Mt. Rainier Snow Camping

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Location: Paradise, Mt. Rainier (2.5 hours from Seattle)

Where do I begin, my friend Doris and I have been talking about snow camping with the PNW Outdoor Women’s group since at least last summer. We have multiple friends that did it last year and only had good things to say so we put it on our to-do list.

November came around and Teresa, the amazing coordinator of this event, put out the link to sign up and Doris and I were lucky enough to get a spot within the one minute it sold out. Talk about competitive. So this was for sure happening and I analyzed the gear list and figured out what I had and needed to get. Let me remind you I am not even a year into backpacking yet, so taking on snow camping while being a newb at 3 season camping, seemed way over my head. Things I bought which I didn’t previously have were synthetic puffy booties for sleeping (these turned out to be one of the best purchases and kept us warm all night), new smartwool pants/ top (needed these anyways), I bought a new Enlightened Equipment quilt- not specifically for this event but got one that went to 10 degrees (no more mummy bag)!, snow stakes and I borrowed a bear canister and shovel from a friend. Overall wasn’t too bad to prepare for. If you have been 3 season backpacking, you should have most of the gear.

Here was my final gear list:

  • pack +pack rain cover
  • sleeping pad
  • down quilt + straps
  • costco down blanket
  • down booties
  • headlamp + batteries
  • 2 Nalgene’s
  • stove + fuel
  • snow stakes
  • pillow
  • bowl + spoon
  • Coffee mug + instant coffee, cocoa
  • lighter/matches
  • sunscreen
  • first aid kit
  • ear plugs
  • toiletries
  • heat packs/ hand warmer
  • spikes
  • snowshoes
  • poles
  • sit pad
  • sun glasses
  • base ball cap + warm hat
  • smartwool top and bottom
  • fleece lined leggings
  • snow pants
  • 2 pairs hiking socks
  • patagonia fleece zip up
  • light down jacket
  • heavy duty ski jacket
  • 2 pairs of gloves (light pair/heavy pair)
  • toilet paper
  • External battery charger for phone
  • camera + batteries
  • America Beautiful Pass

Like I said- PNW Outdoor Women’s group hosted this event and did all of the ground work for us in securing permits for Mt. Rainier. In the winter, for groups 12 or more, you need to get a group permit ahead of time, for groups under 12 you can go day of and get one and pick any spot you’d like (300 ft from parking lot and trails). Such a unique experience to be able to camp in places you’d never be able to any other time of the year.

So the actual day of.. we carpooled with our new friend Heidi and met up with everyone at Longmire and did introductions and went over a few things. We made the icy, long, beautiful trek up to Paradise after that. All cars are required to carry chains in the winter, even AWD and 4WD. We didn’t need to put them on but had them with. Make sure to park in the overnight parking section if you plan on spending the night up there. We all put on our huge packs, for which we got questions of how long we would be out there.. oh just one night, but you need a lot of gear! There ended up being 37 of us and we hit the trail, for about .25 mile and then set up camp behind the Paradise Lodge. My pack was over 40 pounds, so I’m glad we didn’t have to cary it too far.

Site selection.. from what I learned this weekend is you want to be not under any trees (heavy snow can fall on your tent), away from any water sources, and of course out of avalanche terrain. We all picked our spots, and laid out all 25 tents! What a site to see. To make a spot for your tent you dig at least 2-3 feet down and make a flattened space. If it is windy, you want to build your walls higher. We had the most perfect weather you could ever have asked for with blue bird skies and no wind, so we didn’t have to worry about that. This did take a good amount of time to make the platform for our tent. Stomping down with snowshoes helped a lot. We got up our tent, set up our beds, and ate lunch. It was actually really sunny and hot at this point and I was down to my last layers! I also put on sunscreen 3 times that day and still got a little pink. The sun is super harsh with reflecting from the snow so it’s important to lather that sunscreen up a lot.

After everyone was set up we went to adventure up the mountain. Some chose microspikes and some wore snowshoes. I chose snowshoes as I don’t enjoy post-holing too much. We hiked up just below panorama point and enjoyed the views of the mountain, the tatoosh range, and mt. adams and st. helens as well. The sun was beginning to dip down so most made their way back to camp while some of us stayed to soak in the sunset. We then made our way back to camp and made dinner in the “living room”- a carved out area of snow with benches to sit on! One thing about the cold and fuel for cooking- try to keep it elevated off the snow and always wrapped in something warm when not using. Ours froze fast when on the ground. Also, my MSR takes one minute to boil water, but boiling snow takes about 10 minutes so plan on using much more fuel. I would possibly buy a 4 season fuel canister for next time. I drank my hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps and then we decided to get ready for bed. It was before 9 but had already been dark for hours. I tried to do a few night photography shots, but waited too long and the moon had brightened up the sky a lot.

When sleeping- it is best to put anything that may freeze between you and another person or in your sleeping bag with you. I had my contacts in my pocket, cell phone, and camera, fuel, and water bottles between us. None of those things froze, so that worked out well.

Up until this point I hadn’t been too miserably cold at all during the day as we kept moving a lot. When we crawled into bed, we put on our booties and that kept our feet toasty all night. I slept with 2 pairs of pants on, and 3 layers on top. I didn’t want to sleep with my huge ski parka and snow pants on as that was very uncomfortable. I got cold right away and kept trying to fall asleep, but had no luck. I couldn’t warm up so I put my snow pants on at one point, but was still very cold through the night and didn’t sleep well at all. Something that I think would’ve helped is a z-lite pad under my inflatable sleeping pad. My sleeping pad has a high R value (rated for warmth), but it was not enough. I could feel the cold snow below me all night, which was not fun. I also need to figure out the quilt sleeping system. This has no bottom and has 2 straps that go under the sleeping pad. I loved the spaciousness of it, but need to figure out how to stay warm in it. I got some sleep that night and then we were up by 7:30 to catch the sunrise (yay for late sunrises in the winter). My hiking boots had gotten wet from the snow the previous day and were now frozen when I woke up. I had even put them inside the tent to help prevent this and I still could barely get them on. That was not super fun as well. We got up and made our way to catch some of the sunrise and then went back to camp and made breakfast and had hot coffee and the community of the other women around.

It was a great time meeting so many new people that share the same passion with me. So inspiring to be around so many bad ass women who are doing things I can only dream. I enjoyed learning from them and all the experienced tips they had to give. I am such a beginner in the world of backcountry adventures, but am willing and excited to learn from all. I am so lucky to have found this community of women who strengthen and lift each other up.

With some tweaks to gear I have no doubt that snow camping would be something regularly on the agenda in the winter. I have always hated winter growing up in Minnesota, but have a new found appreciation for the season this year. I know for sure this won’t be my last snow camping trip.

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