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Val Zephyr

[TR] Mt. Index - winter night ascent via Hourglass 2/7/2012

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Trip: Mt. Index - winter night ascent via Hourglass


Date: 2/7/2012


Trip Report:

4 years ago, Jon, Aaron and I attempted the hourglass route on Index under a full moon. We came within 45 minutes of the summit, but were turned back because of high avy danger. Even without a summit, it was one of the coolest trips that I remember. The night was eerily calm, the moon lit up the surrounding peaks so well that you could hardly tell that it wasn’t day, and Index itself looked even more massive than usual. The most technical portion of the climb was between 1am and 2am in the morning, just strange. Jon and I summitted Index two weeks later, at sunset. Sunset was spectacular, but I’ve always thought of a repeat trip on a full moon.


Now, a lot of things need to line up for a successful night ascent of index. First, you need several clear days in a row in the middle of winter west of the crest in order to stabilize the 3000’ avy slope that you are trying to ascend. Next you need the full moon (well maybe you don’t actually need it to ascend the peak, but it makes the trip so much better!). Finally you need a partner that is also interested in such ridiculousness and the time to make this whole thing happen. All these things finally lined up for me in a few hours on Monday morning. Ben and I would leave Seattle at 7:30pm after we got home from work and packed.


On the drive over the wind knocked around Ben’s car quite a bit, yuck. I really love the peaceful calm of a clear, quiet night. Wind would make this a much different story. Luckily, it seemed to die down at the trailhead. We began hiking up the Lake Serene trail at 9pm. The wind returned full force at the Lake. Several times we contemplated calling off our summit attempt. I figured the route would go, but it would not be the peaceful calm night that I was hoping for. It rather had a much larger potential for misery. We kept inching forward and arrived at the col at 12:30am. Again I contemplated out loud if this was a good idea. Ben responded, “It is as good of an idea now as it ever was.” I loved this response. We weren’t here for something easy, but for something different and memorable. We readied for the steep snow pitch. I was very happy to see that Nathan’s tracks from his Index attempt over the weekend remained on the steep snow slope. Last time this pitch involved swimming upward through near vertical powder, it was much easier after Nathan and his group had cleared the way. We made good time here too; a little too good of time in fact. We were ready to ascend the hourglass at 2:30. I was hoping to summit at sunrise, but we were on schedule to summit at 5:30. Not wanting to hang around sitting still on this chilly night, we slowly ascended the hourglass. The snow was stable, no horrifying windslabs were present as they were in my last night summit attempt. The lower hourglass is not very steep, but it does steepen near the top. There are two exiting options at the top (to the left of a rock face up a steeper, narrow couloir, or up a slope to the right of the rock face). I remembered exiting to the right at the top of the hourglass through some trees ~150’ down the slope from the rock face. I aimed for these trees, the slope steepened here and the snow became deeper. The snow was better nearer to the rock face… at least at first. We went up here instead. Once around the rock, it steepened again (but at least was very solid for kicksteps). The final 50’ had both of us on edge. The snow slope to my right rolled over and seemed to drop off. I couldn’t tell how far. Everything seems infinite in the dark. Once in daylight I was more confident that the drop off would have just left us on the same route that I’d used last time (still not a good fall, but at least not infinite). Then though, I was less sure. My imagination had it possibly leading down some steep couloir that would drop us into the lake. I could see the trees on the ridge that Jon and I had eaten a snack at just before our final walk to the summit. If we got to the ridge we could wait until daylight to find a better descent than what we’d just come up. Two moves of front pointing up some hard snow allowed us to top out on the ridge. It was way too early for our sunrise summit (maybe 5am). At this point we definitely wanted daylight to descend. The wind was horrendous. We spent the next two hours wandering the ridge in search of somewhere that was safe from the spindrift that would painfully whip into our faces. The wind came from all directions though. We just wandered to warm up then would duck behind some trees and rest until we became too cold, then we’d wander again. I have to say though, I was probably still having fun at this point. It was some sort of weird mix of type 1 and 2. The wind sucked, but the scene was just what I wanted; out of this world. The moon was now low on the horizon to the NW. The ridge dropped off to the west and beyond that we could see the city lights (Monroe I think). The spin drift would whip up and swirl around backlit by the moon. Finally daylight was near. We went for another walk. I aimed for the summit, Ben found a nice spot high on the ridge to take pictures of the sunrise from. He wanted to save energy for the long descent ahead (remember we’ve been awake for 24 hours at this point and we’re only half-way), so I made the walk over to the true summit alone. I tagged the summit, and stayed still long enough, hoping that Ben would get a sweet pic of me from his stance on the ridge. The summit of Index is wild, it drops straight off down to the lake below and stands high above the surrounding peaks. The prominence of Index (2991’) makes it seem so much grander in scale than it actually is at just 5,991’ tall.


Once in daylight, we located a much better descent. We descended down the couloir that had exited to the left of the rock. The top is steep, but the snow in this couloir is great for kick-stepping. I responded to a few text messages letting people know that the trip had went and that we were safely on our way back. Then we quickly plunge stepped down the rest of the couloir. We found several of pieces of tat with rap rings (Nate’s?) that aided our descent down the snow pitch (thanks!). Finally back at the lake, we just needed to walk the final 4 miles of trail back to the car. We re-fueled at the Sultan Bakery and readied ourselves to head into work… a little late.


Trips like this don’t happen often for me, and for these types of things to go, I need to find people equally as impulsive and ready for adventure as I am. Thank you Ben for being one of those people!


Index looking impressive in the moonlight





The ridge that we had to gain by a steep snow pitch through trees



Ascending to the base of the ridge



Looking up at the ridge with Index beyond in the distance



Lights of Monroe from the summit ridge



The final traverse to the summit of the main peak is ahead



Sunrise on Mt Rainier



Sun hits the main summit just as I approach



Views from the top!





Self portrait on summit



Ben from the summit



Looking up at the left side couloir exit in the hourglass



Looking down the rest of the hourglass



Ben relaxes after the descending the last of the technical portions. What a massive peak!


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Wow, what a great idea! Nice job, sounds like you had the same wind we did earlier on monday(daylight hours) up on Chair.


Funny you mention Chair, that's also on my tick list of night ascents to do. Next full moon perhaps....


Nice job and nice pics! I sure did feel like swimming up through the trees there like you said.


Thanks again Nate and Philip for clearing the way. I have to say though, on some level I was a little disappointed that I didn't get the awkward fun of the powder swim. That is one of the strangest leads ever. It sure did make things go faster though!

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