At 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in Washington, and to the sun-starved residents of Seattle and south Puget Sound, the dormant volcano is a giant weather gauge. When the skies clear over Puget Sound, “The mountain is out” is often heard around the region. And when the mountain is out, all eyes turn to admire its broad, snow-covered slopes. Thanks the region’s moisture-laden air, those glaciated slopes remain white throughout the year.
Snow and glaciers notwithstanding, Rainier has a heart of fire. Steam vents at the mountain’s summit are evidence that, though this volcanic peak is presently dormant, it could erupt again at any time. If scientists are correct in their calculations that Rainier’s volcanic activity occurs in 3,000-year cycles, it may be hundreds of years before another big eruption occurs.
Known to Native Americans as Tahoma, Mount Rainier received its current name in 1792 when British explorer Captain George Vancouver named the mountain for a friend (who never even visited the region). The first ascent to the mountain’s summit was made in 1870 by General Hazard Stevens (Stevens Pass is named after him) and Philemon Van Trump, and it was 14 years later that James Longmire built the first hotel on the mountain’s flanks. In 1899, Mount Rainier became the country’s fifth national park.