“Girl you thought he was a MAN, but he was a MUFFIN, da dum DUM”.  Alex’s words echoed around the chamber as a man-sized rock crashed down five feet away from me, exploding into a hundred pieces that continued their report all the way to the scree cone 120 ft below.  We had decided that the large pillar deserved to be trundled now, rather than waiting for it to fall on us later, so I had moved the rope, and myself, to where we’d hoped it wouldn’t land.  If there’s one thing I learned today, it’s that there’s really no predicting such things, but in this case, I was lucky.

Illumination Rock

Illumination Rock, Spring Conditions (the snow is now gone).

We decided a few days ago that a climb of Illumination Rock, an iconic local alpine climb, would be a great way to cap off a summer and lead us into the school year (starting tomorrow) on the right foot.  If you’d like to follow along, two hours of walking up dusty trail from the parking lot will get you to the top of the Timberline ski resort, which is miraculously and hilariously still running in the last days of August.  Its one run is mostly populated by racing camps, though some learners do seem to slip their way down the sides as well.  From there, strap on those gaiters and grab your ski poles, as it’s another one and three quarters hours up nasty scree slopes to the base of the climb.  Oh, and you’ll need to cross a few glaciers that have melted down to concrete, with aggregate pebbles embedded in the blue ice.  I’ve never traveled on a glacier covered in running water before, but boy is it a treat.

Once you’re around the corner and inside the chamber that dominates the base of Illumination, the vast majority of climbers go left, up a brief spit of poor rock to better rock above.  But nay, we choose to go right, up a brief spit of poor rock to even more poor rock above.  Don’t like a hold? Put it back! Or better still, chuck it over your shoulder so that never again will it insult a climber seeking security.  Four exploratory pitches will lead you past one fixed piton and a whole lot o’ trundled flakes (Pancake breakfast?) to the ridgeline.  From here, traverse across to the summit block and sign your name, while standing next to the weird hole-through-the-mountain flatteringly termed the skylight.

From here, the views of the Reid glacier were amazing– great twisting crevasses stretching wide, revealing the layers of the year’s snowpack in ominous, gaping yawns.  Above, the rock of the Reid headwall and Leuthold’s couloir shone the blues and oranges and yellows of volcanic minerals usually hidden shyly away by a season’s snowpack, as orrographic lift drove wispy clouds rapidly upwards in curling spirals around the ridge and up through the skylight, making the air rich and damp.  Fear and beauty mixed are an inspiring drink that can drive you out of your shell and on to greater things.  On this high perch these things are in ample supply, donated by the devil or by heaven, it’s hard to say.

The descent is a prayer, repelling off bundles of ancient slings and then pulling the rope ever-so-gently, yet not-gently-enough to avoid unleashing a shower of rocks from above.  Dodging rocks is a sport that you can get used to, but never want to.  With feet back on unconslidated scree, good cheer and a second wind let me navigate my way back through the glacier in a cloudy fog, and Alex managed quite sportingly to re-discover an amazing treasure that I had unearthed on the way up.  Traveling upwards through the scree fields I had discovered a water cache which contained, to my elation, a full 22oz bottle of Rogue Dead Guy Ale.  At this very moment it is chilling in the fridge.

You may descend quite quickly- ruining the freshly groomed ski runs by glissading and stomping your way down their sweet-corduroy center.  Once at your car, behave as if you’ve just concluded a normal day, no sweat.  As soon as the memory fades or as your bottle of scavenged beer is chilled, dream up another adventure.