Mount Rainier: 10,500' Descent

The author descends into a cloudy Fuhrer Finger. Photo: Eric Seel.

Mount Rainier: 10,500' Descent

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Mount Rainier: 10,500' Descent

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Scouting the ascent route from the Muir snowfield. Photo: Eric Seel.

Scouting the ascent route from the Muir snowfield. Photo: Eric Seel.

 

Mount Rainier is always an exciting ski.  The tallest, most glaciated peak in the Cascade Range has no simple hiking routes to the top.  All routes to the summit are glaciated if not steep or rocky.  We decided to climb the less traveled and more aesthetic Gibraltar Ledges route to the top of the R-dome and ski the classic Fuhrer Finger.  This trip Matt and I were joined by some crew from Tahoe: Corey Champage, Mike Kilcarr, and Eric Seel.

Our first day at Muir we could see the wind ripping snow from the upper reaches of the mountain.  The winds were forecast to be around 60 mph on top which seemed like  a reasonable estimate from our view at Muir. We waited a day, then got an early alpine start at 10am.  It was still cold.

Our team climbs towards Gibraltar Rock above Camp Muir.  Photo: Eric Seel.

Our team climbs towards Gibraltar Rock above Camp Muir. Photo: Eric Seel.

 

The climbing in the Ledges was great.  Good snow allowed for a quick ascent and the view of the Nisqually Ice Cliff was amazing.  While we were climbing, ice cleaved off it’s face a few times and we were glad we decided not to climb the Gib Chute directly under the ice cliff.

Zeb and Matt scouting the route on our blow down day. Nisqually Ice Cliff in the background.Photo: Eric Seel.

Matt and Zeb scouting the route on our blow down day. Nisqually Ice Cliff in the background. Photo: Eric Seel.

 

Above the Ledges, the crevasses were a little spooky.  Poking a leg through a snow bridge into a deep black hole called for a couple of quick route changes.  We bobbed and weaved our way up until the crevasses became well bridged.

Navigating the ice above the Gib Ledges. Photo: Eric Seel.

Navigating the ice above the Gib Ledges. Photo: Eric Seel.

 

Finally above the blob of volcanic rock known as Gibraltar.  Photo: Zeb Blais.

Corey, Matt and Seel above the blob of volcanic rock known as Gibraltar. Photo: Zeb Blais.

 

Five hours later we reached Columbia Crest at 14,411′.  The northwest wind was brutally cold, even at 3pm.  After a quick bite to eat, we started our descent.

After getting through the sastrugi of the summit crater, the snow became flat and chalky.  You can’t ask for much better than that on the top of Rainier!

Matt skiin' some chalk off the top. Photo: Eric Seel.

Matt skiin' some chalk off the top. Photo: Eric Seel.

Navigating the cracks of the Nisqually means the descent is always exciting and aesthetic.  The snow wasn’t quite as nice as it had been on the top 1,500′.  The beautiful chalk we experienced up high had been glazed over by solar melt-freeze.

Seel skiing the Nisqually Glacier.  Photo: Zeb Blais.

Seel skiing the Nisqually Glacier. Photo: Zeb Blais.

When we entered the Finger, things changed.  At the top of the chute the snow had a breakable crust that skiied suprisingly well and by the time we got halfway down it went to perfect corn.  The descent onto the Wilson was pure gold.  We had amazing corn turns down to 7,500′.

The author descends into a cloudy Fuhrer Finger. Photo: Eric Seel.

The author descends into a cloudy Fuhrer Finger. Photo: Eric Seel.

 

Below the Wilson, the skiing was firm on east faces and soft corn on southwest and south aspects.  We skied down to the Nisqually Bridge at 3,900′,  after skiing down over 10,500′!  Amazing!

More pictures to come on my blog: http://zebblaisbigmountainblog.blogspot.com.  They’re on the blog now.

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