A few weeks ago, climbing couple on Rainier thought they found the global warming coup of the century: They found the USGS summit marker on top, seemingly melted out of the ice on the summit cap. They snapped a few pics and sent them to 350.org, a climate-change action group, where noted environmental author Bill McKibben posted them as sobering evidence of climate change's toll on our natural world.
Only one problem: The summit marker didn't actually melt out of the ice. United States Geological Survey scientists note that Rainier's summit marker was never on the snow and ice of the actual summit; it had been placed in the rocks below Columbia Crest on the crater's rim. USGS surveyor Larry Signani, who remeasured the summit in 1999, thinks someone just moved it to the top. When he looked for it in 1988, the marker was missing.
But that doesn't mean the mountain isn't changing from climate change. Everyone from casual observers to climbing guides to renowned former lead climbing ranger Mike Gautier has noticed drastic changes: new bare spots, beer cans, and even cremated remains of people.
"Last summer, there was a big crack opening on the summit itself," said Mike Gauthier, former lead climbing ranger for Mount Rainier National Park. "I've never seen that before. "In my opinion, the summit ice cap is definitely lower."
"I think crazy stuff is going to start popping out," said (climbing guide John) Race, who has climbed the mountain 149 times. "There's a lot of missing people on Mount Rainier."
Creepy. Just in time for Halloween, Rainier just got a whole lot scarier.