28 August 2010

[liff] Seattle And The Mountain

Both Seattle and Portland have their signature skylines, featuring gorgeous, inspiring volcanoes.

In the case of Portland, of course, it's Wy'east (Mt. Hood). In the case of Seattle, if one really has to be told, it's Tahoma - Mt. Rainier.

Seattle and Mount Rainier, 2010
photo copyright SJK

One thing this Oregonian has never been unimpressed by is the sheer visual size of Rainier. Of course, there's the simple and inarguable fact that Rainier is simply a rather larger peak than Hood; 14,440 ft/4,392m vs. Hood's 11,249 feet/3,249m. Turns out there's just a little more than that, though.

There's a thing called visual prominence. One of the hallmarks of a memorable peak is not only that it's big but how head-and-shoulders about its surroundings it is. The difference between the peak's top altitude and the highest "col", ridge connecting it to its nearby surroundings - the difference between the highest high point and the highest low point adjacent to that mountain.

As it occurs, Rainier's geographical prominence is 13,211 feet. Not only is it big, it remarkably stands out from its surroundings. Comparing with our beautiful Wy'east, Mount Hoods prominence is a mere 7,706 feet - scarcely more than half. Meaning that despite Hood's height, its surroundings are also high - meaning it stands out less.

This is, of course, not to say that one is necessarily better, or that I'd rather wake up on a regular basis in Seattle; I'm a Portland kid until I assume room temperature. But it does explain why the first thing you get impressed with when you see Rainier from a distance is how freaking huge it seems. Not only is it big, but because of its high degree of prominence, it doesn't have much visual competition.

There is design lessons to be learned here. They're yours for the finding, though I may write about those later.

One more fun fact: The prominence of Rainier exceeds even that of the planet's second-highest peak - K2 - by just 22 feet.

Photo Location: Space Needle Observation Deck, Seattle, Washington

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