Look At Us We Cleaned Some Routes!

There are some places where gardening and climbing are considering separate pastimes, where their intersection is an aberration, where new routes get names like The Constant Gardener because OMG, we had to clean out some plants! (incidentally, this fully supports my Universal Law of Route Naming, that all route names must fall into one of three categories: 1. inside jokes no one is ever going to understand, i.e. Brad Driscoll…, 2. really obvious puns, i.e. Preying Mantle, and 3. Bob Dylan references). The Index Town Walls is not one of those places. Here routes are not found, they are made, they are dredged up out of the dirt and moss and forced screaming into existence. It’s not very LNT but we don’t care. Once we’ve had our fun the routes, although made from stone, will slide back into the primal mud with scarily a cry. The fringes of Index are filled with mossed over bolted slabs and pin scared cracks with ferns sprouting from them. One such fringe area is a scrappy little cliff called the Rattletale Wall.

The eponymous route is a beauty: three pitches of gorgeous crack climbing, all in the 5.9 to 5.10- range. Although the Cramer guide lists three other routes, this offering has historically been the only reason people have visited the cliff. Its well deserved reputation as one of the best 5.10s at Index has kept the traffic constant and the constant traffic has kept it clean. Meanwhile, Avenging the Goddess Kring, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, and Arch Enemy have probably seen fewer ascents between them than Rattletale sees on the average summer weekend. If this isn’t precisely true, it’s only because a variant of Goddess Kring, Chasin’ The Lizard, goes at a moderate 5.10a and is actually a surprisingly good climb; it’s still gritty as hell though. This was the situation in which the cliff languished until this summer.

Spring at Index is a time of epidemic Lower Wall Syndrome; you park your car, you walk less than five minutes, and there it is, the highest concentration of quality routes in the Pacific Northwest. It’s the best thing ever until the daytime highs start reaching into the 80s and all that south-facing goodness that kept you warm and stoked on chilly spring mornings turns the place into a dehydrating grease-fest. Like slipping out of hot-to-the-touch finger cracks? Then you are in the right place. The rest of us flee to the hills. The Inner Walls are my favorite haunt, perennially shady with an ambiance you would ordinarily associate with the mid cretaceous period. I’m honestly not sure why Michal settled on the Rattletale Wall for this round of playing digger but he did and right away he unearthed a gem: The Amphibian, a classic, bouldery, arete climb bolted with traditional Index scarcity. After that came The Wasp, currently unsent and rumored to be, and I quote, “hard as fuck.” Then him and Ryan hiked up around the top of the wall and rapped down to the right of Arch Enemy, resulting in an orgy of new development. On the far right side of the wall rises The Claw, The Cricket, Ze Squid, and The Source, with The Snake and The Shrew above them, and down closer to the main path I put up the perplexing C2 arch, With Man Gone Will There Be Hope For Gorilla.

While I was cleaning it (which I did in the process of aiding the FA) the other guys kept harassing me about the route name, saying I should call it Dorkel’s Revenge or Jacob’s Rainbow or some such thing. I told them they didn’t shut up I was going to call it Ryan Hoover And Michal Rynkiewics Are A Bunch Of Fuckwads. There is actually some dispute over whether it is a true FA or not. The first half was heavily mossed over and can’t have seen an ascent since the 90s, if it ever did at all, but the second half was relatively clean and a short ladder of bolt studs led to about the point where the moss ended. But if some mystery climber did a partial ascent of the crack, what did they anchor off of? Could they have made a cam nest and then rapped in from above a retrieved it? Why then did they strip the bolts? Or did they reach the crack, which appears from below to be much, much, better than it is, and back off immediately? We may never know, but I’m claiming the FA anyways, because it’s my first and I can.

The first time I met Danny Coltrane he mentioned wanting to climb Arch Enemy. That isn’t actually true, I ran into him one time when I was solo aiding, but that’s another story. His exact quote was something like, “I’d like to try Arch Enemy but I need someone competent to follow and clean it because it traverses so much.” When I contacted him about borrowing some gear and/or bumming a belay for Hope For Gorilla he said he would do it on the condition that I belay him on Arch Enemy and I agreed readily, since that climb was on my list too and I wanted to see it done. It turns out that I was just competent enough to think I was competent enough without actually being competent enough, a really horrible combination in climbing that happens way to often. What followed was one of the more difficult, frustrating and technically involved ordeals I have ever endured in my 4-odd years of technical climbing. It was harder than leading The Incision, it was harder than leading Golden Arch, it was harder than bailing off the West Arete of Eldorado. Lower outs are complicated and I hate them almost as much as welded knifeblades or lost arrows in expanding cracks that snap shut when you yank them out like a chunk of gristle from between the teeth of some granitic dragon, and I hate dentistry anyways. Danny fired up the first pitch in around an hour and then we spent over eight hours on the wall as I cleaned that pitch, belayed him on the second (a true A4 by his report) and then cleaned that one too. By the time I got to the anchor and was setting up the rappel I was checking everything half a dozen times, terrified that in my exhausted state I would make some fatal error.

We’ve all moved on now. I’ve been rehabilitating a small crag below Lookout Point and the other guys have been cleaning up some old classics at the Mid Wall and even working out a new route or two. I hear as many people talk about going up there to do The Amphibian as to do Rattletale. The other routes may be subsiding already, nature may already be overtaking our efforts. I read, somewhere in the course of all of this, about that coming earthquake that will level everything west of I5 between Vancouver BC and San Francisco. If I try I can consider the suffering and death, how most of my friends and family will likely be gone, but what came easily and unbidden was a joyous nihilism. Everything is temporary, everything has a lifespan: the stone, the moss, our city. It may be anarchic, it may even be inhuman, but I do not think it insane to take joy in watching things burn.