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Mount Rainier, 14411 ft / 4392m - Fuhrer Finger Climb & Kautz Glacier Descent, July 2000

Danny and I had climbed Rainier via the Emmons two weeks earlier and we were eager to exploit the fantastic conditions to go for some of the less-known routes up the mountain. The Fuhrer Finger is regarded as the quickest way up the mountain, basically because it shoots straight up to the summit.

The Fuhrer Finger route to the summit of Mt Rainier

The route leads up a steep couloir, prime avalanche terrain, so good frozen snow is a must on this route. The weather report was really good for our days off, calling for a few blue bird days with low freezing levels during the night - perfect! We got a permit to stay on the Wilson Glacier for the night at the Paradise Ranger station and left around noon. The first challenge was to cross the heavily-crevassed lower Nisqually Glacier.

Crevasse on the lower Nisqually Glacier

The crevasses left and right of the boot track looked nasty and bottomless. From the Nisqually we climbed up the gully leading to the Wilson Glacier.

Hauling up the Wilson Glacier, Nisqually and Muir Snowfield in the background

Taking a rest on the lower Wilson Glacier

A few more hours hauling over the glacier in the hot weather brought us to a fantastic camp site on the ridge seperating the Wilson Glacier from the Van Trump Glaciers. Running water was close by and we didnt even have to melt any snow.

Camp on the Wilson Glacier with views over to the Muir Snowfield

Mt Adams throning on the horizon

The route up the Fuhrer couloir was well visible from our campsite and we were both looking forward to some cool steep climbing.

On the left is the Wilson Headwall (note the rockfall debris below) and on the right the Fuhrer Finger colouir

We hit our sleeping bags early and were woken up several times by sounds of massive rockfalls coming down the Wilson Headwall. Some lasted almost 10 minutes! I was scared about climbing the couloir in a few hours but luckily fell asleep and got 3 hours of sleep. We rose around midnight, got ready for the climb and left the tent where it was. The plan was to climb the Kautz Glacier route down and pick up the tent on the way down from the Turtle snow field. We crossed the Wilson Glacier quickly not wanting to get hit by the occasional rock falls coming down from the head wall. The climb up the coulouir was steep but also rapid. At one stage one of my legs pushed through the snow and dangled into a small crevasse. Scarry! It was pretty dark since the moon wasnt out, but you could still see the impressive silhouette of Mount St Helens to the South, which was made possible by the metropolitan lights of the Portland area which were illuminating the volcano from behind.

Sunrise on the upper Nisqually, view of Mt St Helens in the distance

Upper Nisqually Bergschrund

Rainier can really offer some of the best sunrises anywhere if the weather is clear. This time once again! The climb on the upper Nisqually seemed endless but passed by some interesting serac formations.

Danny reachin' the summit crater

Just before reaching the summit, we had to deal with some nasty, ankle-twisting climbing over the deepest suncups I had seen.

Crazy sun cups close to the crater rim

The summit views were nice to the east but hazy and cloudy over to the Pacific in the West. Nevertheless very impressive!

Glacier Peak seen from Mount Rainier

Steam was coming out of the gap between the barren crater rim and the ice cap. One day I would really like to explore the famous firn caves, hollowed out by the volcanic steams on the summit of Rainier.

Steam escaping the famous firn caves in the crater

The climb down the Kautz Glacier was mellow at the top and occasionally passed through some minor serac fields.

Descending the upper Nisqually/Kautz Glaciers

Descending the upper Nisqually/Kautz Glaciers

As we neared the apex of Wapowetey Cleaver, the climb became really steep and icy. The glacier was heavily sun cupped so the climbing of the 50-60 degrees steeps never really became too dangerous.

Shortly before the first steep pitch

Descending the steep crux of the Kautz Glacier route

After the steep pitches we climbed up the ice gully below the Kautz ice cliff. There was debris of ice fall everywhere and we were glad to exit the frightening gully section.

The gully leading up below the massive Kautz ice cliff

We passed Camp Hazard, glissaded down the Turtle snow field, packed the tent and began the long climb down the Wilson Glacier. Crossing the lower Nisqually was sketchy once more, since we were too lazy to rope up again. Kind of stupid considering we had to jump a number of crevasses and cross some fragile looking snow bridges. After another hour we finally reached the lodge. The Fuhrer Finger / Kautz Glacier combo turned out to be a really cool climb with varying terrain and unbelievable views.



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