On clear days, Mount Rainier appears in the backgrounds of our photos of friends and family atop the Space Needle in Seattle, on the deck of a passenger ferry steaming across Puget Sound, or in the outfield bleachers at Cheney Stadium during a Tacoma Rainiers baseball game. This speckled and serrated photo-bomber is a silent, benevolent, and beautiful presence entwined with our daily lives.
But the mountain also is mercurial and duplicitous.
Since 1897, more than 400 people have died on and around Mount Rainier, according to records compiled by the National Park Service.
Climbing and hiking are the most common final activities for doomed visitors, together claiming more than 150 lives due to ice and snow avalanches, rock falls and slides, exposure, hypothermia, over exertion, and falls.
Six climbers were killed in 2014, leaving behind a shredded scramble of tents, clothes, and gear, as well as the eerie pings of avalanche beacon signals fastened to their bodies buried beneath a tangle of ice, snow, and rocks. Similarly, snow and ice snapped free from Ingraham Glacier in 1981, producing an avalanche that pushed 11 climbers into a crevasse and to their deaths.
The mountain also has claimed its share of aviators, with nearly six-dozen lives lost due to plane crashes. Twelve military personnel were killed in three separate plane crashes on Mount Rainier between 1965 and 1983.
Curious incidents also have been reported. A man died in 1897 after he accidentally dropped his own gun, firing a bullet into his neck.
So, the next time you catch a glimpse of Mount Rainier on a clear day, consider this natural beauty in all its complicated facets — both majestic and menacing.