Nature Notes

Mount Rainier National Park

Vol. IV May 1st, 1927 No. 19

Issued monthly during the winter months; weekly during the summer months by the Mount Rainier National Park Nature Guide Service. By Floyd W. Schmoe, Park Naturalist.


Mount Rainier is an ancient volcano. It was built up layer upon layer, about a central vent, by successive lava flows which were intermittent with violent explosive eruptions which throw out vast quantities of pumice and other volcanic ashes. During many thousands of years, perhaps of activity, we had laid down a huge conical peak some sixteen or seventeen feet in elevation whose base covered more than one hundred square miles of area and whose vast bulk must have exceeded two hundred cubic miles.

For thousands of years the glaciers have been grinding at the sides of the peak and carrying it away. We have estimated that these rivers of ice on a warm day in summer carry more material from the mountain than could be hauled away by 80,000 five ton trucks.

In spite of the fact that the peak has been ice crowned for ages, there are still many indications that it is still hot inside. Steam and hot gasses constantly escape from the crater. Numerous thermal springs are found at its base. Like a few fortunate individuals, it possesses that rare human trait - a warm heart and a cool dome.

But the old peak, although it stands alone and rears its great bulk thousands of feet above its nearer neighbors, is not alone. It is one of a great series of volcanic peaks, a "rim of fire" some 40,000 miles in length, which embraces in its encircling arms the greatest ocean on earth.

Starting with Mount Erobus, a violently active volcano within twelve degrees of the south pole, and swinging up through New Zealand, The Philippines, Formosa, The Japanese archipelago, Kamchatka, The Aleutian Islands and southern Alaska, then down the Americas following the coast of the Pacific for ten thousand miles to the very extremity of the continents. These volcanos are located so closely together that from the summit of any one several others are often in view, swings this endless chain of fire mountains. There are thousands of peaks in the series and many of them are in constant activity.

From the summit of lofty Rainier, fourteen thousand four hundred and eight feet above the sea, seven of these old patriarchs may be seen on a clear day.


A hundred and twenty-five miles to the north stands Mount Baker, the Kulshan of Podmar, a broken peak, glacier scarred and ancient. Still it is not dead. In the late fifties Baker was frequently in violent eruption so the stories of the early settlers go and as recently as 1908 a huge hole was blown in the snow choked crater and clouds of black smoke issued forth. There still are fumeroles in the broken down crater.

Baker was the first snow peak noted by Captain Vancouver when he discovered Puget Sound in 1792 and was named for him for a brother officer of the British Navy. Baker is 10,750 feet high.


Only about three hundred feet lower than Baker, (10,436 ft.) and forty miles to the south is a sister peak. It is older than Kulshan and wrinkled with age. It has been ages since Glacier Peak belched forth smoke and molten rock and the fires have died within. At one time huge glaciers were born on its summit and extended down to the sea. A similar river ice, perhaps one of Glacier Peak's own, cut the inland fjord known as Lake Chelan whose floor is more than five hundred feet below the level of the sea.


To the south stand those guardians of the Columbia; Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood. The former two are in Washington, the latter in Oregon. Adams was first described by Lewis and Clark in 1803 and was named for President Adams. It is a truncated cone like Rainier, the summit having been carried away during violent eruptions. Although the main peak has been dormant for many years there has been comparative recent activity in the vacinity of its base. Several parasitic cones have been formed on its slopes and there are lava flows that appear to have cooled but yesterday. Adams is 12,307 feet in height, and about fifty miles to the south of Rainier.


To the west of the hoary-headed Adams and about equal distance away is beautiful Mount St. Helens, the infant among Rainier's near neighbors and the second youngest of the local series. St. Helens was violently active as late as 1871 and although "she walks in peace" at present there is no doubt but that avenging fire smoulders within and "man knoweth not the day nor the hour" when activity will be resumed.


Just south of the Columbia River and a hundred miles from Mount Rainier stands Oregon's pet mountain, Mount Hood. Hood is an old volcano so eroded that only a remnant of the old former peak remains. Because of this, it is very rugged in appearance and clean cut in outline. It is one of the most beautiful of the series and stands 11,225 feet above the sea and rises almost from sea level, the gorge of the Columbia.

There is an Indian legend (likely invented by a white man) which tells us that Mount Hood to the south and Mount Adams to the north of the river were once bitter enemies, the lovely St. Helens being the subject of quarrel. Both claimed her love and the dispute waxed warm. Finally the rival suitors resorted to the hurling of great rocks at each other rather than words...and The Dalles of the Columbia were formed by those that fell short and blocked the channel of the river. Its a good story and I believe it...believe it is a story.


There was once a Senator from Oregon who had an idea. This idea was to change the name of the Cascades to The Presidential Range and to name the great peaks for former presidents. Mount Washington, Mount Jefferson, and Mount Adams, resulted. Hood, in spite of the senator, retained the name of a British Admiral given it by Vancouver as did also Rainier and Baker.

Mount Jefferson can distinctly be seen on a clear day from the upper slopes of Mount Rainier although it is more than a hundred and fifty miles to the south. It is an ancient fire mountain, brother to Hood, and like Hood still lays claim to a warm heart under its snowy dome. Jefferson is 10,200 feet in elevation and a beautiful mountain.


On a very clear day one of the Three Sisters may be seen from the summit of Rainier although they stand a score of miles to the south of Jefferson and beyond Mount Washington which is much lower. As the name indicates The Sisters are a splendid group of snow covered cones standing close together in central Oregon. They are above ten thousand feet high. To the south are other fire mountains that once "blazed forth in token of their greatness" and one of the group, Lassen, still continues to do so although the others are long since dead.

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