Situated in the heart of the Cascade Range in south-central Washington state, Mount Rainier towers over its surroundings. The active stratovolcano is the most prominent mountain in the contiguous United States and the most heavily glaciated as well.
Since it was first summited 150 years ago, Mount Rainier has become a popular destination for intermediate-level mountaineers training for expeditions to the Alaska Range and Himalayas.
Along with providing a scenic and challenging climbing opportunity, the mountain is also home to a rich variety of plant and animal species. The mountain is widely considered one of the top spots for wildflower viewing in the U.S. and is home to a millennial old growth forest as well.
Quick Facts about Mount Rainier
- With a prominence of 4,026 metres (13,210 feet), Mount Rainier is the twenty-first most prominent peak in the world and fourth most prominent in North America.
- While the exact etymology of its original name, Tacoma or Tahoma, is not known, three main theories persist. Some believe Tacoma/Tahoma means either ‘mother of waters’, ‘big white mountain’, or ‘taller than Mount Baker’.
- Mount Rainier is covered in 26 different glaciers and permanent icefields, the most of any U.S. peak outside of Alaska.
History of Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier has long held spiritual and practical importance to the native people of the Pacific Northwest. The earliest archaeological evidence shows people have lived on and around the mountain for at least 8,500 years.
The first European to see the mountain was Captain George Vancouver, who arrived in the Puget Sound in May 1792. The peak was later mapped and its base explored by the Lewis and Clark expedition between 1804 and 1806.
The first people to climb Mount Rainier did so nearly 70 years later. In 1870, Hazard Stevens and Philemon Van Trump made it to the summit before returning to Olympia.
Experience Required for Climbing Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier is one of the more physically and technically challenging ascents in the contiguous United States. However, intermediate-level mountaineers should have all the necessary skills to climb the peak.
The ascent requires mixed snow, ice and rock climbing abilities as well as plenty of experience with glacier travel. The number of crevasses and inherent danger of the peak also mean that any climber should have completed a crevasse rescue course.
Along with the technical know-how, it is also important to be in very good physical condition prior to the climb. The ascent is steep and requires several long days of hiking and climbing. It is also important to acclimatize properly prior to the ascent.
Main Routes up Mount Rainier
While there are a number of different routes up to the summit of Mount Rainier, the vast majority of climbers will use one of the three listed below.
The Disappointment Cleaver Route is the most popular and also one of the least difficult. After a steep hike to the Muir Camp, on the southeastern flank of the mountain, climbers will traverse the glacier to arrive at the summit. Glacier travel and mixed rock and ice climbing are required on this route.
The Emmons Glacier Route is another popular climbing option, but is slightly more difficult than the Disappointment Cleaver Route. The ascent of Rainier via this route begins from the Steamboat Prow camp on the northeastern flank. The climb involves a long and technical climb straight up the glacier until arriving at a saddle. From here, climbers head left and continue along the edge of a crater until arriving at the summit.
Of the most commonly taken routes to the summit, the Liberty Ridge Route is the toughest and best reserved for advanced moutnaineers. The route climbs Rainier from the northeast and involves a combination of steep snow and ice climbing as well as ascending the Willis Wall. Once atop the wall, the summit proper can be reached after traversing the glacier and climbing the bergschrund.