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| | |-+  Mar 31: Rainier summit to bridge via Fuhrer Thumb
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Author Topic: Mar 31: Rainier summit to bridge via Fuhrer Thumb  (Read 2853 times)
bs.
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Mar 31: Rainier summit to bridge via Fuhrer Thumb
« on: 04/02/13, 12:29 PM »

how improbable is it that a perfect weather window for an early spring rainier summit mission would open up... and line up perfectly with my days off?  i had to blink, rub my eyes, refresh the page and look again when i saw the low wind and high temps forecast for the summit.  i've been looking up at that mountain since moving to seattle 2 summers ago and knowing that one day i'd have to ride off the summit.  i sent out the email mid week, "who wants to go"?  turns out a lot of folks were either already up there or had other big plans, but a couple of my friends who have shared some great adventures this winter were up for a weekend trip.  we all were hoping to climb and ride the fuhrer route because, well, it looks cool.  none of us had ever been to the summit or in those chutes, so we would all get to share in the extra adventure of route finding.

we started out on saturday morning with a quick stop at whittaker mountaineering for some easter candy.  we reached the paradise lot around 10am, where we ran into amar, who had kindly given me a bit of route beta via email the day prior.  he and his party were just starting out as we began packing our gear.

we followed the muir herd up to about 6300 feet and then transitioned to drop onto the nisqually.  as we transitioned back after our short descent, we saw the other parties above us who had obviously known that the shorter route was to drop in lower and not gain as much unnecessary elevation.  we were glad to have a skin track to follow, and satisfied to see that it was pretty much taking the route we had agreed on before dropping in.  around 8300 feet, we decided to split off and start our own track, as it appeared that the camp spots by the turtle rocks were going to be quite crowded, and a friend had told me that it was possible to camp on the ridge between the wilson and nisqually glaciers.

as we worked our way up the eastern edge of the wilson glacier, a huge wet slide, probably triggered by serac fall, came roaring off the headwall.  despite that all parties on the glacier were well out of the way, it was quite an impressive and intimidating spectacle.  soon we spotted a flat portion of the ridge around 9600 feet.  as we traversed up to it, i began to realize the superiority of the other camp sites to our west--easier, less steep access, no early morning icy descent required to get back on the wilson, and most important of all, better views of the sunset!  all that notwithstanding, it was gratifying to have found our own route through some crevasses and nice to have a campsite to ourselves, even if we had to shovel for awhile to create a truly flat sleeping platform.  as we settled in to cook dinner and watch the sunset, i lamented not carrying some beers up what turned out to be a pretty easy approach.  as we ate, we watched with dismay as a party of two pitched a tent in an ominous looking hollow about 200 feet from the toe of the massive fresh debris pile and directly in the fall line of the headwall.

the wind was so calm, and the sky so beautiful that we opted to sleep in the open.  thus when the mostly full moon rose around midnight, it woke us all up to take in the spectacle as the southern volcanoes lit up on the horizon.  we awoke again just after 3am to the sight of a line of headlamps starting up towards the chutes.  our plan had been to start around 5, but we questioned our planning at the sight of other folks starting so early, and decided that we'd nap another half hour and then begin our ascent preparations.  i was still awake, running through gear checklists in my head when the alarm went off at 3:45.  it was go time.

sadly, one of our party decided that his elevation induced nausea from the night before had not abated enough to have confidence in the climb, so he decided to stay at camp.  so saign and i downclimbed from the ridge, stashed our camping gear, and started up the chute as a pair.  it had taken longer than expected to melt enough snow to fill our stomachs and water bottles, so we began climbing around 5:30, just as the headlamps over by the turtle rocks began bobbing up the trail after us.

there was an excellent bootpack up the finger, apparently established the day prior and packed in by the earlier party, so the climbing was easy and fun as we enjoyed the sunrise alpenglow.  we roped up around 12,000 feet after i punched one leg into a small crevasse.  we could see the faint remains of an old skin track, but decided that with the snow still quite firm and a nice bootpack already set that it would be easier to continue on foot.  we finally switched over to skins and ski crampons around 12,500.  the parties before us had left a mix of boot and ski tracks, so we had some options as we navigated our way through the crevasses.  as unfamiliar as we were with the terrain, i think the route would have been obvious even without the tracks, but it would have been scary in low visibility conditions.  as it was, we had sunny bluebird skies, and found ourselves wishing with amazement for just a hint of wind to cool us off.

the upper part of the climb was straightforward, but soon became too icy even for ski crampons, so we finished on foot.  as we neared the crater rim, i could see far below that amar had taken a less steep route to our east and was able to skin all the way up.  familiarity with the mountain has its benefits!  we reached the crater rim at 1pm and finally i made good on the promise that i'd been reiterating to saign every hour since sunrise and got out my stove to melt us some water.  rehydrated and stoked, we skinned across the crater so that we could transition on the true summit to start our run.

after staring up at this imposing and spectacular mountain for almost 2 years, i was finally assembling my snowboard on the summit.  i looked down to the north and pointed out a few landmarks that i remembered from the traverse i had done with kyle and jason a few weeks before.  even then i had wondered when i'd finally stand on the summit.  the conditions were so pleasant that i was amazed not to find crowds of people spread out on picnic blankets, but these same friendly conditions soon snapped us from our reverie and reminded us that we still had a 10,600 foot descent baking in the sun below us.

the upper 1500 feet were a mix of ice and windbuff--not great conditions, but much better than the horror stories of knee high sastrugi that i have heard so many times.  soon we were back on the glacier and spraying up huge rooster tails of perfect corn snow, the first i've ridden this spring.  many members of the other parties had turned back below the summit, so numerous tracks entered the fuhrer finger.  we opted to put our own tracks into the thumb instead.

it rode beautifully.  i think we caught it near the end of the corn stability window, as we were definitely getting some wet sluff moving with each turn.  we were able to traverse back to our stashed gear and stripped off our jackets and mittens for the remainder of the descent, as the weather conditions seemed more appropriate for a beach than a mountainside.  the lower run was as much fun as the upper portion, even with the heavy packs, as the quality corn snow gave us the confidence to ride with speed.  high fives and statements of superlatives were exchanged when we reached the nisqually bridge.  neither saign nor i had ever ridden a descent of over 10,000 feet before, and i don't think i stopped grinning until my alarm went off for work the next morning.

thanks to my partners for coming along with a rainier newbie on this awesome adventure.  thanks to amar for the advice and for setting the route up the lower nisqually.  thanks to the weather for being amazing on my days off, and thanks to dave b for taking our picture on the summit!  i somehow forgot my trusty camera on this trip, so these 12 paragraphs of logorrhea will have to stand in for my normal torrent of photos.  at least the little crappy camera on my gps was able to snap a couple of images to document my gleeful first summit.

arriving at our spectacular camp spot.


relaxing at 9,600 feet.


roping up at 12,000 feet.


summit stoke!!!!!

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n16ht5
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Re: Mar 31: Rainier summit to bridge via Fuhrer Thumb
« Reply #1 on: 04/02/13, 12:40 PM »

I see a gopro, wheres the vid? nice pics
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powhound
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Re: Mar 31: Rainier summit to bridge via Fuhrer Thumb
« Reply #2 on: 04/02/13, 01:39 PM »

Great write up Ben! It was an awesome first attempt and summit! I don't think we could have hoped for better conditions.

I just got my phone back, and have a few pics up until sunrise in the finger where I lost it.


I see a gopro, wheres the vid? nice pics

...coming soon
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Saign
Rowan Stewart
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Re: Mar 31: Rainier summit to bridge via Fuhrer Thumb
« Reply #3 on: 04/02/13, 04:00 PM »

Sick! congrats on the summit. I'm excited to see the gopro footage, it should be pretty epic!
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powhound
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Re: Mar 31: Rainier summit to bridge via Fuhrer Thumb
« Reply #4 on: 04/02/13, 06:41 PM »

https://vimeo.com/63209130

You can read my lengthy report on the vimeo page if you like. I tried to write a short one but got carried away like Ben...
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Saign
frankcd22
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Re: Mar 31: Rainier summit to bridge via Fuhrer Thumb
« Reply #5 on: 04/04/13, 10:10 AM »

nice work!  We hit the top a little bit later via the Success Glacier Couloir.  Hope you had a rad ride down.  let's go shred soon.
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christoph benells
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Re: Mar 31: Rainier summit to bridge via Fuhrer Thumb
« Reply #6 on: 04/04/13, 01:45 PM »

saign that was an awesome video

congrats you guys, that looked like the run of a lifetime!
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Kyle Miller
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Re: Mar 31: Rainier summit to bridge via Fuhrer Thumb
« Reply #7 on: 04/04/13, 07:18 PM »

Sounds like you guys got primo conditions on such an amazing line.

Strong work and great write up Ben.

Wish I could have joined you guys.
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In a perfect world, everybody would act with the correct etiquette and follow the rules. Human nature as it is= NOT GOING TO HAPPEN....no matter how many discussion on ski blogs/websites. Face reality............
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