mount index - 5991' - Hourglass gully class 3 & AI2
Chris and I were throwing around a bunch of ideas of what to climb for the beautiful weather weekend we were about to have on Friday; ideas including the triple couloirs on Dragontail, Gibralter Ledges on Rainier, and Mount Index. With the weather looking best around Mount Index, and since I already have an attempt on Index in winter back in 2013 giving me familiarity with the route, we decided to give Index an attempt. We had been climbing ice at Banks Lake and Vantage the previous few days and wanted a big alpine objective to finish off the trip. On Saturday morning we got all our gear together in my van and packed up our packs and around 1pm started up the Lake Serene Trail, which was quite packed down due to the many hikers that were walking the trail this weekend. Complete with what felt like 40 pound packs (winter camping gear mostly) we made our way to the lake. We ran into at least a few dozen people hiking down and were amazed at the amount of people going winter hiking!
After a couple hours we made the lake and threw the snowshoes on to make our way across the frozen surface, and started our way up towards the 3,080 foot saddle just SE of the lake. The snow was initially not too bad, and with snowshoes we only sunk down a few inches on occasion. We started up the lower east ridge that encircles around the south side of the lake, in a SW direction as the evening went on, hoping to make it to the 3,950 foot flat spot where the ridge terminates into the steep east face of Index. Due to worsening snow conditions, our progress slowed substantially as we began postholing at times to our waist up steep terrain, we located a small flat perch partway up the steep ridge that we could dig out a platform to pitch the tent. We had an incredible view of the north and south Norwegian buttress from this vantage as the sun set. There was ice literally everywhere, and was wishing I had brought more screws. However, we were there to climb index, not put up some first ascents on ice that looked amazing haha. I dug us out a platform, put the tent up and went to sleep.
When the sun rose the next morning, we slowly emerged into the cold, breezy morning and ate a small breakfast that consisted simply of Oreos for myself and started to continue slogging up the now steeper ridge. The worst part of the climb was the next 100 feet above the tent, which took us over an hour to ascend. Chris did a great job of breaking trail up the 60 degree powder covered tree covered rock slabs that required us to excavate, and climb trees to ascend. I was ready to turn back but the hope the snow would improve higher up kept us pushing on. Eventually, we reached the upper part of the ridge where the steepness mellowed out and we could put the snowshoes back on and continue slogging up. At 4000 feet, we started traversing to the left across the open snow slopes, and to our surprise the snow was pretty stable! We rounded a small buttress, then started switchbacking up the open slopes with the snowshoes, eventually aiming for the small constriction midway up the hourglass gully. Chris had been breaking trail much of the way from the tent, so I started breaking trail when we entered the gully, and once we entered the shade where the gully narrowed, we switched our snowshoes for crampons and I finally got out my ice axe. The snow became icier and we made great time up the rest of the gully, which had us climbing some 45 degree neve. It was amazing!
It was a glorious scene when we topped out of the couloir, and we started the now easy walk on firm wind blown snow back to the west on the broad ridge. The air was so clear we could see Seattle, and all of Puget sound to the west, and the Olympics beyond. The final push to the summit involved a sidehill traverse on the south side of the summit rocks and straight up the last 100 feet on 35 degree snow. I honestly couldn't believe we had made it...I do not succeed on winter summits in the Cascades very often, and Index was definitely the biggest winter Cascade peak I have actually topped out on. The weather could not have been any better, and nearly every peak was visible with crystal clear clarity. Rainier, Baker and Glacier Peak were all standing proud, and Stuart was poking above a few clouds off to the east. Definitely worth the effort!
We retraced our steps and downclimbed the route, making one rappel to descend the steep terrain right above the tent. We made it back to the van just as headlight would have been required to see! Thanks Chris for the awesome climb! Some of the photos in this TR were taken by Chris.