Sarah and I have wanted to climb Mt. Rainier for many years. Standing at 14,410-feet, the mountain is an icon of the Pacific Northwest, dominating the skyline of Seattle. It is by far the most coveted summit in the Cascade Range. Our inexperience with glacier travel and overall timidness on such a big mountain kept us from trying it on our own. Climbing the mountain with a guide company didn't excite us, either. By suggesting that we ski the Führer Finger, we managed to entice Jason to go with us, even though he had already climbed Rainier twice. Mark decided to join us, and the plans were made. We were finally going to set foot on Mt. Rainier!!!
Sarah standing guard over our carefully packed gear on the curb of the ABQ airport before our departure for Portland (© Jason Halladay)
Rain and puddles at the campground made us opt for a hotel on the night before our climb. It was a tight squeeze, but we managed to get all of our packs, ready for the mountain, crammed into the rental minivan. (© Jason Halladay)
Once we arrived at the Paradise Lodge, we first had to register for our climbing permits. We were shocked to see such an incredible amount of snow down that low on the mountain. The Pacific Northwest had a phenomenal snow season this past winter. (© Jason Halladay)
In the drizzle of misty skies, we unloaded our gear and made final preparations.
We had anticipated hiking in our boots on a dirt trail for the initial part of our ascent. We were pleasantly surprised to find that we could skin directly from the front door of the visitor center. Paradise is at 5,400-feet, leaving 9,000-feet between us and the summit, Columbia Crest.
We first skinned a mile of gentle, rolling terrain to Glacier Vista. It didn't take much exertion in the high humidity before we were sweating through our shirts.
From Glacier Vista, we descended a few hundred feet to the Nisqually Glacier below. Skiing in the sloppy, wet snow was made difficult by our heavy packs which were loaded with glacier and climbing gear in addition to normal overnight gear.
Before stepping onto the Nisqually Glacier, we roped up in two teams of two. Though visibility was extremely poor in the near whiteout conditions, we managed to traverse the Nisqually Glacier without incident. Jason and Mark have a sixth sense for navigation. We then climbed a steep chute, known as the Fan, which put us up onto the Wilson Glacier. This is the view looking down the Fan into the white abyss of the Nisqually.
Jason and Mark set an excellent boot pack up the chute for nearly 1000-feet. Snow climbing in the soft snow with heavy packs was quite the chore even when not breaking trail. At one point, a river of slush slowly ran down the center of the chute, the result of a point release on the cliffs in the fog above us.
Through a brief break in the clouds at the exit of the Fan, we could see the release point of the wet slough. From here, we continued up steep slopes until we had reached the crest of the Wapowety Cleaver.
As we neared the crest in the Wapowety Cleaver, the clouds grew thinner, and we began to see the upper mountain through the mist.
Once above the cloud level, we were dazzled by the outstanding views of the upper mountain, draped in sunny, blue skies. Jason, Mark, and Sarah (R to L) continue to work their way up to camp, which is on the large buttress directly above Mark near the top of the photo.
Looking up the Führer Finger, our intended route for the following day, we couldn't grasp the scale of the mountain.
closeup view of the Führer Finger, which is the large, steep chute going from the center of the photo to the upper left
looking across the Wilson Glacier to the line of ants (mostly guided groups) heading to Camp Muir, which was our exact reason for not wanting to use a guide
a small crack snaking its way toward the heart of the Wilson Glacier
rock and ice - forces of nature
looking back down our tracks on the Wapowety Cleaver with Mt. Adams rising above the clouds in the distance
This was our home for the night. Front door views don't get much better than this. At roughly 9,200-feet, we were well above the clouds but still had about 5,000-feet to go.
Mt. Adams looming in the distance
Another party of climbers were perched on the rock rib along side us.
looking at the upper mountain from our camp
The four of us crammed into Jason's ultralight, 4-season tarp tent. Jason snapped this photo of us just before we hit the sack. The skies were super bright, even at 8:30 P.M. (© Jason Halladay)
Our watches went off around 3:15 A.M. the following morning. After a quick breakfast and a date with our blue bags ("like a doggie bag for humans," as the ranger put it), we donned our lightened packs and set off across the Wilson Glacier to the base of the Führer Finger at 10,000-feet. (© Jason Halladay)
While low in the Führer Finger, we were treated to a spectacular sunrise.
Jason, Mark, and Sarah working their way up the Finger, step by step
intense alpenglow on Mt. Adams
standing on an island in a sea of clouds
spectacular shot by Jason of Mark, Sarah, and me in the early morning light (© Jason Halladay)
Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood poking through the clouds (L to R)
all that's left of Mt. St. Helens
looking down on our camp (in between the two rock buttresses in lower right corner) and the Wilson Glacier
Near the top of the Finger, the snow became noticeably harder. The deep boot back slowly gave way to just the front points of our crampons. We took a short break on this rocky perch to allow our calves to recover. At 2,000-feet, the Führer Finger was one of the longest snow climbs Sarah and I had ever done.
After exiting the top of the Finger, we then did a long ascending traverse along the Wilson Headwall, encountering occasional steep pitches.
As we climbed to within 1,000-feet of the summit, the winds really started to pick up. The strenuous approach to camp from the previous day was weighing heavily on our tired legs. The final push didn't come easily, and we took several breaks to crouch down against the ground to get out of the wind, as Sarah, Mark, and Jason demonstrate here.
Not far below the summit crater, our route skirted along the edge of the upper Nisqually Glacier. Here, Sarah gets ready to cross on a snow bridge over a sizable crevasse. Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood can be seen on the horizon.
Jason's view looking back on the three of us as we near the crater rim. (© Jason Halladay)
Once above the Nisqually Glacier, we crested over the summit crater rim. After dropping most of our gear under a rock rib, we hiked along the crater rim toward Columbia Crest. (© Jason Halladay)
We pushed through fierce winds along the crater rim to its highest point a few hundred yards away. Here, Sarah and I approach a tiny saddle on the crater rim just a few feet below Columbia Crest, the summit of Mt. Rainier. (© Jason Halladay)
We stepped onto the top of the Columbia Crest at 11:30 P.M. We were all super excited to reach the summit of Mt. Rainier. It was a pretty emotional summit for Sarah and me. For us, this was an enormous achievement, and we were in shock to finally stand on the top of such a big, incredible mountain. We owe a huge thanks to Mark and Jason for helping us get there! (© Jason Halladay)
The winds were insane on the summit and along the summit crater. I couldn't get my camera to work in the extreme cold. Luckily, Jason was able to snap a few photos of us. You can tell that we're bracing in the wind here. We didn't see another soul the entire time we were at the summit crater. It seemed that most parties had turned around before reaching the crater rim, including the guided parties. Having the entire thing to ourselves was quite special. (© Jason Halladay)
I was able to warm my camera batteries against my neck just in time to snap a photo of Jason stepping off the summit. The wind made his shell jacket look like a puffy.
looking down into the summit crater from just below the summit
Jason and Mark had left their snowboard/skis at the lower end of the summit crater, so they had to hike back down to them. Sarah and I were afraid that the winds would blow our skis into Idaho before we could put them on while standing on the actual summit. Therefore, we opted to put them on just a few feet below the top.
While lugging our skis all the way up Rainier added to the effort, especially in the wind, they certainly paid dividends on the way down. In order to avoid the hard snow we had encountered along the Wilson Headwall, we opted to descend directly on the Nisqually Glacier. Initially, traveling unroped on the glacier was intimidating, but we were able to easily navigate around the crevasses.
Andy making cautious turns on the upper Nisqually Glacier (© Mark Schraad)
Mark and Sarah pause for a breather and we contemplate our next move
Mark making a jump turn as we descend a steep section of the Nisqually Glacier
Sarah enjoying the smooth turns on the Nisqually Glacier
Sarah letting her skis do the work
Jason laying out some big turns in front of bigger crevasses
We hit the Führer Finger just before 1:00 P.M., and the conditions were stellar. Perfect, buttery corn made for spectacular turns. (© Jason Halladay)
Sarah kicking up some spray (© Jason Halladay)
Skiing this line was such an incredible experience. (© Jason Halladay)
Andy and Mark waiting their turn while Sarah makes them jealous (© Jason Halladay)
Mark, Andy, and Sarah (L to R) exiting onto the apron of the Führer Finger (© Jason Halladay)
We arrived back at camp around 2:00 P.M. After packing up our gear, we shouldered our once-again heavy packs and headed down into the clouds. (© Jason Halladay)
Instead of skiing the sloppy debris in the Fan, we decided to follow a well established track on the lower Nisqually Glacier. We were treated to some huge, expansive bowls. (© Jason Halladay)
lots of rock and ice (© Jason Halladay)
Descending back into the clouds was a bit daunting, especially because we weren't on the same route we had ascended. We were able to follow a solid boot and ski track, however, which put us right below Galcier Vista. We donned the skins one last time to climb off the Nisqually Glacier. (© Jason Halladay)
From Glacier Vista, we had just a mile of gentle terrain to ski back to the car. The sticky snow was a bit tricky at times, especially with tired legs and heavy packs. Arriving back at Paradise around 4:30 P.M., we had skied 9,000-feet in a span of five hours, topping off an exceptional route with outstanding companions. (© Jason Halladay)
Google Earth view of our GPS track