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[TR] Mt Index- The Saharan Traverse 8/10/2005


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Climb: Mt Index-The Saharan Traverse


Date of Climb: 8/10/2005


Trip Report:

joshk and i had our own little mini-epic on index last week. we'd climbed the ne buttress of jo'burg the week before in good time and style and felt very confident in the planning stage of this climb, which lasted about 2 minutes, giving me just enough time to make nice w/ the fam, take out the trash, pack and sleep for 3 hours before getting on the road for seattle.


we'd read the tr on this route 2 weeks earlier and felt prepared for the whole traverse to be dry. i wanted to bag it regardless so i could get my blue-collar hat-trick this summer (nooksack, j-burg (twice!), and index - who do i see to get my credentials smile.gif ?) josh brought 5 liters, i brought 4.


the view of the traverse from the lake - the route begins on the right by climbing the brushy goodness of the north peak


me looking up the start of the north peak - my brush pulling skillz already finely honed after a season on the n cascades most vegetated routes



apparently the n peak alone gets climbed a great deal - i can't really imagine way - the most enjoyable part of the traverse comes later and the first 1/3 is sorta ho-hum. as some cunning linguist on this board once put it, the whole damn n peak route looks like a gay-pride parade w/ rap stations round shrubs literally ever 50 feet. here's a picture of the most classic gay-pride tat ever...


after a long section of vertical swacking, the route leads to this unpleasant gully. it's low angle, but virtually w/o pro, a funnel for rocks, and pretty slimey. we simuled through it to get it over w/ quickly so we could get to the good stuff.


finishing the gully, we swung round right, then back up to this most enjoyable rock rib which we did in one long simul-pitch. la sportiva boots were more than adequate for the entire route.


we got a later start then i'd wanted, and with the great heat of the day we found ourselves at the summit of the n peak distressingly tardy - we wanted a sweet bivy to enjoy the evening, so rather than push hard to make the middle peak by nightfall, we settled for the "keebler elf bivy" - a fantastically wierd tree, ancient and shattered, just above the 2nd rap down towards the north-middle notch. an awesome place - the groudn beneath the tree was thick w/ needles and moss and very soft. despite tremendious exposure on both sides, i found a notch shaped like a sea-shell that provided a completely worry free sleep-space. i chuckled to watch rain-man-josh wig out at the accompanying insects. i did not laugh to discover that josh had consumed almost all of his water already (damn you camel-pack!). i had 2 liters left, but knew i'd need 1 for dinner and breakfeast.


the route the next day looked straitforward and we ernestly hoped we'd find snow in the middle-main notch the next morning - at any rate, we could see a snow patch just off right of this pic off the main peak in case of emergency (this would be most important the next day)


day 2 found us starting out w/ just my 1 liter of water between us (pulled from the lake the day before and treated w/ chlorine - "yummm, pool water!".) we started super-early to try to beat the heat but it didn't matter. by late morning we were deeply thirsty and no longer enjoying life...for a brief while int he morning it was fun though, and i pantomined my best "walk like an egyptian" impression w/ my shadows from the rising sun while josh photographed


the most enjoyable pure rock climbing the whole trip came out of the north-middle notch. i stayed on the exact corner and found something 5.7-8ish and satisfylingly terrifying - the pro looked good from below but turned out to be all rotten and unreliable - the rock's very steep here and the holds highly portable. 60 full meters put me on the crest and i put the belay in on the other side since there weren't really any anchors there either (worked well enough, josh fell low down and swung off the route but i stayed well put)


my fav pic from the trip. having dispensed w/ the middle peak (very ho-hum after the first tech pithc and a long cool crest climb) we worked down the sunblasted south "easy scrambling" part to the main-middle notch. to our distinct horror there was no snow at all, just hideious looseness and a deep uneasy feeling at the the 1/5 liter we had left to make it to the summit and god know's how long down befor ewe could tank up again. here josh pulls out an empty bottle from the day before and desperately tries to suck out the .05 ounce of water left in the bottom


unfortunately my swollen tongue prevented me from really enjoying the rest of the day. the first tech pitch out of the last notch was very short, then turned back into the typical steep heather/forest brush-fuck. we just wanted off and kept lusting at the "idyllic tarns" described int he last tr - i was very cranky at the vague description of the "wedge gendarme" which never really appeared down low. eventually we found something that kinda fit the bill. i think it's the horn below me int his pic. we traversed here, found obviously wrong cliffs, turned back up and left, then found the nastiest gully of the whole traverse - shattered, brittle, totally unprotectable white rock next to terribly crumbly brown-orange rock that had to be crossed to traverse over to heather and forest and easy groudn to the summit.


finishing off to the summit and uber-dehyrdated, we found we'd been crawling all day in our water-starved misery. it was 5 pm, we had to gorge on water like camels to reverse the damage done by the heat and deprivation, we were unsure if we'd encounter anything good ont he way down, and regardless we knew we'd be brush-bashing in the dark. prudence dictated we descend 500 feet off the wrong sid eof the summit to the snow patch we'd spotted the day before, gorge, then bivy again for an early start out. we were ashamed and certian we'd lose our cascade-hard-man credentials for spending 3 days on the traverse, but after feasting on ice-cold water and enjoying a much needed safety break, we made our peace w/ the situation. we had enough food to make it w/o getting too thin. here we look back at the keebler elf bivy (1/3 way down the far north peak) in the evening - soaking up the ambience of the 2 below


i started day 3 w/ a granola bar and a pack of yummy fruit smoothies, but other than that we were certain we had this bitch in the bag - a quick descent, we feast at jack in th ebox just a few miles away, then i'm home ot make the wife and in-laws happy by being just a day late. well, upon opening my eye-lids to sweet sunshine, i looked down to see solid cloud deck as far as i could see, blotting out everything below 5500 feet. no actual storm weather, but we found ourselves w/o good reference points at the summit and very unsure as to the right way down. this picture of me staring at the beta became most emblematic of the day - "where in the fuck do we go?"


this is all that remained of the "idyllic tarns" - just one puddle rapidly dissapearing, though still manned by a squadron of sand-pipers. over the next 2 hours we'd recross this same ground 4 or 5 times trying to sort out where we should start our descent. we began at the far end of the pic on the left, but after going down 500 feet we were firmly in the clouds and could only see a few feet into an impossible steep looking gully. we never saw the fixed rope mentioned int he last tr, so as we became convinced we wer eint he wrong place, we went back up to the sunshine at the tarns. we'd found a desperate bail sling down low off a tiny shrub, but we didn't want to be the guys who followed some other idiot into oblivion.


after dicking around forever at the tarns looking for better starts and studying the topo map and the ridicilious beckey map sketch, we decided to just pick something that was probably wrong and go with it. we went south down a very steep grassy/choosy gully, entered a huge talus bowl, climbed up to a shoulder and began working our way counter-clockwise around the mountain, frequently bushwacking and stopping to eat blueberries to fend off The Hunger. eventually we found a promising, though scarry, choss gully pictured here - the clouds were lowering, which made life easier, but the way was still quite uncertain


i'm smiling here 'cuz it looks like we might make our escape good. the ridge that forms the saddle above lake serene is behind me - if we can get there we're golden!


unfortunately, this shit never went away. it distinctly reminded me of kahiltna pass - a pouring river of clouds through the saddle obscuring the path and leaving everything dripping wet. the topo looked like we needed to get on lake side of the ridge and work our way down.


we got there and then it got real nasty. we re-entered thick clouds, the shitty talus gave way to horrific shrubbery, mostly thorns and devil's club, the slope went from managable to cliffs - josh left his gloves at an earlier start and really hated life yanking on salmon berries, so got seperated from me as i started reclimbing upwards tot he ridge to find better ground. i found myself on a bear trail, complete w/ a huge blue-berry studded bear turd, which went up to a soft spot on the ridge w/ an algae-pond where i waited for josh to re-appear. he did a few minutes later w/ his eyes hellno3d.gif wide with terror after coming up some uber-shit. we proceded donw the ridge hoping we could blindly find our way to the saddle in the fog, but then it became so steep rappeling was the only option. our first rappel featured the epic-essential rope disaster when i threw one of the coils into a tree top projected 10 feet out away from the wall - josh couldn't free it and ended up below the problem, so he got off the line and i approached it like a psychotic possessed - here i balance on the offending tree, prepared for a 10 foot pendulum into the rock if i lunch, and unwrap the problem


this is also a great pic, me at the end of our 5th rap down the ridge into the saddle, capturing the dumb-founded emotion that characterized most of this day. "how the fuck did this go so wrong?" i'm now quite certain my wife n' in-laws will lynch me for being so late - the funny thing about index of course is that you're so close to civilization you can call anytiime w/ a cell phone and make excuses...


once in the saddle the trip ended rapidly - we got utterly soaked from toe to waist in the mist-mucked brush, stumbled through the moors to the top of a talus field, followed it till the clouds rose above us, and hooted n' hollered n' sang wierd al songs at the sight of the lake. the coolest site of the day was the avy fan at the base of the s norweigian buttress, which featured this titantic snow arch big enough to park a fleet of buses in.


the first safety break of the day occured at the lunch rock on the lake, where i ate the granola bar i'd been saving. we mp3ed up and zoomed off down the trail behind a flock of hippies n' faggots in the growing gloom - i knew we'd hit sweet civilization when, in the total dark, i encountered a gaggle of teenage meth-heads who attempted to bum a cigarette off me - the car was just a few hundred yards away and it bore us off to the land of cheese-burgers and malt liquor...


so what now? now that i've accumulated all this brush horror stories in so short a summer, to what good use should i put them next?


seriously, i feel my ability to evaluate this climb is polluted - the lack of water, great heat of the first 2 days and cloud confusion of day 3 made it frequently unpleasant, but in the right conditions (spring/early summer) i reckon this'd be much more fun.

Edited by ivan
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sorry, redoubt, i'm actually a crass-bastard who had to stare at his pictures for a while before summoning the requiste obscenties to manage it right


Yeah, okay, you're excused. Congrats on the Trifecta. The rap on the log picture seems to capture it all. You're right, where do you go from here? Maybe do this traverse in reverse?



Edited by Redoubt
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With so many TR's being so cold and macho (and, in some cases, loaded with obscenities), it's refreshing to have one that displays so much deep introspection. Even though we don't like to come out and say it as eloquently as you have, we all have the same fears and self-doubts, the same thoughts of just how climbing fits into our lives, the same thoughts of our loved ones. All too often we are afraid to open up and express them. You probably felt that you were maybe revealing too much of yourselves with your honesty, but I, for one, appreciate it greatly and applaud your courage. Bravo!


Maybe you should send this TR into Luna Bar, erik???

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With so many TR's being so cold and macho (and, in some cases, loaded with obscenities), it's refreshing to have one that displays so much deep introspection. Even though we don't like to come out and say it as eloquently as you have, we all have the same fears and self-doubts, the same thoughts of just how climbing fits into our lives, the same thoughts of our loved ones. All too often we are afraid to open up and express them. You probably felt that you were maybe revealing too much of yourselves with your honesty, but I, for one, appreciate it greatly and applaud your courage. Bravo!


Maybe you should send this TR into Luna Bar, erik???





Ahh yes, what a trip. It is amazing how one trip you can just be "on" and things all go well then another things go so fucked up. I'm still not sure where and when everything went so down hill, but I think it had to do with the horrid desert thirst of Day 2. It made us move sooo slow and hate life. Day 3 was the most bungled, fucked up, lost, stupid and pathetic descent of my climbing career. We must have set the modern record for "most lost party" on Mount Index. That trip was a "learning experience" for sure. smile.gif

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Damn guys - quite a summer you're having. The most significant objective hazard that I've faced this far has been from the pile of crack-vials and soiled pampers at the base of an "urban boulder" that I was checking out in a vacant lot near Roxbury.


The descent sounds like a classic example of an element in climbing that reminds me of the plot in "Carlito's Way." You have made it through the worst of the dangers, it looks like all may be clear and you're on your way to some hard-earned peace and serenity away from all of the hazards you've navigated your way through - but then the alpine equivalent of Billy Blanco emerges and tries to bust a cap in yo' ass.


Nice effort, best regards, and consider dedicating the rest of your summer to crochet and bouldering. Seriously.


I'd write more, but I've developed quite the hankering for a luna bar all of a sudden....

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So now you just have to do Big Four Dry Creek Route this summer. Piece of cake. Should take no more than 10 hours car-to-car. See my TR from 2003. I guess you should do Garfield via the std. route too. Then you really will be the Brush Kings.


Great job Ivan and Josh. That feeling that you have fucked up and people are waiting on you is no good. Usually it's a matter of failing to "manage expectations."




John Sharp

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All's well that ends well.


Very similar stuff happened to me on the Index peaks, having climbed N peak and Main but never the traverse.


This is either a variation I never saw or it's off route. The regular route on N Peak is well traveled with nothing this mossy. Either that or it's just a hella year for the plant growth.




After climbing main peak from the west on a recon, tried the same descent you guys did. This is the "East Route" in the Becky guide. Did exactly the same wandering up and down back and forth for a few hours and finally committed to a steep gully. Luckily hit the correct gully down but didn't go over to the ridge above the col south of Lake Serene soon enough. Ended up above a long slippery cliff band which I traversed in the wrong direction then realized the ridge behind me was the way out. I didn't have the water and visibility problems but was racing darkness with no bivy gear.


Basically I think the top of the correct gully is at the lowest point of the wide col/pass that's about 200 to 300 yards south of Main. You descend this to about 1/3 height and then traverse (skiers) left to the adjoining ridge. Look for a climbers trail and descend to the col south of Lake Serene. If you wanted to nail this descent no problem it might be easier to do a recon ascent as it starts with a trail that goes quite a ways up.


Look at it this way though after you got thirsty and lost, it was "sort of like fun but not".


Forged in the fires of the blue collar trifecta.


Cheers to the working man.



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my enjoyment of the route has increased dramatically w/ eveyr day that passes to eliminate the true memories


we followed the beckey description pretty truly for th en peak - as mentioned, there was a complete gay pride parade to validate our line - that said, taking another line could only be better


on the descent, i figur eour first line down would have worked, if we trusted it, but pain appears to be unavoidable - what appears totally unavoidable is the shit that lies in store just 1000 feet above the saddle above lake serene - it's totally cliffed out on the serene side of the saddle - how can this be avoided except by rapping like we did?

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""we followed the beckey description pretty truly for th en peak - as mentioned, there was a complete gay pride parade to validate our line - that said, taking another line could only be better""


There are variations and multiple rap lines also, people come down in winter also, which may have different rap points. The way I went was lots cleaner but gear was just as sparse if not more so. That said I'm not sure I even followed the exact Becky description on the lower half although there were several rap points along the way. Think I went higher before the traverse into the N face bowl. Man that bowl was really blank for gear.


"" it's totally cliffed out on the serene side of the saddle - how can this be avoided except by rapping like we did?""


You stay in the gully until 2/3 down, mandatory rap (raps?) when the snow is all gone. You don't go down the lake side of the upper saddle/ridge, after 2/3 down you get on the ridge and stay there heading east all the way to the bottom of the saddle which is the col at the south east end of the lake, from there it's a walk off trail.


Becky description. East Route of Main


From the saddle SE of Lake Serene. Follow just right of center of brushy and rocky ridge crest SW to where it broadens at 4,000 ft. and then bear left below rock cliffs about 1/4 mi. to obvious gully to summit ridge. Gully may be technical when snow is gone.


(I don't remember it being a 1/4 mile, more like an 1/8th.)

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While I have seen more total amounts of webbing on a route, I have never seen the sheer number of individual "rap stations" as I saw on the north face of the north peak. There were areas with webbing every fifty feet or so. As somebody mentioned, it is certainly due to people rapping different lines during different seasons and what not, but I was still amazed at how much there was.

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i think we were dehydrated and really not giving a shit on the middle enough to check for one - i don't remember seeing registers on any of the 3 peaks. i'd say, based on the webbing, that this route sees a healthy # of repeats a year, at least half a dozen or more. there's really nothing like a trail on any of the grassy sections though, so the traffic is overall pretty minimal and little enough to give a good sense of a lonely adventure.

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