PROLOGUEOn June 19, 2011, my friend Gimpilator and I attempted to summit Mount Index (5991') as a single-day trip. We had hoped to take advantage of snow consolidation known locally as "Cascade Concrete" but we had not anticipated several other factors which would ultimately delay our ascent.
The first delay came as we were hoping for partly sunny skies which ended up actually being complete drizzle. This made the approach very slick sloppy in many locations, slowing our progress.
The second delay came as we passed through a long section of an old logging road that was full of slide alder and shrubbery. We were repeatedly being whipped in our faces by branches, had to constantly pull back branches, and had to hop over branches. Gimpilator made an excellent video to capture the experience.
The third delay came as we attempted to ascend the steep slopes above the logging road too early, which caused us to eventually cliff-out and have to go all the way back to where we had left the road.
The fourth delay came as we side-traversed across steep forested slopes in mixed snow conditions. Some of the snow was consolidated (as expected) but some of the snow was sloppy wet and/or unconsolidated. We had to re-route several times and it really slowed our progress.
The fifth and final delay came as we reached a small basin at 4700', prior to reaching the west ridge of Mount Index. Now in an open area, a whiteout started to overtake the landscape. Knowing we had timed-out, I stopped in the basin while Gimpilator continued ahead for a short distance to check on things.
The snow conditions only got sloppier as we descended the mountain and then rode our bikes back to my vehicle. Fortunately, we had made it back safely and before darkness. We learned a lot from the trip, and knew we would make another attempt in the future.
CHAPTER ONE: Get The Team Ready!During early May 2012, nearly one year after our first attempt of Mount Index, weather and snow conditions had been very cooperative for local mountaineering trips in western Washington. Gimpilator and I noticed this and soon realized that a combination of great weather and good snow conditions might be cooperative enough for a quality re-attempt of Mount Index.
However, we knew that it would be more enjoyable and have a higher chance of success with more people involved. We assembled a fairly strong team of climbers: Gimpilator, myself, Tyler, Ryan, Joe, Nate, and Greg K.
After having previously made a unsuccessful summit attempt and doing a lot of preparation planning, Gimpilator and I were the de facto leaders of the group. However, every person contributed in some manner. Whether that be food, drinks, camping supplies, gear carrying, or driving, every person in the team played an intregal role in the success of the team. Each team member also took turns trailblazing through the snow and providing the occasional comic relief (which is a necessary trait for many summit trips).
CHAPTER TWO: Whiplash and AnticipationThis attempt of Mount Index began very similarly to the attempt we made nearly one year prior: A morning start, a long uneventful bicycle ride, and a wet bushwhack. The main difference was Gimpilator and I had more people to experience the excitement (INSERT SARCASM HERE) with us.
We each got whipped by branches during the bushwhacking section of roadway. Having experienced this section on a previous occasion, Gimpilator and I were able to help guide our team through this section faster than we anticipated because we remembered the best way to do so. We also knew exactly where to leave the roadway for our steep off-road ascent through a thick evergreen forest. Every person took turns leading the route.
But what helped us more than anything else during this trip was having more people to share the leading of the group. With no "trail" and no other parties making any recent trips to the area, it was up to our group to break a trail through the deep snow. This greatly assisted our ascent progress, especially considering the varying degrees of experience, strength, and gear-carrying within the group. We all worked very well together.
As our ascent continued, we found ourselves immersed in conversations regarding a wide variety of topics. Time passed by easily as we enjoyed our company during that timeframe. But as the day progressed, our collective efforts and favorable terrain conditions made us more eagerly anticipate the remainder of the day's journey, as well as our summit attempt for the following day.
CHAPTER THREE: Snow Camping EscapadesA nice aspect of this trip was that we planned it as an overnight trip, rather than as a single-day ascent. With a favorable weather forecast for the second day, our plan was never to go for the summit on the first day. We also had a planned location for our campsite. This allowed us to conserve a lot of energy and take more time during the ascent to enjoy our surroundings.
Gimpilator and I had pre-planned for our group to camp overnight at the small flat basin located at 4700' elevation, prior to reaching the west ridge of Mount Index. Regardless of our arrival time at the campsite, that was our ultimate goal for the day. We wanted everyone to get up and down the mountain together, as rested and safe as possible. With a good weather forecast predicted for the following day, we knew our plan would have a decent chance of being successfully implemented and rewarded.
We reached the basin during the afternoon. We immediately setup our campsite. Gimpilator and I were to share one tent, Joe and Nate were to share another tent, Greg had a solo tent, and Tyler and Ryan surprised us by building a small snow shelter nearby for themselves. The ground-level snow shelter built by Tyler and Ryan looked like a cold location to spend the night, but they would seem to manage OK.
After setting up our camp, Gimpilator, Joe, and I continued ahead to the base of the west ridge of Mount Index, as a way to scout out the intended route for the following day. Gimpilator soon turned around while Joe & I continued several hundred feet up the west ridge slope. We broke trail through the deep snow, hoping that effort would help our ascent the following morning. Soon, however, Joe and I headed back to camp.
When we arrived back to camp, it was time for our group to have dinner. We each cooked meals, ate snacks, and drank liquids. However, the temperature was dropping rapidly, and both fog and darkness was soon taking over the campsite. We found ourselves each adding layers to our clothes to keep warm. We quickly found ourselves in our respective shelters and out of the direct cold. Our day had ended.
INDEXWe left camp early the next morning during natural pre-dawn light. Getting to the base of the west ridge took little extra time or effort, thanks largely to a few of us scouting out that section of the route and breaking trail during the previous afternoon. After a brief break at the ridge saddle, our team headed up the west ridge.
The first half of the ridge ascent was straightforward. However, if we had left camp only 1-2 hours later, we might not have been successful because direct sunlight would have increased the temperature and impaired the snow conditions.
After a while along the ridgetop we passed over a large hill. On the other side of the hill we found ourselves at a tiny saddle, which would be the crux of the entire route. The north and south sides of the saddle had steep slopes and drop-offs, and an open slope to the left of the saddle looked very steep and potentially unforgiving if a fall were to occur there. Another open slope was directly in front of us, potentially steeper than the slope beyond the left side of the saddle but with more opportunity for runout in the event of a fall.
During Summer and Autumn ascents, most people skirt around the left side of the saddle to steep slopes and then steeply ascend from there. From what some other people had told us, the open slope directly in front of us (to the west of the saddle) becomes a sloppy and somewhat dirty slope during Summer and Autumn ascent. However, the conditions during our ascent were the opposite of such trips, as we were on the mountain earlier than most ascents occur.
Looking ahead from the saddle, the left slopes of the saddle appeared to be very steep and icy. With such conditions, any slip on that traverse might be fatal. Our better choice appeared to be the steep open slope in front of us, because the cold temperatures and direct sunlight not yet appearing on that slope seemed to create conditions firm and consolidated enough to not pose much avalanche danger. We got feedback from each person and we generally agreed that the steep open slope ahead of us seemed like a much safer option than a potential side-traverse around the saddle and beyond.
We each removed our snowshoes and put on either crampons or microspikes. We each had an ice axe, too, and were ready to self-arrest if necessary. It was a slow ascent up the steep open slope, but we each took our time to evaluate each step and managed without problems. Once up the slope, we briefly crossed a flat basin before making our final ascent up a gradual slope to the summit of Mount Index.
We each had a feeling of triumph and relief when we reached the summit. That was especially true for Gimpilator and I, neither of whom liked having failed summit attempts still on our "to do" lists. But this was a very rewarding summit for our team. We each worked together and communicated very well throughout the trip. We were rewarded with clear skies and and fantastic views. Our efforts paid off, and then some.
I was really happy to reach a summit for which I had previously failed, especially a summit which I had seen many times during my childhood while being raised in the nearby town of Gold Bar. But was the most happy about reaching a summit with such a great group of people.
EPILOGUE: Trip StatisticsHere are some statistics from our trip:
ASCENT TIME (Actual moving time, not including time spent at camp):
CUMULATIVE ELEVATION GAIN:
MILEAGE (Roundtrip, combined mountaineering, hiking, and biking):
Approximately 20 miles
MAJOR GEAR USED:
Bicycles, tents, snowshoes, trekking poles, ice axes, crampons/microspikes