Mount Rainier — Fuhrer Finger — Guest TR

Post by blogger | June 18, 2009      
Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier

Intro by Louie Dawson
All year up in the northwest I had wanted to ski Rainier, but didn’t get the chance. I had decided to put it off until next year, until I got an email from Jordan a few weeks before school was over. He and his friends were headed up there there right after school ended for me, and he was wondering if I wanted to come. Heck yes! I finished my last final, frantically packed, and a few hours later I was waiting at the airport for the Colorado contingent. The weather forecast had been looking a bit iffy, but it wasn’t bad and it turned out to be a great trip. 9,000 vert is a pretty good sized ski run! Check out Caleb and Jordan’s great backcountry skiing photos.

Story by Caleb Wray

This was my third time up Rainier, a mountain that in my mind falls somewhere between a CO 14er and the Alaska Range.

With that said, this was my first time as a ski attempt. I was fortunate enough to be teamed up with three of the Aspen area’s finest young ski mountaineers. Tyler Christoff, Jordan White, and Louie Dawson. Our objective was to climb and ski the Fuhrer Finger on the mountain‘s south side. A classic route by all accounts.

Louie had just finished up the year’s classes at Western Washington U. and was available to pick us up from Sea-Tac. We arrived a little later than expected due to the never ceasing thunderstorms in CO this spring. After stuffing down some calories, Louie‘s Cherokee, nearly busting at the seams with climbers and gear, barreled toward Rainier. We pulled into Paradise at 2 am, threw down bags and mats, and were all asleep within minutes.

Backcountry Skiing

Just out of Paradise, when you see bluebird like this above Rainier, you know you might possibly be getting that ever elusive PNW weather window.

Sunrise played alarm clock the next morning and gear was soon dispersed from shoulder to shoulder on the asphalt. We tightened our rigs, completed the paperwork, and began skinning up the trail under bluebird sky. The weather beta was that mornings had been nice, but afternoon thunderstorms were almost a lock. Much like summer climbing in CO.

Backcountry Skiing

You can judge a climber‘s experience by the gear they carry and how they manage it. My observation through the trip was that my partners were dialed. Louie even made the trip with a well-worn 2,000 cubic inch BD Avalung pack.

Backcountry Skiing

We made good time up the trail and even got a few turns as we descended down to the lower Nisqually Glacier. I got to drop first.

Once on the glacier we broke out the rope, a 70 meter 8 mil. At 42g a meter that’s about as light as you’d want on a glacier, and was a bit longer than standard. We reasoned that the extra rope between climbers would add friction in the case of a crevasse fall, much needed given that we would be arresting with whippets. Luckily Jordan, who’s known for his body mass, decided not to go spelunking on this trip.

Backcountry Skiing

We reached the Kautz Ridge and packed the rope.

We gained the last few hundred vertical feet to our bivy site via long switchbacks on skins. It was around 2 pm when we arrived at 9,200ft on the Kautz Ridge. Camp went up quickly and the nap/eat Olympics began.

Mount Rainier
A few light thunderstorms rolled through, dropping hail and graupel. However we were rewarded with quite a spectacular sunset during dinner. Click image to enlarge!

2:30am arrived too quickly. The wind had been blowing steadily throughout the night making even sleep with earplugs a little restless. I peeked out of the tent at the sky, a few lingering clouds high and some building moisture down low. Not perfect, but good enough for a summit shot. As is typical on starts like this, it took us a while to get moving. Once moving though, this crew picked up vert quickly.

Backcountry Skiing

Crossing of Wilson Glacier went off without a hitch. The lower part of the Fuhrer Finger Couloir proper was also easy work. However, as we reached the upper part of the couloir, the weather became a little bolder

We climbed from 11,500ft to 12,500ft in thick clouds and falling graupel. There is a cutoff to the upper Nisqually Glacier somewhere in this area, but with the weather we didn‘t have a prayer of finding it efficiently. Therefore we elected to continue climbing the ridge, using it as a landmark up to the high snowfields.

Backcountry Skiing


Backcountry Skiing

Louie bringing up the boys.

Mount Rainier
The light on the glacier was otherworldly. Click image to enlarge!

At around 13,000, we finally broke through the clouds and were able to sweat our way up the high snowfields to the crater rim.

Backcountry Skiing

Louie getting it done, and check out the 'penitentes' snow formations.

Mount Rainier
Near the summit. Click image to enlarge!
Backcountry Skiing


We were greeted on the crater rim by a cold northeast wind and a little confusion as to which point was the actual summit. I had been up there twice before, but never from the south side. Cloud cover was preventing the necessary orientation, but I was pretty sure it was a point across the crater floor. Louie wasn‘t convinced. He studied the map thoroughly, used his inclinometer to check relative elevations, and then pronounced he thought the summit was just north of us a few hundred feet. The clouds cleared and he was vindicated. We were indeed on the ridge between the two craters. Thanks Louie.

Backcountry Skiing

We were soon on the summit snapping pics and preparing for the real fun.

The weather was kind enough to partially clear for us as we clicked into our downhill transportation. The top 2,000 vertical feet were excellent.












Mount Rainier
Louie.Click image to enlarge!



The ridge we’d used for part of the climb did not have good skiing potential, so we elected to drop the upper Nisqually Glacier and then try to find the cutoff to the Finger. We were forced to ski over a few snow bridges, a dicey feeling, but visibility held and we easily found the cutoff.

Jordan tests a snowbridge for us.




Skiing Mount Rainier

Weather held nicely for most of the descent, but we knew it would change at any moment.

The sun cupping in the Finger Couloir was fairly severe, but the warming temps made the snow bearable, especially after Jordan skied it. We skied directly across the Wilson Glacier back to our camp just a few minutes ahead of a sizable thunderstorm.

Backcountry Skiing

We barely had time to precipitation proof camp and jump in our tents before it hit. We used the opportunity to take much needed naps.

The storm lifted an hour later and we set about the business of packing up the bivy gear. The snowpack was saturated from the storm and wet slides were a guarantee. We stayed on the low angle all the way down. The descent was uneventful with the exception of a gnarly heavy-pack-faceplant by me and skiing between tourists like slalom gates on the Paradise snowfield.

Backcountry Skiing

Our routes on Rainier, Fuhrer Finger, Kautz Ridge, Nisqually Glacier. Red = climb, blue=Ski

Roundtrip of 32 hours. 9,000 vertical climbed and skied. And it felt like we had the whole mountain to ourselves. I don‘t recall seeing any other groups on the route or the summit. A truly great trip with some fine mountaineers. Looking forward to the next one fellas.


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26 Responses to “Mount Rainier — Fuhrer Finger — Guest TR”

  1. Andrew McLean June 18th, 2009 10:25 am

    Excellent job! That’s a lot of climbing and skiing in less than ideal conditions and a difficult descent to pull off.

    What next? ;

  2. Matt Kinney June 18th, 2009 10:26 am

    Good stuff. Good pics. Thanks for some morning stoke.

  3. Randonnee June 18th, 2009 10:56 am

    Strong work in dicey weather! It appears that a 14000 ft peak is no big deal for strong Colorado ski mountaineers!

  4. Tucker June 18th, 2009 11:13 am

    Great TR. Thanks.

  5. Sierra Journal June 18th, 2009 11:21 am

    Fantastic work. Great photos. Makes me want to get up there to the PNW!

  6. Nick Washburn June 18th, 2009 11:36 am

    Nice TR. One point on this statement:

    “You can judge a climber‘s experience by the gear they carry and how they manage it. My observation through the trip was that my partners were dialed. ”

    – I thought that was interesting given the picture up top of the 3 guys with their packs. The middle guy (with large red pack) is outrageous for a 3 day ski-mountaineering trip. That pack is HUGE!

  7. tylerc June 18th, 2009 11:55 am

    My pack (the red one) was approx 3500 cu in and weighed about 30lbs. I think Calebs fish eye camera lense might be making it look a bit bigger than it was. However, I will credit Louie for making us all look bad with his daypack.

  8. John June 18th, 2009 12:01 pm

    the “otherworldly” pic is freaking awesome! I would like to see that in a larger size.

  9. Lou June 18th, 2009 12:47 pm

    I just added an enlarged version of the “Otherworldly” photo. Caleb did a really nice job on that one, didn’t he? Lou

  10. DannyIrie June 18th, 2009 1:24 pm

    Great…thanks for sharing. On the tick list to ski! Was the paradise side sun cupped also?

  11. Jordan June 18th, 2009 1:56 pm

    Nice write up Caleb. It was a great trip, with a great group of guys! The pictures turned out spectacular! More to come boys!

  12. Caleb June 18th, 2009 1:57 pm


    We started and ended at Paradise. The suncupping and penitentes seemed to be primarily isolated to areas near exposed rocks. This makes sense because dust accelerates the formation of these things. Most of the large open snow covered areas still looked fairly smooth. I just took a look at some pictures from some friends who climbed the Tahoma and descended the Ingram and didn’t see much suncupping.

  13. Doglotion June 18th, 2009 9:20 pm

    Nice one. Headed to the same route next week, stoked to try it again after trying a few years back and at the top of the finger, 12k ft, 8:30am, it was already t-shirt weather and rock fall all over. so we just turned around and grabbed what we came for… some good corn Finger skiing.

  14. Ben Conners June 19th, 2009 7:45 am

    Wow great work fellas, I’ve had this one on the radar for awhile and just haven’t been able to putt it off. Don’t be surprised if I come looking for information on this tour someday. Jordan way to keep the bar high, congrads all of you on a seemingly perfectly executed trip!

  15. Dostie June 19th, 2009 9:51 am

    Excellent TR and photos! Makes me hungry for summer turns.

  16. Mark June 20th, 2009 6:34 am

    Superb trip and timing. Such adventures surely inspire Wild Snow readers to make similar descents. I’m scheming already.

  17. Martha June 20th, 2009 9:56 am

    A pleasure to read and excellent photos. Thanks!

  18. Dave June 21st, 2009 12:36 pm

    Good work. I think a lot of locals ski that line routinely in a single push while soloing (ie without 3 sets of ropes), hence reducing the extra junk factor. Looks like the conditions you had were pretty standard for the PNW. The only difference being is at you actually got some good weather. Good work nonetheless. Looks fun.

  19. Sky June 22nd, 2009 2:32 pm

    I hear the locals in that neck of the woods don’t really get after it. 😉

    Glad you got a big descent, Louie.

  20. Lou June 22nd, 2009 4:07 pm

    Locals have it easy. It’s when you show up out from of town and get it done — that’s the challenge, and gets the props (grin). As for carrying ropes and using them, when you don’t know the route that well, why not play it safe?

  21. Drew T June 22nd, 2009 5:59 pm

    Lou’s right. Showing up after driving 20 hours and getting a Rainier summit is quite a trick. But saying the locals have it “easy” in WA is misleading. I refer you to most anything Fred Beckey wrote, ie “approach via easy timbered ridge,” “easy 4th class,” or “easy snow slopes lead to summit”

  22. Lou June 22nd, 2009 6:22 pm

    Wait, you mean it could be, whisper, wet and scrappy? (grin)

  23. SugarBear June 22nd, 2009 9:06 pm

    Great work boys! I’m heading up to Baker for a 5 day glacier course in July–this gets me in the mood.

    Sorry to stray off topic but does anyone know how Bell Cord is holding up? Front range snow climbs (Dragons Tooth/Tail, Dead Dog) have been in pretty good shape. Im hearing the Cord my be dicey…any current beta would be appreciated!

  24. Mark Worley June 23rd, 2009 7:23 am

    Front Range snow climbs are really in pretty good shape–much better than this time last year. The north face of Longs has looked really good this spring, but I don’t think anyone has skied it.

  25. Mike July 14th, 2009 6:03 pm

    Wow! Great trip report and amazing photos! Thanks for sharing the knowledge. Don’t know what route my friends are taking this weekend, but I’m sure they’ll appreciate the info. Congrats to all of you on an impressive trip.

  26. Doglotion August 10th, 2009 7:38 pm

    once again, jealous. headed up there first week of July, but Finger looked like total garbage and everyone told us doom and gloom about it’s conditions, so we went to emmons instead, and got more than we bargained for. ha. TR here…

    but gotta come back for the finger again, and ski it from the top unlike last time. next year… and earlier.

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