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Why Index "Rocks" (Literally!)

The once sleepy village of Index, located one mile north of state Highway 2 at milepost 35, is increasingly visited by climbers, paddlers, and hikers just outside Puget Sound’s suburbs.

Index’s tiny “downtown” has a general store as well as a combination cafe and commercial river outfitter, but most visitors will come for recreation, not city commerce. The expansive front porch on the newly-renovated Bush House Hotel overlooks a busy railroad crossing and offers a historic throwback to the time when a cross-Cascades train served the primary needs of the upper Skykomish River valley. Today the railroad, used by Amtrak and commercial freight trains, runs several times a day just a few dozen yards from the most popular climbing wall. 

The deafening rumble from these trains now adds ambience to the famously exciting climbing routes,  some of which still show scars and relics of the granite quarrying that brought early jobs to the area. Beyond its vertical terrain, Index hosts some destination-worthy stretches of the Skykomish River for rafters and Kayakers, as well as some easy-access hikes just a few minutes off the highway.

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Index’s “town walls” are the two large south-facing cliffs overlooking the town and visible from Hwy 2. These host several of the best and most famous climbs in the state. The Upper Town Wall is nearly 600’ high and uniformly near vertical, while the Lower Town Wall ranges from 200’ to 400’ tall and features low-angled blocky sections as well as a central vertical zone. These two walls host the bulk of Index’s climbs and climbers, but a dozen other worthwhile smaller climbing walls are scattered in the woods, mostly facing south. The climbing at Index is split fairly evenly into bolt-protected “sport” routes, and traditional climbs following cracks and features in the cliff that require the climber to place their own protection into the rock as they ascend.

Folks content to stay near the ground and climb 1-pitch routes will find plenty to do, but the 4-6 pitch full-length climbs are often the best and least-crowded options. Most routes, especially among the bolted sport climbs, are clustered in the 5.10-5.12 range. Due to the southern exposure and low elevation, Index is often climbable after a couple dry days in winter, but it can be unpleasantly hot for much of summer. The bouldering is excellent, often on singular large and aesthetic boulders, but doesn’t offer nearly as high a concentration as nearby Gold Bar. Local Guidebooks: Cascades Rock and The Index Town Walls

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Index sits at the confluence of the North Fork and South Fork of the Skykomish (or Sky) Rivers. Paddling from the town, kayakers and rafters will find a section rated Class IV, highlighted by Boulder Drop, 3 miles west of town. For a mellower stretch begin at the Big Eddy access park on the south side of Highway 2 at milepost 29. From here to the town of Sultan is a 9 mile section of Class II. Rafting is generally confined to the late spring and summer months, while Kayakers paddle the Sky year-round. The Outdoor Adventure Center in Index offers guided trips and rentals.

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The 2 best hikes ascend either Heybrook Ridge or the plateau atop the Upper Town Wall. Both offer free parking and neither requires a trail permit. Expect either to take 70-90 minutes round trip. Heybrook Ridge is accessed from free parking at the Heybrook County Park trailhead, on the south side of the Skykomish River across the bridge from downtown Index. The well-marked trail ascends 700’ in 1.5 miles to a viewpoint on the shoulder of Heybrook Ridge. 

Another increasingly popular hike, but one that isn’t on officially maintained trails, switchbacks through second-growth forest to summit the Upper Town Wall, home to rock climbers and falcons. This steep trail gains 1,200’ in just over a mile, climbing through part of the 1,300 acre Forks Of the Sky State Park. For this trail, start in Index and drive two minutes east along Avenue A to a gravel parking lot on the right (just past an overflow lot along the river). Carefully walk east along the tracks for 300 yards (back toward town) then turn left into a meadow with a picnic table. The informally-marked trail begins here, going right/east and initially hugging the base of cliffs. There are 4 signed junctions with branches leading to other climbing areas. Follow signs to the top of the Upper Town Wall. (You’ll take two rights, then two lefts).

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Food and further 

Basic snacks are sold at the store in Index, while espresso and some baked goods can be had at the riverside Outdoor Adventure Center. Along highway 2 just a mile east of Index, the famous Bigfoot Espresso sells coffee and treats. Zeke’s Drive-In has satisfying post-climb fast food 6 miles west of Index, at highway 2’s milepost 30.

Stay in Index at the Bush House Inn. Click here.


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