Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Mount Rainier, Washington"
Includes ... Mount Rainier ... "Mount Tahoma" ... Mount Rainier National Park ... Eruption of November 13, 1843 ...
Image, 2003, Mount Rainier from Rainier, Oregon Mount Rainier, Washington, from Rainier, Oregon. Mount Rainier, Washington, with the city of Longview, Washington, in the foreground. Image taken from Oregon Highway-30, just downstream of Rainier, Oregon. Image taken February 11, 2004.

Mount Rainier ...
Mount Rainier, at 14,410 feet in elevation, covers 235,625 acres, and is the highest peak in the Cascade Range. It is third in volume, after Mount Shasta in California, and another Washington State volcano, Mount Adams. Mount Rainier is host to twenty-five separate, named glaciers, the largest single-peak glacier system in the United States outside of Alaska. Measurements of the movement of the Nisqually Glacier date from 1857. Geologists date Mount Rainier as approximately one million years old, with its last known eruption between 1820 and 1854.

Image, 2004, Mount Rainier and Vancouver Lake, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Mount Rainier and Vancouver Lake, Washington. Image taken February 11, 2004.
Image, 2004, Mount Rainier from Larch Mountain, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Mount Rainier from Larch Mountain, Oregon. Image taken October 11, 2004.

Naming of Mount Rainier ...
On May 8, 1792, Captain George Vancouver of the British Royal Navy anchored his ship near today's Port Townsend, Washington, and wrote in his log:

"... the round snowy mountain ... after my friend Rear Admiral Peter Rainier, I distinguished by the name of Mount Rainier ..." [Vancouver, May 18, 1792]

Peter Rainier was born in 1741 and entered the Royal Navy in 1756 at age 15. He rose through the British Navy ranks until his retirement in 1804. In 1805 he was advanced to the rank of Admiral, became a member of Parliament in 1807, and died in 1808.

In October 1792 Lieutenant Broughton of the Vancouver Expedition entered and explored the first 100 miles of the Columbia River.

"Mount Tacoma" ...
Indian names for Mount Rainier have been numerous, including "Takhoma", "Tahoma", "Ta-co-bet", "Ta-co-be", "Tu-ah-ku", and "Puak-coke". Many of the names used translated to mean "big mountain" or "snowy peak" or "place where the waters begin". For many years the peak was locally called "Mount Tacoma" or "Mount Tahoma" and claimed as "theirs" by the city of Tacoma. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names made "Mount Rainier" the official name in 1890 (note: 1890 date came from the GNIS database, Hitchman in Place Names of Washington says 1917). The Mount Tacoma/Rainier name debate continues.

Mount Rainier National Park ...
Mount Rainier National Park was established as the nations fifth National Park on May 2, 1899, after Yellowstone (established in 1872), Yosemite, General Grant (now part of Kings Canyon), and Sequoia (all established in 1890). In 1997 a part of the park was designated a National Historic Landmark District as an example of early park planning and National Park Service rustic architecture. One-hundred and twenty-eight buildings within the Park are on the National Register of Historic Places, and five buildings are National Historic Landmark Buildings.

Interesting Facts ...
In 1839 Hall J. Kelley tried unsuccessfully to change the name to "Mount William Henry Harrison" as part of a scheme to rename the Cascades to the "Presidential Range".

The first attempt to scale the peak was in 1857 by Lieutenant (later General) A.V. Kautz, of the American Army. Kautz climbed along the edge of a glacier (now the Kautz Glacier) and failed to reach the summit by only a few feet.

The first successful climb of the peak was in August 1870, when explorers Hazard Stevens and P.B. Van Trump reached the summit.

Eruption, November 13, 1843 ...
In 1843 Brevet Captain J.C. Fremont with the U.S. Exploring Expedition traversed the eastern part of the Columbia River. From Fremont's Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1842, and to Oregon and North California in the Years 1843-44, published 1845:

"... Wherever we came in contact with the rocks of these mountains, we found them volcanic, which is probably the character of the range; and at the time, two of the great snowy cones, Mount Regnier and St. Helens, were in action. On the 23d of the proceding November, St. Helens had scattered its ashes, like a light fall of snow, over the Dalles of the Columbia, 50 miles distant. A specimen of these ashes was given to me by Mr. Brewer, one of the clergymen at the Dalles. [Fremont, November 13, 1843] ..."

"St. Helens" is Mount St. Helens and "the Dalles of the Columbia" is today an Oregon city called The Dalles.

From the U.S. "Coast Survey" of 1862:

"... When off the entrance [of the Columbia River] in fine, clear weather, the beautiful snow peak of Mount St. Helens shows over the lowest part of the land inside, and apparently in the middle of the river valley. It is very regular in outline, and presents a pyramidal appearance, having a base equal to either side. It is over 75 miles eastward from the entrance to the river, and attains an estimated elevation of 13,500 feet. It is volcanic, and occasionally discharges volumes of smoke.

On the 23d of November, 1842, during an eruption, the ashes from it fell over the Dalles of the Columbia like a light fall of snow. On the 13th of November, 1843, St. Helens and Rainier were both in action. Humboldt erroneously states that this volcano is always smoking from the summit crater. ..."

View of Five Volcanoes ...
From the mouth of the Willamette River, Lewis and Clark spotted five volcanoes. Mount Jefferson, Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, Mount Rainier, and Mount Adams.

"... from the Columbia at the entrance of the Multnomah river Mount Jefferson bears S. E. this is a noble mountain. I think equally as high as Mount St. Helines but it's distance being much greater than that of the latter, so great a portion of it dose not appear above the range of mountains which lie betwen boath those stupendious mountains and this point of view. like mount St. Heleans it's figure is a regular cone and is covered with eternal snow. M. St. Heleans from the same point boar N [blank], Mount Hood due East, and Mount Ranier nearly North. there is also a very high humped mountain a little to the East of Mount St. Heleans which appears to lie in the same chain with those conic pointed mountains before mentioned ..." [Lewis, April 6, 1806]

Image, 2010, Mount Rainier as seen from Blurock Landing, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Mount Rainier, Washington, as seen from Blurock Landing, Vancouver, Washington. Blurock Landing lies across the river from the mouth of the Willamette River. Image taken March 19, 2010.
Image, 2004, Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens, Washington, from Blurock Landing, Washington Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens, Washington, from Blurock Landing, Vancouver, Washington. Mount St. Helens is to the right. Image taken February 11, 2004.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, November 4, 1805, first draft ...
... Mt. Ranier> Mount Hellen bears N. 25 E about 80 miles, this is the mountain we Saw near the foks of this river. it is emensely high and covered with Snow, riseing in a kind of Cone perhaps the highest pinecal from the common leavel in america ...

[Clark initially calls the peak Mount Rainier, and then corrects himself, however the Gass, Ordway, and Whitehouse journals continued to use "mount Rainy".]

Whitehouse, November 4, 1805 ...
... We discovered a mountain, which lay on the North side of the River, some distance back from it. It appeared to be round, and is called Mount Rainey [mistaken, Mount St. Helens, Washington]. We are not yet out of sight of Mount Hood [Mount Hood, Oregon], which from this place appears to be covered with Snow. ...

Clark, November 25, 1805, first draft ...
... The evening cloudy wind of to day Generally from the E S. E, Saw from near of last Campment Mount Ranier bearing _____ ...

[Once again Lewis and Clark have spotted Mount St. Helens and have called it Mount Rainier. Clark corrects this mistake in his final version.]

Clark, April 2, 1806 ...
... at the distance of 13 Miles below the last village [locality of Portland International Airport] and at the place I had Supposed was the lower point of the image Canoe island [Hayden Island], I entered this river which the nativs had informed us of, Called Mult no mah River [Willamette River] so called by the nativs from a Nation who reside on Wappato Island [Sauvie Island] a little below the enterance of this river. Multnomah [Willamette River] discharges itself in the Columbia on the S. E. and may be justly Said to be the Size of that noble river. Multnomah had fallen 18 inches from it's greatest annual height. three Small Islands are situated in it's mouth which hides the river from view from the Columbia.     from the enterance of this river [Willamette River] , I can plainly See Mt. Jefferson [Mount Jefferson, Oregon] which is high and Covered with snow S. E. Mt. Hood East [Mount Hood, Oregon], Mt St. Helians [Mount St. Helens, Washington] a high humped Mountain to the East of Mt St. Helians [Mount Adams, Washington, is east of Mount St. Helens]. I also Saw the Mt. Raneer [Mount Rainier, Washington] Nearly North. ...

IndexReturn to

*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

  • Hitchman, R., 1985, Place Names of Washington, Washington State Historical Society;
  • Sisson, T.W., 1995, History and Hazards of Mount Rainier, Washington, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 95-642;
  • U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) database, 2006;
  • U.S. National Park Service website, 2004, Mount Rainier National Park;

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
June 2019