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In the winter season that just continued to give to us ice and alpine climbers, we tried to zero in on another objective. We had always heard "The Pencil" come up as the obvious unclimbed line on the north side of Mt. Hood.
My buddy Tim Bemrich and I were debating objectives one winter weekend. Portland had been in a serious cold spell and many climbers were taking advantage of a freshly frozen over Columbia River Gorge scene. We debated joining in the Gorge fun, but we both had slightly bigger ambitions for this weather window. It seemed like a great, and somewhat rare, opportunity to finally check out the mysterious Black Spider Headwall on Mt. Hood.
On any sunny spring weekend the easy access to Mt. Hood's Timberline Lodge lures throngs of people looking to slog and ski their way up the iconic mountain. But venture away from the South Side to any other point on the compass and your chances of seeing another soul are greatly reduced.
At 9,543 ft, Illumination Rock juts out of the Southwest side of Mt. Hood and creates an obvious landmark visible whenever the mountain is. Recently a friend sent me this entry from the book "Oregon Geographic Names":
ILLUMINATION ROCK, Clackamas County. On this rock occurred the first successful illumination of Mt. Hood. This illumination was part of the Independence Day celebration in Portland on July 4, 1887. Will G. Steel organized a party that carried one hundred pounds of red fire to this rock and the light was seen as far as the mountain was visible.
I had no idea that this was how Illumination Rock was named and think it would have been really awesome to have seen this. For some reason I think the Forest Service would probably frown on a re-enactment, especially since I-Rock sits in the Mt. Hood Wilderness area.
This blog post goes into significantly more detail about the first and subsequent illuminations (the first even made the New York Times!) Interestingly the Steel Cliffs are named after the man in charge of the original efforts, William Gladstone Steel.
Illumination Rock is also home to some fantastic mixed climbing and makes a worthy day trip destination from Portland during the winter and spring.