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Mount Rainier in May: The Fuhrer Finger Trip Report

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So when Max, Brian and I decided we wanted to go summit and ski Mount Rainier at the end of May, we had to consider the following: I had Thursday-Sunday off from work, Max had to catch a flight home to Argentina on Sunday morning, and Brian had a flight to Hawaii on Sunday as well. That said, we met Tuesday evening and were beyond lucky that the weather forecast called for sunshine on both Thursday and Friday. It was a go. (Cover image by Holly Walker)
 
Brian was a bit late after a great day of ski touring on the Duffey Lake Road (Pemberton) and a forgotten passport, but we were soon on the road. Unfortunately we were unaware that all stores closed 30 minutes before we got there. We missed Escape Route and Vallahala Pure in Squamish, MEC in Vancouver and REI in Bellingham. So we pulled up to Trader Joe's at 8:58pm (closing at 9:00pm) and quickly bought our food and supplies for the next two days.

Max Artoni photo
No trip's complete without wine. Holly Walker Photo

We arrived by 2am at a logging road not far from the Nisqually Entrance of Mount Rainier and camped out for the night. After waking at 7am, we drove into the Park and had big delicious breakfasts at the National Park Inn in Longmire. We repacked our backpacks with food and sleeping bags and then headed up to Paradise parking lot. There we found the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center and the paper work to fill out and fees to pay. Interestingly enough, the park ranger knew little of where was okay to park your car overnight or how the snow conditions were on Mount Rainier; luckily he was very nice. He gave us white 'poop bags' and wished us good luck. We then decided to all go to the bathroom one more time and only use the 'poop bags' in case of emergency.

At 11am we were finally ready to start touring up to our base camp. The heat of the day hit us – we stopped to strip layers and tour in our long-underwear. We quickly arrived at crevasses so we roped up to get through safely. The group touring in front of us kindly marked them with orange flags. We caught up to them at a potential base camp at the bottom of Nisqually Glacier and we probed the area for potential crevasses.


Max Artoni photo

It was decided we were in a safe location away from any rock fall so we set up our tent and called it home for the night. The friendly group was from Salt Lake and they couldn't believe the food and wine we had brought up. We had no dehydrated meals, instead we splurged with fresh tortellini, fruit and veggies, and even wine to boot. After a great 'communal' dinner with lots of laughter and wine and a beautiful sunset, we prepared for sleep and set our alarms for 3am.


Holly Walker photo.

The following morning we were up and ready to go with the sun at 4:30am.  As soon as we started touring away a fox ran to our tent to eat our extra food. So we headed back to secure our camp and then headed off again to the Fuhrer Finger. We arrived at the Finger, took our skis and rope off and threw on our crampons. It was time to boot-pack straight up! We caught up the group from Salt Lake who was smart and had left the camp at least an hour earlier. We had been told it would take 6-8 hours to summit but unfortunately due to the frozen snow conditions it was easier to boot pack the entire way though much slower. At the top of the Finger we roped back up and proceeded boot packing a ways along the Nisqually Glacier close to the very top. We then stopped. Though we were only half-an-hour from the Columbia Crest summit, it was 1pm already and we had yet to stop and eat lunch. I was famished and happy to eat while Brian and Max decided they had gone too far to be so close – they continued on to the summit of 14,410ft/4,392m. Congratulations you guys!

Max Artoni Photo
Holly climbing above the Fuhrer Finger. Max Artoni Photo

I clicked into my skis and joined the other two on our quick descent back to the camp. The glacier had decent snow, which worsened to slushy schmoo once we got into the Fuhrer Finger. We arrived back at the camp with big smiles on our faces and started to pack up. The other group had already left having only made it to the top of the Finger line. Like me, they now have even more reason to come back to this expansive playground. Once packed up, we continued skiing down and realized that the snow went all the way down to the road close to Christine Falls. That's when we decided I would go pick up the jeep at the Paradise parking lot. I checked out with the ranger at the Visitor Center, returned the unused 'poop bags,' and then drove down to pick the boys up off the road between Paradise and Longmuire. They had skied from the summit to the end of the snow and were waiting for me in the sun with big grins on their faces.


Brian Baker skiing out. Max Artoni Photo.

The drive back to Whistler was long with several errand stops along the way. We had to take advantage of U.S. prices and even bought some more wine before crossing the border back into Canada. We finally arrived back in Whistler at 3am. We were all tired from being awake for 24-hours but were happy with the mission. The boys had to wake up early to do laundry and begin packing for their far away destinations. I had to sleep in and dream of what mountain to go to next a little closer to home.  


The guys skied all the way to the road at the creek. Max Artoni Photo.

Resources & Thanks

Special thanks to Susan Medville and Jon Johnson for the map and great advice on skiing the Fuhrer Finger Route of Mount Rainier.

For more details go to: http://www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm

This article is by Holly Walker. Skier and writer Holly Walker lives in Whistler when she is not traveling in search of perfect pow. She is sponsored by K2 Skis, Smith and Pow Gloves.

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