Mt. Rainier is a 14,410-foot active stratovolcano just 54 miles southeast of Seattle in the state of Washington. The 236,381-acre national park encompasses all of the mountain.
Mt. Rainier is usually shrouded with clouds that dump enormous amounts of rain and snow on the peak. However the weather was perfect during our visit, and Mt. Rainier was out in full glory. This was our view of the east side of the mountain from the White River Campground in the park.
Mt. Rainier is the highest point in the Cascade Range and is draped with 25 glaciers and snowfields totaling 35 square miles. Carbon Glacier is the largest glacier by volume in the continental United States and one of the lowest elevation glaciers. Emmons Glacier (shown above) at 4.3 square miles has the largest surface area in the continental USA.
In the 1930s, Emmons Glaciers started a fast retreat. However a rock fall from Little Tahoma Peak (near the middle of the photo) covered the lower portion of the glacier with a significant amount of rock debris, turning it into a “dirty glacier.” The rock cover insulated the ice from melting, and Emmons Glacier started a rapid advance in the 1980s. But then the warming climate in the 2000s has caused the glacier to again retreat.
Here you can see the tell-tale beautiful “blue milk” appearance of a glacier-fed lake below Goat Island Mountain.
Nearly 1.8 million people visit Mt. Rainier National Park each year. Its close proximity to Seattle makes it a perfect weekend getaway. Mt. Rainier itself is also a popular peak to climb, with about 10,000 attempts per year, and 50% of them successfully reaching the summit. This photo was taken from Glacier Basin only 3 miles from Mt. Rainier, the closest approach to the mountain on an established hiking trail.
Sunrise Visitor Center and Lodge sit at an elevation of 6,400 feet, the highest point in the park accessible by vehicle. There are dozens of miles of hiking trails from the lodge, most with a spectacular view of Mt. Rainier.
Mt. Rainier is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. Though it still has an active hydrothermal system, the primary danger is not from eruption. The biggest risk is that the volcano will collapse into itself, sending the massive glaciers and ice fields down the slope in a giant lahar (a debris flow composed of a slurry of pyroclastic material, rocky debris, and water).
Apparently this feared event happened just 5,600 years ago. A large chunk of Mt. Rainier’s summit collapsed and created one of the largest mudflows in history that travelled at least 100 miles all the way to Puget Sound near Seattle. There have been at least 60 lahars from Mt. Rainier in the past 10,000 years, and one lahar occurred just 500 years ago that inundated river valleys below the mountain with a 30-foot wall of mud and ice. Today more than 150,000 people live in communities built atop old mudflows. A massive lahar could rush down the mountain at over 100 miles per hour, providing little advance warning to these people.
Grove of the Patriarchs is an old-growth forest with giant Douglas Fir and Western Redcedar trees, some over 1,000 years old. A sign on the trail said, “We cannot create old-growth forest, we can only change it, change it into something different. Those who come with an understanding and love for the forest will give this grove a chance to continue forever. You can never love too much, you can only love unwisely.”
A bald eagle soared above us as we ate lunch on Burroughs Mountain.
Here’s a view of Dewey Lake in nearby Wenatchee National Forest. This is what I could see as I was posing for the first photo on this page. The field was covered with pretty wildflowers and fuzzy beargrass. The funny thing about beargrass is that it’s not a grass (it’s related to lillies) and bears don’t like it.