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You don’t get too many visitors from out of state here at Index. After all, why would you?  This is Washington – the rainiest state in the lower 48; and Index lies right smack dab in the middle of the wetness. It must always be raining there, right? Right…
Index Washington World's Best Rock Climbing. Photo Credit: Matt Van Biene

Index, the world’s best rock climbing? The towns walls lie within walking distance of the little hamlet of Index, WA. Photo Credit: Matt Van Biene

For those of you who still don’t know, the secret of America’s best crag is pretty well out of the bag.  Index is, meter for meter and inch for inch, one of the densest concentrations of high-quality granite sport and trad routes in the U.S., or anywhere, for that matter.  The climbing is unique and distinct; the weather is persnickety, but when it’s good it’s perfect; the surrounding views of some of the Cascade mountains’ most jagged peaks is breathtaking; and the rock quality is out of this world.  Imagine a hybrid of knobby Tuolumne faces, mixed with parallel-sided Yosemite Valley cracks, all with the texture of New River Gorge nuttall sandstone.  The combination is mind-bending: Index features knobs, pockets, crimps, jugs and slopers; seams, finger, hand, and offwidth cracks; stem corners, bomb-bay chimneys, friction arêtes, compression problems, and bouldery sequences; routes from 40 to 700 feet… and much more.  In short, it’s about as good a place as any to learn how to free climb (there are also aid routes up to A4 – did we mention Index climbers were the first to do a hammerless ascent of El Cap?). Add to that a short approach, an abundance of 4 star routes from 5.9 to 5.13, and a tendency towards safe fall potential above gear of any size (or bolts), and you have all the makings of a crag so good that God, Yaweh, Allah, or whatever you want to call the Great Gig in the Sky, would climb there him or herself.

Michal Rynkiewicz won't be forked of Spooner (11d) Index, WA, World's Best Rock Climbing. Photo Credit: Matt Van Biene

Michal Rynkiewicz won’t be forked off Spooner (11d) Index, WA, World’s Best Rock Climbing. Photo Credit: Matt Van Biene

But what really makes Index amazing is how it just seems to avoid all the climbing traffic that more popular destinations suffer from.  Granted, it does not feature the quantity of routes that nearby Smith Rock sports.  Nor is it as extensive or tall as Squamish, just a few hours North.  Those two little gifts of climbing meccas seem to keep the masses away from Index, as most visitors to the Pacific Northwest will choose one, or the other, or both – but rarely what’s in between.  Index locals couldn’t be more pleased.  Part of what makes Index special is how rarely you need to wait in line for any route at all.
Dave Burdick aims to protect the crux of Japanese Gardens. Index WA, world's best rock climbing. Photo Credit: Matthew Van Biene

Dave Burdick aims to protect the crux of Japanese Gardens. Index WA, world’s best rock climbing. Photo Credit: Matthew Van Biene

For those who do make the pit stop off at the sleepy little town of Index, you’re in for a treat.  If you climb 5.6 – check out Great Northern Slab.  5.7 or 5.8 – Senior Citizens in Space is hyperclassic.  Godzilla may be the best single pitch of 5.9 anywhere.  For 5.10, check out routes like Breakfast of Champions,  Tattoosh, Davis-Holland / Lovin Arms, and Slow Children (no, Slow Children is NOT 5.11a – even if it feels like it’s 5.11c).  5.11 and 5.12 climbers get the most fun at Index, where the two grades encompass everything from roughly 5.11a to 5.13b at “normal” crags.  The biggest concentration of routes at Index lies in the 5.11 grade.  If you can fathom 5.11c, Japanese Gardens may well be the best of that grade anywhere.
Jenny Abegg climbs Japanese Gardens as Mt. Index looks on. Index, WA, world's best rock climbing. Photo Credit: Matthew Van Biene

Jenny Abegg climbs Japanese Gardens as Mt. Index looks on. Index, WA, world’s best rock climbing. Photo Credit: Matthew Van Biene

The guidebook is 10 years out of print, but there’s a brand new rakkup guide covering about a third of the routes, and growing every year!  There are 4 star routes tucked away behind every corner, and shoved into each nook and cranny of this area – so it really helps to have a guide.  If you don’t have a smart phone, ask a local.  Chances are they’ll be so excited to see someone new they’ll take you under their wing for a day of unforgettable climbing at the state’s… I mean the country’s… I mean the WORLD’S best crag.
Check out more of Chris’s writing at chriskalman.com, and at Fringe’s Folly.
Check out more of Matthew’s photography at vanbienephotography.com.