Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Out of this World

It was late a night, a very star one
And the sky was so very blue
Something caught my eye
Shot across the sky, as a gleaming white contraption
Clearly very new

These funny looking creatures
Lulling in my backyard
Who were here from out of a hatch
They waved to me
Form down below
With their funny heads
Holding their hats

So come on stay, stay with me
Please don't go away
Come on and talk to me, please feel free
Do you speak english?
'Cause i want to talk to you
Where do you come from?

-Aliens by Imogen Heap

I was feeling pretty worn out after the hot day in the sun on my ledge, and that the feeling persisted post drinking 32 Oz of sweetened iced coffee it was time for a change of pace.

Still hopped up on caffeine I didnt leave Wenatchee till nearly midnight, but the drive flowed easily up an over Stevens Pass and eventually down in the town of Index. Despite a number of sketchy Rvs, I promptly fell asleep in a pullout by the river.

Index is one of the places that one never really hears about, when you search for classic climbing areas. Clearly in any pursuit there are a whole subset of attractions that dont make the “Best Of” but are of equal and sometimes greater quality than the more popular destinations. Somehow Index had made my short list of places I wanted to really check out. In the morning (nearly noon by the time I got moving!) I went up and checked out the cliff to see what I could find that might be doable.

This is by the nicest stone I have ever seen. Absolutely perfect diamond hard granite with a ton of features (cracks flakes corners etc etc) and steep! I can imagine this being John Kelbel's dream crag. Grades starting in the 5.8 range with most everything being 9+ to mid 11. Almost all lines follow a crack (from thin seams to burly 8 inch offwidth laybacks) steep vertical lines, pumpy, and up to 6 pitches tall. John if you are reading this, put it on your to-do list.

The rock here is so perfect the apparently University of Washington drilled a 4000 foot deep tunnel into the mountain to figure out some unknown properties of gravity. Thats the urban legend anyway, and I can at least vouch for a big (10 feet in diameter) locked door on the cliff. Adding to the legend the hole was supposedly drilled by the same machine that created the Chunnel connecting France and England.

But I still has some time before I got to sample this fine rock snack.

Back at the parking lot it is about 1 ish in the afternoon, and I run into Nathan another solo road-tripper, from Asheville. East Coast represent! Seemed we has similar goals, and we both at the same time mentioned this route Outer Space, a 6 pitch 5.9 back in Icicle Creek. Which is near Leavenworth the town I just left.

Not wanting to do the math... (8 hours of sunlight left – 1.5 hour drive back – 1.5 approach hike – .75 descent scramble – 1.5 hour descent hike leaves how long to climb over 1000 feet of rock???) we gather some gear and hop in my car with Bomber his corgi mix dog and head back over the pass.

The hike itself gains 1500 feet in about 2 miles to the base of the wall, which we reach a little after 4 pm.

Looking out to town from the base of the wall.

The money pitches up high are obvious from the ground, a striking 400 foot crack runs from the top of a pedestal to the summit, and the pedestal itself has a nice looking diagonal crack splitting the large front face.

Getting there however is not as obvious. You start on a ramp system, 200 feet right of the fall line of the obvious features above.

Silently worried about time, I fly up the first pitch, passing at 30 feet a belay spot that could be used by those with shorter ropes. I belay when I run out of rope at the top of the ramp.

Nathan quickly follows and only 30 seconds after reaching the belay is gone and on lead again. This pitch traverses a full 200 feet to the base of the pillar. It appears I had gone a bit too far in the ramp system, missing a nice corner/crack and belaying about 20 lower and more out on the face. Made the traverse a bit more spicy but not terrible. Nathan milked it, finding a really fun 15 foot vertical crack along the way.

I followed and we were quickly at the base of the pillar. I never checked the time while we were climbing, but I felt better having reached this point quickly.

Nathan lead up the crux pitch, with a few complaints on the beginning section of loose blocks etc. We found out later that a better variation starts around the corner. From the top of a steep 5.8 crack the crack shoots out almost straight right across the exposed tower. Nathan took a while negotiating this stretch, explaining later that it was a little loose, a little scary and a little hard. But he did it in great style, I would have been sketched on that lead.

I moved up the next pitch supposedly 4th class but ended up feeling around 5.6 -7ish. Pull over an easy roof from the belay, and then diagonal up and left to a runout sea of knobs to a great corner. The belay is on a great ledge and the perfect crack draws a line from the sky to my feet directly above.

The last two pitches are gift to climbers. Perfect hands that go on forever, the only ledge conveniently placed at a ropes length to make for a comfy belay changeover. As if the crack werent good enough it is surrounded by dozens of beautiful black knobs that look like they have landed from outer space. Interestingly the crack splits the a few knobs directly in half, giving some weight to the idea that the knobs predate the crack.

Me following pitch 5

Nearing the belay.... I love the slung knob for protection.

Me starting up pitch 6.

Looking up from the belay on pitch 6, I am already out of sight on perfect jams.

We have climbed quickly enough to savor the last pitches a bit, and we gain the summit with not a lot but at least some light left.

Doing a bit of math I mentioned to Nathan that we had climbed 1000 feet of rock only knowing each other for less than 8 hours.

Someone I had talked to about this route had mentioned that if you get the top and it is dark, bivouac on top rather than attempting the walk-off which apparently is rather tricky. Still we had at least a half hour of light left.

The “walk-off” was not east but not bad. A bit of downclimbing a lot of scrambling and one rappel. When we got back to the packs at the base of the route, it really was dark. However Bomber seemed to be in a good mood and led the way most of the way down talus slope to get back to the main trail. Even he lost the trail near the river crossing, and it took us the better part of an hour to get these last couple hundred feet to the main trail.

Then just a steep mile and a half slog back to the car.

I wondered what time it was when we got back to the car, 12:37 am. Not a bad way to bring in my birthday at all.

Route Summary

P1 200 ft of easy corner/ramp. Exit a touch earlier to have better climbing, and bolts for the belay.
P2 200 ft of traversing straight left to gain the base of the pinnacle.
P3 150 feet of 5.9 first up a steep crack to a hard thin traverse, better start around corner?
P4 150 feet a sea of knobs and then a sweet corner maybe 5.7
P5 200 ft the start of the money.... literally 200 feet, end to end of 5.7 hand crack with a sea of knobs
P6 210 ft. can it possibly keep going?? even more hand crack to the top

This is the best moderate hand crack anywhere. The position 500 feet off the deck, perfect hands, and a sea of moon knobs in case you get tired of the crack. Slightly detracted by the approach pitches, but incredible nonetheless.

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