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



The presence of an acid holocrystalline rock on the slopes of Mount Rainier was first reported by Lieutenant Krautz in 1857 from whose accounts Dr. George Gibbs was led to announce the occurrence of granite as a dike in recent lavas.1 Emmons in 1870 observed a cliff of "beautiful white syenitic granite" rising above the foot of Nisqually Glacier and correctly interpreted the geologic relations. In 1895, on a reconnaissance trip, the writer identified granite among the bowlders composing the lateral moraines of Carbon Glacier, as well as on the surface of the glacier itself, and in the following season bowlders of granite were found to be plentiful in the river bed at the foot of this glacier. This anomaly of granite bowlders coming from a volcanic peak was also noted in the canyon of the Nisqually by Emmons.

1Emmons, Bull. Am. Geog. Soc., 1877, No. 4, P. 45.

In the somewhat more careful study of the Mount Rainier rocks, search was made and the granite was found in place at several points on the northeastern slope. A biotite-hornblende-granite was observed on Carbon River at the mouths of Canada Creek, about 12 miles from the summit of Mount Rainier, and at Chenuis Falls, 2 miles up the river, a finer grained holocrystalline rock occurs, apparently an aplitic phase of the granite. In the lower portion of Carbon Glacier, near its eastern edge, a nunatak of granite can be seen, while the same rock occurs farther to the east, beyond the older of the lateral moraines. Higher on the slopes of Rainier a more marked ridge of granite was traced. A knob rises above the eastern moraine of Carbon Glacier at an altitude of between 7,000 and 8,000 feet, and the more prominent features to the east in Moraine Park also owe their survival to the greater erosion-resisting power of the granite.


These granites have few features worthy of special mention. Hornblende and biotite are the ferromagnesian constituents and vary much in relative importance. The variations from hornblende-granite to biotite-granite occur its the same knob or ridge, and considering all occurrences the two varieties seem to be of equal development. There is also some variation in the amount of quartz present, and in the relative importance of the orthoclase and plagioclase. All of these characters are also found in the granites of the Northern Cascades.


Along the side of the knob overlooking Carbon Glacier the granite as seen from a distance appears to be intrusive. Blocks of andesite cover the slope, deposited there by the glacier at a time when it possessed greater lateral extent, and the granite talus from above crosses this same slope in a narrow band. The relations prove less deceptive on close examination, and the granite is seen to constitute an older ridge. Farther along this ridge, at the cliffs on the northeastern edge of Moraine Park, the granitic rock is found overlain by the lava. The actual contact of the two rocks is concealed by soil filling the crevice left by disintegration along the contact plane. The granite, however, exhibits no intrusive characters, while the overlying andesite becomes scoriaceous in its lower portion, although compact immediately above. This contact is on the southern side of the granite ridge, the crest of which is approximately east-west. This position of the lava contact considerably below the highest occurrence of the granite indicates that the topographic features of this old granite ridge were even more marked at the time of the eruption of the lavas and the building of the volcanic cone. Above this ridge of granite on the one side tower the cliffs of bedded volcanics which compose the Sluiskin Mountains, and on the other is the andesite ridge bounding the canyon of Winthrop Glacier. Thus Mount Rainier, although a volcanic peak, rests upon an elevated platform of granite which is exposed by erosion at a few points on the slopes of the mountain.

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Last Updated: 28-Mar-2006