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Author Topic: June 25-26, 2010, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Finger  (Read 6487 times)
Amar Andalkar
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June 25-26, 2010, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Finger
« on: 06/27/10, 09:14 PM »

Summary: The Fuhrer Finger is in excellent shape for skiing, filled in fat with lots of snow and not yet covered in fallen rocks, looking more like typical May conditions than nearly July. The approach via Wilson Glacier is in great shape crevasse-wise, but not so good for surface conditions: huge piles of wet slide debris cover over half of the glacier's surface, although a route from Paradise to the Finger which avoids crossing most debris piles can still be found. Rockfall hazard in the Finger is high if you climb after sunrise. Above the Finger, the route still crosses easily onto the upper Nisqually near 11900 ft through a group of crevasses. Then several long switchbacks are needed to weave through crevasses to reach the very large and thick, but sagging, snow bridge across the usual huge crevasse at 12600 ft. This is the crux and once it fails (soon?), the route will increase substantially in difficulty. Above that, it's an easy and mostly straight shot to the crater rim. Snow conditions are mostly smooth windpacked powder above 13000 ft with minimal sastrugi along the route, then proto-corn and corn from 13000 down to 9000 (at the proper time of day of course), and deep isothermal mush below 9000 ft (with a solid surface crust at night until mid-morning).


Looking down the Finger from about 11000 ft.


Details: My friend Dave Pinegar, like me a graduate of the UW physics PhD program and now "retired", was heading back to the US after 2 years of postdoctoral work in Germany. He planned to stop by my place in Seattle for a few days on his way to California, and he really wanted to ski Rainier for the first time. I told him he was out of luck this week, the weather sucked, the forecast said "mostly cloudy with a chance of showers" everyday for the next week and beyond. Bummer.

He arrived at Seatac via Iceland on Wednesday, and miraculously by Thursday the forecast had changed, offering an unexpected glimmer of hope: Saturday now said "partly sunny, freezing level 11500 ft" and with tolerable winds of 25+ mph on the summit. Certainly it was worth a shot. We planned an overnight trip starting Friday afternoon with a camp on Wilson Glacier, since with little recent mountaineering, Dave was unsure of his fitness level for a one-day Rainier push. We planned to climb via Fuhrer Finger and ski down either that or Fuhrer Thumb.

Friday morning's updated forecast remained solid, now promising "mostly sunny, freezing level 12000 ft" for Saturday, so the trip was on. We arrived at Paradise just before 3pm under mostly cloudy skies, with the Mountain occasionally visible through breaks, and registered at the Guide House just before they closed. The ranger on-duty looked haggard from a long day, and was pleased that we were heading for the Finger and not trying to join the hordes at nearly-full Camp Muir. He cautioned us that "there's a lot of snow up there" and mentioned that a group had skied the route the previous day (I'd heard of that already over the skiers' grapevine).


View of Nisqually and Wilson Glaciers from Glacier Vista.

We skinned up just before 4pm, heavy packs bearing glacier gear and rope just in case, although I doubted we'd have any need for that. The clouds kept the afternoon temps quite pleasant initially, and then cleared out entirely as we neared Glacier Vista. With soft afternoon snow, we kept the skins on for the brief 200 ft traversing descent to the Nisqually moraine, and crossed the Nisqually Glacier on over-softened mush, sometimes following the bootpack, sometimes cutting our own skin track off to the side.


Skinning up the ridge beside Wilson Glacier.

The main bowls of the Wilson Glacier were covered in the debris of numerous wet slides, and the bootpack traversed far left (south) to reach the ridge near 7700 ft, avoiding the hazardous areas. These easterly aspects were already in shadow from the falling sun, and the soft mush had quickly firmed up and crusted over, improving skinning conditions greatly on the 30-40 degree sidehill slopes along the ridge. We followed the ridge up to the first large flat spot just below 8600 ft, making camp with our bivy sacks on a patch of flat snow beside the moraine which held numerous large rock-walled tent platforms. From here, the Fuhrer Finger was a straight shot due north with no traversing needed. We settled into camp for an exceptionally stunning scene: sunset accompanied by full moonrise, with the infinite triangular shadow of the Mountain piercing the horizon just left of the rising moon.


Sunset, full moonrise, and the triangular shadow of Rainier.

We set the alarm for 4am, planning to head out at 5am and hopefully ski off the summit around noon. The bright full moon made sleeping difficult at times, and the alarm went off all too soon. I awoke to find an unexpected sight: the full moon was being devoured by the Earth's shadow as a partial lunar eclipse was well underway (I would later check online to find that the time of greatest eclipse was at 4:38am PDT).


Partial lunar eclipse, 5am Saturday.


Heading out from camp across the Wilson Glacier.

As usual, time flies when trying to get ready, and we finally belatedly set off just minutes before 6am, on foot with crampons, making a beeline straight towards the Finger. A firm supportive crust made for fast travel, and initial progress was swift up to about 10000 ft. Then WHIZZZZ, the first rock flew by unexpectedly, startling in its speed and sound. There were several other climbers and skiers above us in the Finger, and although the route was still totally shadowed, the sun was now hitting the cliffs far above and out of sight near 11500 ft. At least 8 more large rocks (fist to softball size) would whiz by over the next hour-and-half, as we tried in vain to find an aspect or side of the chute which was out of the line of fire. The falling rocks seemed to be randomly distributed across the full width, and keeping a constant nervous watch upward while cramponing up the firm 40-45 degree slopes was quite stressful. I've endured some rockfall every other time I've skied or climbed either the Finger or Thumb (1 climb and 2 ski descents of each), but this was by far the most and scariest. Perhaps a much earlier start would have helped, who knows.


Climbing above the top of the Finger, around 11400 ft.

Quite a relief as we exited the top of the Finger at 11200 ft, and then stayed far right for a bit, both to admire the gnarly view down onto the Nisqually Icefall and to avoid traveling below the cliff which was clearly disgorging the majority of the falling missiles. Then suddenly I heard my name being called out from above -- then again!?! It was a group of three of my friends who were resting in a protected spot at 11600 ft at the base of the cliff, they had left Paradise at midnight and ascended via Fuhrer Thumb, and were now taking an extended 2 hour break. We joined them at their mini-camp, along with two climbers planning an extended up-and-over multiday journey to eventually climb Sunset Ridge.

By 10am, we were on our way once more, now as a loosely knit group of five. We cramponed to 11900 ft and crossed easily onto the upper Nisqually through a group of crevasses, then most of us switched to skinning on the sun-warmed corn and proto-corn. However, an increasing NW breeze blowing down the slope was keeping the snow quite firm in spots, and eventually only the one of us who had ski crampons continued to skin, everyone else switching back to cramponing on foot before 12500 ft. The route makes several long switchbacks to weave through crevasses in this area to reach the very large and thick, but sagging, snow bridge across the usual huge crevasse at 12600 ft. Once this bridge fails, a long detour and much sketchier crossing will be needed to make it past this gaping hazard.


The big crevasse around 12600 ft on the upper Nisqually, looking right (NE) from the snowbridge.

We saw several other groups of skiers just above this point, perhaps 8-10 in total, already skiing down and making loud scraping noises on the still-frozen snow of 11:30am. Above 13000 ft, the NW breeze became a strong wind, eventually reaching 40-50 mph by 14000 ft, ripping across the broad saddle between the crater rim and Point Success. Two of our group had turned around just below 13K, beaten by the demands of the one-day push, and only three of us continued on, now all back on skins as the snow had become wintry wind-packed powder up high.


Looking down from 14000 ft on a strange incoming sea of lenticular clouds far below.

Slowly and steadily upward into the gale, two of us reached the SW part of the east crater's rim at about 14300 ft by 1:45pm, then huddled behind some exposed rocks which provided the only apparent protection anywhere in sight from the bitter NW wind. With well over 50 previous Rainier summits between the two of us, there was no good reason for either of us to leave our comparatively warm hollow and endure the traverse along the crater rim just to tag Columbia Crest. But Dave however, making his long-awaited first summit, fought his way through the bitter blasts and gained the true summit on skins. Congrats!

Dave eventually returned to join us in the rock hollow, and it was finally time to ski. Or seeing as it was now after 3pm, perhaps well past the time to ski. Not a big problem. We headed down the upper Nisqually Glacier on tolerable windpacked snow, not bad at all considering the nasty knee-high sastrugi often found at 14000 ft, and there were even a few short patches of sweet legitimate powder.


Dave catching some air, on the roughest portion of the ski descent near 13500 ft.

Eventually as we dropped below 13000 and especially 12500 ft, the snow transitioned to a creamy corn surface, a bit too soft in the late hour. We considered skiing the Thumb, but it looked a bit rough with debris far below, while the Finger was still nearly smooth and looked much more inviting. At the top of the steeps near 11200 ft, we set off a few large and worrisome wet sluffs. But staying to far skier's right in the chute (on the most sun-exposed and well-consolidated aspect), the snow was much more stable and still remained good corn even at 4pm. I skied the entire chute in a single sweet shot to below 10K, and waited for my partners in a safe location below, protected from the still-moving large sluffs and any possible rockfall.


Skiing out through the gap at the bottom of the Finger.

Then back to camp, packed up, and heading out. The Wilson Glacier was totally oversoftened, with deep isothermal mush below 9000 ft, and any steeper rollovers were certain to slide in large wet sluffs. Cautious skiing along safe lines was essential, to avoid leg-breaking in the mush and also being swept downhill by the typically 8-12" deep wet slides of slow-moving concrete. A quick traverse across the Nisqually, then a brief but much-too-warm skin back up the 200 vert to Glacier Vista, and we were home free, gliding down the bootpack back to Paradise by around 6:30pm.


Skinning back up to Glacier Vista.

Another great trip on the Mountain, with about 9300 vert of total gain and ski descent in just under 27 hours car-to-car. Topped off by the truly amazing sunset and moonrise, followed by the partial eclipse, and then a gloriously sunny day, taking full advantage of the unexpected weather window. Given all the recent snowfall and lack of time for complete consolidation, snow conditions were actually quite good and it was a mostly enjoyable ski descent.



MOUNT RAINIER RECREATIONAL FORECAST
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SEATTLE WA
335 AM PDT FRI JUN 25 2010

SYNOPSIS...A WEAK UPPER TROUGH WILL BRING A SMALL CHANCE OF SHOWERS TO THE COAST AND NORTH CASCADES TODAY. HIGH PRESSURE WILL BUILD OVER  THE AREA SATURDAY FOR A DRY DAY. LOW LEVEL ONSHORE FLOW WILL KEEP HIGHS NEAR NORMAL BOTH DAYS. A TROUGH WILL MOVE INTO THE EASTERN PACIFIC SUNDAY AND KEEP THE WEATHER SOMEWHAT UNSETTLED THROUGH THE MIDDLE OF NEXT WEEK.

FRIDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY. FREEZING LEVEL 11000 FEET.
FRIDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY IN THE EVENING THEN BECOMING PARTLY CLOUDY. FREEZING LEVEL 11500 FEET.
SATURDAY...MOSTLY SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL 12000 FEET.
SATURDAY NIGHT...PARTLY CLOUDY IN THE EVENING THEN BECOMING MOSTLY CLOUDY. FREEZING LEVEL 12500 FEET.
SUNDAY...PARTLY SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL 12000 FEET.
SUNDAY NIGHT...PARTLY CLOUDY IN THE EVENING THEN BECOMING MOSTLY CLOUDY. A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 11000 FEET.
MONDAY THROUGH THURSDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 9000 FEET.

TEMPERATURE AND WIND FORECASTS FOR SELECTED LOCATIONS.

                       FRI    FRI    SAT    SAT    SUN 
                            NIGHT         NIGHT       

SUMMIT   (14411 FT)     19     22     23     25     22
                      W 25  NW 30   W 30   W 35  SW 45

CAMP MUIR(10188 FT)     42     36     42     36     40
                      W 15   W 15   W 15   W 20  SW 25

PARADISE  (5420 FT)     58     42     64     44     65
                     SW 10   CALM  SW  5   CALM  SW  5

LONGMIRE  (2700 FT)     64     45     69     47     72
                      CALM   CALM   CALM   CALM   CALM


« Last Edit: 06/28/10, 11:08 PM by Amar Andalkar » Logged

daveb
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Re: June 25-26, 2010, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Finger
« Reply #1 on: 06/28/10, 09:28 AM »

The second shot of Rainier's shadow, the moon, and Adams is amazing.  Glad you guys had a good trip. 
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danhelmstadter
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Re: June 25-26, 2010, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Finger
« Reply #2 on: 06/28/10, 09:55 AM »

yeah, that moon/shadow pic is awesome! nice work fellas. good to hear conditions are holding strong over there.
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David_Coleman
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Posts: 379


Re: June 25-26, 2010, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Finger
« Reply #3 on: 06/28/10, 12:16 PM »

Lemme be the next in line to stroke some ego & say way to get after it.  Seriously, looks like you nailed it. 

At least I got Old Snowy.  Was nice to go bust my ass w/ miles & miles of skis/boots on pack to see if I still have the strength/stamina.  I guess I had enough in the tank to ski both days.
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sherpadad
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Re: June 25-26, 2010, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Finger
« Reply #4 on: 06/30/10, 01:58 PM »

Amar, please forward on to David Pinegar.  He knows me from a slide on the Emmons a few years back.  I was planning a trip for the Fuhrer Finger this weekend and saw your trip report, but will go anywhere the conditions are as good as your pics!  Would enjoy getting together again.  Thanks, - Scott
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kath
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Posts: 192


Re: June 25-26, 2010, Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Finger
« Reply #5 on: 06/30/10, 04:30 PM »

awesome pix ... great weekend to be out on the mountain ....
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