Climb Mount Rainier: Highest Mountain in Washington

Climbing Facts About Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier, highest mountain in Washington reflects in an alpine lake in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington. Photograph copyright Ingram Publishing/Getty Images

Elevation: 14,411 feet (4,392 meters)

Prominence: 13,211 feet (4,027 meters); 21st most prominent peak in the world.

Location: Cascade Range, Pierce County, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Coordinates: 46°51′10″ N 121°45′37″ W

Map: USGS topographic map Mount Rainier West

First Ascent: First recorded ascent in 1870 by Hazard Stevens and P. B. Van Trump.

Mount Rainier Distinctions

  • The 30th highest mountain in North America.
  • The 17th highest mountain in the United States.
  • The 21st most prominent mountain in the world.
  • The 4th most prominent mountain in North America.
  • The 3rd highest ultra-prominence mountain in the United States.
  • The 4th highest U.S. state high point.

Mount Rainier: Washington's Highest Mountain

Mount Rainier is Washington's highest mountain. It is the 21st most prominent mountain in the world with an elevation rise of 13,211 feet from its nearest low point. It is the most prominent mountain in the lower 48 states (the contiguous United States).

Cascade Range

Mount Rainier is the highest peak in the Cascade Range, a long range of volcanic mountains that stretches from Washington through Oregon to northern California. Other Cascade peaks seen from the summit of Mount Rainier include Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, and Mount Hood on a clear day.

Giant Stratovolcano

Mount Rainier, a giant stratovolcano in the Cascade Volcanic Arc, is considered an active volcano with its last eruption in 1894. Rainier erupted over a dozen times in the last 2,600 years, with the largest eruption 2,200 years ago.

Rainier Earthquakes

As an active volcano, Mount Rainier has many small high-frequency earthquakes, often occurring on a daily basis. Every month as many as five earthquakes are recorded near the mountain's summit. Small swarms of five to ten earthquakes, occurring over a few days, also occur often. Geologists say most of these earthquakes result from hot fluids circulating inside the mountain.

Highest Crater Lake

Rainier's summit has two overlapping volcanic craters, each over 1,000 feet in diameter. It also has a small crater lake that is 16 feet deep and 130 feet long by 30 feet wide. This is the highest crater lake in North America. The lake, however, lies beneath 100 feet of ice in the west summit crater. It can only be visited by following a network of ice caves in the craters.

26 Major Glaciers

Mount Rainier is the most glaciated mountain in the contiguous United States with 26 major glaciers as well as 35 square miles of glaciers and permanent snowfields.

Three Summits on Mt. Rainier

Mount Rainier has three separate summits--14,411-foot Columbia Crest, 14,158-foot Point Success, and 14,112-foot Liberty Cap. The standard climbing routes reach the crater crest at 14,150 feet and many climbers stop here, deeming that they've reached the top. The actual summit at Columbia Crest is a quarter mile away and reached by a 45-minute hike across the crater.

Liberty Cap Summit

Liberty Cap at 14,112 feet (4,301 meters), is the lowest of Mount Rainier's three summits but has a prominence of 492 feet (150 meters) which makes it a separate peak from Columbia Crest, the high point. Most climbers, however, do not consider it a separate mountain because of Rainier's huge size so it is seldom climbed compared to the higher summit.

Eruptions and Mudflows

The volcanic cone of Mount Rainier is about 500,000 years old, although an early ancestral cone composed of lava flows is over 840,000 years old. Geologists say the mountain once stood at about 16,000 feet but debris avalanches, mudflows or lahars, and glaciations reduced it to its present elevation. The huge Osceola Mudflow, occurring 5,000 years ago, was a giant debris avalanche that swept a rock, ice, and mud over 50 miles to the Tacoma area and removed over 1,600 feet from the mountain top. The last major mudflow happened over 500 years ago. Geologists say future mudflows could reach as far as Seattle and inundate the Puget Sound.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier is the centerpiece of 235,625-acre Mount Rainier National Park, which lies 50 miles southwest of Seattle. The park is 97% percent wilderness with the other 3% a National Historic Landmark District. Over 2 million visitors come to the park every year. President William McKinley created the national park, the nation's fifth, on March 2, 1899.

Native American Name

Native Americans called the mountain Tahoma, Tacoma, or Talol from a Lushootseed word meaning "mother of waters" and a Skagit word meaning "great white mountain."

Captain George Vancouver

The first Europeans to see the great peaks were Captain George Vancouver (1757-1798) and his crew, who sailed into Puget Sound in 1792 while exploring the northwest coast of North America. Vancouver named the peak for Rear Admiral Peter Rainier (1741-1808) of the British Royal Navy. Rainier fought against the colonists in the American Revolution and was severely wounded on July 8, 1778, while capturing a ship. He later became a Commodore and served in the East Indies before retiring in 1805. After his election to Parliament, he died on April 7, 1808.

Discovery of Mount Rainier

In 1792, Captain George Vancouver wrote about newly discovered and named Mount Rainier: "The weather was serene and pleasant, and the country continued to exhibit between us and the eastern snowy range the same luxuriant appearance. At its northern extremity, Mount Baker bore by compass N. 22E.; the round snowy mountain, now forming its southern extremity, and which, after my friend, Rear Admiral Rainier, I distinguish by the name of Mount Rainier, bore N(S) 42 E."

Tacoma or Rainier

Through the 19th century, the mountain was called both Mount Rainier and Mount Tacoma. In 1890 the United States Board of Geographic Names deemed that it would be called Rainier. As late as 1924, however, a resolution was introduced in the U.S. Congress to called it Tacoma.

First Known Ascent of Mount Rainier

The first ascent of Mount Rainier was thought to be in 1852 by an undocumented party. The first known ascent was in 1870 by Hazard Stevens and P.B. Van Trump. The pair were feted in Olympia after their successful ascent.

John Muir Climbs Mount Rainier

The great American naturalist John Muir climbed Mount Rainier in 1888. He later wrote about his climb: "The view we enjoyed from the summit could hardly be surpassed in sublimity and grandeur; but one feels far from home so high in the sky, so much so that one is inclined to guess that, apart from the acquisition of knowledge and the exhilaration of climbing, more pleasure is to be found at the foot of the mountains than on their tops. Doubly happy, however, is the man to whom lofty mountain tops are within reach, for the lights that shine there illumine all that lies below."