Auld Lang Climb

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Destinations, March 1999


Auld Lang Climb
Celebrating Mount Rainier's centennial one step at a time

By Claire Martin

"I did not mean to climb it, but got excited and soon was on top," John Muir noted of his 1888 ascent of Mount Rainier, at the time considered the highest peak in the United States. It's thanks in part to the excitable western wildlands champion that Rainier's old-growth hemlock forests and subalpine huckleberry meadows appear much as they did 100 years ago, when, on March 2, 1899, our fifth national park was established here.

In its first year, 235,612-acre Mount Rainier National Park saw just 2,000 visitors, with good reason: The trip from Seattle took almost three days on horseback. By midcentury, the 14,410-foot peak's glaciers ù the largest in the Lower 48 ù had become a training ground for Everest expeditioners (Jim Whittaker, who in 1963 became the first American to summit Everest, started out as a Rainier guide). Mountaineers still train here, but most of the park's visitors ù nearly two million last year ù drive the now-easy two hours from Seattle for weekend hikes.

Centennial celebrations kick off on March 2 and gear up later this summer. So if you're planning to be in the Pacific Northwest, here are a couple of highlights to mark in your calendar:

August 10-12: An international group of climbers will don vintage mountaineering gear to top what we now know to be the fifth-highest U.S. peak. The climb's host: Rainier Mountaineering Inc. (235-627-6242), run by Lou Whittaker, Jim's twin brother. (Call early to reserve a spot, as space is limited.)

October 2-3: RMI reunites past and present guides for a base-camp reminisce at the landmark Paradise Inn (doubles, $104; 360-569-2275). Scheduled to share slides and climbing stories are Wolf Bauer, who made the 1935 first ascent of Rainier's Ptarmigan Ridge, and 1980s guide Ed Viesturs. For a complete list of events, call the park at 360-569-2211.

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