Home > Trip Reports > June 26, 2007, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Finger via DC

June 26, 2007, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Finger via DC

WA Cascades West Slopes South (Mt Rainier)
Posted by Amar Andalkar on 6/27/07 10:39am
Brief Summary:
Planned to solo climb and ski Rainier in a day via the Disappointment Cleaver route. Met two climbing rangers named Andy at the summit crater and skied Fuhrer Finger with them instead. There is new snow from Sunday night (June 24), several inches fell from Paradise all the way to the summit. The DC route is in excellent shape for both climbing and skiing, with only a minor amount of bare ground at the nose of the Cleaver plus the usual bare slope at Cathedral Gap. The upper Nisqually Glacier is in fine shape above 12500 ft, where it is heavily broken and there is a major crevasse impasse (ropework or huge air required). As expected, Fuhrer Finger is in nasty, horrible condition: very rough, heavily suncupped, and liberally studded with rocks of all sizes from 9500-11000 ft, along with a bonus 10 vertical ft of ice to sidestep in the narrow throat at 10100 ft.  The new snow was not enough to cover up the old surface.  Wilson Glacier (below 9500 ft) and the middle Nisqually Glacier (6000-8500 ft) remain in excellent shape, with only a few incipient cracks now starting to open across faintly visible old tracks. Overall a great trip, with an easy fun climb followed by a very memorable adventure of a ski descent.

Detailed Report:

To follow, along with more photos . . .

Only photos can do justice to what the conditions were like in the Finger, so here's a shot of the two rangers heading down the Finger:

Nice Solo accomplishment Amar !      :)
  glad to hear after you mentioned this plan at the cravasse rescue field trip only days earlier.

  Was it windy?  Hood was very windy the same morning.

Wow, those conditions look awful. Glad to hear you had fun!  :)

Well Done, Amar.

Congrats, Amar! Glad to hear you recovered so quickly from your weekend "ailment."

Amar - nice job!  That's a great picture of the Finger.

Nice work Amar!!  I'll buy you a beer next time the crew gets together.  Congratulations!

Thanks everyone for your kind comments.

author=Monika link=topic=7483.msg29846#msg29846 date=1183004791">
Was it windy?  Hood was very windy the same morning.

I became windy above 12500 ft, after about 10 AM, with an ever-increasing SW wind that reached 30+ mph by the time I reached the summit crater.

author=gregL link=topic=7483.msg29856#msg29856 date=1183046062">
Congrats, Amar! Glad to hear you recovered so quickly from your weekend "ailment."

Yes, mercifully there were no intestinal problems on this trip.

Detailed Report:
Here's the much-too-long version of the trip report, with more photos as clickable thumbnails . . .

The Backstory:
Skiing Rainier in less than a day has been on my agenda for several years now. But skiing the Mountain via Fuhrer Finger has been on my list for even longer, a full decade. Neither had happened yet, due to unfavorable combinations of weather, free time, available partners, and circumstances. In that decade, I had made many fruitless "attempts" to ski the Finger, none of which had even left Seattle, except for one which oddly enough had ended atop another 14er, located 500 miles to the south in a much sunnier clime (see 2004 TR). During that decade, I was fortunate enough to find great partners for three successful Rainier summit skis via the Emmons-Winthrop route (TRs: 1999, 2004, 2006), but the Finger remained elusive to me. In recent years, several of my friends had even skied the Finger in a day, but I was never in shape to join them and pull it off. For some, Rainier in a day is always easy, but not for me. The last time I was fit enough for such a trip was in the summer of 2004, and since then my ongoing struggle against weight had been failing, as I had ballooned from 142 lbs in 2004 to 170 by the end of November 2006. Something had to be done.

An increasingly intensive workout regime starting in December, followed in February by a severe diet, was soon taking off the pounds. But the generally miserable and cloudy weather of spring 2007 conspired against ski mountaineering myself into shape. With the re-opening of Mount Rainier on May 5, I resolved that I would try to fill every clear day with a ski mountaineering trip, even if it was "just Muir" over and over again. The route to Camp Muir had been my very first backcountry ski trip in the summer of 1996, the place where my life had changed forever, and it remains my all-time favorite conditioning trip. The next half-dozen weeks included a half-dozen day trips to Muir (more than I'd ever done in an entire year), mostly midweek and solo. There were also two overnight trips attempting to ski unusual routes on both Mount Baker and Mount Adams with Dave Coleman (unfortunately, both routes were "done for the year" when we got there). Despite my inability to complete any trips except Muir (and despite the continuing miserable spring weather), my conditioning was improving rapidly. By mid-June, I was finally ready: having lost 25 lbs in 28 weeks, at 145 lbs it was my lightest since October 2004. I could easily ski 1.5 Muir trips (7000+ ft) in a day with little fatigue, so I knew I could summit Rainier in a day. In addition, I had finally applied for and received a Rainier solo permit, so my trip could go on with or without available partners. However, my chosen route was not so ready anymore: Fuhrer Finger had looked increasingly dirty, rock-strewn, and bare in recent days, and it too seemed to be "done for the year". No matter, I'd just try to ski the aptly-named Disappointment Cleaver in a day instead and try the Finger next year. . .

The First Attempt, June 19-20, 2007:
  (maybe I should have written a separate TR about this one last week)
A decent weather window presented itself on Tuesday-Wednesday, June 19-20, with a forecast for clear skies and 11000 ft freezing levels, although the winds at 14000 ft were forecast to be 45+ mph. Not ideal, but good enough I thought, given the bleak spring thus far. When I mentioned my (solo) ski plan to Dave Pinegar, he was eager to join me and I happily accepted. Especially as I was reconsidering the wisdom of solo climbing in light of recent reports on Mike Gauthier's blog of interesting crevasse crossings on the DC route above the Cleaver, with teams placing pickets and belaying.

The Park Service climbing registration requirement places an awkward constraint on (legal) one-day ski attempts of Rainier. The last registration desk closes at 7 PM (Jackson VC), and assuming that the ideal time to ski off the summit is after noon, that leaves at least 17 hours to fill. A fit skier or climber should be able to easily summit from Paradise (5400 ft) via DC in 9-10 hours, so 7-8 hours need to be killed someplace prior to skiing down. The three choices for places to kill time seem to be at Paradise (after registering), Camp Muir (10080 ft, halfway through, with a nice hut), or the summit crater (14160 ft, possibly very cold and windy). We decided to nap at Muir, which would also give us a chance to melt snow to replenish our water supply. We would bring a compact Jetboil stove, but no sleeping bags or pads.

Following a taxing 3hr45min drive from Seattle in horrible traffic (on a Tuesday?), we picked up our permit at Paradise (an interesting story which I shouldn't repeat online) and got a very late start, skinning up from the parking lot at 8:30 PM. Snow conditions were perfect, a crust of refrozen corn which provided both excellent grip and effortless progress, far better than wallowing up in mush a few hours earlier. I skinned the whole way to Muir, stubbornly crossing 3 lengthy bare patches (including numerous stone steps) on the summer trail near Pan Point, while Dave wisely removed his skis for all that. The crescent moon provided insufficient light, so we skinned the Snowfield by headlamp. Despite ever-increasing winds which eventually reached a sustained 30+ mph above 9000 ft, we reached the Muir hut at 12:30 AM and silently crept inside. The rest of the camp, including RMI guided parties and teams camped outside, was stirring into action for their headlamp ascent, but the hut contained about 15 sleepers with no apparent desire to arise or climb. Little did I surmise that I would soon share such feelings. Luckily the upper and lower bunks nearest the door were empty, so Dave and I settled in for a nap, planning to wake at 4 AM and start climbing around 5.

Dave skinning up at sunset.

Unexpectedly, the night was miserable and cold, probably my worst ever in the mountains. I figured that wearing a hooded down jacket with my legs inside the pack would be warm enough. But I was freezing and shivering the whole time, and even though I had just put on dry socks, I was repeatedly hallucinating that my feet were soaking wet in ice water. The windows of the stone hut were shaking from the strong gusts hitting it (a later check of telemetry showed that winds were 45-50 mph at Muir), and my desire to go outside and battle the wind to the summit slowly ebbed away. Although Dave was ever-eager to get going, I procrastinated and finally roused myself around 6 AM, when I could hear the wind easing a bit. Melting 6 liters of snow water took over an hour, and we finally roped up and headed out at 8 AM, with skis on pack, crampons on feet, and ice axe in hand. The warm sun was welcome, but the bitter wind continued to zap my strength and desire. I was really done before we even started. A cumulative total of less than 1 hour of fitful sleep did not help matters.

We reached Ingraham Flats at 11000 ft in a long, slow 75 minutes and looked up at the Ingraham Glacier and the DC route. The nose of the Cleaver looked rough and rock-strewn. The summit dome looked brutally cold to me, with a powerful wind blasting off streamers of snow. I stopped by the Alpine Ascents tent to chat with a guide, who thought the winds were "not too bad" up there, but a passing rope team descending from the top confirmed that winds were 50-60 mph. I did not share Dave's certainty that we could summit despite the winds, and I decided to pull the plug.

Climbing across the Cowlitz Glacier.   [/td">
The Ingraham Glacier and Disappointment Cleaver.[/td">[/tr">[/table">

We skied down at 10:30 AM. The east-facing, wind-sheltered portion of the Ingraham Glacier near the Flats was already perfect corn, while the crossing of the Cowlitz was starting to soften on its easterly aspects nearest Camp Muir. The south-facing Muir Snowfield was firm below the Camp, but softened into excellent corn below 9500 ft. We decided to head for the Nisqually Chute, since it was Dave's first time ever skiing to Muir and he wanted to ski the prime descent line. The Chute was OK, but already too soft by 11:30 AM and we set off large surface sluffs. Luckily these were only a few inches deep, but we watched their slow-motion flow for several minutes down the entire 1500+ vertical ft of the Chute. A long traverse and quick skin back up to Glacier Vista set us up for the final schuss down the boot path to Paradise by 12:30 PM. It was an anticlimactic and disappointing end to the trip, and in the parking lot the last day of spring felt like a hot summer day with the ski season fading away.

Dave skiing below Muir near the Nisqually Glacier.   [/td">
The Nisqually Glacier (center) and Nisqually Chute (right).[/td">[/tr">[/table">

NOTE: Exceeded maximum allowed length of 20000 characters, so split and continued in next post . . .

Try, Try Again, June 25-26, 2007:

Another weather window, another chance: after several inches of new snow fell above 5400 ft on Sunday June 24, the forecast for the following days looked good. Clearing on Monday afternoon, with 12000 ft freezing levels and light winds for Monday night into Tuesday, followed by increasing winds but continued fair weather on Wednesday. This time I'd do it right and try to pick the less windy day. I left town on Monday afternoon, after a quick check of the Paradise webcam revealed clearing skies as forecast. The rangers at Jackson VC didn't seem to know how to look up my solo permit in the computer system, but suddenly Hannah popped out of the back office and lent them a hand, issued my permit and wished me good luck.

I skinned up at 7 PM, under beautiful calm skies and a nicely solidifying snowpack. The grip on the refrozen new snow wasn't as good as last week, but the travel was equally effortless. I made sure to de-ski at the 3 bare patches of trail at Pan Point this time. The evening was stunning, with a waxing moon providing plenty of light to skin up by moonlight, alone on the vastness of the slope. I arrived well before 11 PM to an eerily silent Camp Muir, with climbers and winds both resting up for the next day's action. After a nice pause to look around outside, I entered the hut to find an alarm ringing and incipient activity underway. Climbers would be gearing up and leaving in small groups for the next 3 1/2 hours, but nevertheless I managed to get a much better night of rest than the misery of the previous week. I took the same minimal gear, but wore all of my Gore-Tex and stuffed hand warmer packets in the toes of my socks this time (although maybe I should get some down pants or something like the Feathered Friends Vireo to go with my down jacket).

My skin track in the new snow.   
Moon over Mount Adams and the Tatoosh Range.   
Sunset with Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens.

I arose at 4:30 AM and melted 3 liters of snow water for the day. Despite using only freshly fallen powder snow, somehow the water was disgusting and cloudy, very strange but palatable given the situation. Planning to summit at noon, I headed up at 6 AM, with crampons on feet, two Whippet poles in hand, and skis and ice axe on pack. Solo glacier gear consisted of wearing a harness (just in case), along with some biners, a double runner, and Tibloc in case I wanted to clip the fixed lines installed on the nose of the Cleaver. This time, progress was swift in the calm crisp morning air, and I quickly passed through a deserted Ingraham Flats at 11000 ft, hopped a foot-wide crack a few minutes later, and reached the rocky traverse onto the nose of the Cleaver at 11200 ft. The rocky traverse was much easier, shorter, and safer than I remembered from the other times I'd climbed the route (August 1998 and 2002), so I never considered clipping into the fixed line. The snow-covered part of the nose is quite steep, 40-45 degrees for the last 300 vertical feet above the fixed line, and an uncontrolled slide here would result in falling over a substantial cliff to a dubious fate. Snow conditions looked much better than they had a week a ago, with lightly suncupped corn on half the slope and 2-4 inches of fresh windpacked powder on the rest. It looked like it would be a fun ski once softened in the afternoon sun.

The Ingraham Glacier and Disappointment Cleaver.   
The foot-wide crevasse crossing on the
Ingraham Glacier, with Little Tahoma beyond.   
Looking back at the fixed lines on the nose of the DC,
with Mounts Adams and Hood in the horizon.

The climbing route up the Cleaver has now largely migrated to the summer path along its crest, but the left (south) flank remains almost fully snow-covered and in apparently fine shape for skiing. Just after 8:30 AM, I rested a bit at the top of the cleaver at 12400 ft, in nearly calm winds, with the first rope teams descending towards me. Above the cleaver at 12500 ft, the route traverses right for about a quarter-mile onto the Emmons Glacier, with snowbridge crossings over crevasses at both start and end. Both crossings are fairly easy and could be skied (or skinned) across without extra hazard, but several of the numerous guided parties descending on foot were having major difficulties. The 6-12 inches of windblown new snow on this east facing slope was softening and sticking in the morning sun, balling up severely in many climbers' and even guides' crampons, but somehow my Grivel Air Tech Light aluminum crampons seemed to be entirely immune with their excellent springy, dome-shaped antibott system (very highly recommended). At the second crossing at the north end of the traverse, I got stuck waiting for 15-20 minutes while a guided team of four foundered and flopped across, with one member almost going in the hole and others barely able to stand upright or knock the balled snow out of their crampons. Important Lesson: Buy Grivel crampons with antibotts.

The traverse north onto the Emmons Glacier.   
The first crevasse crossing on the Emmons Glacier,
which was actually not as bad it looks in the photo.   
The second crevasse crossing on the Emmons Glacier,
with the fallen guided party in self-arrest.

The route then turned left and switchbacked up the Emmons towards the crater rim, eventually heading mostly left (south) above 13500 ft back onto the Ingraham Glacier. All descending climbers had already passed me, but I noticed a skier and boarder far below, ascending quickly upward towards me. The winds had picked up above 13000 ft, with southwesterly gusts straight into my face at 20-30 mph. I took a brief rest on the lee side of a crevasse lip at 13800 ft, where the other party caught up to me and introduced themselves as climbing rangers, both named Andy. Telemarker Andy Anderson mentioned that DC was one of his favorite ski routes on the Mountain, but they were planning to ski Fuhrer Finger. It would be snowboarder Andy Winslow's first descent of Rainier. I mentioned my decade-long desire to ski the Finger, but said I thought the route would be out of condition. However, Andy A said it had been skied only a week earlier, and he expected the new snow to have smoothed the surface. An intriguing possibility . . .

I followed the rangers up the last stretch to reach the gap on the southeast side of the crater rim at 14180 ft by 11:50 AM. Unfortunately, the crater rim did little to block the ever-increasing SW winds. The rangers were already unroping and getting ready to descend, and they kindly offered to let me join them, at the same moment as I asked them the same. So the last bit of hiking up to Columbia Crest was sacrificed in favor of skiing the long-sought goal with my newfound partners.

Switchbacking up the Emmons Glacier
above Little Tahoma.   
The summit crater with the two climbing rangers.

We skied down the upper Nisqually Glacier just after noon, on a mostly smooth slope covered in several inches of fresh wind-packed powder, with large patches of older corn snow exposed in places. Andy A scouted ahead and solved the various routefinding challenges as we zigzagged down through the numerous crevasses and seracs.

Skiing fresh, smooth, wind-packed powder
on the upper Nisqually Glacier.   
Andy A routefinding through crevasses on the Nisqually Glacier.

At 12500 ft, we reached an impasse: a large overhanging crevasse blocked progress, with steep broken seracs guarding both ends. Several sets of fresh footsteps were visible below the yawning crack, but apparently that party had been unable to cross earlier in the day and had turned around to walk back down the Finger. A steep curving snowbridge, with a foot-wide gap near its upper end, seemed to be the only safe way across; building up a head of speed on skis and landing a 20+ ft jump was the only other option, which we wisely ignored. A solid belay with two pickets was established above the crack, and Andy A and I were belayed across on foot, downclimbing backwards with the axe in [i">piolet manche[/i">. A second belay set up on the lower lip using two axes got Andy W across safely. It took almost an hour, but we were through the impasse.

Andy W belaying Andy A down
towards the snow bridge.   
Andy W down-climbing just above
the narrow, curving snow bridge.   
Andy A belaying Andy W across the snow bridge.

The rest of the route had no crevasse difficulties, but the snow conditions deteriorated rapidly below 12000 ft. The new snow became thinner and inadequate to cover the suncups, dirty hard snow, and numerous rocks embedded in the snow. Snow conditions were still OK in the steep curving upper portions of the Finger, with fun turns on dirty corn-like snow, but by 11000 ft the snow had reached its nadir: rough, nasty, and studded with sharp rocks every few feet. Downhill progress was exceedingly slow and cautious, despite the impetus to quickly get through this hazardous rockfall area, but luckily for us the rocks seemed to be stuck to the slope instead of rolling, whirring, or whizzing down it. We reached the narrow throat of the Finger at 10100 ft, a steep 40-degree roll of semi-hard brownish ice about 15 ft across and 10 ft high, between two rocky outcrops. I sidestepped gingerly through and rejoined the rangers who had descended that bit on foot. Another slope of nasty rocky snow led to smoother terrain on the Wilson Glacier by 9500 ft. As we neared the safety zone, three large rocks bounced and rolled down the slopes, each only a minute or two apart, and all certainly large enough to maim or kill. Very lucky.

Snow conditions in the upper part of
Fuhrer Finger were OK, even good.   
The snow became much worse
below about 11000 ft.   
Looking down through the narrow throat
at 10100 ft, the gap is about 15 ft wide.

We parted ways at this point, with the rangers traversing left back across the Nisqually and then climbing back up to Camp Muir, while I descended the gentle rolls of the Wilson Glacier to reach the Nisqually at the standard upper crossing near 7000 ft. Snow conditions on the Wilson ranged from mostly smooth wet corn above 8000 ft to deep unconsolidated mush below, which continued across the Nisqually until I finally reached the safety of the moraine just before 4 PM. I was utterly drained and exhausted, and it took me an hour to rest and then muster the energy to skin up the 200 ft back to Glacier Vista. Another quick schuss down the boot path to Paradise brought me within 50 ft of the parking lot just after 5 PM, about 22 hours after I had left.

A zoomed view of Fuhrer Finger
from the Wilson Glacier.   
Looking back at the south side of Mount Rainier
after skinning back up to Glacier Vista.

It was quite an unexpected adventure to climax a great trip. Thanks to both Andy Anderson and Andy Winslow for allowing me to join them for the descent. A total of 9000 vertical ft of skiing (counting the reascent to Glacier Vista), and a route 10 years in the waiting finally done. I'll have to try to ski it again next year in much better conditions, perhaps even try the 10500 ft descent from the summit all the way to Nisqually Bridge if weather and snowpack cooperate. And I'd still like to ski the DC, Ingraham, Tahoma, . . . maybe soon, maybe someday.

I remember crossing that crevasse.

Andy Anderson's a nice ranger, eh?  Hi Andy!

Glad you finally got it, Amar; I certainly agree that you should do it with better conditions.  Tahoma Glacier should still be good now....

Well done, Amar.  Glad to see your persistence paid off.

Reply to this TR

Amar Andalkar
2007-06-27 17:39:49