Juneuary in the PNW – Mt Rainier Fuhrer Finger Ski


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Sunrise on the upper slopes of the Fuhrer Finger, Mt.Rainier.

For the past few years, it seems January has rolled into Washington with a big high pressure system. This year hasn’t been any different, and “Juneuary” is in full force. With the sunny conditions, and even reports of corn on south slopes, I wanted to ski something big.

After a lengthy facebook discussion, and much hemming and hawing, we decided on Rainier. Friends wanted to take advantage of the great weather, and our group ballooned to seven people. I’m not usually a fan of big groups in the mountains, as they make decision making difficult, and slow you down significantly. However, I decided to make an exception this weekend as good weather, solid snow, and a cohesive group of good friends seemed to bode well.

We sorted gear and purchased our climbing passes in Longmire, and then drove up to Paradise a little after it opened. We shouldered heavy packs, and began the hike into camp above the Wilson Glacier. We had loose plans of skiing something in the area, either the Fuhrer Finger, Thumb, or the Kautz Glacier. I even had a sliver of hope that the Wilson or Kautz headwalls would be in. As a way of mitigating our group size, we hoped to split up and tackle different routes. Alas, as we got closer to camp, it became obvious that the snow conditions weren’t ideal (hey, its January, after all). The upper Kautz was a shinny mass of blue ice, and the ice chute looked unskiable as well. We decided on heading up the Fuhrer Finger, as it appeared to have the best snow quality, and might soften a bit in the sun.

FA of the parking lot headwall. A harbinger of the snow quality to come.

We woke at three, and after a quick water-making session, we headed across the Wilson toward the base of the finger. I was prepared to turn around soon if the snow appeared too icy, but with some wandering back and forth, we were able to find edgeable snow all the way up. The sun rose as we neared the top of the couloir. Sunrise revealed a beautiful clear blue sky, with a see of fog covering the lowlands. Beautiful!

Pastel skies with Mt. Adams in the background.

The sunrise just wouldn't stop, and I couldn't stop taking pictures.

We moved out onto the Nisqually Glacier briefly, and then climbed a steep, icy slope to gain the ridge. At this point Zach was starting to feel the altitude, so he hunkered down while we continued slowly toward the top. We reached the top a little later than we wanted, at 1:30.

Chris knows it's important to stay hydrated at altitude.

The snow was solid ice off the summit, but soon turned to edgeable sastrugi.

Cooper looking down the Fuhrer Finger.

Wanting to avoid some of the icier pitches we climbed up, we headed down the upper Nisqually Glacier. The route finding was a little tricky, but the crevasses were all bridged fairly solidly, and eventually we traversed into the top of the Fuhrer Finger Couloir. The top held some icy snow, I headed down first, and then hunkered behind a rock. Coop followed, and then we both waited. After a while, I was starting to wonder what was going on up above.

Someone skied down, and said “Tristan’s binding ripped out!” Tristan had been side slipping the icy snow at the top, and his Dynafit toepiece pulled right out of his uphill ski. Luckily he was able to stop and put his crampons on, and hike down to us.

Coop starting down the Fuhrer Finger at about the point where Tristan's ski self- destructed.

Ski carnage.

Tristan downclimbs the Fuhrer Finger. Heinous.

The rest of the crew skied back to camp, while I waited for Tristan to downclimb the entire Fuhrer Finger. We reached the bottom a little after dark. Not wanting to have to walk the whole Wilson Glacier, we attempted to jury rig a fix. The other front insert holes were unused, but they were a little damaged from the pullout. I cleaned the insert material off the screws, and screwed the toepiece on. The ski no longer fit Tristan’s boot but it did fit mine so we swapped skis for one foot and began skiing. The rest of the group met up with us, loaded down with all the bivy gear. We skied down to the Nisqually, and decided to keep going down to the Nisqually bridge, for a 10,500 foot descent. Unfortunately, after a few minutes of skiing down the Nisqually valley, the jury-rigged binding pulled out as well. Surprisingly, the other set of front inserts pulled out as well. We were a ways down the valley already, so Tristan pulled off some impressive night-time one-ski breakable crust skiing to get down to the bridge.

Tristan’s skis are Dynafit Stokes that are a few years old. They’ve had at least one heel piece rip out previously, and Tristan had only skied them a few times before taking them on our Rainier trip. I’ve never been much of a fan of Dynafit’s insert system, although most of the time they seem to work fine. Perhaps this pair was defective, either way, his binding definitely ripped out much easier than it should have.

My advice is if you’re skiing places where a fall could have serious consequences, think twice about using Dynafit skis with inserts, or at least ski them hard before your trip to make sure they’ll hold up. Really, this principle applies to anything you use in serious alpinism. Don’t put yourself in potentially dangerous situations with relatively untested gear. After seeing what happened and knowing the consequences could have been dire (a deadly fall down the entire Fuhrer Finger) I know I’ll be adhering to this principle with ever more diligence.

The binding issues had slowed us down significantly, and we reached the bridge at 9:00. We devoured some chips and salsa, and the proceeded to make our way out of the locked gate, and ended up at Denny’s, the first open food establishment we could find. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the food quality at Denny’s, let’s just say it was food.

An interesting trip, to say the least. Route conditions, gear failures, and sickness turned it into a mini-epic. Still, I had a blast.

(Check out the other Fuhrer Finger ski I was on a few years ago.)

Comments

22 Responses to “Juneuary in the PNW – Mt Rainier Fuhrer Finger Ski”

  1. Jason Hummel January 23rd, 2013 9:38 am

    Nice getting up there! Too bad the snow was so bad. Rainier anytime of the year is always a bet.

    As for the bindings, my Dad has torn his bindings out of those very some inserts more than once. I’ve had to one ski those myself.

  2. steveo January 23rd, 2013 11:20 am

    Nice write up and photos Louie. I like the one at sunrise where some poor guy is hundreds of feet below you – I’ve been that guy before while following companions more fit than I. Also the crunched up Nalgene bottle in the binding photo. That’s what happens during a 10,000′ decent!

    edgeable sastrugi = character building!

  3. Silas Wild January 23rd, 2013 11:38 am

    That’s why the Dynafit skis no longer have inserts? Fortunately for me, my bindings pulled out of their inserts inside a ski area, not thousands of feet from a road! Strong work.

    Lou, can you comment more on the new Cho Oyu ski please?

  4. Brian from Boise January 23rd, 2013 12:12 pm

    Great trip report … same spring like conditions here in Idaho.

  5. Larry G January 23rd, 2013 12:33 pm

    Thank you for the nice TR Louie and as usual, some great pics. I’ve been fortunate to also witness some of those amazing sunrises on Rainier…hard to put it into words.

  6. AndyC January 23rd, 2013 12:49 pm

    With all these binding pull outs being reported on the Stokes, what is Dynafit’s response? Any recall? Trade ins? Do you have to wait for a bc failure?

  7. Mike January 23rd, 2013 12:54 pm

    Was the binding locked out (in tour mode) when it pulled? It shouldn’t matter, but…

  8. Zach Winters January 23rd, 2013 1:38 pm

    Mike, yes it was locked out.
    Does anyone know WHY Dynafit has had so many issues with their inserts? Snowboards have had inserts since, well forever, and I’ve never seen them fail. I’m not sure what is standard, but when building splitboards I’ve always used threaded T-nuts so pulling one out would require pulling a 1/2″ plug of core through the top sheet (which isn’t going to happen before breaking the binding). Has Dynafit considered using T-nuts? It seemed like they were on the right track, until they tried to kill Tristan.

    Hey Lou, for some reason “deathtraps” doesn’t pass the anti-spam quiz! :)

  9. Louie Dawson January 23rd, 2013 1:50 pm

    Dynafit inserts are quite a bit different than snowboard inserts. For one, they are plastic, rather than metal, and only meant to be used a few times. Their goal was to make their ski’s lighter (a smaller binding reinforcement area is necessary with inserts), and also make it super easy to mount their bindings (and only theirs) on their skis. Unlike snowboard inserts, they aren’t meant to have bindings removed and re-attached a bunch of times.

    I suspect steel inserts would add a fair amount of weight, and defeat their purpose for using inserts.

    silly snowboarder :)

  10. Zach Winters January 23rd, 2013 2:16 pm

    Plastic inserts? Well I guess I can’t say I’m surprised by the result then. I can see the weight savings being worth it for hippy turns in very low consequence terrain, but last I checked that wasn’t Gregg Hill’s style.

    Ironically, there was a TAY-er that ripped a binding off of a Dynafit Mustagh Ata “9K feet and 10 miles above the car” on the Tahoma Glacier the same day.

  11. Caleb Wray January 23rd, 2013 3:57 pm

    Nice trip Louie. What happened to all the penitentes?

  12. Ben January 23rd, 2013 7:43 pm

    Cool trip, but what a hike, ow. Have never touched these inserts, but looks like the insert pulled out of the ski, rather than screw pulling out of insert. Suggests the problem is with bonding in the ski construction, rather than simply that the insert is nylon? Seems like that could be engineered differently.

    Metal inserts of the Binding Freedom type don’t weigh very much and have exterior threads into the ski, which is surely more durable but requires more assembly time = cost. Factory snowboard inserts are metal pieces, several attached together on a runner, rather than individually set into the board, at least on the one I’ve seen. Again seems more durable.

  13. Bart January 23rd, 2013 8:16 pm

    Funny, I pulled the toe piece out of a Manaslu over the weekend in similar steep hard snow conditions in the Wasatch. Forced to ski out a fair distance on one ski including being towed up a mellow skinner, some breakable crust, and some fairly fun old powder. Switching the good ski from leg to leg help manage the fatigue.
    The whole time I was thinking how lucky I was not to be in a more isolated place…

    My inserts seemed to have pulled the plastic threads out rather than the whole insert. It was the second mount but the skis had hundreds of days on them.

    Thanks for the TR

  14. Jane January 23rd, 2013 10:31 pm

    Beautiful photos. Thanks for the trip report. I learned a few things. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Lou Dawson January 23rd, 2013 10:34 pm

    All, yes, in this case it didn’t matter if the binding was locked or not. As stated in the post above, we’re cautioning anyone using skis with Dynafit factory inserts to be careful if you’re extreme skiing. Theyr’e perhaps not appropriate for that. Even regular mounting should be done with fanatical care if your life depends on your bindings never pulling out…

    A couple of caveats: First, remember that any touring binding can get yanked completely or partially out of a ski if you fall in touring mode. Sometimes, the damage cause this way may not be obvious, but results in the binding pulling out while you’re on the downhill. Second, excessive tightening of the screws when mounting bindings on Dynafit inserts can damage them, as can “double threading” when you try to drive the screws in when they thread in the binding base plate.

    But again, at this point, with what we’ve seen over the years, we can’t in good faith recommend skis with these types of inserts for high consequence skiing.

    Lou

  16. Dragos Toma January 24th, 2013 8:05 am

    I think 70-80g worth of metal inserts per ski would be more than acceptable for the level of strength they would add. The only problem seems to me is they would add manufacturing costs…

    Anyway, in my opinion it is totally unacceptable to have plastic screw inserts in a ski -no matter the advancements made with modern materials and plastics.

  17. Charlie January 24th, 2013 10:28 am

    Binding Freedom inserts add ~11g/ski, for a Dynafit 9-hole pattern, not including the fact that the machine screws are somewhat lighter than standard ski screws. (not linking to a post on the subject out of deference to Lou – WildSnow rocks.). Haven’t weighed the QK inserts, but since they share the same initial design, they should be quite comparable.

    T-nut inserts should be heavier, but probably still not 70-80g/ski?

  18. Dragos Toma January 24th, 2013 3:52 pm

    Sorry about the 70-80g approximation. It was just a rough estimate off the top of my head, thinking about 20 T-nuts at 4g/pcs (again, just a rough estimate).

    Just wanted to say that even if a ski was 70-80g heavier because of metallic inserts it wouldn’t be a big deal for me. I would happily pay the weight penalty in exchange for not having to worry as much about pulling the bindings out of the skis

  19. Jayson January 24th, 2013 9:39 pm

    Louie,

    Nice post, fun ski….I also had every type of snow you can find in one run on that line a while back. Glad to see you and Cooper are still out getting after it together! Cheers…stay safe !

  20. Kp January 25th, 2013 8:41 am

    We were up on mt st Helens at the same time I bet. Beautiful weather last weekend! So clear out, I think we saw ya!

  21. Lou Dawson January 27th, 2013 5:51 pm

    Silas, the Cho will be a really nice quiver of one for traveling or mixed conditions. The lighter weight is super nice, it has good edge hold, still skis pow. Not a super soft snow ski like something wider, but perhaps more versatile. The replacement for the 7 Summits in a modernized width. Lou

  22. Olavi January 30th, 2013 3:32 pm

    How many years are “few years” used skies? Were the skies mounted more then one time for new bindings?

    I´m not sure how did the local store mount the bindings to the skies. Should I be worried?

    Interesting when firs impression after reading your reviews about Dynafit skies are yes I wanna bye these.. And now after buying reading this.. Well thank god I have still have my heavy duty Dynastars and Marker Dukes..

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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