Our Hiking Time: 2h
Total Ascent: 1300ft
Highest Point: 1800ft
Total Distance: 2.5 miles
Location: N 47° 49.4100, W 121° 34.0380
Required Permit: None
We continued our exploration of the Index area this week by checking out the iconic Index Town Wall. We had viewed these exposed cliff faces from Heybrook Lookout and Bridal Veil Falls, and this time we decided to see if we could find a way to the top. With a little bushwhacking and some inventive route finding, we eventually came up with the best approach to access the cliffs.
Before Index was incorporated in 1907, the area between Sultan and Index was home to the Skykomish Indians. The town was named for Mount Index, which was said to look like an index finger pointing to the sky. Of course, what we call Mt. Index today looks nothing like that. Originally, the nearby finger-resembling Baring Mountain was called Mt. Index before it was later switched to the present arrangement. Despite some confusion over what to name the surrounding mountains, the town flourished with the Monte Cristo strike of 1889. At the turn of the last century, the Index Town Wall was heavily quarried, creating what is now referred to as the “Lower Wall.” Much of the now absent rock was shipped off for building materials, including some that ended up as the steps of the State Capitol in Olympia. The quarry owners still have ownership of parts of the Lower Wall, but a coalition of climbers acquired the option to purchase the area in 2009 and continues to work towards purchasing the parcel.
The Index Town Wall began to be known as a climbing area in the late 1950s, and by early 1960s many routes had been hammered into the cliffs. Over the years the cliffs become one of the most popular and easily accessible climbing features in the state. In 1984, over the protests of the climbers, a mine cutting machine was tested at the base of the Upper Wall, boring a 200 foot tunnel into the granite. In the late 1990s, the University of Washington leased the tunnel from the state using it to complete underground physics experiments. Today, one can still see the barricaded tunnel entrance, sealed behind metal doors.
The trickiest part of the hike is getting to the trailhead. A large parking area is a quarter mile outside of town to the west. There are a number of names for this road, which depending on your map might be noted as “Ave A,” “Old Gold Bar-Index Road,” or “Reiter Road.” Luckily, it is the only road leading downstream from Index, so it should not be too hard to find. Look for the lot on the right. If you cross railroad tracks outside of Index, you’ve gone too far.
Once you’ve parked, take the obvious trail up to the railroad tracks, cross them, and avoid being lured toward the prominent sign to the left. Instead, head right and follow the tracks for a couple hundred yards until you meet a road turning toward the wall. Follow this to a clearing, the wall, and the white doors of the 1984 tunnel. Once here, head right into the trees to find the trailhead.
The trail is fairly straightforward once you’re on it. Switchback up through the young forest, always choosing the path that continues uphill. The route is a steady uphill slog the entire way, relentlessly climbing to the top of the cliffs, with no real reprieve until you reach your destination. The bootpath spills out onto an old forest road at the Forks of the Sky State Park boundary. Head to the right to get to the views you’ve been climbing for. The largest viewpoint is likely to be occupied, so push past along the faint network of climbers’ trails until you find a good stop for lunch. The tiny town of Index is below. Mt. Index and Baring Mountain dominate the southern skyline, and you can make out Gunn Peak and Merchant Peak to the east.
This is a fun little hike, good for a day when you don’t have a lot of time, with some great rewards on a short, if somewhat challenging, route. There is more to see and explore in the 1300-acre Forks of the Sky State Park for those that want to do a little extra. Obviously, use caution while up on the cliffs. It’s a 500’ foot sheer drop to the bottom. This area is extremely popular climbing spot, so be aware that there are likely climbers below.
To get there, take Highway 2 to the Index turnoff near Milepost 34. Follow the Index-Galena Road for about a mile to the bridge. Take a left across the river, proceeding through town to Index Ave. Take a left crossing the railroad tracks and following Index Ave as it turns left and becomes 2nd Street. Take the next left onto Avenue A and follow it out of out of town for a half mile to find the parking area on the right. Park and hit the trail. -Nathan
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