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5. Index

The climbing in Index is legendary for a reason. Off the map to outsiders for most of its history, due to its notoriety as an aid climbing venue, the ‘80s saw many old aid lines go free. Later, the ‘90s gave birth to a smattering of bolted sport routes. As progress continued, it was inevitable that Index would not stay a locals only spot for long. Like climbing in the Gunks, the style here is very trad—even the sport lines, short of the slab and knobby face routes have the feel. 

Most areas face east to southeast, yet the lush vegetation and trees offer plentiful shade with the right area choice. 

rock climbing Washington
Climbers on Town Wall in Index, Washington.  Photo by Brew Brooks licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Prepare for challenging pitches at Index’s crack routes

For those looking for their granite crack fix, few areas in the country are as closely populated as Index. Grades here vary and run from 5.4 to 5.14d. Typically, grades sit between 5.9 and 5.12. Calling all Yosemite lovers! You’ll find a home here with the 5.10 and 5.11, but be wary, 5.12 elsewhere is typically considered an Index 5.11b. Moderate grades are plentiful at Index, but far between. One must walk to different walls in order to climb more than 3 or 4 routes at a grade of 5.8 or less. Fortunately, many harder routes can be top-roped by leading more moderate routes that share anchors! 

My favorite climbs are broken up into Town Walls routes, then everything else

Index can be broken up into many wall areas, but I prefer to think of them as the Town Walls routes and everywhere else. By far, the most stacked and popular areas reside with the Town Walls. The Lower Town Wall is the most popular due to its large concentration of routes, many of which are 5.9 and 5.10, as well as its incredibly short approach. Be there in 2 minutes flat. 

For good reason, this area is popular with 5.6-5.10 routes such as Pisces (5.6), The Great Northern Slab (5.7), Godzilla (5.9+++), Japanese Gardens (5.11d but the first pitch can be done at 5.9+), and Iron Horse (5.110/12) lending themselves to the classics.

Try these Inner and Middle Wall routes for classics and solitude

It is this author’s opinion, however, that once you leave the bounty of the Lower Wall and begin to explore, you will find both classics and solitude. For my bet, the Inner Walls are where I go on hot, weekdays where you will find beautiful, moderate crack routes like Toxic Shock (5.9) and Corner Flash (5.7) that give rock climbing in Utah a run for its money. Parking is the same here as for the Lower Town Wall. 

Another favorite is the Lookout Point Area, where my favorite route is by far Rattletale (5.10b). This excellent crack route consists of three interesting and short pitches. It’s well protected and satisfying crack climbing! Park in town at Heybrook Ridge Trailhead, and walk down the railroad tracks near the general store until a trail branches off right into the forest. 

Finally, another area to check out during your guided climb on Index is the Middle Wall. It’s about as crowd-free as rock climbing in Wyoming, but with much shorter approaches. Specifically, Mid Wall where you can find routes like Plum Pudding, a well-protected, lie-back burl-fest! PBR is another great corner system (5.10b) and also a line one can access the lower portion of by leading the former route! 

Weather in Washington’s Index area

You won’t find the warm, dry climbs of Joshua Tree here—the climate at Index may feel a bit humid as its location on the West (a.k.a. wet) side of the Cascades, lending itself to regular rain in spring and winter. Typically summer is warm and dry and most climbers will find joy in being here during a peak leaf color, fall day. 

Things to know before you head to Index

For two years, the AAC Cascade Chapter has hosted the Index Climbing Festival with potential for more in the years to come! The annual Index Arts Festival is awesome to attend! Be sure to pay a visit to the Index General Store and feel the age of this awesome, historic town! The River House is a great stop for food and beer after a long day spent climbing! Be sure to stock up on climbing gear before you leave Leavenworth or Seattle, as climbing gear will not be found in index. For a guide, Northwest Mountain School, The American Alpine Institute, and North Cascades Mountains Guides all serve this area. 

About the author
In Memory: AMGA Certified Rock Guide and 57hours Ambassador

On September 1, 2022, we learned of the passing of Cody Bradford, a friend, an inspiration, an educator and community member. During his time as a guide, he made an indelible impact on the industry and those around him, with an unceasing smile and positivity and the way he welcomed others into the outdoors through teaching (#TechTipTuesday), humor and compassion. We first met Cody five years ago and it was his love for people, enthusiasm for guiding, and determination to become a fully certified mountain guide that impressed us and motivated us to build this company. Cody began his guiding career with the North Carolina Outward Bound School in 2012 and rapidly tackled challenge after challenge to gain his AMGA Rock Guide Certification in April 2018. We were lucky to have worked with Cody and he will forever be a part of the soul of 57hours. He will be deeply missed and remembered by the 57hours team.

In memory of Cody Bradford

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