On the 24th Climbing Rangers Philippe Wheelock and Rachel Mueller took the early season approach from the Nisqually Glacier up towards the Wilson Glacier to the 9,200 foot camp below the Kautz with the intention of climbing and skiing the Fuhrer Finger. Leaving camp the following day at 6 a.m. they made a quick traverse underneath the Finger on skis.
Replacing skis with crampons they found excellent cramponing on good neve through the Hourglass. There was occasional rockfall but vigilance and speed were the best assets until they traversed left directly under the rockwall. At about 12,000 feet they traversed east (right) to gain the upper Nisqually and from there kicked steps up past Point Success to the summit. After a quick assist with a helicopter rescue in the crater they put skis on and at 12:30 pm schralped 5,000 ft. of velvety snow conditions back to 9,200 ft.
Following are a couple of notables for people looking to climb the Finger or Thumb:
Early-Season Approach - The early season approach mentioned in 'Mt Rainier: A Climbing Guide' is currently in good condition and avoids the rockfall and avalanche activity on the east-facing wind-loaded slopes used to gain the ridge at a lower elevation. See photo for an example of avalanche activity low on the approach, Additionally, climbing parties reported that this early-season approach is an hour faster than the 'Fan.' That said, all approaches involve glacier travel, rockfall and icefall hazard, and some exposure to avalanche slopes. Please take proper precautions when moving on the mountain both above and below 10,000 ft. Flotation is strongly recommended if climbers are planning to move anywhere below 10,000' anytime after sunrise. Of course, freezing levels are a concern and should be checked prior to any approach. Skis or snowshoes are not necessary for the route but crampons and an ice axe are necessary for a safe climb. That said, the Finger is a rad ski line and anyone comfortable skiing big mountain lines at 45 degrees in variable conditions should take advantage of one of the best alpine descents in the region.
It appeared that parties are getting late morning starts and underestimating the effort of the approach. From Glacier Vista, you'll loose some vertical before climbing up the Nisqually Glacier. So, even if you're heading to camp at 9,200', you'll gain virtually the same amount of vertical as the approach to Camp Muir.
Many parties were taking over 6 hours to make it to 9,200ft and complained of postholing and hot conditions on the glacier. Set yourself up for success and approach early when conditions are firm, temps are cooler, and rockfall and avalanche hazards are reduced. Futhermore, an early arrival at camp allows for an afternoon nap, a chance to dry socks and boots, and plenty of time to eat and rehydrate for the summit climb.
Camping - Camping is not recommended at the base of the Finger or Thumb. First and foremost, this area is exposed to rockfall through the evening. Basing yourself on the Waypowety Cleaver will only require a few additional minutes, you'll be safer, and you'll have less impact on the glacier.
Pack it Out - Rangers noticed a significant number of lonely abandoned, used bluebags. This is WRONG!! Climbers are responsible for following the Leave No Trace ethic and violations may result in fines and/or forfeiture of climbing privileges. Please pack it out!!
Fuhrer Finger - May 13th
We received a trip report on the Fuhrer Finger from Cindy Williams and her partner Matt Hoffman on their climb around May 1st.
We self-registered on Thursday, April 30, 2009 and departed the parking lot at 9:30 a.m. The weather forecast was for high pressure for Thursday and Friday. The temps for the summit were expected to be single digit and winds to be low. We found snow conditions to be firm and consolidated with a dusting of fresh snow, up to 2” in some places. Due to the great snow coverage of the crevasses on the Nisqually Glacier, we took the direct route on the Nisqually. We encountered several narrow crevasses atop a large convex roll near 7,500’, otherwise no other openings were seen on the approach.
We saw two skiers descending the Fuhrer Finger and heading down the Nisqually around 1 p.m. on Thursday during our approach. By that time of day the snow conditions (due to the sun and solar warming) were getting a bit sloppy. We did a small amount of post-holing, but overall snow conditions for the entire approach were firm, but not icy.
We camped for the night and started out at 5:30 a.m. on Friday, May 1, just as the sky was lightening up. The snow had frozen solid overnight and we made easy progress up the Finger and through the Hour Glass. We could see the ski tracks and in a few areas the soft, slushy afternoon snow of the previous day had slid a bit, but just fresh snow sluff of an inch or two. We found easier travel in the untracked, less icy, areas to the side of these patches. Around 11,500’ we traversed right, back out on the Nisqually Glacier and headed directly to the summit rim. We paralleled one large crevasse as we began the traverse, and crossed one bridge, but otherwise the glacier was in easy travelling/skiing condition.
We climbed in sunshine and no wind until we reached the rim. At that point the wind hit us and it did not abate until we reached our car in the Paradise parking lot. We climbed along the rim to Columbia Crest and were greeted by five eastern European climbers. We were unable to locate the climber’s log book below the summit due to the snow cover.
The track coming down from the summit to the top of the Ingraham Direct route has a number of pretty substantial crevasses and large snow bridges. One sunken snow bridge was nearly five feet across.
The Ingraham Direct was in great shape and still had good coverage of crevasses. There were no crevasses visible at Ingraham Flats or down to Cathedral Gap. The Gap is still filled with snow, and we did not see any open holes on our way to Camp Muir.
The snow conditions and coverage was so good, we were wishing we had our skis instead of overnight packs. This was our first carry-over to the summit of Mt. Rainier and my body was starting to complain about the extra weight. Despite the winds, we had a beautiful and scenic walk back to Paradise.
The Fuhrer Finger is a great early season route, and especially for those who like to ski.
It has been climbed a few times this winter and there have already been some ski descents. I haven't got any trip reports sent to me on Fuhrer Finger this season so I can't really post much information. Please, if you climb it, send me an email!
Currently upper mountain conditions are quite good for climbing. However, many people are reporting less snow than normal for this time of year. So it will be important to get on it early this year.
The Fuhrer Finger can be avalanche prone, both in spring-like conditions where loose afternoon snow produces wet, slushy avalanches, and also in winter-like conditions where recent accumulations of fresh snow produces slabs and loose powder avalanches. There have been numerous fatalities over the years on the Finger.
The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center does not issue avalanche forecasts for Mt. Rainier in the summer time. You are responsible for assessing the snow stability yourself. Keep in mind that in chute systems (which the FF is), relatively small features that are above where you're climbing can accumulate wind-deposited snow and produce avalanche conditions that affect the chute where you are climbing.