Matt is lounging next to me – the poster boy of leisure. An ex-caterpillar touches down in the snow and slowly flaunts its Daedalian wings. There isn’t a cloud in the sky, but a faint breeze keeps our snowy La – Z – Boy recliner comfortable in the sun. I can’t remember the last time climbing was this easy.
As the day wears on and the recliner becomes a slush bucket, our first monarch friend disappears into a sea of fluttering black and orange. Perched on a lip of a glowing blue fissure in the Hotlum Glacier, this hardly seems the place for a butterfly. And yet, they seem to persevere in their random-walk migration towards the summit.
“What business do you butterflies have above 12,000’? Aren’t you supposed to be on an epic migratory journey that will last most of your lives?” I berate the nearest. She has little interest in the conversation.
Matt assumes the mantle of spokesman: “It must be something to do with the Lumerians. Or that military base below the Konwakiton.”
“Must be. Or maybe the Atlantians are behind it. They did kidnap that climber on the summit last month.”
The time has come for another lap, so I rappel into the crevasse, tools tinkling like Swiss cowbells in the near distance. Stepping down below the short roof, I am yet again committing to pull and scratch myself out. I could never lie enough to say I am submerged into another world, never bow enough to hyperbole to say I am on the other side of the aquarium wall staring at all that ice, but, then again, maybe I could. Faintly glowing ice sits before me, and above me, and behind me and below me. My anchor is made of ice. The walls are made of ice. I am surrounded, looking up, in a frozen sea. Perhaps this is how Moses felt, parting the curtains of immense forces beyond his control.
Below me, through cracks in the snow bridge, I see the dim twinkle of ice forever, falling away at impossible angles into the darkness. The Mad Hatter’s metronome, the polyrhythmic drip of melting ice, remind me of the task at hand – climbing ice. The beautifully smooth glacial ice above me won’t hang around forever.
Slowly rotating in my harness, floating in free space, tools hanging from my shoulders, the slick glass does not look like it extends for fractured miles. It is shallow, plastered onto a substrate I cannot see. Clearly translucent. I can see bubbles and the dark veins and contortions within, but it has a Wile – E – Coyote tunnel three-dimensionality.
Gliding slowly and gracelessly up, I shatter the ice in front of me in pursuit of the top. I hump myself, grunting and growling, over the roof, and successfully pull another lap. A monarch flits by my face and the sun is hot. Hotter than the crevasse. It takes a supreme effort to remove my gloves, but the bucket seat awaiting me is reward enough. There is an embargo on clouds today and the wind is on its best behavior after the gales of last week. The only movement I see are these reckless butterflies migrating up the mountain. Welcome to the beach.
Sitting on a tailgate at Kootenay Pass, the January sun is setting, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell. It has been storm-gloomy for days. I know exactly how this delicious snow washes over me without having to look. We have been visually insulated within our own tiny domain. The horizon of our world is 50 feet and the echoes of our laughter. Save the occasional, hardy minivan flying by on the highway far below, this snow globe is our own.
Jim and I end up running laps on a dinky little ridge. The photos won’t look good on the blog. Who gives a shit. The snow is light and fluffy and we have only met one person, a very nice Quebecois in plaid and snowshoes. He told us to have some fun for him. We are doing our best. The snow continues to fall delicately, coating everything in sight in a heavy coat. The berm in the parking lot is probably ten feet tall.
It has not really stopped snowing in eleven days. Walking down the street in Nelson, Queen City of the Kootenay’s, two women commiserate that during that hour of half-hearted sunlight we got last week, neither of them could dig up their sunnies. The generator keeps failing at the local ski area. Fledgling pines are bent double from recent snowfall. Others have been entombed in rime ice until spring. Though the light fades at night, days do not pass. Time moves slower than the falling flakes.
I think this is what love feels like, wholehearted and babbling. I cannot stop idiot-grinning.
Matt is Grendel-screaming his way up a challenging variation in our crevasse and a butterfly lands near my foot, flaunting its gossamer dress. This must be the exhibitionist subspecies, but I can hardly blame them. Their wings are beautiful on the melting snow. Maybe the truth is I’m an insect voyeur.
Apart from fire season haze filling the low valleys, I can see almost to the end of California. Many of the diminutive hills below us have had large chunks bitten from them. We can’t all be A Major Cascade Volcano I suppose. Beyond our perch, all I can see are the greens of a million pines yet unfelled. Even on the glacier I hear the summer soundtrack of bugs and their orchestral cicada backing.
An ice tool suddenly appears at the lip of the crevasse, accompanied by a final, hellacious snort. Matt is unable to pull the gloves off of his hands, but he gives it an honest effort. The hurdle is getting the grasping fingers close enough together to grab the glove. Grinning, we relax and watch the butterflies. The sun warms our wet gloves. I clench my hands into fists, wringing some water out of them. I feel the temptation to go shirtless, but there isn’t enough sunscreen in the world for a maneuver like that and a chest like this.
Being up here, swinging tools, letting the ice shards fall over me, I forgot that it’s July. Looking up Shasta at a tight couloir I skied the month before, I can only see a jumble of rock and patches of snow. For probably the fourth time that day, I point out the couloir.
“It was so much fun. I was screaming. Hero corn, dude. I was worried someone would call SAR because of the screaming. I couldn’t stop. Has to be a top-five run for me.”
After some conversational transitions I would be ashamed to relate, jumping crevasses on skis comes up. It’s a pretty one-sided conversation. At least we’re not talking about work. I again invite him to Utah this winter, again remind him that he should come to Utah, really.
“I think you’re a winter person, Spencer.”
I drop back into the crevasse for one more taste of the frozen world.