USGS Logo Geological Survey 18th Annual Report (Part II)
Glaciers of Mount Rainier
Rocks of Mount Rainier


Spanish explorers entered what is now known as Puget Sound in 1790, and must have been familiar with Mount Rainier as seen from a distance, but, so far as the records seem to show, they did not give a name to the mountain.

Vancouver explored and mapped Puget Sound in 1792, and named not only the waterways and their immediate shores, but several of the mountains seen in the distance as well. Mounts Baker, Rainier, and Hood were named at this time in honor of the lords of the British Admiralty whose names they still bear. In the narrative of his voyage,1 in describing the region about Port Townsend, Captain Vancouver stated that a "very remarkable high round mountain, covered with snow, apparently at the southern extremity of the distant range of snowy mountains before noticed [the Cascades] bore S. 45° E." When farther south in Puget Sound, he recorded (p. 79): "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. 22° E.; the round snowy mountain now forming its southern extremity, and which, after my friend Rear-Admiral Rainier, I distinguished by the name of Mount Rainier, bore N. 42° E."

1Captain George Vancouver, A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and Round the World, London, 1801, 80, vol. 2, pp, 78, 79.

Before the coming of Vancouver the Indians had a name for the mountain in which we are interested. To them it was known as Tacoma, as nearly as their pronunciation can be rendered in English. Personally, I am strongly in favor of retaining the aboriginal name, but as the United States Board on Geographic Names has decided that the name which Vancouver gave shall be used on Government maps and in official publications, I have no choice in this paper but to accept their decision.

The first ascent of Mount Rainier was made by Gen. Hazard Stevens and P. B. Van Trump in August, 1870. An exceedingly graphic and entertaining account of this pioneer climb was published by Stevens in the Atlantic Monthly, Vol. XXXVIII, 1876. This ascent was made on the south side of the mountain, by the way of what are now known as Paradise Park and Gibraltar, which is practically the route followed in recent years by many tourists. After spending a night in the crater at the summit, they made the descent by the same route.

In October, 1870, Messrs. S. F. Emmons and A. D. Wilson, of the United States Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, ascended Mount Rainier, taking essentially the same route as that followed about two months before by Stevens and Van Trump. During this excursion much valuable information concerning the geology of the mountain, and especially in relation to the numerous glaciers on its sides, was obtained, and this will be presented later.

During the past ten years the south side of Mount Rainier, between the Nisqually and Cowlitz glaciers, has become a favorite and much frequented resort for camping parties. The park-like region near timber line presents unusual attractions on account of the cool summer temperature, bracing air, and magnificent scenery, and also furnishes a convenient starting point for persons desiring to climb the great peak. An especially beautiful portion of the southern slope, known as Paradise Park, is one of a number of open, meadow-like tracts, strewn in profusion with charming flowers during the short summer and diversified by thrifty groves of firs, to which much of its beauty is due. From Paradise Park the way to the summit of Mount Rainier is easily found, and the climb, considering the elevation attainable, is by no means difficult.

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Last Updated: 28-Mar-2006