Enjoy Mount Rainier From It’s 14,410 Foot Peak!

Mount Rainier Climbers

Mount Rainier Climbers


Mount Rainier climbers enjoy  some of the most beautiful scenery in the entire world.  Why can we say that?  Several reason.  First, because of the rain that the western side of the state of Washington gets, the air is usually very clear.  The lakes, ponds, rivers, mountains and valleys, are all within eyesight as you ascend the mountain.

Another “plus” for climber/hikers is the almost constant rainfall, and because of it, the air is always being “cleansed” of pollution, allowing you to see clearly for many miles.

Now, don’t get me wrong here, I am not a professional hiker or climber of mountains by any stretch of the imagination.  On the other hand though, along with my family in tow, we have enjoyed several day hikes up Mount Rainier.  It’s great fun !   See how much fun and enjoyable it can be as you follow along on just one of our little day hikes.

On the other hand, being at the Paradise Lodge on many occasions, we’ve encountered several serious climbing parties that are heading to the summit of Rainier.  These Mount Rainier climbers really know what they are doing.

I can recall watching these groups get prepared for the hike.  Usually their guide is world renowned climber, Jim Whittaker or another highly experienced climber.  In times gone by, it could have been Jim OR Lou Whittaker.  Mirror twins of one another, (one left handed, the other right handed) would climb Mount Rainier as the group guide.


Oooooo,  I Think I’m Going To Be Sick!

At the age of 16, most boys seem to think they can do most anything at all, even climb the 14,410 foot height of Mount Rainier!

Jim and Lou in the early days.  At 6 ft. 5 in. they are ready.

Jim and Lou in the early days. At 6 ft. 5 in. they are ready for the climb.


Jim and Lou today Photo: Seattle PI Scott Ecklund

Jim and Lou today
Photo: Seattle PI Scott Ecklund

Jim and Lou  Photo by  Seattle Met

Jim and Lou
Photo by Seattle Met


Once these two twins set their Boy Scouts mind’s to the task of climbing Mount Rainier, they just do it!  As has been reported by the boys (now both in their 80’s), that first time up the mountain made both of them sick.  Being determined to accomplish the task, but far from being prepared, the two set off to conques Rainier with “a bunch of grapes that mom packed for us”.   That was about all they had!   Can you imagine that?

If you are not familiar with heights on mountains, it’s a well know fact that  as you climb, the air becomes very “thin” and breathing becomes labored.  With the lack of  oxygen in the mountain air, you naturally breath deeper and more often.  With every breath you exhale, you are also expelling body moisture.   As your body begins to become dehydrated, you crave liquids.

Snow was handy, so were the grapes.  The boys would melt the snow in their mouths and have a few grapes.  However, when they got to the top (yes, they did indeed reach the 14,410 foot level)……………….up came the grapes !

That was their very first experience as a pair of  Mount Rainier climbers.   That was in 1945.

Since then, the two have made themselves the most prominent mountain climbers in all of the Pacific Northwest.

Jim feels right at home in Port Townsend and Lou at his Mount Rainier area, motel.

14,410 foot Mount Rainier

14,410 foot Mount Rainier

Scary Stuff…That Snow

Over many years of experience, the two knew what areas were safe to climb and which areas were open to the dangers of avalanches.  Take a look at the avalanche information below.  I know you’ll enjoy it.

If you enjoyed this article or want to share a story about your hiking/climbing up Rainier, leave me a comment below.

 White Dragons On Mount Rainier

White Dragons, or better known as avalanches, are wonderful to watch………..from a distance.  But many want to know why, where, and what can be done in the never ending battle regarding the prevention of an avalanche and being able to safely enjoy a mountain climb.  Let’s find out together as we explore this great “sea” of white wonderment.

This is part 1

A Mountain Riddle

Several centuries back, there was a riddle that went something like this:  “What is it that hits without hands, sees but has no eyes, and flies but has no wings?”

The answer?  White Dragons…………or as we now know them, avalanches!

Tremendously powerful, these white dragons are.  They can engulf a person within seconds and at times they have been known to swallow entire villages.  Many lost their lives in these icey tombs, giving them the name, ‘white death.’

So where do they occur?  Well, if you live in the tropics or perhaps in lowland areas, more than likely, you’ll never need to worry about them.  On the other hand, if you live in a mountainous terrain with snow capped peaks, then beware, you are in the white dragons lair!

High up in the snow capped mountains where free-fall  snow occurs on a regular basis, is where these “creatures” live.  They come to “life” when enough build-up of snowfall gets too heavy, breaking itself free from  the mountain sides.  As these avalanches descend, the air pressure that precedes them can devastate bushes, trees, small towns, and people, and much more if they are in the path of these “creatures”.

Why and when does it happen?
Light fluffy snowflakes can be beautiful when we watch it from the comfort of our warm homes.  However, high in the mountains, when snow falls, it begins to change.  These snow crystals change because of the differences of the air temperatures on the ground as compared to the temperatures high in the sky.

As these flakes accumulate, they begin to pack onto each other.  As snow continues to fall, say, over a period of about 24 hours, a foot of nice fluffy snow can compact into as little as 4 inches.  Making it very dense and heavy.

Since we know that snow comes in different shapes such as, crystals, pellets and granules, they pack together differently at greater heights.  Depending on which type of snowflake is falling and packing together will explain why certain areas have more avalanches than others.  For instance, the crystal flake which has 6 points on it, will interlock with others of like kind.  Making it more “sturdy” than other flake types.

The granules and the pellet type flakes do not have that capability.  They will usually just roll over the top of each other.  At the same time,  if there happens to be a type of “solid” layer underneath,  it makes it that much easier to have an avalanche to “slip” from the firmly packed snow to do it’s damage on anything in it’s downhill cascade.

Not only the type of flake but the temperature, the steepness of the mountain terrain, the movement of wind, animal or human movement on the snow, and the depth of the snow all determine whether or not the white dragon will begin to move.

Crystal snowflakes

Crystal snowflakes

Granule snowflakes

Granule snowflakes

Pellet snowflakes

Pellet snowflakes

 Moving the Dragon

The white powder that so many skiers desire, is the perfect type for an avalanche.  How so?  The so-called powder snow is usually made up of either the granules or pellets. (see images)   Their ability to slide over each other can make for treacherous conditions.

Never expect to out-ski or out-run an avalanche………..that is, unless you can move at MORE THAN 200 miles per hour!  That is how fast or even faster, this white death can travel.  The tremendous air movement in front can blow off rooftops long before it arrives.

The Hard-Slab Slide

But which is the deadliest type of slide?  It has it’s own name.  It is known as the “hard-slab” avalanche.  They come about by old snow being built up over a longer period of time.  These hard slab slides can be very deceiving to many.  Looking like they are solid, then suddenly breaking away, causing a cascade effect.  Chunks of hardened snow come crashing down at some 50 miles per hour.

If you do decide to ski, do so in the middle of winter.  Why so?  Because that is when the snow is at it’s lease likely point of breaking away and causing a slide.  Spring time is just the opposite.  Spring has been deemed to be the time of year when most ski accidents from avalanches occur, along with loss of life.

Be careful whenever you ski.

But what parts of the earth do they occur?  Can they be prevented?  And what about rescue missions for those that are caught?  Do these same type of avalanches occur as Mount Rainier climbers tackle this mountain?


Leave me a comment below along with any stories that you have.   I love comments!

Written by :   Tom McDaniel Share this site…

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