs in one big whoosh as if you were trying to blow out a giant candle.

The Plunge Step

The plunge step is a simple technique for walking downhill in the snow. Bend your knees slightly and push your rear end back slightly. Lead with the heel of your foot. Take a step and land on you heel first, letting the weight of your whole body make a depression in the snow. Keep your knees slightly bent.

Trekking Poles

Use trekking poles with a snow basket. This shifts effort from legs to arms, reduces shock on knees and back and help you keep your balance with a pack on ice and snow. Always have extra snow baskets in your pack as the baskets frequently fall off. That being said, check that your are screwed on tightly periiodically. 

To determine the correct length: When hiking on level ground, adjust the length of the poles so that when your upper arm is hanging straight down and your hand is on the handle, your forearm should be parallel with the ground.

If you are going uphill, a pole at elbow height or shorter may be preferable.

If descending a steep slope, lengthen the poles.

To put your straps on, put your hand through the appropriate strap from the bottom (straps are right- or left-specific) so your hand rests snugly around your wrist. 

If you are moving in an area that risks a fall, remove your hands from the straps so you don't get tangled and injured if you do take a tuble. 

Helpful Resources:

Maria Faires, RD is a mountaineering fitness and nutrition expert. Read reviews here

Map: Green Trails Paradise No. 270S

Please print this trail map with bearings and bring with your compass

Information about the hike from Washington Trails Association

Categories:   Hiking and Mountaineering 

Tags:   #exercise

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