Climbing and skiing glaciated peaks requires a lot of gear. This is the baggage pile for Sarah, Andy and I. We'd meet Mark in Portland after he flew in there from a wedding in Minnesota.
We arrived in Portland on Saturday afternoon and drove in our rented Toyota Sienna minivan towards the Paradise entrance of Mount Rainier National Park. When we arrived in the park, things were drenched and puddled. We weren't excited at the prospect of having to setup camp in the rain that night and pack up wet stuff in the morning. So we found a cheap motel in Ashford for the night. It had a covered deck affording us a dry place to pack up in the morning.
All loaded up and ready to climb the mountain
But first we had to obtain our climbing permits. Permits are good for a calendar year and cost $43 each after a $13 increase from previous years
Packing up in drizzle in the Paradise parking lot. It was hard to dress for the day because it was wet and humid but we'd be exerting ourselves ascending the lower parts of the mountain from 5,400' to our high camp at 9,200'
Due to an epic snow year in the NW, we were able to skin from the parking lot saving us from carrying our skis/board on our packs. We started hiking at 11:00am
Navigating in the clouds was tricky and exciting. We relied heavily on our altimeter watches and, eventually, Andy's GPS. Our first order of business was locating "Glacier Vista" about a mile into the ascent and then skiing down this slope a few hundred feet to the eastern edge of the Nisqually glacier
Once on the Nisqually glacier it was time to rope up in case one of us were to accidentally fall into a crevasse. None of us did.
We roped up in two teams of two using 30m x 8mm ropes
Once across the lower Nisqually glacier, we located the steep chute we needed to boot up to reach the Wilson glacier. The snow was very slushy at this point in the day and ascending this chute was difficult, sweaty work
As we ascended the gully to the Wilson glacier, we heard what sounded like a waterfall above us in the clouds. Shortly thereafter we saw a river of slushy snow working its way down toward our right. The river of slush flowed past us for the next few minutes
Following intuition and some way points Andy had found online, we continued up to the western edge of the Wilson glacier to reach a ridge at about 7,500'
As we ascended the ridge and neared 8,500', we began to break out of the clouds
And just like that, we were out of the clouds with a stupendous view of the upper parts of Mount Rainier. It was very cool to have ascended through the clouds not having any real idea of what our surroundings looked like and then to suddenly get this magnificent view
We then got a great view of nearby Mount Adams (ca. 12,200'), complete with lenticular cloud shrouding its summit
We still had about 700' of ascending to do to reach our camp for the night
Mount Adams rising through the clouds
Skinning up the ridge towards our high camp. The standard and most-climbed route on Mount Rainier, the Disappointment Cleaver, is the ridge on the right side of this photo. We saw hundreds of climbers on that route from our position.
From this vantage we had a very good view of our route to the summit, the Fuhrer Finger. It's the snowy couloir going from right to left (into the shade) in the right portion of this photo
Our camp was on a rocky outcropping on the ridge at 9,200'. There was one other party of five near us on the ridge. We arrived at camp around 6:00pm making for a seven hour ascent of 3,800' vertical feet from the parking lot to high camp
Room with a view! For the rest of the night and through the next day, we'd be above a solid cloud deck
We immediately got busy melting snow for water to refill our bottles for the next day's climb to the summit
Our position felt pretty magical
The four of us bunked in the megamid. Tight quarters but we'd only be spending one night of 5 hours or so in the shelter
After hitting the sack around 9pm, I woke up at 11:30pm and poked my head out of the side of the 'mid to see the moon rising above the sea of clouds. It was much cooler looking than this photo shows.
None of us slept particularly well that night and the alarm went off at 2:15am. The waning quarter moon was super bright and we didn't really need headlamps for our climbing later that morning
Getting ready in camp. We left camp around 4:00am
We traversed the Wilson glacier to get into the bottom of the Fuhrer Finger. Once in the finger we found a nicely-established boot pack leading up the couloir. Eureka!
The pink color of the sky as the sun came up was phenomenal
Mount Adams sans lenticular cloud at sunrise from about 10,200'
The moon and Mount Adams
The snow climbing in the Fuhrer Finger couloir was quite good. The existing steps helped quite a bit but eventually ran out leaving us to some front-pointing with our crampons for a short stint. Maximum angle in the coliour got to about 40 degrees
From the top of the Fuhrer Finger was ascended left to reach the ridge marking the western side of the Nisqually glacier. We noticed the party ahead of us, that had left camp around midnight, was taking a line up the middle of the Nisqually glacier. This was good news for us because we hoped to ski the glacier on our way down and their presence out there helped affirm there was a passage through the middle of the glacier
As we got to within 1,000' of the summit, the wind picked up and the going got tough in that we felt we were working very hard to continue our upward progress. A tough day the previous day, a poor night of sleep, a strong wind and inconsistent snow made for strenous progress
We moved from the ridge out towards the Nisqually glacier to reach the summit crater
At 10:30am, we got to the edge of the summit crater. From here it would be a relatively short and flat jaunt to the true summit
Sarah and Andy booting up the final bit of the summit crater to the summit
Summit! We stood on top at 11:28am. Wind on the summit was out of control (as you can tell by all everyone leaning into it here). We spent only about a minute on the summit because it was much too cold and windy to be comfortable. We estimated sustained wind of 60+ MPH and later heard none of the guiding companies had been taking their clients to the summit for the past three days on account of the strong winds
We saw no one else on the summit or in the summit crater and the party that had started out before us from our high camp had turned around at 13,000'. We had the top of Washington to ourselves
We beat feet off the summit ASAP but I still managed my summit self portrait
The summit crater has a number of fumaroles--tunnels where steam is escaping from vents below the snow and ice surface. This was my third time up Rainier but I had never found one of the fumaroles before. I did this time. It was a nice refuge from the wind and the warm, moist air coming up from below was welcomed
And then began our 9,000' feet of skiing descent to the parking lot. The upper mountain was rough and inconsistent sastrugi snow but got better and better as we descended
We skied out into the middle of the Nisqually glacier because skiing down our ascent route wouldn't have been possible. Riding down unknown territory in the middle of the glacier was exciting
A choppy POV movie riding into the Fuhrer Finger
Mark getting it done as the snow started to turn to really nice spring corn
Sarah ripping turns down into the Fuhrer Finger
Mark rides the super nice corn in the upper finger. We skiied into the finger around 12:45pm and conditions were perfect at that time
Andy is stoked in the middle in the finger
Perfect buttery corn throughout the Finger
We skied back to our camp, melted more snow for water, tore down camp and then continued our ski back down to the parking lot
We opted to follow other skiers and tracks down the middle of the Nisqually glacier instead of skiing the same route we had ascended. By this late afternoon time, wet sloughs were the norm on the steeper pitches
We skied by this really cool and intimidating ice fall on the Nisqually
At about the 7,000' level, we were back in the whiteout conditions of the clouds. But a nice skin and boot track across the lower poriton of the Nisqually made route finding easy
A short bit of flat to uphill skinning to get back onto the main trail back to the lot was all that was required to skin. We were able to ride the rest and got back to the lot around 4:30pm. Basically we had a 9,000' ski descent from the summit ot the parking lot that day. Suffice it to say, that sure beats walking.
A quick stop at the Tacoma, WA REI store yielded a great view of Mount Rainier from the parking lot
Andy tracked our ascent and descent route with his GPS and then put it into Google Earth to yield this fine image of our outing. Photo: Andy Thien