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North America, U.S., Washington, Cascades, Ascent of the West Face of the North Peak of Mount Index

Ascent of the west face of the North Peak of Mount Index. Easily accessible from the highway, scarcely 60 miles from Seattle, and towering above the town of Index, Washington, are the three peaks of Mt. Index. This spectacular little peak, one of the scenic points on one of the main highways of Washington, has long tempted Washington climbers. Around campfires, stories have grown concerning the fabulous North Peak, stories of the mining days and the large sums bet and offerings by the railroad to anyone who climbed to its summit.

In 1929, L. Chute, G. Tepley, and a companion found a route up the steep northeast corner of the North Peak. Since then more than a dozen ascents have been made up this 5400-foot north summit and other routes. Among these was the grueling climb of the east face in 1951.

The west and biggest face has been discussed on several occasions during those winter armchair climbs. People have “looked at it,” “taken pictures of it,” “walked by it,” and apparently through the years some have attempted to climb it.

During the summer of 1954 the west face of the North Peak of Mt. Index came into focus. On June 19th, Don Claunch and I, with the aid of Tom Miller and Mike Hane, drove up the Stevens Pass highway and branched onto the Anderson Creek Logging Road. An hour’s walking brought us to the end of the logging road and the base of the northwest corner of the objective. We traversed the bottom of the first ridge and began climbing on the second prominent ridge just north of a large couloir separating the North and Middle peaks of Index. This ridge led the entire distance to the summit, some 3500 feet. The going was easy but brushy, and we quickly moved up over a third of the total distance. Here, with approaching bad weather, we left a cache for a future bivouac, reconnoitered the route a few hundred feet above, finding evidence to indicate a good climb, and then made a hasty retreat to the car—drenched.

On the afternoon of July 4th, Don and I again made our way to the cache and bivouacked for the night. Early the next morning we continued up the ridge about 500 feet to where it consolidates into a face. The face is fringed by a steep arete originating on the left and terminating at the highest point in a shoulder arete which drops off steeply on both sides. This arete then joins the main mass of the peak along a short but airy knife ridge. We chose the middle of the face, following a “V” chimney some 400 feet up to the arete and then along it to the face of the main North Peak. A feeble attempt straight up proved discouraging, but a long traverse to the right, and then a series of long leads up, soon resulted in our gaining the North Peak – Middle Peak ridge just north of the ridge col. It was then a matter of minutes before reaching the summit register.

This face offers plenty of fourth-class climbing. Most of the belay points were quite secure, made so many times by the presence of small trees or brush. One might often feel that the belay points are insecure since the exposure is terrific a good portion of the route. Our climbing time from the cache and return was 13 hours, indicating it might be possible to complete the climb in one day, though not advisable.

Pete Schoening