The Challenge of Rainier: A Record of the Explorations and Ascents, Triumphs and Tragedies on One of North America’s Greatest Mountains

Dee Molenaar, The Mountaineers Books, 4th Edition, 2011, 430 pages

The definitive book concerning the mountaineering history and essence of Mount Rainier is Dee Molenaar’s The Challenge of Rainier. Originally published in 1971, a fully revised and highly readable edition was recently published to commemorate the 40th anniversary.

For anyone with any level of interest in Mount Rainier, this book is required reading. It provides a thorough review and well-researched history of the mountaineering exploration of Mount Rainier and the immediate region, complete with detailed stories of climbing tragedies and triumphs. Written by the person who is considered the authority of all things Rainier, Molenaar adds his renowned landform artwork along with many noteworthy photographs to this masterpiece. In addition to serving as the authoritative historical reference of Mount Rainier, the book is also the story of a man’s infatuation and love for the mountain and the meaningful relationships it has fostered in his life.

The book begins with an overview of the geology and climbing environment of the mountain, including information on the glacier system, snowfall, and weather.  It then tells the stories of the discoveries and early explorations of the first Europeans to explore the mountain.  An early chapter discusses the early mountaineering attempts, including the first successful ascent in 1870 by Hazard Stevens and Philemon Beecher Van Trump.

The writing emphasizes how the mountain environment both creates meaning for people and is also continually changing.  For example, Molenaar states, “Mount Rainier is many things to many people.  It forever is changing in mood and aspect, as directed by sometimes dramatic, sometime subtle, changes in weather, cloud cover, and play of light and shadow across ridges and snowfields.”

In the final chapter titled In Retrospect, Molenaar reflects on his 70 years of experiences on the mountain. Molenaar writes, “In the final analysis, the full enjoyment of mountain climbing includes a basic joy in experiencing and being in contact with the natural world of rock and ice, a love of physical exertion and of good companionship, and a challenging objective.”

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