Camp Muir is the basecamp for the majority of Mt. Rainier climbs. It perches atop the Muir Snowfield at ten thousand feet above sea level. Within this basecamp are a few choice spots for pitching tents (I assume), some outhouses, and then two main shelters. One of which is specifically for Rainier Mountaineering Inc., the other, is owned by the National Forrest Service. I heard word of these shelters during my hike up the Muir Snowfield (read: while I was freezing).
I was hauling you-know-what up the snowfield and began catching up to guided groups. Earlier, some of the guided groups were turning back, the weather being too extreme for them. Not us! No, no, no! What’s a little ice pelting your face at 60 miles per hour? As I passed a guide and one of his clients, I heard the client ask the guide’s opinion on the conditions. Much to my affirmation, he said that the weather was “full on”.
I quickly began to hate everything. I knew that those shelters were coming, but not soon enough. I felt like I had certainly suffered enough and that now I deserved to be relieved, it was becoming too aweful. But hiking in a whiteout makes for prolonged suspense when it comes to looking for your destination. When I did look up, all I saw was white. Very discouraging.
However when I did see the shelters, I asked a nearby guide which belonged to the National Forrest Service. He pointed, I ran.
Then I got tired, and trudged in total agony. So close! All I knew is that I wanted to be relieved from the pain I was in. And let me elaborate on this “pain.” It was psychical pain, but also very emotional. Mainly it was emotional because I didn’t want to die. As far as surviving goes, I was doing it. But I knew I was certainly in a situation where I needed to make sure that I continue surviving, lest I freeze to death.
Completely distressed, I approached the door of the shelter and pulled on the handle. That didn’t do anything. So I yanked like my life depended on it- wait a second…. After a moment of me thinking it was locked, it relented. Stepping inside, I was met with darkness and murmuring voices. I had just been in a total whiteout for a hours and I still couldn’t see, only now it was the inverse. I took a step forward and bumped into something hanging from the ceiling. So I just stood there, blind, and a little bit stunned. Eventually, my eyes adjusted and I started to make out my surroundings.
People began asking me if I was going up or coming down. Going up, I said. They couldn’t believe me, they had been there since the night before, captives of the storm. The park rangers had told them to wait it out because of the severity of the weather. And then I pop in. They thought I was loony. I told them that I had two more coming and they said they would make room for us (which meant that they would have to go from being crowded to completely crammed).
Joel and Harry arrived (in that order about 15 minutes apart), and I watched as each of them entered the shelter and experienced the same stupefying affect of the darkness. Once they came to, we all shared in the uplifting relief of warmth, security, and a Russian man who gave us crackers with slabs of butter on them.