Mount Rainier
(Fuhrer Finger Route)

6-7 Jul 2001 - by Maxym Runov

Fuhrer Finger is a prominent steep couloir up the eastern face of the Wilson Headwall. The route is recessed into the headwall providing none glaciated access up the wall and onto the upper western edge of Nisqually Glacier. It is often said to be the fastest way up, however climbers spend too much time dropping down to and crossing lower Nisqually Glacier. Our plan was to climb Fuhrer Finger route and then descend Kautz Glacier route. That way we make a loop which is nice and avoid descending steep chute which is avalanche prone especially later in a warm day.

Three of us met on Paradise parking lot (5,420), the weather was awesome sunny and calm. We picked our climbing permit and started hiking up around 10:30 AM. We quickly reached Glacier Vista point (6,336) and dropped down 400 feet to the lateral moraine next to Nisqually Glacier where we roped up. Crossing glacier was fun and safe thanks to very good path left by other groups. We quickly crossed glacier and then climbed up to the upper Wapovety Cleaver watching out for rock falls from rock formation on the left called Fan. We moved along Wapovety Cleaver passing numerous bivvy sites until we reached elevation of 9,200 feet where we camped. Our urge to get higher on the first day played a bad joke because as it turns out tomorrow we will have to drop couple of hundred feet to make our way across Wilser Glacier. We set a camp around 4 PM and had a luxurious dinner listening to the ice and rock falls all over the mountain. We didn't use crampons that day.

Next morning we had a true alpine start being on the way at 2:30 AM. There was a light trail leading from upper Wapovety Cleaver to the base of the finger and higher up. Full moon made navigation easy. We moved quickly through the hour glass funnel. That early in the morning snow was in great condition not too soft and not stone hard. At some sections we used foot prints left by others and sometimes we forged our own. We all have second ice tools but we didn't use them even on steepest section of the couloir. Unfortunately our progress slowed down significantly after topping out of the couloir. We met sun raise at about 11,700 and reached the junction with Kautz Glacier route (13,300) around 10 AM. From there gentle glacier slopes were taking us up to the summit. Although it was sunny and sky was clear wind was growing strong with the elevation. On the way up we met another team led by Steve Eckert but I didn't recognize them at first. They ascended Kautz Glacier route and now were going down. We reached crater rim a little after noon and that was a way too late. We spend very little time up there because wind was strong and I felt luck of time, at such warm weather sun softens snow quickly making descend more dangerous every minute. We were descending Kautz glacier route following wide path of hundreds climbers or at least it looked that way in comparison with Fuhrer Finger. We were sinking deeply in soft snow, I punched into crevasses few times sinking in up to my waist. Down climbing the chute leading Camp Hazard was relatively easy. We caught up with Steve's team on the entrance to the chute leading up to Camp Hazard (11,600). We were back in camp around 4 PM getting ready to hike out. Martin took his share of sinking into crevasses when we were crossing Nisqually Glacier. We reached Paradise parking lot a litter after 7 PM.

Weather welcomed us and climbing was great. We all made to the summit and it was a nice trip. Having climbed both Kautz Glacier and Fuhrer Finger I would recommend latter as more interesting and exciting route (snow and weather conditions apply).

Participants: Martin Braden, John Zazzara and Maxym Runov.

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