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North America, United States, Washington, Cascade Mountains, Mount Index, East Face of the Middle Peak

Mount Index, East Face of the Middle Peak. To the climbers of the Pacific Northwest the three peaks of Mount Index have always presented a challenge. A series of remarkable and difficult ascents beginning in 1929 culminated with the ascent of the west face of the Middle Peak in 1960. The only remaining problem, and certainly the most challenging, was the east face of the Middle Peak. This is the most isolated of the three peaks, rising over 2000 feet from the west, and almost 3000 feet on the east face above Lake Serene. Not only would the ascent be a problem, but this would have to be followed by ascents and descents of either the North or Main Peaks. Eric Bjornstad and I set off early on the morning of August 18, circled Lake Serene, and approached the wall equipped, if necessary, to spend three days. Our intention was a continuous ascent without fixed ropes, even though they were used on the shorter east face of the North Peak. We climbed several hundred feet up the southern edge of the east face of the North Peak before roping. After two class V pitches we were at the extremely deep 2000-foot couloir separating the North and Middle Peaks. After crossing this rock-strafed couloir, we continued up the rock buttress to the left. After some 600 feet of easy and moderate roped climbing, with some very difficult brush, we arrived at a vertical step in the rib at 5 p.m. The piton cracks in this step were poor, and the rock brittle. One knife-blade piton shattered the apparently solid rock almost like an explosion, and both rock and piton vanished into the abyss. Another piton took half an hour to place. At the end of the rope I found myself still 30 feet below a ledge. I partially wedged one leg behind a giant, loose block, and anchored myself to a small and insecure bush to bring Eric up. He continued on over a shorter but equally difficult pitch, indicating that the pitons were still poor. He reached the ledge and I followed in the darkness, pulling some of the pitons out with my hands. Bivouac was made on two separate, sloping ledges, fifty feet above.

An incident occurred the next morning which would have had most serious consequences had I not been wearing a hard hat. With Eric in the lead, a large rock quite unnoticeably wedged under a bush came loose and fell about 70 feet landing squarely on my head. Both straps of the hard hat broke, and the hat itself was cracked. It is fortunate that the rock landed squarely on my head, for a rescue in this inaccessible spot forced by a broken arm or shoulder would have been on a scale of no other ever undertaken in Washington.

Some 500 feet above our bivouac we came to giant steps and towers in the rib. We passed the first 300-foot tower on the right, and while regaining the notch on the other side encountered an extremely rotten artificial pitch. The next tower was also bypassed on the right by an indistinct ledge system that we had studied from below. Regaining the ridge we ascended the remaining 500 feet, arriving at the summit early in the afternoon. This was the fourth ascent, each being by a new route. We descended to the notch between the Middle and Main Peaks, where we rested and replenished our water supply. Following a bivouac on the north face of the Main Peak, we arrived on the summit the next morning, bringing our adventure to an end.

Edward Cooper