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Geologic Publications for Mount Rainier

Mining Glacier Basin: History of the Glacier Basin Mining District, Mount Rainier National Park

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Author(s): Greg C. Burtchard, Jacqueline Y. Cheung, Robert N. McIntyre

Document Type: Unpublished Report
Publisher: Mount Rainier National Park
Published Year: 2017
Pages: 183
DOI Identifier:
ISBN Identifier:

Because of uplifted geological exposures, mountains have long attracted miners in search of commercially valuable minerals. Mount Rainier is no exception. Its great height and massive breadth dominate west-central Washington's Cascade Mountain landscape – a siren beckoning to those seeking mining wealth at the close of the 19th Century.

Used seasonally by Native American populations for thousands of years, Mount Rainier became a focus of prospecting activity in the late 19th Century. Even though it generally disappointed in the end, the mountain's mining allure was difficult to resist in those early days. Its rugged terrain, deeply dissected river valleys, exposed side-wall slopes, and high mountain basins appealed to would-be miners and entrepreneurs moving west with the rapidly expanding American agro-industrial system – a process accelerated by the Alaskan Klondike gold rush via the Port of Seattle in the late 1800s.

By the time Mount Rainier National Park was founded in 1899, over 100 mining claims had been filed at various points around the mountain.

Located at about 6,000 feet on Mount Rainier's northeastern slope, Glacier Basin was the most prominent of the many locations where mineral wealth was sought. As early as 1896-1897, prospectors and miners followed trails up the White River and its Inter Fork tributary to stake over 40 claims, and their dreams of riches, along the seam between old and young Mount Rainier sediments exposed in Glacier Basin's valley walls. Figure 1.1 above shows the basin landscape as it appeared in 2013. Figure 1.2 shows its location, and the position of the White River Road that served it, in the still-young Mount Rainier National Park in 1919.

With sharply defined contrasts in elevation and color, and a commanding view-scape to the east, Glacier Basin's physical setting is visually stunning. While in retreat for some time, the basin's steep walls were carved by the Inter Fork glacier; still a prominent feature in the early 1900s as can be seen in this book's cover photo. The receding glacier, rain, and summer snow-melt feeds Inter Fork Creek; a White River tributary stream that flows though the center of the basin. Figure 1.1 shows the Inter Fork floodplain and boulder outwash transported by exceptionally vigorous flood events. A small meadow and pot-hole lake rests at the foot of the basin just below tree-line in the historical location of Mount Rainier Mining Company's Lower Camp.

As can be seen in Figure 1.1, patchy subalpine forest covers the basin's lower slopes; giving way at higher elevation to steep and barren upper valley walls. These high valley walls, perhaps better than anywhere else on Mount Rainer, expose yellowish-brown sediments linked to the granitic Tatoosh Pluton (intermittently bearing copper and a variety of other commercially-valued minerals) overlain by gray andesitic rock associated with geologically younger (and mineral poor) Mount Rainier proper.

In a sense, Glacier Basin's mining history and the 20th Century begin together. While a number of Glacier Basin claims were filed in the late 1800s, very little had been done to test their mineral content; and virtually no effort had been undertaken to extract and transport ore out of the basin through the mountain's rugged and roadless terrain. The situation began to change in 1902 when Enumclaw residents Peter Storbo and his uncle, Bernt Korssjoen, purchased over 40 previously filed Glacier Basin mining claims. Within a few years, they had established the Mount Rainier Mining Company and begun selling stock to finance their copper mining venture. Mount Rainier Mining Company (MRMC) was to remain a presence in Glacier Basin for the next 80 years; outlasting all the other mining operations as the last private inholding in Mount Rainier National Park. The park finally acquired ownership of MRMC's patented claims in 1984.

Despite a robust beginning, most mining activities in Glacier Basin ended well before final National Park Service acquisition of MRMC holdings. The active and optimistic years of the early 20th Century faded in the late 1920s amidst legal entanglements and the effects of the Great Depression that soon followed. Attempts to revive the mines in World War II, and again in the 1950s, led to only limited short-term success. By the 1980s, most of the tunnels had long-since collapsed or been covered by landslide debris. Most mine-related structures had collapsed. Abandoned machinery lay scattered and rusting. Even so, mining related artifacts and features, along with archival documents, remain to tell the Glacier Basin story. It is this story, the history of mining in Glacier Basin, that is the subject of this book.

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Suggested Citations:
In Text Citation:
Burtchard and others (2017) or (Burtchard et al., 2017)

References Citation:
Burtchard, G.C., J.Y. Cheung, and R.N. McIntyre, 2017, Mining Glacier Basin: History of the Glacier Basin Mining District, Mount Rainier National Park: Unpublished Report, Mount Rainier National Park, 183 p..