For many years I have wanted to do a big volcano tour skiing Rainier, Adams, St Helens, Hood, and Jefferson in 5 days. I have never been able to find the time or the partners for such a large undertaking (which I am not actually sure if physically possible for me). This winter Eric, Nick and I decided we would do some type of volcano tour in the spring. After watching the weather for weeks we had a window starting June 11. Work and weather appeared to be on track until the 10th when the weather changed. This pushed our trip back 4 days. Unfortunately Nick was not able to make this window, but Eric and I were still going to go for it. We had to reduce the scope to 2 or 3 peaks in 3 days and we only had 4 total days which included the ~30 hours of driving round trip from SLC and between peaks. We decided on Adam, Rainier, and if possible Hood.
We left SLC early Sunday morning and arrived at Cold Springs Campground at Mt Adams in to cold and cloudy weather. We hoped to climb the south ridge and descent the SW Chute. We knew the weather wouldn’t be great for the Monday climb. We decided to climb the South Ridge (Suksdorf Ridge) and descent the SW Chute. We had an early start on Monday morning
Leaving Goliath for Mt Adams
The 1 mile walk to snow line
and were making good time enjoying the views (while they lasted).
One of our few great views of Mt Adams
Climbing against a never ending horizon
Up high on Adams, the wind was strong and the wind chills were very cold (single digit or colder wind chills with a rime event occuring at the same time). We were not expecting these temps and both were quite cold.
Freezing and getting rimed on the summit
We had to have an early start in order to ski the peak and make it to Mt Rainier to get our climbing permit before the ranger station closed. This meant we skied most of Mt Adams on very frozen snow. The decent was jarring feeling like it would rattle your organs loose. The last ~800’ before the mile walk to the car was the only good turns we had.
We didn’t move as fast as we had hoped, but covered the 12.6 miles and 8,250’ of climbing in 6:11. Our goal was around 5 hours but the the cold temps and poor visibility caused us quite a bit of delay.
After a beautiful 4 hour drive from Adams to Rainier
we arrived to what is probably typical Rainier weather:
Mt Rainer Visitor Center is back there somewhere
After getting our permits we sorted gear, reviewed maps, and had a huge dinner. The forecast was for very cold and windy. The summit forecast was 4F and 40mph winds! We figured we didn’t need too early of a start based on this forecast (big mistake as it turns out). We wanted to ascend and descend the Fuhrer Finger as opposed to the standard highly traveled routes. With a little bit of new snow in the forecast, we were excited for the skiing possibilities of this route.
A rainy start
We left the parking lot at 7:45 (a true Texas alpine start) and struggled in 20M visibility for the next 2 hours. It took us those 2 hours to get 1500’ with much of the time spent getting safely across the Nisqually glacier and finding the base of ‘The Fan’. We had our first view of Rainier just before entering the Nisqually and it was eye opening. It made us immediately realize the enormity of the mountain, the complexity of the terrain, and that this was indeed going to be something not to take lightly.
Our first intimidating view of Mt Rainier from the Nisqually Glacier
We broke trail in 2-8” of snow from just above the trailhead for around 5,000’.
Climbing out of the fog at around 7,100′
We started to leave the fog at about 7,100’ and realized why the description of the Fuhrer Finger route says it can get hot. We were fully exposed with no breeze until we exited the Finger. Our Texas alpine start was turning into a large error.
Navigating Wilson Glacier to the base of Fuhrer Finger
Entering the Finger we were looking forward to skiing this incredible line in the good snow we had so far.
Looking up Fuhrer Finger
As we climbed, the snow got deeper, denser, and trail breaking got much harder.
Breaking trail in heavy snow on the upper Nisqually Glacier
After the finger, the snow quickly got very hard and turned into sastrugi which proved for some challenging climbing.
Booting up the hard pack (more like ice pack)
These sastrugi fins were above my knees!
We were starting to doubt our ability to descend this snow.
Eric trying not to be discourage about the snow condition
We continued up the never ending mountain. The climbing was never hard, but the terrain was complex either due to low visibility navigation, trail breaking, route finding, or traveling on the bad snow. These conditions caused us the climb to take much, much longer than we had anticipated. At about 11,000’ we finally entered the wind and it continued to get stronger and stronger the higher we climbed. We kept our heads down and continued to plod up. With the summit in view, it looked close, but was still over a 1,500’ climb away.
We were able to switch back to skinning for the final several hundred feet before reach the summit. We expected the round trip to take us 8 hours and it we were at the summit after 9 hours!
Based on the snow conditions of our climb and the late time we had decided that we would descend the Disappointment Cleaver route. We knew the snow couldn’t be any worse and it would be wanded so we would not have to do any route finding. What commenced was 4,000’ of absolutely terrifying descending in strong winds on rock hard snow and sastrugi. It was survival skiing that was rattling our bodies apart. We finally reached somewhat softer snow just before Muir Camp on the Cowlitz Glacier.
Cowlitz Glacier and Camp Muir
We stopped briefly at Muir Camp and chatted with Billy who was there guiding and lives in Utah in the winters. We then were treated to a thousand or so feet of nice breakable crust followed by about 1,000’ of soft snow, then manky snow to the trailhead
Start in the rain, end in the rain!
Our final stats for the route were 30.4 miles and 11,200’ of climbing in 11:11.
We were tired, but not wrecked, but we also knew that since it was late in the day and a 4 hour drive to Mt Hood that skiing another peak was out of the question. By the time we got gear stashed and had a snack, it was almost 8pm. We planned a celebratory beer and burger in Ashford and decided we would end the trip with that.
All this and dessert too
We had a restless sleep on Tuesday night, got up Wednesday and after a big breakfast pointed the van southeast for the long drive home.
- Voile WSP skis
- Scarpa Alien 1.0 boots
- Black Diamond Whippet
- Black Diamond Raven Ax (never used)
- Grivel Race crampons
- Camp X600 pack
- Black Diamond Vector Helmet
- Crazy NRG skin Suit
- CWX Expert Tights
- IO Bio Merino Wool base
- 3 weights of gloves (Black Diamond, Scarpa, CAMP)
- 2 HooRags neck bands
- Smith Pivlock glasses
- CAMP Anorack Jacket
- Patagonia Puffball Vest
- Patagonia Down Sweater
- OR Centrifuge Jacket
- Suunto Ambit
- Magellan Explorist GPS
Food Sources: 600 calories on Monday; 1500 calories on Tuesday
- Hammer Gels
- Hammer HEED
- Hammer Recoverite
- Sweet potato bars (recipe from Feed Station Portables book by Allen Lim)
- 5 hour energy