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Skiing Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Finger

Trip Report: May 12-13th, 2021

We set out to summit and ski Mt. Rainier via the Fuhrer Finger.

After a red-eye into Seattle, we fired up our rental car and trekked out to Paradise.

Although we had climbed many notable mountains before, something about Rainier's sheer size and prominence made it truly something to behold, as we approached.

We spent every second that the mountain was in view gawking at its formidable stature, equally amazed and intimidated by the days ahead.

Once to Paradise, we rushed to the ranger station to grab our permits and get a debrief on what the snow and weather conditions have looked like the past few days.

A big winter for the Cascades, combined with the fact that it was still May, meant that there was snow all the way to the parking lot and we wouldn't need to shlep our skis and snowboards up to the snow line.

We repacked and organized our piles of shit - some pieces necessary, some useless- and stuffed it into our packs. Loaded down with no less than 60lbs, we set off to escape the sightseers and start our excursion.

Finally, the snow. Only to realize that Noah had brought 2 left-sided skins for his splitboard. This queued a 30 minute hold up trying to clip, re-screw and makeshift a suitable way to fasten one of his skins to the board. Eventually, though, we were able to get moving. At this point, it was 12pm.

We shuffled up the snowbank, cooking in the solar oven of the mid-day heat.

After making it to the wilderness boundary, our route took us down the west facing wall into Wilson Gully and onto Wilson Glacier, proper.

I was feeling strong, weighed down by my overpacked bag, but optimistic nontheless. Noah was feeling the altitude and had slowed down tremendously.

Up to a year ago, Noah and I were both living in Boone, NC at a relatively low elevation. So all of our previous trips had been somewhat equal starting points and Noah often overtook me and pushed the pace.

The last year, however, I have been living in Frisco, CO at 9000ft and skiing up to 12k regularly. Whereas Noah had moved to Wilmington, NC at 0ft and had taken some time off from triathlons.

Consequently, this trip had us starting at vastly different fitness and acclimatization levels.

We made our way up the glacial belly of the Wilson Glacier, moving westward towards the Van Trump ridge. Our goal was to make it to Camp Hazard today. Nightfall was approaching and our pace wasn't improving. After I gained the ridge up to the Van Trump Glacier, I kept eyes on Noah as he creeped through my skintrack. Noah quickly made it up to the overlook of the ridge and we decided, as it was 7pm, to call it good and set up camp.

This campsite, just below "The Turtle" was spectacular.

270-degree views, perfectly flat, no wind, supportive snow, and a clear view of the Fuhrer Finger.

Camp went up quickly and we basked in the beauty of our perch just as the sun was setting. Giddy about our score with this campsite, we didn't feel any remorse for our inability to reach Camp Hazard.

We woke at 2am to start our summit push. The quick turnaround and flight the night before led us into a slow start.

We had eyes on a line of headlamps leaving Paradise right around the time we woke up.

They were moving quickly. We made the traverse over to the lower apron of the Fuhrer Finger just in time for the headlamps to catch us.

A quick "Howdy" and they ripped their skins and transitioned to the bootpack up the couloir. It was 6am.

"Fuck they are fast, dude!" I exclaimed.

Noah and I followed suit and a-framed our splitboards to start booting up this gargantuan.

Steep, firm, but consistent.

Good thing we donned our helmets when we transitioned because the sun came up quick and things got spicy.

I was making good progress about 2/3rds of the way up the couloir when it was warm enough for the groups ahead of us to be kicking down loose rock and sluff. The Fuhrer Finger turned into a giant pinball machine with golfball-sized rocks making a constant whizz as they raced by. I was near the top where I took cover on a rocky outcropping and waited for Noah. It was 11am.

He was feeling it. I could tell he was hurting. Moving slower than I had ever seen him move before, the jump from sea-level to high altitude had never been more apparent.

I heard an approaching "whirr" like a bike riding towards me. I looked up to see a bowling-ball-sized chunk of volcanic pumice ricocheting down the snow straight towards me. I dove to the right rolling onto my stomach as the ball of rock exploded on the outcropping next to me.

"Jesus Christ!"

"Hey! Call your fucking rocks!"

I screamed above me - assuming it was a persons misstep that kicked that rock loose. I knew it could easily have been from the sun but having someone to blame made me feel better in the moment. LOL.

"Noah!! Hurry the fuck up man!"

I yelled down to him. Shaken up by my close call with a rocky explosion, I was losing patience.

Noah was making it up, albeit slowly, but he never stopped moving. We reconvened and shared our rockfall stories. Noah had been pelted in the center of his hand by a softball sized piece of rock. His hand felt swollen but he opted to not take his mitten off in case he couldn't get it back in.

Things were not going swimmingly.

It was 1pm.

We were at the Nisqually Icefall sitting on the Wilson Cleaver.

Noah and I roped up to make it above the Cleaver. The day was escaping us.

Atop the cleaver we looked into the convoluted mess that was the Icefall.

The call was not hard to make. We were running out of time. At this pace we wouldn't make the summit until 7pm - not an option.

Noah was struggling with the altitude. I was exhausted and getting nervous about our pace and progress thus far. Noah's hand was battered up, and my wrist cast that held my right arm together was slowly melting with the exposure to snow and rock.

Noah had turned around for me when I got altitude sickness on our first attempt on Mont Blanc, when we were just 500m from the summit. I owed it to him to give him the same respect he gave me. It was a relief, really.

Plus, we still were about to ski the entire Fuhrer Finger and Wilson Glacier - which was really the main goal of the trip.

After a quick downclimb to the top of the Finger, we transitioned to snowboards and made our descent.

Not many things better than riding down a 3000ft couloir on a volcano with 100-mile views beneath you.

The ride was fast, spring corn and we made it back to our camp 4000ft below in about 20 minutes.

Although we still had almost 3k of skiing to get back to Paradise, we knew most of the danger was behind us and it was less consequential below us.

We said goodbye to our lovely camp and loaded our bags with everything once more.

The ride back to paradise was a party lap. Just Noah and I cruising weaving turns in and out of each other. Hooting and hollering, trying to soak up the fruits of our labors getting up there.

An unfortunate transition back to skins to get out of Wilson Gully was required but we made it up to Paradise Park to get one last unobstructed, unmolested look at the south face of Rainier and rode the snowfield back to the parking lot.

Feet soaked and blistered; both hands battered; sunburned; blistered shoulders; exhausted -but satisfied with our endeavor.

We both agreed that we will make it back to the summit of Rainier another day but this just wasn't the trip.

Sometimes it is smart to turn around.

Shit, A lot of the time, it is smart to turn around.

We knew it was not worth the risk, all things included, to push our luck in summiting late in the evening to hopefully ski down some of the most treacherous terrain in the dark.

Noah and I were alive, still friends, and had the knowledge to come back and give 'er a go another day.

Mission success.

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