Insider's Guide To Climbing Index's Under-The-Radar Gems

This post originally appeared on Blake Herrington's blog, blakeclimbs.blogspot.com.

Living only 65 miles from Index, Wash., I’ve become a frequent visitor in my two and a half years of Leavenworth residency. Even with only a few hours to climb, it’s a perfect spot for solo TR laps or a quick after-work stop. Often I’ll get asked about climbing around my home in Leavenworth, to which I will rave about the bouldering, rave about the alpine climbing and say that for roped days, I head to Index.

Sure, 65 miles is a bit of a drive, but with Stevens Pass marking the halfway point, I can combine climbing with skiing or merely observe the changing seasons. And unlike driving from Seattle, I don't have to pause at a single stoplight, stop sign, interchange or traffic jam. Unlike many of the Leavenworth crags, the longest approach is 25 minutes on a very nice trail, so even living in Leavenworth, I can get to the Upper Town Wall faster than I can make it to many of our "local" climbs.

To many climbers, Index sports a three- or four-month climbing season. But the walls are, in fact, climbable 12 months out of the year. Last winter, within a few days of climbing a 1000-foot lowland ice climb, I spent a sunny 17-degree afternoon cragging at the Lower Town Wall with Ben "Crusher" Gilkison, while the upper wall sported a 400-foot ice dagger which crashed to the ground at mid-day. In winter, there are no leaves on the trees, the low southern sun beats onto the wall all day, and the friction is at its peak. I’ve developed an advanced case of what Ben calls "Lower Wall Syndrome.” In light of the guidebook aspirations of my friend Matt Van Biene, I wanted to describe a few pitches which never get climbed solely for lack of information—and provide a quick list of routes ranked by difficulty.

The obscure-for-no-good-reason routes
Each of these is a three- or four-star classic.

P3 of Japanese Gardens (5.11a)
Everyone and their mom has climbed the classic Godzilla-P2City Park-Slow Children linkup. Next time you’re standing at the base of Slow Children, simply do a belayed walk about 35 feet to the left, and you’ll find yourself beneath another stellar finger crack, similar to Slow Children, which pulls an awesome roof and uses the same rack you've already got. This is called P3 of Japanese Gardens. It is just as good as Slow Children, but gets 1 percent the traffic, and needs more.

Leaping Lizards (5.10)
Ever want to go hang a rope on Natural Log Cabin or Narrow Arrow Overhang? How about access two awesome 5.10 crack pitches that nobody ever does? (NAD P2, P3) Simply looking for a another warmup? (easily linked through Godzilla in a 50-meter pitch) From Godzilla, step immediately right, clip a bolt, and then follow the crack and corner up and right, passing a couple more bolts and some gear placements, leading to a memorable final move. This belay ledge allows one to scramble a few meters right and reach the belay between the next two routes.

Pitch 2 and Pitch 3 of Narrow Arrow Direct (5.10b, 5.10d)
Although the first pitch of NAD is 5.12c with a powerful bit of climbing up top, the next two pitches are splitter moderates that take perfect gear the whole way. They are never climbed. Access by climbing Shirley and stepping left, climbing Leaping Lizards and belayed scrambling right, or climbing Thin Fingers and belayed scrambling left.

Batskins P2 (5.11d)
Some bolts and some gear, some crack climbing and some face moves, some steep bits and a touch of slab, this pitch has the goods. Get to the base of it by rapping 35 feet down and hard left from atop Godzilla. Or lead all of P1 (5.12b).

Sagi-Horse (5.10+/5.11-)
Climb Sagittarius to the second anchor, then climb out the Iron Horse roof, on the left. This is labeled 5.11+ or 5.12a depending on the guidebook, but it's not that hard. Finishing via the left side of the roof also makes for a straighter rope line and less zig-zaggery.

Grades: Index should stay uniformly sandbagged. It should just be internally-consistently-sandbagged. That is to say, a 5.12b ought to be a touch easier to redpoint than a 5.12c, which is a touch easier than a 5.12d. They can still all be harder than a 5.13 in Indian Creek or a 5.14 in Tensleep, and that's ok. Ben Gilkison, one of the most accomplished LTW climbers ever, had this to say in regards to the grades after putting up a new route over the winter:

“Regarding its grade, it felt around 12d to me, give or take.  Who knows though, perhaps it is only like 11d, like everything else at Index -wink.  Officially, I'm calling it 5.12, so nobody thinks I'm a fluffer.  In comparison, I thought it harder than routes like Numbah Ten, Narrow Arrow Direct, Stern Farmer, and Power Horse.  Please, take all this information with a grain of salt, or a heaping spoonful if you prefer.”

And similar sentiment has been written by Mikey Schaefer, another of Index's most accomplished climbers:

“I can't really figure what to grade the pitch so I'm going to say Index,11d which in my opinion has ZERO correlation to Yosemite Decimal System. IF it were in Yosemite, it would probably be somewhere closer to 12/12+.”