References for climbing guides

Climbers descending Tahoma Glacier with pre-1980 Mount St. Helens in the background
Climbers descending the Tahoma Glacier. Mount St. Helens (before its 1980 eruption) is in the background. Photo from 1970.

NPS photo

Mountaineering reports

The Mountaineering Reports and Statistics page has information on the highlights of the climbing season, search and rescue reports (1997-2000 and 2002) and statistics on total number of climbers and the number of successful climbers from 1852-1897 and 1950 to the present.


Names of places and features on the mountain

Tacoma Public Library's Washington State Names Database provides the origin of many of the names of places in the park including prominent features on the mountain. Mount Rainier National Park Names (pdf) by Gary Fuller Reese is an additional source for the origin of place names in the park.

Two side-by-side pictures of the snout of the Nisqually glacier - left one, 1994; right one 2015.
The  recession of the Nisqually glacier is dramatic portrayed in these two photos. The left one was taken in 1994; the right one in 2015.

NPS/Patti Oleson

Research on Mount Rainier's glaciers

In the summer of 2014, Park Geologist Scott Beason reported on the alarming rate of retreat of the Nisqually and Emmons Glaciers over the past decade. The Nisqually was retreating at the rate of 3.3 ft/10 days (1 m/10 days) while the Emmons was 3.3 ft/month (1 m/month). His report was based on aerial photographs of the glaciers.

As of September 2015, preliminary surveys on the Nisqually show the glacier has receded 492 ft. (150 m) over the last 16 months. That is a rate of one foot per day (.3 m/day).

The Emmons glacier's history is more erratic. From 1745 - 1900 the glacier retreated at a rate of 5.6 ft/yr (1.7 m/yr) but then it increased it's retreat to about 132 ft/yr (40.2 m/yr). In December 1963 there was a huge rockfall onto the Emmons from Little Tahoma. The rock covering insulated the glacier which caused it to start advancing. From 1964 to 1984 the glacier advanced .62 miles (1 km). Since 1984 the Emmons glacier has retreated at the rate of about 37 ft/yr (11.3 m/yr).

Losing Paradise: Climate change is changing Mount Rainier - Rob Carson and Dean Koepfler provide a well written and illustrated article on the effects of climate change on the glaciers in the park published by the Tacoma News Tribune.

Glacier Monitoring in the National Parks of Washington: A Virtual Field experience - One of the main attractions to Mount Rainier is its glaciers yet very few people are able to have a significant experience on a glacier. Professor Frank Granshaw from Portland State University is researching the possibility of using virtual reality technology to allow visitors to experience glaciers to enhance their understanding and appreciation of them.

Climate Monitoring in Mount Rainier National Park – by Rebecca Lofgren and Barbara Samora
This is a science brief about an ongoing study in the park. This particular brief compares the monthly average temperatures and total monthly moisture recorded at 7 weather stations around the park during the years 2010 and 2011 with the data accumulated over nearly 100 years. The resulting effect on the glaciers is then analyzed.

North Coast and Cascades Network (NCCN) Glacier Monitoring Program
Mount Rainier is a member of the North Coast and Cascades Network which has coordinated glacier monitoring on the Nisqually and Emmons glaciers since 2003. They publish yearly comparative reports on health of these two glaciers as well as others in North Cascades and Olympic National Parks. The NCCN produced a video on how the glaciers are monitored at North Cascades and Mount Rainier National Parks.

A close-up view of the yellow rock bands on the wall of Sunset amphitheater.
Yellow rock bands on the headwall of Sunset Amphitheater. This band is an old lava flow from one of the many eruptions of the mountain.


Geology of Rainier

Roadside Geology of Mount Rainier National Park and Vicinity - Patrick T. Pringle, (2008). Available in spiral binding or a free download. Part I is a geologic history of Mount Rainier and its immediate surroundings. This book is written for anyone with a basic understanding of geology.

Geological features and processes on Mount Rainier
This excerpt provides descriptions of the most prominent and distinctive geologic features and processes in Mount Rainier National Park. The full document, Mount Rainier National Park: Geologic Resource Evaluation Report, is an overview of the geological history, hazards, features, and processes of the mountain.

Sunrise filtering though the lenticular clouds on Mount Rainier.
Sunrise filtering though lenticular clouds on the west side of Mount Rainier.

NPS photo

Lenticular clouds

Lenticular clouds, also known as Altocumulus Standing Lenticularis, are common on Mount Rainier. They form when fast moving, moisture laden "laminar" airflow (winds at high elevation with little or no turbulence or sheer) hit an obstruction perpendicular to the airflow. As the air hits the obstruction and flows over it, the air undulates in "sinusoidal" waves somewhat like the moving concentric ripples made on a pond when a pebble is thrown in. At the crest of the wave, the rising air reaches its dew point causing the moisture in the air to condense and form clouds. As the air falls on the downside of the wave, the clouds re-evaporate in the warming temperature. Even though air is constantly flowing through the lenticular, condensing on one end and evaporating on the other, the lens shaped cloud appears to be stationary over the mountain.

Current weather conditions

A 7-day weather forecast, updated at 4:30 am and 3:30 pm daily, is specially prepared for Mount Rainier by the National Weather Service. Additional weather information is available on the weather page.

A climber is ascending a vertical glacial ice wall on Mount Rainier.
Climber ascending an ice wall on a Mount Rainier glacier.

NPS Archive Photo

Stories of Historic Climbs of Mount Rainier

The following short bibliography covers the early history of climbing at Mount Rainier and first ascents via the various routes. The books were written by the people who did the climb or who have been intimately involved with the climbing community at Mount Rainier.

Molenaar, Dee. The Challenge of Rainier: A record of the explorations and ascents, triumphs and tragedies, on the Northwest's greatest mountain. Seattle: Mountaineers, 1979.
This book has been described as the best source on the climbing history of Mount Rainier. A new edition was published in 2011, ISBN 159485520X.

Meany, Edmond S. Editor. Mount Rainier: A record of exploration. NY: Macmillan Co., 1916.
Contains transcriptions of the original journals and memoirs of the earliest climbers of Mount Rainier such as Kautz, Stevens, Emmons and others.

Haines, Aubrey L. Mountain Fever: Historic Conquests of Rainier. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999.
First published in 1962 by the Oregon Historical Society. This is a historical review of the pre-park exploration of Mount Rainier. It includes an account of a possible summiting of the mountain in 1851 almost 20 years before the Stevens/Van Trump climb.

Gauthier, Mike. Mount Rainier: A climbing guide. Seattle: Mountaineers, 2005.
Gauthier was the lead climbing ranger for the park when he wrote this in 1999. He describes the 41 principal routes and their variations, with aerial photos and route overlays. There is extensive material on Mount Rainier's unique weather and terrain. The newest edition includes information on mountain history, Mount Rainier personalities, and dramatic rescues.


Last updated: November 8, 2019

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