Jump to content

[TR] Mt. Rainier - Fuhrer Finger 5/3/2015


Recommended Posts

Trip: Mt. Rainier - Fuhrer Finger


Date: 5/3/2015


Trip Report:

To camp

  • Slept in the Paradise parking lot Fri night. Headed out around 5:45am, reached our camp at 8500ft. ~9am Sat. morning. Morning was really cold, a cloud had enveloped the lower mountain, soaking the outside of my tent. I questioned whether I’d brought enough layers for the summit, seeing how it was this cold next to my car.
  • Dropped down to the lower Nisqually below Pan Face (see GPX track for exact spot).
  • Quickly scanning the lower Nisqually, I didn’t see a clear path up to the Wilson. We saw a single boot track heading over to The Fan, so we skinned beside it. Little to no crevasses were on this path.
  • The Fan is notorious for rockfall/avy danger, but it’s also really straightforward in terms of route-finding vs. navigating through a crevasse/icefall maze. It was early enough in the AM where both should be at a minimum. I was on skis, my partner Dereck was on a splitboard. We put them on our backs for the Fan ascent.
  • A very large avy had snaked its way down the entire Fan ramp recently, otherwise the Fan ascent ended up being straightforward. Almost too straightforward. Later a skier told us that the Fan started firing rocks down its gully as the day warmed up.
  • The single boot track trailed off into nothing shortly after the Fan exit, so I started kicking my own long traverse track up the west-side of the lower Wilson. The snow was getting softer, but by the time we reached a flat spot around 8500ft, it was rock hard.
  • I hadn’t slept much in the last two nights, which is a bad combo for climbing a strenuous, higher altitude route. We set up my favorite 2lb tent, then abandoned plans to scope out the base of the route and/or practice crevasse rescue in favor of getting rest.
  • It was warm out, but the wind was icy. I’m not sure I’ve experienced a wind that was so much colder than the ambient air. Just a slight breeze caused me to put on my puffy in the direct sunlight. I’d been sweating buckets 20 minutes prior.


Camp and the high-orbit skiers

  • 2 skiers came through around 10am out of nowhere. I assumed they had come down the Kautz, but was amazed to hear they had traversed the entire mountain at the ~10k ft. level. They had camped on the Success Cleaver the night before. I learned a few interesting things from talking to them (man and a woman, didn’t get their names):
    o I’d never heard of anyone doing a traverse like that, so I asked them if it was a first. They said it was much more common 15-20 years ago when there was more commercial guiding on the Westside of the mountain. I never knew there was commercial guiding over there. I did a 3-day solo climb of the Puyallup Cleaver a couple years ago and only saw the fresh footsteps of one other person. Westside road access changing probably played a role.
    o They said the hardest parts were getting off the Ingraham Flats down over to the Emmons, and getting off the Puyallup Cleaver down onto the Tahoma Glacier, then getting across the Tahoma.
    o She thought the Tahoma Glacier route wouldn’t go this year anymore. ID was also out. They saw one person on the upper DC over near the Emmons. Liberty Ridge had good snow up to the Black Pyramid, then icy above with a cross-able bergschrund.
    o The guy then launched off a cornice next to our camp and they both followed down a path we should’ve come up, which is skiers left of the cliff between The Fan and the lower Nisqually. A much more direct line to the base of the Nisqually Chutes, albeit a bit more crevassed.
  • Several other parties started arriving past noon. We counted around 12-14 contenders for the Fuhrer Finger route come Sun morning, including a couple people I knew (Gavin and Rich). I suggested we all drop in at the same time. I stared back down the Wilson and saw my boot path was now well worn.
  • After chatting we tried to get some sleep. We decided we wanted to be at the top of the Fuhrer Finger (heading down) no later than 10am-ish. We wanted to hit it just as it was softening enough to ski. Everyone who’s skied it talks about the rockfall danger, which we’d experience intimately later that morning.


Up the Finger

  • I knew the moon would be full, so we weren’t too worried about route-finding through the Wilson Glacier at night. We set out around 2:40am. We could see two sets of headlamps already a good way up the Finger. One set had posted up lower near a rock out-cropping on the Finger for a while. I hoped everything was OK.
  • On the Wilson I spied a line through the crevasses lower down, but Dereck thought it would go higher. Because I didn’t see any tracks lower down and there were intimidating looking depressions on the snow, we continued upward, picking up a skin and ski descent track.
  • We crossed a system of two very deep crevasses that weren’t very wide by themselves, but together they were too wide to really jump across in one bound. They were also dramatically overhanging with very thin lips. I wouldn’t want to cross them during the day wearing boots. The thought of even crossing later on skis kept weighing on my mind the rest of the climb. I guess my fall in Jan on the ID had affected me more than I thought. I typically would go through crevasse fields without a lot of hesitation, now I was very nervous on any sketchy crossings or suspect curves on the glacier. I’ve since scheduled a therapy sessions with a psychologist specializing in snow-bridge collapse-related PTSD.
  • Starting up the steep Finger around 9500-10k ft, we were happy to see the snow was perfect for cramponing. Just soft enough to sink those teeth in and self-arrest if needed.
  • 1500-2000ft of sustained 40-45 degree steep climbing later, I called my surgeon and told him to cancel my calf-implant procedure, it was no longer necessary.


Top of the Finger – Nisqually or Wapowety Cleaver?

  • Wapowety Cleaver. The rumor was the Nisqually had a large impassable crevasse. Plus the parties ahead of us were already kicking steps up near the cleaver. We didn’t want those to go to waste. It took us 3 hours to get to 11.5k ft (we arrived around 5:30am).
  • 1k ft of steeper sections on the side of the cleaver would get you onto a ridge around 12.5k ft. There were only a couple sections that felt around 50 degrees of steep snow, but the snow was good.
  • On top of the Wapowety Cleaver it looked like a mellow stroll up to the summit. We were near here last August after coming up the Kautz. The only problem then was making a significant detour to end run a large crevasse protecting the last stretch to the crater rim. Not sure that would be the case now, but we wouldn’t find out.


Embarrassing failure I can barely talk about

  • By the time we reached 12.5k I was extremely nauseous and lightheaded. AMS had hit me. Despite all of my training I still struggle with it, so I usually take Diamox for stuff higher than 12k. I didn’t take any until the top of the Finger, which was too late. I just wanted to lay down and puke now.
  • Dereck said we should turn around, but I instead started crawling on my belly, planting my ice axe a foot ahead and pulling my whole body forward, 1 foot every 30 seconds. Puking every third pull then dragging myself through the vomit. I had recently watched “The Iron Lady” so I was on this will power/show of strength kick. Of course this was on the very mellow Wapowety Cleaver ridge (10 degrees). I kept mumbling in a dramatic, choking whisper “summit or die”, “summit or die”.
  • The last bullet might have been exaggerated. I actually chilled (pun intended, that icy wind was back) for 10 minutes on a rock, choked down some water, and tried to see if I could shake it. It wasn’t happening, I just felt worse. We went lower to get out of the wind, waited a bit more. Still felt like shit. I looked over at the upper Nisqually. I saw the large crevasse that blocked passage. Everyone had been talking about it, but no one really had a source, so I had some doubts. But I finally saw it. It was real. I wanted to take a picture, but I was too sick to even pull out my phone and press the little button. My 4-pound DSLR had also been sitting in my pack this whole time. I hadn’t taken it out because I was worried about the time-sensitivity of this route. Plus maybe I was being lazy or not motivated. I later regretted not getting pictures up the Finger in the dark with the full moon out.
  • I actually didn’t mind descending at 12.5k. We’d already been up this way to the summit doing the Kautz, and I didn’t want to be on the Finger when it was too warm. If I was an expert skier I would have more tolerance for being late as I’d cruise through it quickly. But I kind of suck at skiing, at least when the snow isn’t great.



  • The snow was softening up. We carefully navigated down the steep sections, and once back on the Nisqually we put our skis/boards on our feet, then headed down to the Finger entrance at 11.5k. On my way down I looked left. I saw a bowling ball-size rock cruising 30-ft. away at high speeds. Then another softball size rock followed. Turns out the upper Wapowety Cleaver is kind of a dick.
  • The snow hardened around 11.5k to an icy crust. Dereck and I skied out left (east) to try and get out of the rock fall path. I was nervous about dropping into the steeper part of the Finger with things this icy. We sat down and waited, and waited. The snow didn’t change.
  • I heard rocks clanging together above us. I looked up and another bowling ball was headed toward us. We both got ready to shuffle, but the angle of the slope made it such that it took a climber’s left and hauled ass down into the Finger gully, where we’d be skiing in about 10 minutes. Another rock followed a bit further left.
  • It was just past 11am. We decided that by noon if it hadn’t softened we’d just go for it. I was nervous because I’m not crazy about skiing steeper stuff when icy due to inconsistent turning skill (I can’t turn left). I don’t mind steep stuff with softer snow, but I didn't want to fall while turning on icy stuff. Booting down seemed like suicide due to the rocks we’d seen go straight down our path. We looked left and I suggested Dereck board down to another safe zone a couple hundred feet lower, skier’s left, near some crevasses on the Nisqually. Then he could wave me down if it wasn’t too bad. Plus we both figured the snow could be softer at any point below our current altitude.
  • He started down, and said it was icy but edge-ble, plus the snow started to soften the further down he went. I came down immediately, looking over my shoulder for bowling balls every now and then. The snow turned into great corn and we made pretty good time down the Finger. A solo skier named Tim caught up to us and we skied back down to camp together.
  • About 2/3rds of the way down the Finger the snow turned to icy shit again, but we pressed on. My lightweight setup chattered all the way down to the Wilson where it softened up a bit.
  • I voiced my hesitancy to cross the double crevasse in the heat, but looking at it now, end-running didn’t seem like a viable option. Tim went first and picked a perfect line across the two crevasses without issue. Dereck followed, then I said f-it and went for it, following Tim’s line, yelling out a whoohoooo! after realizing I hadn’t died.
  • We broke down camp, watched Tim jump off the cornice next to our camp, then headed down after him.
  • The snow became too soft by around 7k feet. Heavy and wet, it made turning a bit more challenging. I bit it hard and watched my pole disappear into the snow as I inadvertently probed in the process, causing me to think I was on a bridge. We followed the line others took left of the Fan. It was maybe around 1pm and three guys were booting up in this heat, with this soft snow, over the crevasse ridden lower Nisqually. It looked sketchy/painful, but at least they were roped up.
  • We crossed maybe 10 narrow cracks over the lower Nisqually, only having to stop once. I made it all the way back to the ramp leading up to the base of Pan Face w/o putting on skins. Dereck wasn’t as lucky with his splitboard. There were a couple of hidden holes that looked big underneath, one snuck up on me and I peed my nylon pants a little avoiding it.
  • I’m probably switching back to splitboarding as I’ve finally found one that’s light enough (and I’m a much better snowboarder than skier), but times like this I appreciate the flexibility/speed of skis in rolling terrain. While Dereck would get stuck, I would just push or side step a little and be on my way.
  • We made it back to the car just past 2pm. The snowfield above the parking lot is actually starting to show large patches w/o snow. Quite the contrast to the last 2 years where we’ve seen full coverage into July.


Epilogue - where are they now?

  • I brought my climbing gear and skis into my house from my car w/o issue after getting home, slept, then wrote this blog after eating french toast. I assume Dereck went back to work today.



I didn't get any photos with my DSLR for a variety of reasons, but I managed to get some snapshots with my phone.



We ascended via The Fan on the lower Nisqually, descended climbers right (everyone ascended/descended on the climbers right). Take the Fan route if the site of a crevasse scares you and you're good at dodging rocks (or it's really early morning).

Fan-to-camp leg (left): 1.6 miles, ascent 2232ft, descent 91 ft.

Other more direct route up lower Nisqually (right): 1.5 miles, ascent 1909ft.



Hug climber's left at the top of the Finger against the Wapowety Cleaver. Where we topped out it's super mellow, and it looked like a straight shot to the summit.



Dereck putting on crampons at the base of the Fan on the lower Nisqually.



Large avy debri came down the entire length of the Fan's chute, going around a corner and emptying into the lower Nisqually. Looked pretty deadly.



Avy debri in the Fan.



Dereck above the Fan, headed up the Wilson.



Dereck at the top of the Fuhrer Finger around 5:30 AM. What a leg workout.



Glancing right toward the upper Nisqually ice cliff and the Nisqually Cleaver from the top of the Finger.




From the Wapowety Cleaver looking across what is the typical ascent route up the upper Nisqually. If you look in the shadows up top, I think that's the large impassable crevasse that requires you to ascend of the steep sides of the Wapowety now. This is a poor view of it, higher up I was too sick to take out my camera.



Around 12k on the upper Nisqually, about to head down the Finger before it gets too warm. I really can't believe a skier of my questionable ability actually made it down this thing.



Lower Nisqually around noon. This is the route you should go up. Nisqually Chutes out left with recent avy activity in the chutes.



Dereck boarded across the lower Nisqually over a half dozen narrow cracks in super soft, heavy snow. The path up is just to the right of this pic. The Fan is out left.



Skinning up the last stretch to the base of Pan Face, then it's mostly downhill back to the car.


Gear Notes:

Brought a long screw and 2 pickets, didn't use them. Barely used my ice axe as the snow wasn't too hard, mostly relied on my whippet and I hadn't cut my finger nails in 5 days as a back up.

Edited by lukeh
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 6
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

By the time we reached 12.5k I was extremely nauseous and lightheaded. AMS had hit me. Despite all of my training I still struggle with it, so I usually take Diamox for stuff higher than 12k. I didnt take any until the top of the Finger, which was too late. I just wanted to lay down and puke now.


LOL, I puked in at this exact same spot when I did the Finger last year.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For how long into the season does the top of the finger remain passible through to the summit? Made it to about 12.5k a couple of years ago in July (based on beta from the rangers that it was passible) and was turned around by some monster crevasses.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For how long into the season does the top of the finger remain passible through to the summit? Made it to about 12.5k a couple of years ago in July (based on beta from the rangers that it was passible) and was turned around by some monster crevasses.


Depends on the year … typically the finger becomes a bowling alley before the upper part becomes impassible.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...