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I only climbed Mt Rainier twice and might not have even done that... but if you live in the Pacific Northwest and mention that you 'like to climb mountains' the inevitable rejoinder is... "So you must have climbed Mt Rainier". To avoid the embarassment of explaining why you haven't climbed the pre-eminent peak in the Northwest you are forced to climb Rainier. The only question is... when and by which route?

Fuhrer Finger route Climbing Mt Rainier

Fuhrer Finger Route on Mt Rainier

Kim nearing summit Mt Rainier

The summit, Columbia Crest, is finally in view.


This 1987 Memorial Day climb started off nicely but then took some bad turns. It could have been much worse. And then insult to injury... after getting back to our camp and hurriedly packing up and heading down my load was poorly distributed and I was whining and crying all the way down about my pack. Then we got totally lost in the fog at 11 o'clock that night within a half mile of our vehicle.... sigh

Everything started off fine with Kim and I descending onto the Nisqually Glacier and roping up to cross to the slopes below Fuhrer Finger. The crevasses were huge but we easily found a safe route through and climbed up snow slopes to a wide ledge that offered protection from rockfall and got us a good starting point well up the right-most snow slot route on Fuhrer Finger.

We got started up the steep snow slot at around 2 am and roped up to cross the wider snow finger that is the usual route from a Wilson Glacier camp. It got light enough to see without our headlamps around 4 am and we were able to follow some earlier tracks up the Wapowety Cleaver. Kim was quite sluggish and complained of not feeling very good. I urged him to drink more water to keep hydrated but we still had many rest stops before we neared the crater at 1 pm... 2 to 3 hours after we had planned.

Fortunately there was a hazy overcast so the snow did not get too soft but it was soft enough to be worrisome. Soft snow can give way on a steep slope leading to disaster. The snow was too deep to find the register so we turned and headed down without any delay.

Everything was fine until we reached the Wapowety Cleaver where my feet kept telling me that my steps were close to sloughing off. Kim was ahead of me on the rope and I urged him to slow down a little as it didn't feel safe. And sure enough, the snow gave way and I was off down the steep slope toward the ice cliff. I recall that the snow was so soft that my ice axe pick didn't seem to find any resistance to slow me down. I put all the weight I could on the axe

(I felt like I practically had my feet up on the axe to maximize the down force) and it 'finally' caught some resistance (I say finally even though only a few seconds had passed and I had slid about 40 feet down from where I slipped) and it quickly brought me to a halt. A successful arrest about 40 feet from the precipice. I felt strangely calm and was soon, with Kim belaying me, back up to the route.

Even though Kim quickly jammed his ice axe in and belayed the rope around it, I am sure that I would have pulled him over the edge with me if the arrest hadn't been successful. There wasn't time for a delayed reaction from the 'close call' because extreme caution was in order on the increasingly soft snow.

Still connected by the rope we decided to glissade the final snow slot leading down to our camp. We rapidly lost altitude and I was worrying about going past our camp but not having much success digging my heels into the snow to slow down. Kim took care of the problem. When he came to a spot where the snow funnelled between two big rocks he put his feet out and caught himself. This brought me to a halt in short order not far from our camp.

Then in my haste to get packed I just stuffed everything pell-mell into my big pack. I ended up with the pack badly off balance and killing my back as we descended the Wilson Glacier on the regular track. I was endlessly moaning and groaning. Kim thought this was pretty funny but I didn't think so.

We were running late and darkness caught us as we climbed back up out of the Nisqually in the rapidly spreading fog. And wouldn't you know it, we got turned around and lost our sense of direction. We tried to follow what seemed like the most used route down but they soon petered out. We finally had to stop, sit down, get our map and compass out to get a good bearing to follow. Soon we could hear the engines running at the power house and finally knew exactly where we were.

Kim had to work the next day and I doubt that he got any sleep at all before clocking in.

To see a few pictures use this Picasa Link

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