Friday, March 28, 2014

Some things I like about Index

Mt. Index - source google.
Over the last couple decades I’ve managed to climb more than work, placing greater emphasis on free time, than cultivating my work resume.  Within the tidal flow of seasons, I’d regularly disappear on month long road-trips, to escape our pervasively depressing rain, and explore new areas; and while savoring exciting destinations like The Needles, Joshua Tree, The South Platte, Yosemite, Cathedral Ledge, Little Cottonwood, Squamish and countless others, I was often reminded of one thing:  Index is about as good as granite gets.  Admittedly, I’m reluctant to stamp superlatives like “best”; since this is merely opinion, affected by my own bias and quirky metric.  But, nevertheless, after many a pilgrimage, I can state that Index is my favorite, and for a number of reasons.  Here are some.

The Upper Wall & Cheeks
Gorgeous surroundings:  Like clockwork, almost every winter there are periods of high pressure, displacing the tyranny of leaden skies, dank, and drizzle, which by and large reign supreme.  Overhead, oppressive gray transcends into electric blue, and the softened rays of a southern sun, paint the Skykomish valley with a revealing brush, highlighting a tapestry of rounded corners, arêtes and mesmerizing texture, hillsides peppered in glowing evergreens.  Thanks to its Southern aspect, the walls dry quickly, and with a vigorous SE wind, can dry out surprisingly fast, yielding excellent winter climbing conditions.  It is during these lucky streaks that I find myself most spellbound by Index.   Between the months of December and March, Mt. Index is absolutely plastered in a wintry wardrobe –its ice chutes, towering buttresses, fluted ribs and colossal scale dominating the southern expanse.  From the town walls, one need just turn around, and breathe in the awe-inspiring relief and tonic like aesthetic. 

Fine Grain stone: Granite at Index is strikingly fine grained.  So what, you say?  Firstly, it is very gentle on the skin.  For many of the crack climbs, this readily increases the enjoyment of sinking those perfect jams, like the ones found just above the crux on Thin Fingers; whose dimensions are like a fine wine; and so every time I go back to them, they seem to get better and better.  But for those equally prolific face climbs, it frankly just hurts less pulling on edges here than when compared to places like Joshua Tree, a place proliferated with flesh sawing crystals the size of tick tacks.  Additionally, the fine grain, which is almost like coarse sandstone makes the perfect canvass for footwork; and it is not unusual to find countless variations regarding smearing and edging possibilities.  In the winter, the rock almost feels like Velcro.  This quality lends dance like feeling to the overall movement; with exception to times when one is thrutching some desperate mantle, foot cranked up at head level, trying not to tip over backwards, while essentially doing a one legged squat.

Even Steven
Unique crux moves:  Years ago, a good friend and brilliant climber, said bluntly, “Index is nothing but a circus trick”.  At the time, he was on his way to that magic 5.14 grade, and was dedicated to acquiring a manifold skill set; which included friction slabs, cracks, boulders, and fingery test pieces.  His premise proposed that hard routes at Index have very little correlation to climbing hard anywhere else, and was therefore an end in itself.  Over the years, I’ve often reflected back on this statement, trying to weigh it in light of my own experience.  After consideration, I think the idea that Index doesn’t instill usable skills is balderdash.

Ultimately, when you compare crux moves of routes like Numbah Ten, Stern Farmer, Blue in the Face, and Narrow Arrow Overhang, you will find highly specific movement, that honestly, are not likely to be encountered anywhere else. But, that said, I think climbers learn lots about balance, friction limits, problem solving, bizarre flare chicanery, and learning how to go for it on terrain where natural gear or fall potential seem scary. 
The Iron Horse Slot.
These things can be applied.  If you do well at Index, I think other granite areas will become more transparent (the caveat being actual meat and potatoes crack climbing).  While there is a flow and cadence to the climbing, the crux moves are often unrivaled puzzlers; and as a result, I’m never bored because individual routes often have some unique & bizarre crux move. It is interesting to observe the fact that over half of the pitches at Index are fully bolted sport routes. But, you won’t often see the Little Si sport phene out here, presumably because it is just too slabby, and certainly not because there are too few bolts.

Heaps of challenging routes: Although Index is known for its sand-baggery, and I am inclined to rant here...let's just leave this notorious subject for an independent entry.  Suffice it to say, there are loads of technically difficult routes sprinkled amongst the many walls.  And, this winter, as I’ve analyzed the pages of Clint’s and Darryl’s guide books, and new routes reported on Mountain Project, I came to the conclusion that I’ve only scratched the surface of Index climbing. 

The Old Bus. RIP.

Thin Fingers.
This has me all fired up!  Seriously, I feel like a kid in a candy store.  Like many, the bulk of my experience is circumscribed to the Lower Wall-- the easy goods.  By easy, I don’t mean a walk in the park, I mean ease of access, convenience.  Let’s be honest, nobody breaks a sweat approaching the lower wall, which is one of the reasons it is so universally popular, aside from the fact it is stacked with awesome routes.  But, now that I’ve done most of the routes that catch my fancy here, I’ll have to start hiking for new route experience. 

In my giddiness, I’m torn between stoke to try old routes like Rise and Fall, Technicians, and Good Girls -- versus scouting for new routes, and examining abandoned projects, to which there are a significant number.  Despite my psyche, I know it will take more than words to start ticking these climbs.  5.11, 5.12 –which is the hallmark grade for Index often takes me lots of work.  Conditions, dirt, irrational fear, flying objects, runouts, humbled ego, reaches, and partner availability are all factors.  I love that about this place.  

little jupiter

What are your favorite things about Index?  I’d love to know.
Green Drag-on


  1. I'll be the first to join the raving about Index. I don't think I was the one who called Index a circus trick, but it sure sounds like something I would have said. I learned everything I know about climbing at Index. Well, there and at the UW Rock. Index is still the king for me. I find myself comparing every other climbing venue to the quality and challenge of the LTW. What I like best is the technical mastery required to climb well at Index. Unless I know it to be straight-forward, I hardly ever take any pitch at Index for granted the first time I try it. Joshua Tree has some of the same mystique, which is why I love the climbing there as well. I really appreciate a place where, after a certain point, you can just as well forget about the grade of a climb and approach it almost without expectation, almost with a sense of innocent curiosity. Then there's all those other things you talked about, like that it's kind of pretty there and stuff. The fact that you can't climb there anytime you want because of the weather? I think us WA folks appreciate that. The fat, injury-dark winter endeth and the Index season approacheth.

  2. Cheers to Index. I've only been climbing there 3 seasons, but I feel like most of what I know about Granite I learned about Index. It's also a great place to learn about climbers, not just climbing! The grades, combined with the overall quality of the routes, seem to breed a humble crowd of happy patrons, who really offer genuine enthusiasm to climbers of all grades. In a sense, all is equal in Index under the umbrella of superb quality.

    This summer, working on the new book with Matt, I hope to see you out there, Ben, working some of those abandoned old aid lines, cleaning up new projects, and sending old classics! Take care, and see you in a month or two! Thanks for the write-up.

  3. Love the comments Drew & Chris. Keep em' rolling for any of you other Index aficionados.

  4. I agree with what Ben said about the moves - the oft-used phrase "the usual Index trickery" comes to mind. But in addition to all that's been said above, I'm attracted by the lengths of the cracks. At Index, you get to do real crack jamming, but you don't get bored doing the same jam for 200 feet. I mean, you get the pleasure of doing great jam moves, moving along a striking line, but then you get to do something else.

    The bad thing about Index, the way that moss and bush overtakes the faces and cracks, has some positive aspects too. Index (like Squamish) might just produce the best route-cleaners anywhere. And because I can go there, find a new line, work like mad to clean it and produce a popular route, I feel like Index is my own personal place.

    Nice posting Ben.

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