She tried to keep a straight face after it happened, a smile as cool and unforgiving as the mountain air. I was robbed by a fox named Slim Shady, right under my nose.
Kim, Erin and I left Paradise for an overnight stay at Muir. The forecast called for low visibility, snow, and high winds at the summit. We carried our summit gear in case the conditions cleared up on the mountain, but we promised our partners that we wouldn’t summit unless the conditions were ideal. Besides, it was still early in the season and we all had new gear that could use a night on the mountain.
The climb was typical for an early season approach to Muir. We started in the midst of thick clouds, and climbed slowly through the clouds. The clouds started to fade away as we reached the top of the clouds just below the base to Panorama Point around 6,300’. While we would have preferred cloud cover for the climb up Panorama, the warm sun was nice.
Our summit plans were originally put on hold due to the weather forecast calling for high winds and storm activity which caused us to worry about the potential slope stability. As we approached, we watched clouds stream off the summit. While beautiful, they didn’t raise any confidence that we would find the ideal conditions we promised for a summit attempt.
At camp the rangers stopped by to determine our plans for the night. Usually this is a routine and light conversation, but this time the conversation had a tinge of seriousness about our route and gear. Last night, a guided team set off a dry avalanche which swept through a few parties lower on the route – nobody was injured. The guided teams all turned around after the slide. We discussed potential routes from a stability perspective – the rangers recommended Gibraltar Ledges over Ingraham Direct. While tempting, our commitment was based on ideal conditions: a recent slide on route, high summit winds, low summit visibility, and concerned rangers were certainly not ideal.
We proceeded to set camp, cook dinner and enjoy the evening roll by the snow slopes climbers often call Muir Beach. Muir Beach is an apt nickname: the clouds often sit below camp with the snow slope below camp looking like tropic beach.
Camp Muir is one of two National Park Service high camps on Mount Rainier. At 10,080’ most climbers use Muir as the base camp for summit attempts via Ingraham Direct, Disappointment Cleaver, or Gibraltar Ledges – although there are other routes that can be attempted via Muir.
After dinner, we packed up for the night. Last year’s spork theft by ravens was at the top of my mind as we packed up for the night since we were sleeping near the scene of the crime. I buried our food cache under 6” of firmly packed and worked snow – planting a wand so that I can find (and chip away) the protective ice the following morning.
Confident that the food (and my new spork) were protected from the ravens, we turned in for the night. Given the cold forecast I was really looking forward to testing the warmth of my new Exped DownMat.
Slim Shady Strikes Again
We awoke to a cold morning, with temperatures below the forecast. Thanks to the new DownMat I stayed nice and warm all night – sadly Erin slept cold in his heavy down bag. The first order to business was breakfast and that’s when we found the hole.
I had been planning to chip out our food cache buried under well packed snow with an ice axe in the morning, however somebody else beat me to it. Surprisingly the entire food cache was gone. Everything. Including the titanium spork that I purchased after a raven stole the original the previous year on the Muir Snowfield.
Frustrated, I started searching for debris around Camp Muir, and found none. I asked the ranger if he had seen a debris field that morning: his only reply was “nope, looks like ravens”. Reluctantly I returned to camp, and settled myself into the realization that I lost yet another spork. Kim could barely contain her amusement at my situation.
A few minutes later Erin noticed some tracks, and asked me what animal caused it. Annoyed, I gruffly replied that the only animal stupid enough to live this high up were humans. There were tracks leading north and south next to our site. We started a search. I traveled north: Erin, south. Fifty feet, I passed a team clearing camp who mentioned they saw a fox this morning. That would explain the tracks, and I picked up the pace and walked onto the upper Paradise in search of a debris field. 3 minutes later I found the remains of my orange stuff sack with the only inedible item it contained: my spork.
I took the claw slashed stuff sack over to the ranger’s hut. Holding the stuff sack in the air as I approached the ranger rang out “Looks like you got hit by Slim Shady!”. The fox has a name. Not only does the fox have a name, according to the ranger, it summits. We were robbed by a bad-ass summiting fox named Slim Shady. While it didn’t quell the grumbles in our tummies, we didn’t feel as bad knowing that we were robbed by an animal with more summits than all of us combined.
That said, the foxes stealing food have been a real problem this year. If you are camping at Muir, make sure you use one of the plastic buckets and keep your food in your tent. The foxes won’t enter a tent or break into a bucket – which encourages them to dine on the mice that live in the huts.