Mt. Index via Lake Serene

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Trip Report
Washington, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
May 18, 2002
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Mt. Index via Lake Serene
Created On: May 23, 2002
Last Edited On: Jun 27, 2008
Date: May 18, 2002

This climb--my sixth attempt at the summit--went without incident. Finally! The snow was steep, deep, and wet, but not unclimbable given that there were five of us available to kick steps. Some of us were even animals and/or had cans of whup ass to consume at certain crucial sections.

The people: Paul Klenke, Jim Jung, Susie Jung, Steve Nelson, Don Dovey

Technical gear used: two ropes, one giver-upper runner, harnesses, and rappel devices. {Crampons taken but not used.}

The weather:
A high deck of clouds (above summit level so it was not socked in). It rained lightly on us here and there but was never so bad that it worried us. Wind was light for the most part. All in all, this cool, cloudy weather kept the avalanche danger low. There were gargantuan cornices above the climbing route that would pose a real problem should one cut loose while we were beneath.

Trailhead (new trailhead) to Lake Serene: [started at 6:40 am]
We were at the lake and ready to go around it on its west side at around 9:15 am. The first snow on the trail was encountered at about 2,300' not too far before the first major stream crossing while making the long traverse toward the lake's outlet. We debated going around the lake on the east side but I advised against it since it would require some routefinding through minor cliffbands. By going around the west side of the lake you can see the destination saddle on the SE side of the lake thus making the going less of a "strain" on the mind.

Lake to Saddle: [took about an hour]
There was deep snow at the lake. Those large house-sized boulders on the NW side of the lake were almost completely buried in snow (making for perhaps 20 feet of snow there). The lake itself was obviously still covered in snow. I asked if anyone wanted to walk directly across the lake instead. All refused. I wonder why? Skirting the lake was without danger. The avalanched snow on the talus did not faze us.

Saddle to top of Saddle Ridge: [1-1/2 hours]
Not really any brush due to snow cover, though there were some melted out sections which required use of green belays. The one airy 10-foot-high rock step on the ridge that requires one to grab roots to get up was still there to be climbed. It was dispatched without problems. However, above this step the snow cover caused problems in the sense that we were forced to the left above the slabby cliffs whereupon a long fall in the brush or steep snow would result in death. Nonetheless, we free climbed up the mixed snow and brush terrain for a couple hundred feet. We all agreed that going down that later in the day would require belaying or rappelling. Once above this stuff, the ridge levels off more or less and eventually ends at a small saddle/clearing butting up against the mountain-proper.

Saddle Ridge to Hourglass Gully: [75 minutes]
I thought we might be there by noon but it wound up being around 12:50 pm. Still making good time though. From the saddle/clearing, we traversed south around the prominent end of the eastern buttress of the main peak and then turned right (west) to go directly up the gully. I was elated to see this gully completely snow-filled. I had been up there with Jim in October 1999 and we were turned back here (at 5,000 ft) where the gully necks down at a 30-foot step with overhanging waterfall on the left side. (When snow-free, this step could possibly be climbed on the right side via a short chimney followed by face climbing but only if it's dry and even then it would be mid to high class-5. The left side overhang could be climbed too but it's definitely high class-5. A grappling hook would do well there.) With snow in the gully, we were able to walk right up it.

Hourglass to Main Ridge Crest: [30 minutes]
From the hourglass portion at 5,000 ft, we opted to aim for the leftward gully because it obviously reaches the main ridge crest. Apparently, an unseen rightward gully also goes but we did not look for it. Directly above us between the two gullies hung a huge, ominous cornice. Beckey in his Cascade Alpine Guide notes that there may be a problematic schrund at 5,400 ft in this gully. Assuming the obvious gully he is talking about is the left one, we saw where this schrund would form but fortunately it was not split open yet. We walked right over it. Once at the ridge crest, the route goes up a simple incline to the right (northwest).

Main Ridge Crest (top of gully) to Summit: [30 minutes]
At the top of this incline, the ridge levels off for a couple hundred yards and there before you loom the summit rocks the rightsides of which are very steep. At first, we thought climbing this last 100 feet or so would require technical climbing (right next to more gigantic cornices, no less), but then I remembered the slopes on the west side of the summit towers are benign. So we simply dropped slightly to the left below the first headwall and skirted it's west side then ascended toward the summit.

At the summit: [7 hours, 45 minutes trailhead to summit]
The cairn wherein the register could be found had probably only been melted out for a week. An outstanding cornice with 10 feet of overhang sagged from a summit cliff. Very impressive. It filled everyone's camera lens at least once.

Summit to Saddle Ridge: [1 hour]
We glissaded the gully practically all the way from the main ridge crest to the beginning of the traverse around the east buttress--about 1,300 feet of sliding. As glissades go, for me it was a 9 on a 10-scale. It was one of those glissades down avalanche-smoothed chutes much akin to a toboggan run. Great stuff at a perfect speed! We thought we might like to descend all the way down to 2,500 feet in the valley SE of the saddle, so we glissaded down that way a little but we were thwarted by a cliff band. Note: this cliff band can be avoided if you veer way to the right (directly eastward as oppposed to northeastward) down a sub-alpine slope. This descent route would be much safer than coming down the ridge but would require 500 feet of climbing to get back up to the saddle. It was a trade off. But for us we decided to remount the ridge via a steep snow face.

Saddle Ridge to Saddle: [3 hours]
This took forever because we roped the five of us onto one 50m rope for the upper portion and then when it got steep for the lower portion (where the mixed snow and green belay terrain was), we rappelled. Our's was a double-rope rappel off of a sling tied to a tree. The rappel went down the right edge of the extremely slippery rocks of the aforementioned slabby cliff--not your easiest rappel. Generally, for a pleasant rappel, one wants frictional rock and a frictionless rappel device, but for me it was frictionless rock and a frictional rappel device. Afterward, some remaining steep snow quickly led to the saddle.

Saddle to Lake Serene Trail: [40 minutes]
Because the ground was snow covered, we opted to go back via the east side of the lake. I've been back that way when it's dry and, believe me, it's frought with little annoying cliff bands, steep drop offs, and moderate brush. Not worth it compared to the west side of the lake unless snow covers the ground. We had got a good look at this way down on the way up from the other side of the lake. Basically, one wants to stay as close to (and above) the obvious cliff band above the northeast side of the lake. The trail was found easily as it cuts across the slope to the lake.

Trail to Trailhead: [1-1/2 hours; 6 hours, 45 minutes from summit to trailhead]
Oh, if those man-made stairs on the way up aren't bad enough, they're hell on the legs on the way out! We passed the two waterfalls at deep gloaming. It was almost totally dark upon arrival back at the cars.

Round trip: 15 hours

Epilogue: my car wouldn't start (actually, it would start but would not stay running), so I had to get a friend to take me up there the next day so I could fix it. But at least I was able to fix it. No tow this time either. Though there's a first time for everything.


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Mt. Index via Lake Serene

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