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Mt. Rainier, the highest of the volcanoes in the Washington Cascade Mountains and the centerpiece of Mount Rainier National Park, certainly dominates the skyline around western Washington. It is a relatively young volcano, being over ten million years younger than the surrounding ranges.
What makes Mount Rainier particularly unique, from a geographical perspective, is the 36 miles of glaciers covering the mountain. This collection of ice is the largest remnant of the Ice Age to be found on one mountain (a "single-peak glacier system") in the world. Glaciers are formed from snow that does not melt from year to year. Instead it accumulates to such depths that air is pressed out and the snow is compressed to ice. The ice gradually moves down the mountainside under the force of gravity.
The glacial valleys, sometimes gouging over thousand feet into the sides of Rainier, visually accentuate the height of the mountain. Drainage from the volcano manages to find its way into five major rivers.
Although it is an object of admiration and even affection amongst locals, Mount Rainier is considered the most dangerous volcano in the range. In fact, Mount Rainier has the status of being one of sixteen volcanoes worldwide to be designated a "Decade Volcano" in a United Nations program aimed at better utilizing science and emergency management to reduce the severity of natural disasters.
An eruption could affect the large nearby population, sending Rainier's huge volume of ice, snow and earth into the area. Rainier also presents the hazard of avalanches and debris flows during its inactive period. A mudflow caused by steam explosions about 5,700 years ago was one of the largest known in the world. This eruption reduced the height of Rainier by over 1,500 feet and sent a wall of mud 100 feet high, cascading like a river of wet cement as far as the waters of Puget Sound. The towns of Auburn, Kent, Puyallup and Sumner are built on top of this flow. About 30 earthquakes occur under Mount Rainier per year, making it the most seismically active volcano in the Cascade Range after Mount St. Helens.
Best selection of books on the Northwest.
Mt. Rainier: Adventures and Views by John Harlin III and James Martin. Get up close and personal with the of Mount Rainier. Photographer James Martin captures the awesome beauty of this majestic peak, from its icy glaciers to its lush alpine meadows, while climber and writer John Harlin provides engrossing accounts of adventure on the mountain. Order now...
Washington's Mount Rainier National Park: A Centennial Celebration by Tim McNulty and Pat O'Hara. In this official book, O'Hara and McNulty view the mountain through all its facets: from the geologic and climatic forces that continue to shape it, the rich legacy of humans' relationship with it and its delicate ecosystems. Order now...
Adventure Guide to Mount Rainier: Hiking, Climbing and Skiing in Mt. Rainier National Park by Jeff Smoot. Includes descriptions of tourist trails, nature trails, off-trail hiking, bike routes, minor peak scrambling, skiing and snowshoeing areas, and of course, summit routes. Order now...
Mount Rainier: A Climbing Guide 2nd Edition by Mike Gauthier. From the Lead Climbing Ranger for Mt Rainier National Park. The latest information on logistics, regulations and permits. Expanded material on understanding and surmounting Rainier's glaciers, tips on selecting a guide service, mountaineering training sites around Rainier and bonus routes on adjacent Little Tahoma. Order now...
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