Mount Rainier, Mount Rainier National Park
Fuhrer Finger
May 31, 2008

At least we could laugh about it. Standing in the Paradise parking lot, looking up at the swirling mist hugging the mountain side, we could at least laugh. At what was unclear. The folly of attempting to climb Rainier? At spending the winter training by eating nachos and drinking beer? At ourselves for hoping the weatherman was wrong? Or at the comedy of the whole thing? Whatever it was, it must have been pretty funny because we seemed to be laughing a lot. Maybe Kevin and Wayne are just naturally funny.

Our plan was pretty simple. Ascend to just beneath Panorama Point and then cut down to the Nisqually Glacier. Cross that and ascend up to the Wilson Glacier. Camp over night, taking advantage of low winds and mild temperatures. In the early, early morning, climb the rest of the Wilson and gain the Fuhrer Finger, a prominent snow finger that climbs steeply and would dump us on top of the Nisqually. Rumble up to the summit. Descend the Disappointment Cleaver route that we had climbed last July. And get back in time to drink beer at P-Diddy's warmingofhouse party.

A simple plan, but one that had no chance of working unless a weather miracle took place and all the nastiness blew somewhere else. The Tattoosh looked nice. But south and east of there, well, wasn't so nice. And then weather in these parts comes from the southeast most days. We paid our $30 for an annual pass, ran into some friends who were climbing via a different route, and geared up for the climb.

At least it wasn't raining on us yet. The three of us slowly began plodding up the slopes, postholing only slightly in the mushy snow. There were a few others out to enjoy the fine weather on the mountain, but most of them had skis strapped to their backs and were out to cut a few turns and then run for shelter when the weather hit.

Nearing Panorama Point we lost sight of Mount Adams in a dark cloud of doom. Rain curtains lashed the western slopes of the Cascades, moving slowly toward us. Might as well get a little exercise we thought. Maybe it will blow past, we thought. Tomorrow it could be crystal, we thought. Good training, we thought.

We made a left turn beneath Panorama Point and veered over to some snow slopes that we could drop down and cross the Nisqually Glacier. The flat lighting of the scene was deceptive. In the photo below, you can see a bunch of dots in the snow down low. Most of those dots are people. After wondering what so many people were doing out on the Nisqually (i.e, we took a breather), we dropped down to the snow covered glacier.

Normally the glacier is heavily broken and crossing it isn't a good idea. But this was a near record snow year for the Cascades and there wasn't a sign of crevasse anywhere. But, we needed to break some rust of so we took out the rope and tied in, making sure to apply sunscreen just in case the sun happened to come out. Wayne painted a cross on his head for good luck, but I think it may just have infuriated someone upstairs.

There was something funny going on, because we seemed to spend most of the time ignoring the hand of doom stretching out toward us, and focused mostly on laughing and trash talking the WAC, whom we suspected were the other people on the Nisqually with us.

Now that we were tied together on a rope, we had to walk at everyone's pace, which is a bit harder to do that it sounds. The snow was slushy and soft, which meant that I frequently postholed where the svelte Kevin danced across. While I wallowed, Kevin would move forward and the rope would come tight, meaning I had to hurry up and get moving again.

Even so, we quickly gained more than 1000 feet up the other side of the Nisqually where we had a chance to look at the weather a bit more. It wasn't exactly inspiring.

The Tattoosh had disappeared completely, engulfed in the coming storm. Hailed, sleet, and then rain began to come down. So we decided to climb up to the nearest ridge and have another look. Maybe the storm would go away by then.

The below photo doesn't have anything to do with what happens next. I just thought I'd put up a photo of the group that was out on the Nisqually. It was some sort of ice travel (fixed line) and crevasse rescue field trip. There were probably 30-40 people out there.

Back to the story. We climbed to the top of the ridge at around 8000 feet in elevation. The snow was getting worse as we went higher up and even slender Kevin (I'm not 140 lbs, damn you!) started postholing. It rained some more. We met some dude from Auburn who was out to solo the route we were on. Um, it rained some more. We went down.

Since we couldn't summit, we decided to investigate the newly re-opened Paradise lodge. The word on the street was that they had Harmon beer on tap, and the Harmon is where we usually train for climbing. We found the bar and after some adventures in English and the Japanese culture, scored six beers for the price of three. Of course, each was twice as expensive as usual and was a third foam. I'm not sure how we made out, but the beer tasted good.

Just to show that the training over the winter had paid off, we stopped at the Copper Kettle on our way back and drank some more beer.

And ate the second best cheeseburger in the state of Washington.

And ogled the four waitresses, none of who was even close to being able to buy a beer. Training. You have to be committed.


From Lakewood, take SR 512 east to SR 7 and follow the signs directing you to Paradise. After passing Alder Lake, reach the town of Elbe and take SR 706 to the Nisqually entrance station of the park. Unless you have an annual pass of some sort (Golden Eagle, for example), you'll need to pony up $15 at the entrance station. Follow the road past Longmire and up to the Henry M. Jackson Visitors Center at Paradise.

To climb Rainier you'll need an annual summit pass, which runs $30 (they take credit cards). You'll need to register with the rangers, which you can do at the visitors center. We didn't get very far on the route, so there won't be much of a description of it here. The Fuhrer Finger is well described elsewhere.