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sfuji

[TR] Mount Index, North Peak - North Face 01/29/2021

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Trip: Mount Index, North Peak - North Face

Trip Date: 01/29/2021

Trip Report:

 

@Michael Telstad and I have a wonderful climbing partnership. He sniffs out all the beta and nails down logistics, while I tell bad jokes and ensure the ropes get hopelessly tangled at least once on-route. When I heard about his FA on Chair and adventures in Mazama with @Doug_Hutchinson, in the throes of FOMO and inspired by Doug and Mik's report of 'cruiser alpine conditions', I sent him a text on Tuesday asking if he wanted to climb the North Face of North Index. Between the Scylla of the work-week and the Charybdis of storms for the next month, we decided on Friday as our best and only shot at the beast. Fortunately Doug was stuck with Michael on the long winter drive from Mazama to Seattle, so there was plenty of time to shake him down for beta. There is not too much information about the route out there, so Doug’s info was invaluable. (Another useful source is Jim Nelson’s Selected Climbs in the Cascades, Vol. 1) We decided to meet in the parking lot at 2:45am on Friday.  

 

After a few hours of fitful rest I rolled into the Lake Serene parking lot my traditional 15 minutes late at 3:00am (Michael was 10 minutes early). We exchanged groggy greetings and set off by moon and head light. Easy trail hiking in approach shoes to the north end of the lake led to the base of a slide path and some tedious steep snow climbing to the saddle of the northeast rib. (We changed into boots at the end of the trail before stepping onto the lake, and put on crampons partway up the snowfield) Some unexpected light snow gave us pause but we decided to climb until it became problematic.

 

I set off on the first lead, simul-climbing ~3 pitches mainly steep snow with sparse slung trees, with a few short mixed steps protected by cams and nuts. I tried placing ice screws in aerated flows while extremely runout on steep snow, but they were just too marginal to bother. Runout snowfields for the first ~2 pitches took me to a left-leaning gully. At the top of the gully I looked down and gulped at the sheer exposure below me to the east. Wild. A moderate and short but annoyingly snow-covered mixed step took me to the slung blocks marking the ‘hidden ledge’ traverse. (It’s not very well-hidden if you’re looking for it.) I belayed Michael up from here since I would’ve liked a belay on the mixed step below and I believe in the golden rule. At this point I made the inconceivably foolish decision to try scooping up the stacked double ropes and walking them across the hidden ledge. I made it about 15 feet before realizing the error of my ways and setting up an intermediate anchor. Fortunately it only took 15 minutes of cursing and thrashing to untangle the ropes. 

 

Michael then belayed me on a short, fun, and confusing simul block through a slide alder grove. I followed my nose through a steep groove of alders to a lower-angle mixed ramp. I wandered around trying to find an easy way up, but eventually gave up and belayed Michael to the top of the alder grove. He decided to down-climb to search for a lower continuation of the traverse, but found only improbable cliffs. He climbed back up and cruised the mixed ramp around whose bushes I’d beaten earlier.

 

We simuled over the ramp and up the awesome snowbowl pitch to an obvious large tree. From here we simuled up ~2 pitches of very fun AI3- (mediocre screws, great sticks) to yet another grove of trees at the base of yet another snowfield. I led a short snowfield to the base of the crux mixed pitches. 

Michael led us up two cruxy snow-covered mixed pitches, first a narrow ridge-traverse and then a funky slab to a short steep corner protected by a fixed piton. The climbing wasn’t so hard, but it felt tres insecure and poorly protected. I took over the lead and we simuled across a wild knife-edge ridge, up a snowfield, over and around several false summits (with some tricky mixed steps and brutal rope-drag), and finally to the base of the true summit. (From a distance I thought it was the Middle Peak of Index. :laf:) Michael took us to the top, and we mustered the happiest faces we could for some summit pics. As we prepared to descend, a raven floated next to us cawing a blessing. I felt glad then, that the spirit of the mountain was with us. We thanked the raven and began the slog down. Michael led us back to the base of the summit ridge snowfield, and we followed Doug and Mik’s rappel stations for a seemingly interminable, mind-numbing descent. We finally reached a snowfield at the base of the north face. We unroped and contoured around to the base of the route. 

 

Unfortunately they added about 3 miles to the Lake Serene trail while we were on the mountain, so the hike out was a bit more tedious than expected. We finally arrived back to our cars alone in the parking lot at 11pm, just as we’d left them 20 hours and many lifetimes before. I grilled up a couple celebratory beyond burgers and we drove off into the night, grateful and dead exhausted. 

 

Many, many thanks to Doug and Mik for all the beta, and for setting up so many rap stations! :kiss:

 

This route is highly condition dependent. This winter and weather window has yielded easy snow climbing, thin and poorly protected but easily climbed gully ice, and snowy but manageable mixed climbing. I think significant time would be saved on the mixed pitches if there were no snow. 

Suitors should be prepared for sporting runouts on steep snow, tenuous mixed climbing, and a tricky descent after a long physically and mentally tiring day.

Descent: Reverse climb along summit ridge to trees at base of the snowfield which leads up to summit ridge, i.e. just after the knife-edge ‘last pitch’ of the climb. Make 4-5 plumb-line rappels (60m double-rope) to large trees atop snow-bowl pitch. Rappel trending east (climber’s left) to small trees near base of snow-bowl. Continue for 5-6 raps along this slightly east trajectory, following shrub and block rap stations to base of the north face. Some of these are rope-stretchers with 60m ropes, 70m would help a lot. Once down contour easy but exposed snowfields to the east until reaching the saddle where the route begins. We mostly used Doug's webbing and carabiner stations, but added green tech cord to the station at the top of the snowbowl. Cut all the other tat there but unfortunately couldn't extract it from the ice. (it was late and we wanted to move fast)

Lecture time: Knot both your ropes (and untie one end before you pull the other). Double-check your tether and rap setup every time before you commit your life to them.

Pics:

Setting sail, snowflakes like shooting stars

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Michael just after the first cruxy mixed step, taken from the hidden ledge blocks moments before the sun rose

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The sun also rises

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Michael heading up the gully at the top of the snowbowl

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Michael starting the first mixed ridge pitch with the false summit ahead

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Looking down at me from above first mixed ridge pitch

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Michael at the mixed crux

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Selfie from snowfield before summit ridge with Michael on the knife-edge

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False summit after false summit

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Moody Sky from summit

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Happy to be halfway home

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Classic pose on summit block (might not be there next year, the summit ridge seems to be mainly loose blocks glued together by ice)

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Index Traverse looking intimidating and appetizing

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Reversing the summit ridge traverse

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Possibly the worst rap anchor, but not by much

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Arriving at the large tree atop the snowbowl as headlights trace out Highway 2 below

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The result of bounce-testing the rap anchor at the large tree

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Rope stretcher with 60m ropes

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Dave Summers got a photo of our headlamps on the descent

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Gear Notes:
Ropes: 2x 60m 7.5mm half/twins (70M recommended)

Slings: 15 singles, 4 doubles, 1 quad. (good amount, but bringing more would allow for longer simul blocks. Had 2 carabiners per single sling and 1 per double and quad)

Ice screws: 2x 10cm, 2x 13cm, 1x 16cm, (1x 22 for v-threads) (good selection, even though some placements were marginal due to conditions)

Cams: single rack .1-2 (perfect, every cam was useful but didn't want any bigger)

Nuts: About a dozen from small to large (didn't use too often but glad to have)

Tricams: Pink and red (clutch)

Pitons: selection of 3 small knifeblades, 1 short Lost Arrow, 1 beak (didn't place any, clipped one fixed pin)

Cord/webbing: 20 foot 5mm tech cord useful for slinging large blocks. 40+ft of rap tat highly recommended

Microtraxions: 2x for simul-climbing insurance

Tools: Less aggressive quark style tools (Thanks to Michael's partner Tess for letting me borrow her quarks so I didn't have to haul the nomics up)

Crampons: Dual point preferable, lots of snow

Emergency gear: Inreach (+cell service most of the way up), lightweight emergency bivy sacks, small isobutane stove, hardwarmers and dry warm socks in case of epic. Climbing tape for in-situ surgery.

We didn't bring any pickets and never wanted to place any, but if you desire protection on <60 degree snow you should bring one.

Approach Notes:
Took the Lake Serene Trail all the way up, skirted around on the NE shore of the frozen lake to the obvious slide path, ascended to saddle, stashed approach packs in small tree grove and racked up. ~1.5 hours car to base

Edited by sfuji
fixing photos and tagging names
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Strong work. A one-day winter Ascent of Index is quite a feat!

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5 hours ago, sfuji said:

Lecture time: Knot both your ropes

Nicely done lads; when this rig is in you gotta get on it!

Also, thanks for the above; I'm sick and fucking tired of reading in ANAM about people rapping off the ends of their fucking ropes.  I make knotting the ends the fucking default, and better have a good fucking reason for not fucking knotting.  Fuck.

Also, also, go get the traverse!

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Thanks for writing this Sean! It's an honor to be apart of the first full N-Index winter trip report. This route is so much bigger than I could have imagined. In it's current condition there is a direct ice line that bypasses the N-rib mixed climbing and goes straight up some sweet looking alpine ice. I wish we would have taken this, as it would have shaved probably an hour or more off of our climb. I would probably give the route in these conditions AI3- M5. 

Strava Track HERE

And the only decent photos I got from my camera.

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Racking up at the base

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The belay below the N-rib

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Sean leading across the gendarmes

 

Edited by Michael Telstad
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Part of the reason why I think this climb is so impressive is that I got my ass handed to me attempting this route in the summer ~15+ years ago. We bivied at the lake, but even with a relatively early start once we got midway up the bowl it was clear that we'd just been going too slow, and would find ourselves in the unplanned-bivy/benighted zone if we went for the summit, so we threw in the towel. 

I felt a huge-but-partial sense of relief when we made the call to bail, but between getting off route, struggling to find decent pro, and the general vibe of the route I felt way sketchier than I had imagined, and despite what I considered a more than adequate seasoning on lots of routes, I felt like I was out of my depth for most of the climb.

I remember someone talking about hearing Todd Skinner talking about how much he loved Vedauwoo because it filtered out the weak and timid, or something like that, heading there under the assumption that he'd be one of the select few who had what it took to hang there, only to get there, get his ass handed to him, and eventually slump over in his harness, hoist the white flag, and think to himself - "Okay. Fine. I just got filtered..."  During descent I could see people sort of languidly swimming in Lake Serene while we were doing our raps amidst the tat and mank, sketch, and exposure and *really* wishing I could magically trade places with them and just GTF off of the mountain and having the same sort of defeated realization.  "Okay. Fine. I just got filtered..."  

It was quite the humbling psychological beat-down, and every time I'm driving past Mt. Index I can sort of feel the mountain sensing my presence, peering down at me Eye-of-Sauron style and belting out a sort of silent, mocking, cosmic-guffaw in my direction and sneering while I hunch down over my steering wheel and try to hide under the visor...

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Loved reading this, excellent writing. You had me at bad jokes and tangled ropes. Thanks for posting!!

Edited by Alisse
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6 hours ago, JayB said:

It was quite the humbling psychological beat-down, and everytime I'm driving past Mt. Index I can sort of feel the mountain sensing my presence, peering down at me Eye-of-Sauron style and belting out a sort of silent, mocking, cosmic-guffaw in my direction and sneering while I hunch down over my steering wheel and try to hide under the visor...

:laf:

This is a perfect image JayB, Ive definitely also sensed the cosmic-guffaw from these haughty mountains we measure ourselves against. I like to laugh along, helps the humble-pie go down easier.  

Love the Skinner story too, I'd never heard it before. Part of me wants to go to 'voo, another part wonders how much self-imposed suffering I really want. (Answer: won't know until I'm there :p)

Thanks for the kind words Alisse and Marko!

With the storm cycle I don't see the traverse happening anytime soon, but it's a dream for sure.

Edited by sfuji

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I was re-reading the post that I hashed out between the time I heard my daughters waking up, and out before they made it downstairs and started their breakfast insurrection (Pancakes! Pancakes!) and I realize that it's not entirely clear who was saying what about Vedauwoo. Todd Skinner was the one who loved the place, and it was the random guy hoping to emulate skinner that experienced the filtration. 

Anyhow - thanks for the great write-up and adding it to the pile of notable ascents recorded on this site. Aside from being a good read in its own site, it's one of many little nudges that lets me persist in the belief that it's worth hanging onto my gear so that I'll have it handy once the era of intensive parenting, remodeling, etc, etc has run its course. 

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Katherine Hepburn was giving an interview when the journalist asked:

"I hear you go swimming in the pond on your property in CT all year - is that true?"

"Why yes" Hepburn replied.

"Do you like that" asked the journalist

"Heavens no" replied Hepburn

"Then why do you do it" asked the journalist

"To make my neighbors feel weak" she replied.

Bravo on your ascent.

 

Edited by Jim
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22 hours ago, JayB said:

It was quite the humbling psychological beat-down, and everytime I'm driving past Mt. Index I can sort of feel the mountain sensing my presence, peering down at me Eye-of-Sauron style and belting out a sort of silent, mocking, cosmic-guffaw in my direction and sneering while I hunch down over my steering wheel and try to hide under the visor...

This.  Thankfully I had @cfire and @Trent to gun my sorry ass along the traverse a few years ago.  Either together or alone, the Index peaks deliver. 

Agreed that I'm quite impressed with winter ascents, hard to fathom!

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2 hours ago, JasonG said:

Agreed that I'm quite impressed with winter ascents, hard to fathom!

I haven't climbed any of the summits in the summer, so take everything I'm about to say with a grain of salt. 

It seems to me that apart from the days being shorter, the climbing might be overall easier in the winter. Everything that is under dead vertical gets filled in with snow or ice, so you don't have to deal with runout slabs or vertical bushwacking. Just runout snow and ice climbing, which in my opinion is better.

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15 hours ago, JayB said:

persist in the belief that it's worth hanging onto my gear so that I'll have it handy once the era of intensive parenting, remodeling, etc, etc has run its course. 

Yes @JayB, you're not dead yet!  There are summits and routes on the other side of that "filter".  Give me a shout when you emerge!

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1 hour ago, Michael Telstad said:

It seems to me that apart from the days being shorter, the climbing might be overall easier in the winter. Everything that is under dead vertical gets filled in with snow or ice, so you don't have to deal with runout slabs or vertical bushwacking. Just runout snow and ice climbing, which in my opinion is better.

This is  true for this route and for the traverse.  If not easier exactly... definitely funner!

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Awesome!

This reminds me that I should try adding bad jokes into my repertoire instead of relying solely on tangled ropes. 

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6 hours ago, JasonG said:

Yes @JayB, you're not dead yet!  There are summits and routes on the other side of that "filter".  Give me a shout when you emerge!

Ha! Very kind offer. Your reputation proceeds you courtesy of @Bronco, so I'd need at least a year of living in a re-creation of an 80's-action-movie training-montage before I could hang, but at this point I'd gladly play the role of Randy-from-Christmas-Story@2:04 if I could tag along...
 

 

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Found the source of the Skinner quote. Alpinist #20, referencing a Skinner quote somewhere deep in the sedimentary layers of the Climbing back catalog...

http://www.alpinist.com/doc/ALP20/features-squat-takeda

"We drove off in a huff. A few days later I read a Todd Skinner quotation in an old issue of Climbing: Vedauwoo's offwidths "filter out the weak, the soft and the spineless."

I'd been filtered."

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Fantastic! This mountain is so-ooo impressive in a good winter conditions. Rare view. Proud of fellow Seattle climbers!

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