Climbing the Volcano
Mount Rainier rises 14,410 feet above the landscape two hours to the southeast of Seattle. It towers above its surroundings, dwarfing the smaller peaks of the nearby Tatoosh Range and creating its own weather systems. It is the largest and most heavily glaciated peak in the lower 48 states. From the city on clear days, it is a beacon, almost a benevolent presence. Yet Rainier is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the Western Hemisphere. Should it ever erupt again, the resulting mudslides and ash would threaten not only Seattle but much of Washington state and beyond.
For climbers, Mount Rainier presents a tantalizing challenge given its accessibility to a major urban center and the established routes that zigzag up its flanks. Its topography and numerous glaciers and crevasses make it an excellent training ground for bigger climbs in the Alps and Himalayas. Only about half those who attempt to summit it succeed each year, the other half turned away by weather, unstable conditions or fatigue. It was also the scene of one of the worst mountaineering accidents in North American climbing history when an ice fall killed 11 climbers in 1981.
It sounded like a good challenge.