The Fuhrer Finger as a spring ascent and ski descent had been on my list for a couple of years. All of my 5 previous Rainier summits had been via carryover routes and had not involved skis, so this ascent felt like almost all Type 1 fun, especially with new, light ski gear.
We took Friday off from work and drove down to Paradise for a casual 1:15pm departure. Snow was continuous to the parking lot, so we started skinning immediately. The snow was slushy, but not terrible on the way up and none of the crevasses were concerning enough to rope up for, so we were quick getting to camp by 5 or so. The wind was out of the East, so all of the windbreaks at 9,000 foot camp were facing the wrong way, so we dug a platform out on the snow on the West side with a view of Adams, Hood, and Saint Helens. Then we napped before dinner, which is one of my favorite mountain activities.
We were up and moving by 5am and the snow was firm enough that it didn't make sense to skin at all—we put the skis on our backs and cramponed across the Wilson in the pre-dawn light. Another party of two was headed up the finger by headlamp when we left camp and we said a quick hello and passed them at about 11,000 feet around 6:15am. The Easterly wind was pretty strong in the morning once we got high enough and our skis were acting like sails, pushing us around quite a bit.
The only tricky route finding happened above the finger at about 12,000 feet. The Nisqually Glacier was too broken up to cross directly, so we skirted it high on the left, ascending some pretty steep, frozen snow to gain the cleaver between the Nisqually and the Kautz.
At about 13,000 feet, we were on familiar territory as the finish was the same as for the Kautz. The large crevasses high on the Nisqually were mostly filled in and we were able to travel pretty directly to the left edge of the crater rim, somewhat protected from the wind until we ascended the last few feet to the summit, which we arrived at around 11:15am. It was cold and blustery, so we quickly packed up and started the ski down.
We waited about 45 minutes just below the saddle to Point Success, expecting the high winds to be keeping the snow from warming up enough to be good for skiing. The ski was super fun and never terribly difficult or high consequence, save the section getting off the cleaver, which I down-climbed given the fact that it was above a gigantic crevasse. The snow above 12,000 feet was pretty icy, but below that, we were protected from the wind and it was baking—we should have just headed straight down. Nevertheless, the finger was quite enjoyable and not too slushy. We were back at camp by 1:30pm and then down to the car after packing up by 3pm.
I have to say, Dale is on to something when he says that "volcanoes are for skiing."