I’m back from Mount Rainier in Washington State and it was an incredible trip! I’ve been to Seattle three times, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen “the mountain” (as the locals call it). The other times it’s been draped with heavy clouds, so thick that I’ve driven on the road next to it and not seen it at all.
Why? Because Mt. Rainier creates its own weather. Yes, this monster mountain forces air up its slopes, which then condenses into clouds as the air cools.
I’ve fallen completely in love with this place. I loved the forested slopes, the lava drenched ridges, and the glacier encrusted peak. How could you not?
But this was not just a pleasure trip. The book I have recently finished is set on Mt. Rainier and so it was research time. I needed to check my facts.
I stalked several park rangers and even one park geologist. I drove around the mountain several times, stopping about every 50 feet to take a picture. Then, it was time to hike (and oh my goodness did we hike).
My brother and I hiked to the top of Emerald Ridge, up to almost 6,000 feet elevation, which is about a third of the way up. Columbia Crest is the highest peak on Mt. Rainier at 14,410 feet. Hiking to Emerald Ridge and back took us on a round trip of 13 miles and right at 9 hours to complete. My muscles have never been so sore in my entire life. Even my toes hurt.
After all that, here are some cool things I learned about Mt. Rainier, not just during our hike or my ranger stalking, but also through lots of research (meaning I read the displays at the visitors center):
Mt. Rainier is not as explosive as Mt. St. Helens because the lava from Mt. Rainier is andesite (a lava with less silica). On Mt. St. Helens the lava has more silica (mostly dacite) which makes it thicker and more likely to trap gases, hence its explosive nature (yes, I said it, Mt. St. Helens has explosive gas).
At the top of Mt. Rainier, under the ice pack, are steam caves, formed when heat from the volcano melts the glacial ice. Most of the steam caves lead to a glacial lake under the ice. How cool is that?
Most of the glaciers on Mt. Rainier are around 200-300 feet thick, but the Carbon Glacier is 700 feet thick in some places.
The slopes of Mt. Rainier are dotted with islands of trees because the growing season is only two months long (that’s how long the lower half of the mountain is free of ice). Trees can only grow in spots where the ice melts the fastest—on ridges, or in areas where shrubbery is already established, which keeps the ground warmer.
The average snowfall at the Henry Jackson Visitors Center (6,000 feet elevation) is about 650 inches (over 54 feet). The record snowfall is approximately 1,100 inches (over 90 feet). This explains why the park goes into lock down all winter long.Photo Credit: Me