Camp on Mount Rainier before a ski descent of the Fuhrer Finger

9,000 Feet to Paradise – Mount Rainier Ski Descent

Last week brought an unexpected opening in my schedule. A half and half mix of “cool, I don’t have to work for 10 more days” and “damn, it would have been really good to work and get that paycheck.” Bun fun overcame, and plans to ski Mount Rainier’ Fuhrer Finger were made.

I packed the car, filled the tank, and hopped on I-90 heading West. I had a spring/summer West coast ski tour pipe dream rolling around in my head earlier this season, but couldn’t quite muster up the commitment (on my own part, as well as partners) to devote a couple weeks to roadtripping, dirtbag camping at trailheads, and skiing volcanoes and other notable peaks on the coast. Baker, Shuksan, Rainier, Hood, Shasta, and Whitney were my dream team, with Helens, Adams, Eldorado, and a few CA classics rounding out the team on the bench as alternatives. Another year, maybe…

We planned on “maybe Rainier” as I headed in that direction. I secretly hoped I would be able to line up a partner for at least a day on either end to bang out Hood or Baker, but didn’t have any luck finding anyone, and made the wiser decision not to try to climb and ski anything by myself (your welcome, Mom!). The winds that had been hammering the mountain subsided, and perfect weather continued for the days of our planned ascent.

Wednesday had us out of Enumclaw and heading to Paradise at a leisurely pace. No need to rush things this day! Last minute supplies acquired, permits registered, and backpacks packed in the parking lot. By the time we were skinning it was uncomfortably hot. A little breeze provided a little relief as we made our way to a campsite below a feature called the Castle.

We saw another party camped above, and another continue on higher as we finished our afternoon naps out on the warm rocks. We wouldn’t realize until the next day that we would be part of the 13 people that would ski the Fuhr Finger. 13 people! On the summit, there were only skiers; not another climber from another route to be seen! Pretty wacky for what is usually a quiet and less-traveled route up the mountain.

We decided on a “late” wake up for the mountain, counting on moving quickly with light packs. Alarm at 3:30 am, moving at 4:00 am. Other parties that were camped higher up sure got a jump on us; we saw them climbing into the finger as we were mobilizing from our camp a little after 4:00 – easily an hour or two ahead of us.

Leah wasn’t feeling it as we began up (maladies of junkshow icy skinning, loose crampons, and broken headlamps did not put any of us off on the right foot). In her own words: “I don’t want to be a bitch later, and will be super crabby and not have any fun if I keep going, so am just going to call it.” Dylan and I continued, moving at a solid and steady pace on the frozen surface. We caught up with two of the three groups at the top of the Nisqually Glacier, and hit the summit by 10:30 am.

Then the fun begins: 9,000 vertical feet of skiing back down to the car. I will break it down a little bit: Off the summit, sections of teeth-chatterring blue ice kept us on our toes before we hit the sastrugi hardpack that led to the Nisqually Glacier. The snow was softening up a little bit as we negotiated a few small crevasses and seracs of the Nisqually, and quickly became hero-snow cornĀ  in the rock-walled “Finger” portion of the route. The Wilson Glacier on down to camp became a little warm and sloppy, and the last few thousand feet back to Paradise was simply a heinous slushfest.

I didn’t take a ton of pictures, but did take a bit of video. Hopefully will have a little edit up here soon (need to finish my Trapper Peak edit first though!). In the meantime, I did put a few pictures up on Facebook and Flickr.

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