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A photo of Mount Rainier from the far-side of a small lake.

A popular hike in Mount Rainier National Park, pictured here in 1931, offers an eastern view of the mountain and its reflection in Lake Tipsoo.

PHOTOGRAPH BY ASHAHEL CURTIS, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Jane Vessels

National Geographic

Published June 3, 2014

"There are plenty of higher mountains, but it is the decided isolation—the absolute standing alone in full majesty of its own mightiness—that forms the attraction of Rainier," adventure writer Paul Fountain remarked in 1905.

His description of Mount Rainier would resonate with anyone who's come under the spell of the 14,410-foot peak, which seems to hover on the horizon in Seattle, though it's some 50 miles from the city.

But Rainier is also treacherous, as the loss of six experienced climbers last week confirms, pushing the mountain's death toll over the years to nearly a hundred.

Rainier is where the first U.S. team to summit Mount Everest, in May 1963, came to train. (Related: "Sherpas: The Forgotten Men of Everest.")

That group, sponsored by National Geographic, chose Rainier because its glaciers, heavy snow, and quickly changing weather resembled conditions in the Himalaya. They tackled Rainier in September, and none of them made it to the top. A relentless gale-force storm, which bulldozed one climber's tent to within three feet of a crevasse on Cowlitz Glacier, convinced them that they should turn back.

Mount Rainier National Park also attracts other kinds of visitors, annually drawing more than a million day-trippers and campers content to be close to the mountain's snowcapped beauty.

But many want to reach Rainier's summit, a feat first documented in 1870. Some 10,500 people make the climb each year. About half have the stamina to succeed—even when taking the easiest routes, with guides.

Early Climbers

A photo of climbers scaling the Nisqually Glacier.
PHOTOGRAPH BY H.B. CUNNINGHAM, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Climbers in 1927 navigate Nisqually Glacier, one of the largest of the mountain's 26 glaciers. The photographer, H. B. Cunningham, was among Rainier's first professional guides.

Rigors of Scouting

A photo of girl scouts on Mount Rainier.
PHOTOGRAPH BY B. ANTHONY STEWART, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Dressed for Rainier's fickle weather, Girl Scouts hike one of the park's trails.

Tourism Takes Hold

Photo of climbers walking over crevasses on Mount Rainier.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CURTIS AND MILLER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Visitors dare the ice of Paradise Glacier in 1915, 16 years after Rainier became a national park. Park Service accounts say that in 1911 President William Howard Taft's touring car was the first vehicle to drive the newly built road to Paradise, assisted by a team of mules when the road became too muddy.

Cascade in the Cascades

A photo of a waterfall on the Upper Paradise River in Mount Rainier.
PHOTOGRAPH BY A.H. BARNES, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Black rock reveals the mountain's volcanic history at a branch of the Upper Paradise River in this 1912 photo. Rainier last erupted in the 1800s but remains an active volcano like its sister peaks in the Cascade Range: Mount Hood, Mount Baker, and Mount St. Helens.

Summer Snowballs

A photo of a group of people having a snowball fight in Paradise Park on Mount Rainier.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CURTIS AND MILLER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Among the attractions of Rainier's Paradise Park: snowball fights in July, this one in 1915.

Rooftop Range

A photo of a snow tunnel into the entrance of Paradise Inn in Mount Rainier.
PHOTOGRAPH BY RAINIER NATIONAL PARK COMPANY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Over the entrance to the park's historic Paradise Inn, built in 1913, snow can pack hard to bear the weight of a horse, as published in the February 1933 Geographic. Accustomed to heavy snows, Paradise set a record accumulation in the winter of 1971-72: nearly 94 feet.

Dangerous Glaciers

A photo of a man over a crevasse splitting Paradise and Little Cowlitz Glaciers in Mount Rainier.
PHOTOGRAPH BY A.H. BARNES, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

In 1912 a man—a triangle of black against the ice glare—stares into a crevasse splitting the Paradise and Cowlitz Glaciers on Rainier's southeast flank.

11 comments
Dan Paulson
Dan Paulson

Crazy pictures. I just climbed it Sunday and Monday with two female friends. Can't even imagine them in dresses and heeled boots up there.

Stef Johnson
Stef Johnson

In memory of Willi Unsoeld and Lou Whittaker.

Carol Manka
Carol Manka

Marvelous photographs!  They capture the very challenging glaciers, their crevasses, and the steep-drop cliffs that threaten climbers.  I still am not used to seeing women climbing in long dresses and no hiking boots.  (I've seen similar old photos of women climbing Mount Hood and am in awe of their courage.)

Betty Jones
Betty Jones

Scares me just to look at the photograph!!


Robert Jureller
Robert Jureller

I climbed it in August 2002 with my three brothers. It still stands as one of my greatest achievements. 

Hasan Kabir
Hasan Kabir

Grand! Love to make the trek! Just like treking in the Karakurum Mountains!


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