Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mt. Rainier Summit Marker Story

A few days ago Olivia and I reached the summit of Mt. Rainier while guiding and took a few photos of a USGS marker that I had found sitting on the summit 2 weeks earlier. I forwarded the photos to a friend and it led to an article in the Seattle Times. Although a bit surprised to receive very angry e-mail from a few in my local community, I thought it stimulated an important discussion.

As a guide on Rainier and in the North Cascades I spend more than 1 of every 2 days each year in the mountains in the Pacific Northwest and have noticed very significant loss of glacier mass. I have only been guiding for 20 years, but find that when I ask older guides (some have guided locally for up to 41 years) their observations match mine.

This is by no means a scientific observation, but it puzzles me that many of the glaciers I used to rope up on to avoid crevasse falls no longer have any ice in what were once very broken areas of glacier. Additionally we are seeing new rock islands emerge from what were traditionally (at least in the past 40 years) solid surfaces of ice. I have also noticed this in Mexico, Ecuador, Alaska, and other places where I guide. Why the sudden (geologically speaking) change?

Despite being a bit concerned about the amount of angry letters the Seattle Times article (Mystery of Rainier survey marker melts away - October 1, 2009) generated, I am happy to see people at least debating why the sudden and dramatic change. I would be very curious to see the results of a USGS re-measurement of the summit height of Mt. Rainier.

John Race

owner, The Northwest Mountain School

Photo of South side of Rainier in late September 2009