Jump to content
  • Announcements

    • olyclimber


      We have upgraded to new forum software as of late last year, and it makes everything here so much better!  It is now much easier to do pretty much anything, including write Trip Reports, sell gear, schedule climbing related events, and more. There is a new reputation system that allows for positive contributors to be recognized,  it is possible to tag content with identifiers, drag and drop in images, and it is much easier to embed multimedia content from Youtube, Vimeo, and more.  In all, the site is much more user friendly, bug free, and feature rich!   Whether you're a new user or a grizzled cascadeclimbers.com veteran, we think you'll love the new forums. Enjoy!
Sign in to follow this  

[TR] Mount Index - Traverse of North, Middle, Main 7/4/2014

Recommended Posts

Trip: Mount Index - Traverse of North, Middle, Main


Date: 7/4/2014


Trip Report:

Driving back and forth on US 2, Mount Index is hard to ignore. Growing up nearby and driving by it my whole life didn’t help much either, and I made excuses why I hadn’t climbed any of its peaks yet. At one time I thought of climbing the highest summit, but it is pretty easy and skirts the main challenges of the massif. The North summit is the most noticeable of the peaks, but while perusing Beckey it sounded like the Middle Peak is one of the hardest in the range to attain. It seemed as if anything short of a traverse of all the peaks would leave something on the table. The problem was, the Traverse had a bit of a reputation, similar to routes like the NE buttress of Johannesburg. I put it off, for years.


But over the winter Trent and I starting talking about challenging routes that were still on both of our lists. He lobbied hard for Lincoln; I deflected it with the Index Traverse. Splitting hairs, I know. I’m still not sure why I think Lincoln is so frightening when compared to traversing Index, but that is how this past 4th of July weekend, cfire, Trent and myself found ourselves playing 20 questions with a USFS LEO at the Lake Serene parking lot. Our late start on Wednesday evening made him suspicious of our intentions regarding camping at Lake Serene. He needn’t have worried- due to our minimal kit, our stop at the lake was more of an extended dinner than “camping”. Not much sleep was had by anyone, especially with those intimidating walls looming above and the thin foam pads doing little to blunt the uncomfortable ground.


The night was fine, but the day dawned murky with a thick marine layer blanketing the lake basin. We were optimistic given the forecast, so we got a fairly early start and groped our way around the lake and up into the murk to the start of the NF route on the North Peak. Trent had been up the route before with Dallas some years prior, so he felt pretty certain that he could lead us upwards into the gloom, and if the weather really turned we could always rap the route. We agreed that the real decision point would be on the summit of the North Peak, and flailed upwards through the steep brush and slabs. At some point I think I called for a rope and we started simuling through the surprisingly complex lower NF. The good news is that the Beckey description is spot on and it wasn’t too terribly long before we found ourselves on the unroped scramble across the north bowl to the North Rib (looks much better than the standard gully that intersects the rib several pitches higher). The excellent blocky climbing reported on the North Rib is real, and we had a great time simuling up past the false summit right to the top.


The weather hadn’t gotten any better all day and we couldn’t see the Middle Peak reliably, so we sat in silence and ate our lunches thinking about the commitment of the rappels into the North/Middle Notch. It is at times like this that the quality of your partners becomes the dividing line between success and failure, and I felt fortunate to be along with such capable comrades. Trent and cfire were undaunted by the swirling mists and confident that fog or not, we were going to make the Traverse happen. And so down we went!


They had both found an old description from the early 1970’s on the web and we now used it as a guide as we felt our way down the complex descent into the notch. I don’t remember a lot of the specifics, but we did at least three 30m rappels and some belayed and unroped scrambling on some of the wildest terrain I’ve ever been on. Always interesting, but never severe, it held our attention until we pulled our rope and stood in the narrow gash between the North and Middle peaks thinking, “Now what?”


Luckily for us we had a rope gun in cfire, a man who had just climbed the Nose to celebrate his 50th. I scouted the left option out of the notch (traverse across an exposed ledge until you see a shallow gully feature), and cfire lead up for two engaging 30m pitches to easier terrain right on the ridge crest. In boots, with full packs, the pitches were challenging, but probably not much worse than 5.6-5.7(?). Once on the crest I took the lead and we simuled along one of the longest, most exposed ridge crests anywhere all the way to the false summit of the middle peak. Amazing position, mostly solid rock (a theme of the trip), and swirling clouds made for fantastic climbing right on the crest.


At this point it was getting into the evening and we were interested in finding a spot with flatness and access to snow to spend the night. We had heard from Tom and Wayne that there was a good spot on a slab right between the false and true middle summit, so we made a 30m rap down to a ledge where easy scrambling brought us to a very exposed (on one side) slab and our home for the evening. What a spot!! And, as we found out the next day, possibly the best bivy on the entire traverse until you hit the easy ground on the main summit of Index. Melting snow and cooking consumed the rest of the evening and we watching the mists swirl and clouds fill the valleys below. We “slept” tied in, just in case.


My minimal hardman pad didn’t lend itself to enjoyable sleep, but at least there weren’t snaffles tormenting me, nor were the bugs bad. Sunrise found the clouds burning off to the promise of a great day, and we dawdled over breakfast and packing, not exactly looking forward to more complex route finding to start the day. The descent to the Middle/Main notch was accomplished without too much trouble (stay left, then right, then left, then 30m rappel- follow your nose basically), and we once again found ourselves in a notch thinking “Now what?”


This time you head a bit right at the notch to a chimney and up 30m (didn’t seem 5.3!). We unroped and scrambled left on an exposed vegetated ledge that turned into some jungle scrambling (grab a fistful of greenery and pull) and brought us nearly to the crest of the ridge. Some more excellent exposed ridge simuling past the wedge gendarme and over a couple towers brought us to the point where the ridge faded into the face on the main peak and we scrambled up to find a way across the red, eroding dike. Crossing the dike didn’t look good/fun/safe and we were relieved to find a rap station that Tom and Franklin had established with some gear a few years prior on their epic ascent of the middle Peak with Fay and Co. The station was still in great shape and allowed us to swing across the ugly gully to easy terrain on the other side.


Though we put the rope away, we left our harnesses on and began the scramble to the true summit. After a few hundred feet of gain, the final walk along the broad and easy summit ridge was a surreal change from the exposure of the past day and a half. We chilled for a bit on the true summit reading through the register and remarking what a much more enjoyable traverse it was than expected (so far). Great position, mostly solid climbing, and engaging route finding that engendered a sense of accomplishment.


But we had to get back to the lake, and none of us were looking forward to it. We started by heading east for a bit to the major gully trending NE from the summit area. We descended steeply on snow mostly for a few hundred feet until suspect snowbridges forced us left to a grungy 30m rappel through the trees and moss to bypass some sketchy moats. Excellent boot skiing followed for a ways until we could traverse left and join the ridge that is visible from Lunch Rock at Lake Serene. Staying on this ridge is the way down, don’t stray! We did a couple short raps on the climber’s “path”, mainly because we were tired, we had our harnesses on, and the stations were established. You could probably scramble the steps as well. A short ‘schwack below the ridge and we were talus hopping down to the lakeshore, which we passed on the west side.


The trail was a welcome relief after a couple days on the move but, like always, it seemed to go on much longer than we had hoped. Luckily the beer was still stashed in the creek, and the rain held off until we were changing clothes back at the car. Alpen burgers all the way around capped off a perfect trip in every respect. All in all I think we were on the move for about 26 hours or so over 2+ days, and most of the climbing was much better and less scary than I was anticipating. I was a bit surprised that the Index Traverse is not in the select guides while the NE buttress of JBurg and Nooksack Tower are. If you’re into that sort of thing, I think you’ll like it!


Contemplating the traverse at Lunch Rock:



Low on the NF of the North Peak:



The clouds played with us all day but never broke:



The Index massif is impressively steep:



Rap #2 off the North Peak:



Gendarme before the North/Middle Notch:




Chris leads out of the North/Middle notch (Trent photo):



JG follow up thru the jungle (Trent Photo):



Cool climbing right on the crest on the way to the Middle Peak:



Home sweet home for the night:



A stunning morning from the bivy (Trent Photo):





Persis from the bivy:



Clouds clearing from the Skykomish valley:



Trent on summit of Middle Index:



Approaching summit of Middle Index, with North behind:



Trying to scope the way to the Middle/Main notch:



In the Middle/Main notch:



Chris leading the chimney out of the Middle/Main notch (Trent Photo):



Simuling higher up out of the notch:



Passing by the "wedge gendarme" on some more fun, solid climbing:



Trent and Chris on easy ground below the summit of Main. Middle and North peaks to the right of Chris:



Approaching the main summit of Index:



You may want to leave your harness on for the descent depending on snow conditions:



Chris and Trent admiring the traverse from start to finish:



The Norwegian Buttresses scare me:



What a trip!



Gear Notes:

60m half rope, full rack to 2", ice axe, helmet, boots work fine.


Approach Notes:

Lake Serene Trail. Watch out for LEOs

Edited by JasonG

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

so happy not to ever have to do that there crucible again :)


lucky bastard to have snow on the route - not an ounce to drink on our saharan traverse in days of yore...


wtf - leo's up there?

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Great pics and report.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Jason: Thanks to you and Chris for making this a super fun and successful climb! Once again, you guys rock! And kudos to Chris for winning the expedition's coveted "rope gun" award!

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Chris gets the rope gun award? is that how far our climbing standards have dropped?!


But I agree, you want Chris on your team.


I'm just disappointed he didn't bring to Rock Wren!

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Ivan- Your TR had a big influence on choosing to do this trip when we had guaranteed snow.


John- It's true that everything is relative. Trent and I are choss dawgs at the core.


Everyone- thanks for the kind words!

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey I'm a solid 5.7 rope gun!!


It was a grand adventure with great partners. Can't figure out why it's not done more. Great climbing, great exposure, great route finding challenges, mostly solid rock. The descent, not so great, but not that long, so don't let that stop you.


Jesus, I sound like Tony the Tiger.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Nice work you guys, you actually make it sound so "fun". Definitely moved up a couple spots on my list.


I'm sure that LEO is the same one I've encountered a couple of times. Must be lonely.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Nice work fellas. Wayne and I took a slightly less optimal route up from the North-Middle notch, descending in a rotten gully at first before heading straight up a nasty, loose dihedral. It looks like you guys took the better route.


Agreed this traverse should see more traffic. Glad the rap station was still there for you. When Wayne and I did the traverse we solo'd through that and it was sketchy. When I went up there the second time it was full-on raining at that point and we set up that rap. I was glad to have it!

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

nice. brought back some great memory's with my bro up there, from the 70,s. One time up there, 2 brothers were climbing north peak and one of them fell to his death, only bouncing off the wall cpl times before his last bounce. Of course, everyone back home heard the news, and thought it was one of us. will never forget pulling in at home and the neighbors coming over to my van to see which one it was. Met the guy whos uncle it was last week at costco. He was up there and his mom saw him fall from the hwy. He was 4 and his memory of that is well burnt in! Said he will never forget his mom telling his dad," this is your LAST CLIMB!" We had just talked to them 1/2 hr before his 'fall'. The hwy noise SUCKS there .... tried to land a helicopter on top with my hang glider strapped to the skids, to take off from the top ... and the pilot said i was ... crazy!!! The traverse rocks and can sand bag you with route finding!

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

In our research for the climb, we dug up this page: http://www.bclodge.com/Climbing/Index/index.htm


So very cool history on it, we printed out the notes from the 1971 climb and carried them with us. They were pretty helpful.


And yes Tom, going left from the North/Middle notch is certainly the way to go. Very reasonable climbing in boots with decent pro. Thanks again for your TR and the rap station, both came in handy!

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm glad you guys enjoyed the report, I just added some captions to the photos....

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Blue Collar Tour of the North Cascades.


Index Traverse

NE Buttress of JBurg

North Face of Nooksack


Well done fellas. You almost make it sound fun.





Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Matt- That because it IS fun compared to the two on the list. And, I'm sure you've noticed, perfectly positioned for a human powered adventure!

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this