How Tall is Mt Rainier?

Mt Rainier USGS Benchmark (Souvenir)This may be a subject that very few people care about at all, but for the people who do care, this answer to this question can stir up quite a debate. How tall is Mt. Rainier? Is it 14,410 feet or 14,411 feet tall? The Tacoma News Tribune has written a lengthy piece (~1750 words) called "Taking the measure of a mountain" which tries to answer this question.

If you were to ask around, most long-time climbers and hikers in the Pacific Northwest would tell you that the mountain is 14,410, because "that's the way it's always been". Well, at least it's been that way longer than most folks can remember (it's been the official measurement as recorded by the USGS since 1956). But more recent, more accurate, and more high-tech measurements taken within the last ten years have put the mountain height at 14,411. What difference does a foot make? Why does anyone care? I'm not sure, but I can tell you that I'm one of those guys who, when asked, would say Rainier is 14,410. Besides, saying "fourteen, four-ten" just rolls right off the tongue, try it!

And, I'm privy to super secret park service information that may sway your opinion about the official height. When I was working as a Park Ranger in Olympic National Park, I worked with a fellow who had been a Climbing Ranger within Mt. Rainier National Park. He told me that the year the most recent GPS measurement was made that put the height at 14,411, he and another ranger climbed to the top of the mountain with their snow shovels and removed a foot of snow from the summit. Problem solved! Your entrance fee dollars at work! :-) Well, I guess that probably didn't adjust the official measurement, but at least symbolically, they put the height of Rainier back to 14,410 where it belongs.

One other interesting note that I picked up from the Tacoma News Tribune article was that the USGS does not have a benchmark at the highest point of Mt Rainier's summit. The USGS benchmark is actually at 14,399 which is the highest point they could find a permanent rocky-outcrop for their marker. The USGS 14,410 comes from measurements taken from this 14,399 benchmark. Part of the reason I find this interesting is because there are replica souvenirs for sale which claim the benchmark is at the 14,410 elevation (see attached photo at the top of this article). The description of this souvenir at this website even claims that it is a "replica of geographic location marker at actual site". Think of all those poor tourists duped into thinking that there is a USGS marker up there at the very pinnacle of the mountain. No need to go upsetting them I guess, let's just keep that last detail a secret. Besides, who's really going to care if it's measurement is only a few feet off?