It’s Friday evening, and Zach and I had just been set up by our mutual friend Whitney to climb and ski Mt. Rainier together over the weekend. We had both been looking for partners to attempt the Fuhrer Finger route, and had both approached Whitney about skiing the Finger. The Fuhrer Finger is an extraordinary ski mountaineering line; it takes a direct line up a south aspect of Mt. Rainier, and gets its name from the 3000 vertical foot, 40 degree chute located about two thirds of the way up the route, called ‘the finger.’ Some sources cite it as the biggest ski descent in the lower forty eight, but I’m skeptical of anything with a ‘biggest’ quantifier in front of it. It’s definitely up there, a rad line, for sure. In good conditions, the entire 9000 vertical feet of the route is ski-able on the descent, with the option to extend that even further by skiing to the Nisqually bridge.
After reviewing our 2-person crevasse rescue skills, we talk about details on the route. There’s a risk of rockfall within the finger, which is heightened later in the day as things heat up. There’s also the risk of loose-wet slides later in the day. Timing on ascent day will be critical, as you want to be descending after the snow has softened up enough to be ski-able, yet before the rocks start firing down from above, or before the snow beneath you becomes warm and unstable. Based on the predicted warm weather, we set a turnaround time of 11AM for summit day
Saturday, 12:00PM: We arrive at the Paradise Parking lot. We gather our permits and gear, and hit the trail at 1PM
The weather for our ascent was warm and sunny. Just before dropping down to the Lower Nisqually Glacier, we got a nice view of our planned route. We chose to hook low and left around the Wilson glacier and gain the ridge to camp, rather than picking our way up through the middle as some do.
Both the Lower Nisqually and the Wilson were in great shape – neither ourselves nor the other two parties we ran into opted to rope up for these glacier crossings.
Saturday, 6:00PM: Arrive at camp . If you camp by the castle, there’s currently nice, clean, running water by the upper sites. We skipped the water boiling routine, and haven’t gotten giardia, yet.
Sunday, 2:30AM: Summit day! We hit the trail and cross the Wilson glacier to begin the bootpack up the finger.
Around 4AM, despite it being the coldest portion of the day, a softball size rock came flying down the finger between Zach and myself. Although jarring, that rock was the only rockfall we witnessed throughout the day.
6:00 AM: Sunrise. After 9000 french steps, we reach the top of the finger.
At the top of the finger we went high and left above a serac before hooking right onto the Upper Nisqually Glacier.
We roped up here. The upper Nisqually was still in great shape – only a couple of snow bridges to cross on the way to the summit.
Slow going on the last couple thousand feet. We chose to continue booting, however, skinning with ski crampons would have been an equally reasonable choice. A group of Canadians did so, and we played rope team leapfrog for a while.
11AM: Summit! We snacked and transitioned quickly, as we had just barely made our turnaround goal. Just enough time for a ski guitar summit picture :).
Conditions were perfect corn on the way back to camp. The terrain was fantastic, and the scenery unbeatable.
We took a leisurely pace packing up camp, and ended up getting back to the car around 4PM.
What a fantastic weekend on the mountain. The Fuhrer finger delivered everything that was expected, and more – absolutely worthy of it’s reputation as one of the best ski mountaineering descents in North America.