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Terminal_Gravity

best of cc.com 5/24-25 Fuhrer Finger TR

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Damn, it is hard to type with frost nip on 2 of my fingers!

 

Part one:

 

I left the parking lot at 3:15 Friday afternoon. A small linticular cloud had formed to the east of the summit but otherwise the weather was perfect. One Gu consumed, I dropped down on to the lower Nisqually. My thoughts were already turning toward my planned breakfast at Paradise Inn the next morning. An 18 hour trip time seemed well within sights. My mood was extatic. This was my type of climbing. I had gotten my solo permit and was smug that my pack was only 17 pounds, I moved fast across the glacier, un-roped and un-encumbered by partners. I reached the ridge at 5:30 passing 3 climbers with serious packs that had left the parking lot at 11:00 and were heading for the Kautz. I moved as quickly as was prudent back across the glacier, scanning for the surprise cravasse. The recent avalanche debris from the serac that had swept the Wilson Head wall a week ago was abundantly clear. I turned and headed straight up toward the finger just when Rainier decided to say hello and dropped a half a dozen 5 gallon bucket sized rocks from the east wall. They bracketed me but passed harmlessly. It was just before 8 pm when I reached the middle rock outcropping derectly below the chute. I melted 4 quarts of water, drank 1 1/2 and stuffed the rest into my pack. I put tights and crampons on, traded one pole for an axe, reset my altimiter, and ate a hand full of pine nuts...half of my solid food for the trip. As I rested, I watched the mostly full moon slowly rise and Hood, and Adams turn pinkish orange. At 9:15, tired of the in-activity I headed up. The snow was already firming nicely and there wasn't even a diabatic wind coming down the chute. By the time I reached the hourglass the last of the twilight had left but the moon was so bright that a head light was silly. It was truly bucolic, my spirits were high and my focus was solid. If anything, I was wishing that the climbing was a bit more challenging. (Be careful what you wish for) The snow above the hourglass was softer but I put my head down and postholed another 1000 feet. By 11:00 my lunar friend was ducking in and out behind clouds. I used my light the first time to cross the little step just above where the thumb joined the route. A breeze picked up, clouds filled the sky and I said good by to the moon. I reached 12,500' by midnight, a bit ahead of schedule and feeling strong. At 12:15 I felt the first sting of driven snow on my face. Well, the weather report said to expect snow by morning; I guess it was morning.

 

Part 2:

 

By 1:30 it was a whole different ball game. The breeze had picked up significantly and the needle shaped snow was occluding any view beyond my head light. My movement had slowed considerably as I pushed on. I started veering right without really knowing where I was. I was above the last of the rocks but I could not tell when to start across the glacier and the thought of getting out the map in the wind was ridiculous. I pushed up along the left side of some small seracs hoping for a smooth opening but found none. I was worried about getting off track, so at 3:15 I jumped into a cravasse to get out of the weather and wait for first light. Breakfast was seeming less likely.

Snowfall continued to increase and my little hole started feeling more like a tomb. I kept hopeing for a little break but it never came. At 5:00 I could take no more and decided to move rather than freeze. It was light but the visibility was even worse. I litterally could not see a delinitation between the snow and the sky. I tried to put on my googles but they occluded with snow so fast that they were useless. I am quite nearsighted but my glasses iced so badly that I was better off without them. The batteries froze in my GPS and died so fast that it would proved no help. It wouldn't aquire sattilites without holding it to the wind for a couple of minutes and by then the screen was to encrusted with ice to read and my ice encrusted gloves made a terrible wiper. I thought I was heading more or less directly up but as it turned out I must have traversed a fair amount left. I ended up at the top of the snow feild below an inverted U shaped band of looming seracs. ( Looking at photos later they must be the ones at the top of the Kautz, far west of where I thought I was) With out a horizon they seemed overhanging at first. I decided that up was the lesser of several evils. At the top the wind freshened further and visibility reduced. Any sort of real navigation was a joke so I just climbed on. I kept to a rising traverse, with the slope to my left. With the absolute lack of visibility I found that my balance was better with my eyes closed and would take ten steps or so before taking a look. On a rare occasion I would see a boulder in the distance, hoping that I could hide from my niemisis the wind, only to realize that it was just a rock in the snow. My addled mind refused to grasp distance. Simple functions became problimatic. Rime Ice built on my windward side. Fastic buckles on my pack were challanging to open and refused to close. I occasionally had to bang my left leg to break up the ice to lift my leg. At one point I tried to take off my pole and found 1/2 and inch of ice had welded the strap to my glove. Time slowed and the wind increased as I found a ridge with some rock. Strangly the slope up was to the left. Insanity started knocking on my forebrain. A hole in the snow appeared... one of those blessed steam vents. I climbed down into relative warmth and regrouped; ate double Gu's drank what water was liquid and put in a fresh plug of bourbon Copenhagen. My altimiter read 14,819 feet... Hmmm; must be close. I put fresh batteries into the GPS and taped a heat pack to the case. Heading back into it I was forced to walk crouching backwards, up hill, into the wind. I reached the summit minutes later at 7:45. I followed the GPS directly toward the top of the DC. The wind abated some, but visibility didn't improve until I reached 12'800. Until then, I had to watch the little arrow more than my footing or I would change direction without knowing it.

 

From ingrahm flats it was easy walking and I shed layers. I got a kick out seeing trudging climbers with heavy packs heading up to muir. They kept asking if the weather was better farther up. At 2:15 I was drinking Makers and gingerale in the back of my truck.

 

It is my understanding that a couple RMI guides made it to about 13,000 ft but turned back. So, my first time up Rainier I was the only person to summit. I have heard that you should expect serious crowds on Memorial day weekend. <img border="0" title="" alt="[big Grin]" src="images/icons/grin.gif" />

 

I got a bit of surface frostbite on my left cheek and two tinglely finger tips, but am not really any worse for wear. However, I look forward to climbing easier things in the near future.

 

Cheers, Steve

 

<small>[ 05-29-2002, 10:50 AM: Message edited by: Terminal Gravity ]</small>

Edited by To_The_Top

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My guess is he didn't call the Climbing Rangers for delivery of a latte and a WetOne before his descent.

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Right On TG! When you posted awhile ago that you were going to solo that side of the Mt., I was wondering how the Nisqually crossing would be. Sounds like you didn't have a problem. This time last year it was a crap shoot.

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Taped a heat pack to the GPS... sheer brilliance... Sounds like this definitely helped get you out of trouble - I will be taping heat packs to all my electronics now [big Grin]

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Damn!

 

I've been thinking of doing that route as my first too! I may have to rethink that.

 

Good Job TG!

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I am sorry. I screwed up on the dates when I posted. I climbed on 5/24 & 25. I get shivers when I think of the struggles those people that died and were rescued must have been going through while I was so close on the mountain.

 

My condolences to their families.

 

Add on edit:

I should clarify.

 

I think that it is arguable that hoping for better weather higher on a mountain is foolish. I would never suggest that scrimping on saftey gear is foolish. That being said, I think that one of the most important skills in mountaineering is Knowing what to bring and what not to bring. Going light can let you get into trouble faster and higher, but having more than you need can hurt as well. Being to light should make a prudent climber turn back if things don't go as planned.

 

So that you don't think that I am a total cowboy idiot I want to assure you that I was well prepared and still light. I had a helmet, a second axe, a sleeping pad, mylar sheet, a med kit, spare batteries and spare light, addiquate navigation equipment, enough GU and fuel to weather atleast 3 days and excellent clothes for the conditions. It would have been easier if I had brought a magnetic compass in addition to the electronic one and I should rethink my gogles. I also should have had Lithium batteries in the GPS.

 

Cheers - steve

 

( can one of you mountain dudes change the title for me. Thanks)

 

<small>[ 05-30-2002, 06:29 AM: Message edited by: Terminal Gravity ]</small>

Edited by To_The_Top

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Jesus, man, you do rock, though I have to say after my experience on that route Sunday (5/26), there's no way I'd ever solo Rainier. We (a party of seven) lugged packs up to the 9500 foot camp Saturday, and left Sunday morning around 5:00 AM. We left that late because of the (mistaken) reports of good snow conditions on Fuhrer Finger.

 

Near whiteout conditions prevented us from seeing much on the way up, and it was slow going through soft snow. We didn't reach the summit dome until almost 3:00 PM. Around 14200, we were thinking of foregoing the summit to make sure we could get down through the Kautz icefall before dark. Our decision was made for us when the lead climber vanished into a crevasse. We extracted him without much trouble, but by the time we got sorted out, it was 3:45, and obviously time to head down.

 

It was disappointing not to make the summit on my first trip up, but, heck, I had fun anyway.

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