Mount Rainier National Park Officials Debating How To Rehab Camp Muir

Mount Rainier National Park officials are debating how best to rehabilitate Camp Muir. NPS photo.

What should be done with Camp Muir high on Mount Rainier? That's the question Mount Rainier National Park officials are grappling with. The facility is extremely strained by climbers and day hikers, and improvements are needed.

With as many as 500 folks visiting the facility some days during the peak season, and perhaps 110 of them spending the night, it's not hard to imagine the demands on the camp that is located along the route that John Muir followed in 1888 when he climbed to the mountain's summit.

"The popularity of Camp Muir as a climbing base camp and destination day hike strains existing toilet and overnight facilities, and has contributed to erosion of the pumice soils on the ridge. Extreme environmental conditions also contribute to the deterioration of structures and challenge park managers in their efforts to maintain the site and its public facilities," park officials note in the narrative of their draft environmental assessment that analyzes four alternatives for rehabilitating the camp.

The alternatives consider potential impacts and benefits of various approaches to rehabilitate the Camp Muir Historic District, which is located at an elevation of 10,080 feet.

Four alternatives were analyzed: Alternative 1 (No Action); Alternative 2, representing minimum development in which structures that are not historic would be removed; Alternative 3, in which non-historic structures are replaced with new structures compatible with the Historic District near their current locations; and Alternative 4, which also replaces non-historic structures with new compatible structures, but with a modified spatial arrangement.

The park's preferred alternative "would replace non-historic shelters with new structures that are compatible with the Historic District. The Client and Butler shelters would be removed and replaced. The new shelters would be designed to consider enclosures for utilities to minimize visual impact to the Historic District. The shelters would also be designed to provide more efficient storage."

Public comment on the alternatives is being sought through September 10. Several public meetings are scheduled, including one in Ashford, Washington, at the park's headquarters-Education Center on August 9, and another in Tacoma at a date to be determined.

You can find the entire EA at this site.

Comments

Despite the headline, I doubt there is much debate; the park's preferred alternative makes it pretty clear that the development faction of the NPS is still firmly in the driver's seat. The mountain ranger's plywood A-frame Butler shelter is a tiny inadequate eyesore without much room for improvement at the present location. Since half the alternatives are for increased development, I'd have liked to at least seen one for removing the 'Client' shelter without replacing it. The junior guide concessions seem to manage without a tarpaper shack and this would be a better location for a new Butler shelter, though closer to the "utilities". Almost makes me wish for the eighties, when the Inca altar / helipad was built at Muir with no pesky EA.

Camp Muir in summer has long been a slum. Long angle iron racks hold dozens of fiberglass turd vaults that must be removed in occasionally dripping helicopter nets. If infrastructure must be relocated, this should be priority one. Past six-figure solar composters were inadequate in summer and filled with ice when doors were not properly latched in winter. The costly new webcam was ruined by helpful visitors chopping ice off it and has still not been repaired. Seems to me that a smaller footprint might be the most sustainable at this harsh location, but more is always better at park HQ. Sooner or later, there will need to be a quota for day use above Pebble Creek. Or management could thin the crowd by requiring pilgrims to buy a climbing permit to travel on the Muir Snowfield, actually a lobe of the Nisqually Glacier. You'll notice reducing or dispersing the number of guided clients, who are the large majority of overnighters, is not an alternative in the NPS view of the problem.

For those determined and properly prepared to make this challenging day-trip, I'd recommend leaving the conga line and deviating east to the old USFS Anvil Rock lookout site at 9500' a half-mile below Camp Muir. You'll probably have it to yourself and the views of spectacular Mount Rainier are much better without the human zoo.