Nestled in the corner of China’s most southwest province, Yunnan,
is an area of geological and cultural contrasts. The jungles of southeast Asia
meet the Tibetan plateau and the far reaches of Himalayan mountains loom. The
distinct ethnic groups from these varied lands co-habitat in rural villages of
a province where the Southern Silk road and less famous Tea Horse Trail once
passed. The gypsy market that pops up in Liming throughout the month is
reminiscent of the region’s early days of trading… but now the ladies in their
colorful traditional clothes use their smartphones to buy goods in a way more
futuristic than most cities of the west.
For the last decade, climbers have made pilgrimages to the valley
to ascend the towering red sandstone walls protruding from steep, vegetated
hills above a small village. There over 280 routes in 31 different sectors, and
while the area gained its fame for the trad climbing, recent focus has been on
the sport walls. To access most of the climbing, you’ll need to hike 45 minutes
from town up steep terrain, but there are a handful of roadside trad and sport
walls to give your legs some reprieve. The town offers several guest houses and
restaurants serving up delicious stir-fries with local ingredients and cheap
prices, making it a traveling climber’s or dirtbag’s paradise. While winter
temperatures hover around freezing at night, the guest houses provide heated
blankets. Alternatively, spring (March, April May) and fall (late September,
October, November) offer more comfortable temperatures, though occasional rain.
A handful of areas that will also stay dry. Summer (June-early September) is
the monsoon season and it is not recommend to visit.
Routes range from 5.7-5.13+ and while it is helpful to know how to
jam before arriving in Liming, The Great Owl and Charlie the Unicorn are
classic 5.9s that’ll help you learn the essential skills. Scar Face and Wind of
the Valley are favorite 5.10s, and from there, the route quality only
goes up. People have said Back to the Primitive (5.11, A0 8 pitches) is reason
to cross an ocean. While Akum Ra (5.11) is a favorite single pitch. Japanese
Cowboy and Another World are fantastically steep 5.12s and if you’re still
looking for a bigger challenge, Logan Barber’s test pieces Firewall (5.13d) and
Honeycomb Dome (5.13d+) should keep you busy for a while. And that’s just the
If you’re interested in clipping bolts, the Faraway guesthouse
owner provides rides through a valley above the softer sandstone to a
completely different environment of dolomitic sandstone. The rock resembles La
Mojarra in Columbia and 12mm bolts are used in super hard sandstone with horizontal
breaks, corners, pockets, and crimps. The sport areas (El Dorado and Goat
Rodeo) are still cleaning up, but with more traffic, these are bound to be
classic destinations. The walls are just overhung enough to stay dry in the
rain, helping round out the shoulder season options. Golden Eyebrow is a newly
bolted 5.10 classic following a corner, Gold Rush (5.11) has sporty moves
straight outta the gym, Gold, Gold, Everythang Gold (5.12) delivers big
holds at an angle sure to pump you out, and Tibetan Cowboys in a Disco (5.13a)
combines endurance and technique with an angle steep enough to keep you barley
on your toes.
Mike Dobie first visited the area in 2010 and has spent the majority of
the last decade focused on developing new routes in Liming. His original
partner was a Chinese climber named Zhoulei, but countless others have
contributed to the area’s development scrubbing routes, bolting and re-bolting
anchors, building trails, and more recently bolting sport lines. Dobie views
his work as a service project to the climbing community globally. It is an area
of fantastic potential, amazing scenery, and memorable climbing. It is a
journey to get there, but well worth the effort.
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, 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 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
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
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.
Todd and I have been climbing at Exit 38 now and again since the late 1990’s, and we know it’s a great resource for Seattle and Western Washington climbers. The drive out to North Bend is easy, and the crags stay cool and shady even on hot summer days. If you have ever been climbing at Exit 38, you know that it’s got a great array of moderate climbs from 5.6 to 5.12 and some excellent first leads for the beginning outdoor climber. The short approaches and friendly bolting and equipping of the routes are added bonuses.
Our friends at snovalleyrock.com (with whom we partnered to create the Exit 32 Rock Climbing title for rakkup last year) have a guidebook to the area, but its hard to find a copy this year and the new edition likely won’t be in stores in time for the summer climbing season. We thought this would be a great opportunity to showcase the advantages of digital distribution, so we set out to create a rakkup guidebook. You can buy the resulting Exit 38 Rock Climbs title now in our app or here on our website. Like all rakkup titles, it includes great mapping and our much-loved turn-by-turn directions to navigate you to every climb using the GPS in your smartphone.
We’ve included all the climbs at the most popular and highest-quality areas: the Substation, Write-off Rock, Nevermind Wall, Deception Wall, We-Did Rock, Hull Creek Wall, and Amazonia. We’ve even documented some climbs that have never appeared in any guidebook before. As always with rakkup, it’s fast and easy to search, filter, browse by grade, and map all the routes.
This was a fun project for us, as we took the opportunity to try some new technologies and teach ourselves some new tricks. We used some cool new Adobe software for iPads to sketch routes and annotate photos while standing right at the crag, and some cool “stitching” techniques to create panoramic views of some walls that would be impossible to take as a single image. As a result this guidebook features detailed color photos of the routes with clear lines making it easy to identify different routes. We think it’s the best guidebook yet for hassle-free climbing at Exit 38.
We’ve kept the price affordable and continue to offer an even less-expensive option to “rent” the guidebook for 2 months at half the usual price, if you aren’t a frequent visitor and just want to give it a spin. Happy climbing!
Exit 38 Rock Climbing this summer? Try our new guidebook! was last modified: September 3rd, 2015 by rob