If you’ve been thinking of taking a trip to Mount Rainier, don’t delay it much longer. She might blow. There are 19 volcanic peaks in the Cascade Mountains and Rainier is, over time, one of the more active ones. The U.S. Geological Survey calls it, “an active volcano currently at rest between eruptions.” This is partially why Ruth and I have taken 3 trips up there in the past 2 months.
Mount Rainier, the highest peak in the Cascades at 14,410 feet, last erupted in 1894 and 1895. It’s a bit overdue for an episode and being seriously monitored. The other 18 peaks are being watched too. The map that the rangers at the Sunrise Visitor Center copied for me clearly shows 17 of the 19. They range from the Silverthrone Caldera in British Columbia down to Northern California’s Lassen Peak, which erupted over a period of a couple of years in the early 20th century. The Canadian Cascades claim 5 of the 19 and 3 are in California. Oregon has 6 and 5, including Rainier and Mount Saint Helens, the most recent to erupt, are in Washington. Only half of the map shows volcanoes. The other half shows zones and plates, like the Juan de Fuca, just off the coast, which are destined to cause earthquakes and tidal waves soon.
Why would anyone live in such a dangerous place? Millions, in fact, do. However, the rangers assured me that there will be plenty of warning so that evacuations can occur. A U.S. Department of the Interior and Geological Survey explained that lava and pyroclastic flows will only occur for 10 miles beyond Rainier’s summit. The real danger is the lahars. These rapidly moving torrents of meltwater, mud, and boulders can and will reach Puget Sound. If you plan a trip to see Mount Rainer, which is spectacular in every way, you might not want to book accommodations in Packwood, Sumner, or Puyallup. All 3 towns are entirely in flow zones. Don’t put this trip off. The USGS calls Rainier “one of our Nation’s most dangerous volcanoes”.
While in Mount Rainier National Park, the 5th one established, you’ll find lots of people, but it’s so large that they spread out and you’ll have not trouble finding quiet spots. It’s not like Glacier and Zion. Yet. Among those visitors are avid climbers; 9,000 of them attempt to reach the summit each year and half succeed. A lot of the roads and facilities are only opened for a few months a year. The Sunrise Visitor Center, for example, just opened on July 1.
We saw a frisky Stellar’s Blue Jay on our 2nd visit. This is not an unusual sighting. During our 3rd we saw a black bear cub. Sightings of these are far more rare, and visitors are instructed to report them.
I’ll tell more tomorrow.