MOUNT RAINIER - Fuhrer Finger 1-Day

May 25, 2007
Jason, Sky and Eric


Photos and story by Jason

Sorry, a little preamble to begin, then the story....

Challenge tastes bitter when the drink of choice is failure. You can go thirsty, never succeeding. But failure forges a man, tempers him of stronger metal. It casts him sharper and more finely balanced than success alone would. It is this reason alone that you should tempt failure by seeking it out like a hunter does his prey, unforgiving and unrelenting. The best quarry is not that which is easily caught thus the most satisfying of life's endeavors is succeeding in that which one has sought for long and hard. He has failed at it over and over, but in spite of that succeeded, the journey more valuable than the conclusion.

My advice then, seek challenge and stand on the bones of your failures. Don't give them life because they will burden and overrun you like a stampeding herd. Feast upon them and they will sustain you all of your living days.

I must venture yonder off
On my vision quest
Take all the knowledge I have gathered
And challenge thy nature’s wrath
For only there can I forge my metal
There in mountains high
Where man is but a visitor
And visions but dance beautifully
across the alpine sky

Okay, here's the story... BTW, push on small photos to see large, glossy ones :)

I’ve spent my life climbing on and around Mount Rainier. I grew up there in the foothills in the town of Morton, and my parents began taking my brothers and me to the park as soon as we could walk. Before long skis became the tool of choice and eventually after tackling Mount Hood, Mount Adams , and Saint Helens, we had Mount Rainier left. My dad drew a diagram of a pair of crampons and had a guy build them out of solid steel while my mom sewed up homemade gloves. At age six my twin brother and I climbed up to Muir where we had been dozens of times, but unlike before, we continued. At 12500ft we gave up. It was my first failure on Rainier, and far from my last.

The whole family on the summit of adams. And Josh and I on Rainier and at muir.

Since then, Rainier has always consumed me, but not in any way that you'd predict. Mentally it was a mountain that has conspired to torment me with failure after failure (more than any other mountain). On top of that, three times it nearly become my final resting place. In winter I fell in a crevasse unroped, I nearly fell skiing the mowich face, and I was buried in an avalanche.

Over the years, maybe that's why I've come to believe that mountains aren't just rock and ice, they have personality and if I were to characterize Mount Rainier's, I'd have to say that it is a very wise mountain. It doesn't put up with adolescent bravado without swift reprimand. The Indians called this peak Tahoma (among other variations such as: Tacobed, Taqo'men and Takhoma). It means 'Snow Peak' and snow is what usually brings me to the mountain, what fascinates me most, and what two planks of wood, foam and metal often find sanctuary in when the snows have melted out of reach everywhere else in the state. This has allowed me to ski over 100 months straight in Washington and will hopefully allow me to ski a hundred more.
Sky Sjue always has a plan that's fit to humble me. I usually have to tone it down to suit my weaker disposition. This was the case for Rainier this time and with Sky's friend Eric, we had plans to ski one of the more interesting routes off the summit of Rainier, but with access limited and time equally so, we considered a fast ascent up Fuhrer Finger as a brilliant strategy before skiing off Liberty Cap. Although, I must admit, I am usually of the 'climb what you ski' motto, the plan was partly my idea.
Friday morning when I should have been at work, sunny skies and a cold breeze reminded me that no real mountain man worth his weight in gu sits in a desk on such a spectacular day! Cause god forbid, the weathermen might just be right and this memorial weekend could be nice or it could be rainy. I wanted to be left with something satisfying and that days quaranteed weather seemed to be my best bet! Throughout, every cold breeze tempted me to crane my neck up at the sky just to make sure the sky was cloudless. For the next hour I wondered around waiting for Sky and Eric, both of whom were already there and I found them packed and ready to go, somewhat frustrated by then. I asked Sky, "What time is it," as he walked over to my car?
"It's just before 5, what do you want," he answered? I know what I wanted, but I didn't say it. I wanted to kick this mountains Lilly-livered ass and not be sent home unsatisfied. I had no plans to climb it until the night before and my car was full of gear for another trip to the Goat Rocks for three days. This was a planned trip and couldn't be missed, which confounded me with conflicting feelings. I didn't want to be too tired for it, but I also wanted to maximize that day's terrific weather. I tried not to think about the long drive I'd have to make that night or the next days approach with a big pack.  

We reached the base of the Finger on skis and switched to boots and pons there. After a rest we booted upward through the finger whose steepness never tilts much over 40 degrees. Looking down I wondered how great a ski it would be? Not many mountains in the world have the prominence of Rainier and we are happily fortunate to have it right at our backdoor.
The climb up the Nisqually Glacier is very rewarding. Surrounding seracs and crevasses look like ocean waves abruptly frozen, only now creaking and groaning in their time-slowed crest and break to the slopes far below. We wondered up and over them before beginning the long grueling way to the summit. By then, clouds swarmed the top and snow began to fall. I felt like it was another test to strain my willpower, ultimately though, it wasn't because I was focused on my methodical march upward. I wanted to challenge myself and I wanted to see beyond the polished over me whose presence is not prevalent without wearing down built-up barriers. By climbing, it rewards me with that.

The summit was finally reached and I looked down into the crater and out beyond into the swirling clouds over Liberty Cap. Our hopes to summit all three summits of Rainier and ski another route were dashed, and we had run out of time and motivation. The weather was playing games with us and we knew that as soon as we left, the games would end and we'd see the summit clear as day. Right then we were in a cloud. Looking back, I imagine we could've gone for it; nevertheless, I've learned to trust my gut, so without much conversation we left the summit for the route we had climbed.  Fuhrer Finger turned out to be as much of a fantastic ski as I had thought it would be.
Overall the snow altered throughout from hard wind-scoured snow on top to softer mush as we dropped from the summit cap to the top of the finger. Here, shark fins of snow softened by that day's sun didn't make for the best skiing, but when is Rainier fully skiable in good snow? Not often, that's for sure. I'm always happy for fifty percent. As for that, most of it was still to come on the lower glaciers.   

We took another break at the bottom of the couloir and watched the horizon dim, its last sunrays only a few hours from fading completely. I gave my camera to Sky to carry and we skied that last 5 thousand feet in two or three foul swoops which were the highlight of the trip for me. Never should the thrill of schussing down a slope fade! It is times like this that I remember the reasons I suffer and struggle up mountains at all.

The last bits of skiing over to Glacier Vista and down to the Visitor Center were on deep slush, made nearly impossible to turn in at all because of the flat nature of it. Shuffling and skating, I made it to the car in no time. 
Minutes later, craning my neck like I had at the beginning of the trip, I could see clouds this time, stretching over the summit. Damn weatherman! But I had shined them and made my dash and beat the weather, so I wasn't dissatisfied. We had climbed up and skied down in great style on an equally wonderful route, even if it wasn't our original plan. The mountain doesn’t always give you what you want, but a wise mountain never should and a wise mountain man should never quarrel with it. Rather it should strengthen and test you, polish your skills and focus you on your true reasons for being there. Mount Rainier has always done that for me. It did it for my twin and I when we were six and it will continue to do so. Failure is the true metallurgy of mountain men and should never be chastised and ignored, but gripped onto and studied without break. We are all students of nature and she can be a thoughtful teacher.

~Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed reading about Mount Rainier. If you liked this story Check out Mowich Face.

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