Index LWS - Guilty as charged

Living only 65 miles from Index, WA, I have become a frequent visitor in my 2.5 years of Leavenworth residency. Even with only a few hours to climb, it is a perfect sport for solo TR laps or a quick after-work stop. Often I will get asked about climbing around my home in Leavenworth, to which I will rave about the bouldering, rave about the alpine climbing, and say that for roped days, I head to Index. Sure 65 miles is a bit of a drive, but with Stevens Pass marking the halfway point, I can combine climbing with skiing or merely observe the changing seasons. And unlike driving from Seattle, I don't have to pause at a single stoplight, stop sign, interchange, or traffic jam. Unlike many of the Leavenworth crags, the longest approach is 25 minutes on a very nice trail, so even living in Leavenworth, I can get to the Upper Town Wall faster than I can make it to many of our "local" climbs. To many climbers, Index sports a 3 or 4 month climbing season. But the walls are in fact climbable 12 months out of the year.  Last winter, within a few days of climbing a 1000' lowland ice climb, I spent a sunny 17-degree afternoon cragging at the Lower Town Wall with Ben "Crusher" Gilkison, while the upper wall sported a 400' ice dagger which crashed to the ground at mid-day. In winter there are no leaves on the trees, the low southern sun beats onto the wall all day, and the friction is at its peak. I have developed an advanced case of what Ben calls "Lower Wall Syndrome". In light of the guidebook aspirations of my friend Matt Van Biene I wanted to describe a few pitches which never get climbed solely for lack of information, and provide a quick list of routes ranked by difficulty.

The obscure-for-no-good-reason routes (and how to get to them)

Each of these is a three or four star classic:

1. P3 of Japanese Gardens 5.11a - Everyone and their mom has climbed the classic Godzilla-P2City Park-Slow Children linkup. Next time you are standing at the base of Slow Children, simply do a belayed walk about 35' to the left, and you will find yourself beneath another stellar finger crack, similar to Slow Children, which pulls an awesome roof and uses the same rack you've already got. This is called P3 of Japanese Gardens. It is just as good as Slow Children. It gets 1% the traffic, and needs more.

2. Leaping Lizards 5.10 - Ever want to go hang a rope on Natural Log Cabin or Narrow Arrow Overhang? How about access 2 awesome 5.10 crack pitches that nobody ever does? (NAD P2, P3) Simply looking for a another warmup?(easily linked through Godzilla in a 50m pitch) - From Godzilla step immediately right, clip a bolt, and then follow the crack and corner up and right, passing a couple more bolts and some gear placements, leading to a memorable final move. This belay ledge allows one to scramble a few meters right and reach the belay between the next two routes.

3/4. Pitch 2 and Pitch 3 of Narrow Arrow Direct 5.10b, 5.10d - Although the first pitch of NAD is 5.12c with a powerful bit of climbing up top, the next two pitches are splitter moderates that take perfect gear the whole way. They are never climbed. Access via: Climbing Shirley and stepping left, climbing Leaping Lizards and belayed scrambling right, or climbing Thin Fingers and belayed scrambling left.

5. Batskins P2 - 5.11d - Some bolts and some gear, some crack climbing and some face moves, some steep bits and a touch of slab, this pitch has the goods. Get to the base of it by rapping 35' down and hard left from atop Godzilla. Or lead all of P1 (5.12b)

6. Sagi-Horse 5.10+/5.11- Climb Sagittarius to the second anchor, then climb out the Iron Horse roof, on the left. This is labeled 5.11+ or 5.12a depending on the guidebook, but it's not that hard. Finishing via the left side of the roof also makes for a straighter rope line and less zig-zaggery.

Grades: Index should stay uniformly sandbagged. It should just be internally-consistently-sandbagged. That is to say, a 5.12b ought to be a touch easier to redpoint than a 5.12c, which is a touch easier than a 5.12d. They can still all be harder than a 5.13 in Indian Creek or a 5.14 in Tensleep, and that's ok. Ben Gilkison, one of the most accomplished LTW climbers ever, had this to say in regards to the grades after putting up a new route over the winter:

Regarding its grade, it felt around 12d to me, give or take.  Who knows though, perhaps it is only like 11d, like everything else at Index -wink.  Officially, I'm calling it 5.12, so nobody thinks I'm a fluffer.  In comparison, I thought it harder than routes like Numbah Ten, Narrow Arrow Direct, Stern Farmer, and Power Horse.  Please, take all this information with a grain of salt, or a heaping spoonful if you prefer.
And similar sentiment has been written by Mikey Schaefer, another of Index's most accomplished climbers:

 I can't really figured what to grade the pitch so I'm going to say Index,11d which in my opinion has ZERO correlation to Yosemite Decimal System. IF it were in Yosemite, it would probably be somewhere closer to 12/12+

So here's my personal ranking of some famous LTW testpieces. I'm 5'8" with no power, short arms, and a propensity to kneebar. Your mileage WILL vary. No Grades given except as bookends. I'll only list routes I've sent, so ideally the list will fill in over time.

Sagi-Horse. December 8th. 17 Degrees.
Shirley 5.11c - Less-than-stellar rock and easier moves lead to a classic stem finish above your gear.

Japanese Gardens P1  - I have done this one too many times to count, but would do it again today. I remember being so psyched and scared leading it for my first time, finding the highest possible pro to place beneath each crux, and clipping the highest wire with a single locker to minimize the fear and fall distance.
Iron Horse (short or long, the cruxes are both before anchor #1)
Ten Percent Meteorological Vinculation P1  - Stellar, keeps you on your toes
Stern Farmer - This seems to be harder for everyone else. Kneebar the crux. Tight hipster jeans help.
Batskins P1 - Being taller would help, but so would being a better climber. Really demanding of good composure up high and a good test of core strength and open-handed power.
Narrow Arrow Direct (right) - 5.11- on steep and big features for 80', to a V5 with the right beta (though refining this beta took Jens Holsten and myself 2 or 3 sessions to get just right) - I could see this being easier than the above last couple routes for a powerful climber good at slopey crimps.
Numbah Ten - This one gets a .12b in the guidebook. When I was working on it, Andrew Philbin remarked that the hardest move of the Full Amandla (.13d) is possibly at bolt #2 of Numbah Ten. Andrew has sent nearly every pitch at the LTW. You do the math...
Power Horse - Climb Iron Horse to the first anchor, but use it merely to clip off all the leftover widgets you wont need for the bolted section above, as you span left and finish via the 2nd half of Amandla. Both guides show (or even describe) a mid 5.13 crux somewhere on the arete, but it is not that hard.
Narrow Arrow Overhang 5.13-  A wild line with a strange history. The climbing to the first anchor was freed by someone long ago, and is 5.10c or so. The climbing from anchor #1 to #2 is a very shallow inset, which is insecure pressing and chimneying protected by RPs behind your butt. This is brilliant 5.11c (ish) - and the top part of the climb is when things get interesting. The next 20', above anchor #2, is a vertical arete which was first toproped cleanly by Chris Schlotfeldt, and he rated these moves 5.12d on TR. Sometime later, two bolts were added as lead protection by someone else. The roof "boulder problem" above this arete had climbed via traversing in from a ledge on the right (sent by roof crackspecialist Dick Cilley, and rated 5.12b, which seems an absurd rating, even for just 15' of climbing. Although LTW .12b has a bit of a mystic about it) - In 2008 Gilkison added an anchor above the roof at the 35m mark (where the climbing changes to 5.9), and sent the whole thing grading it low 5.13.
The roof on NAOverhang between anchors #2 and #3

It sounds like Ben's new route Nobody Tosses A Dwarf! will fall someone in the upper part of that lineup. And after TRing P2 of Stern Farmer, I think it would end up between Batskins and NAD. P2 of Ten PErcent, City Park and Amandla are the only routes harder than these listed, and nobody who has sent one of those has also sent the others. They must both be rated 5.11d.


  1. I believe Super Dave bolted the arete on Narrow Arrow Overhang. At some point, Dave took quite a ride from the roof when his piece ripped.