After climbing Mount Rainier in 1888, the naturalist John Muir wrote: “at last there stood the mountain, wholly unveiled, awful in bulk and majesty, filling all the view like a separate, new-born world.” Compare that to my friend from the East Coast who never fell into the locals’ way of referring to the mountain. She called it “Bub.” Instead of “the mountain is out,” she’d more likely say, “Hey, look. It’s Bub.” Which is one way of saying that that looming presence, whether seen on the horizon or on its slopes, inescapably commands a response, awestruck or otherwise.
The mountain serves as our geographic Rorschach, a destination that symbolizes our aspirations, imaginings, and sense of place. Every year, Mount Rainier National Park draws two million visitors and over 10,000 climbers who attempt the 14,410-foot summit. The popularity of that ascent is directly attributable to two Seattleites profiled in this issue, Jim and Lou Whittaker, who first began guiding climbs up the mountain when they were college students in the late ’40s and early ’50s. Only about half the people who aspire to reach the top actually succeed. As one current Rainier guide reveals in these pages, turning around partway up produces surprising psychological effects. And completely coincidental to the timing of our issue on the park, senior editor Allison Williams, who wrote most of our cover story, plans to climb the mountain this August. She’s been scaling Mount Si and clambering up and down stairways on the side of north Capitol Hill all summer to get ready. We’ll be rooting for her.
Perhaps the most difficult task—in a good way—of putting together this issue was choosing a cover image. The options were literally endless: the peak against deep blue sky, the peak at dusk, the peak at dawn, the peak reflected upside down in a lake, the peak emerging mysteriously above the clouds, historic photos, and on and on. In the end, we fell for a picture of the Skyline trail taken last August by one of our regular photographers, Andrew Waits. The 5.5-mile loop is easily reached from the parking lot at Paradise, can be hiked by people of almost any age or ability, and yet still affords eye-popping views of wildflowers, glaciers, and the peak itself. It’s everybody’s mountain, after all.