In the words of G. W. Bush, “I have strong opinions, but I don’t always agree with them.”
I first climbed DHLA last year with area dentist, Tom Michael, who has been a presence at Index for a few decades. Similar to Outer Space in length, DHLA features great, no, outstanding climbing, on perfect granite on the airy Upper Town Wall (UTW) of Index. From thin hand cracks to steep, juggy face moves, the route keeps you engaged from start to finish.
The ambience is mind blowing. Views of the intimidating North Face of Mount Index and the equally equally imposing North Face of Baring Mountain abound. The hike to the start is a mellow 50 minute stroll through lush West-side greenery of ferns and moss. With the 2014-2015 ski season off to a dreadfully slow start in mid-November, I recently revisited DHLA to see if my opinion needed more readjustment.
My friend Loren Foss has been ascending the climbing grades as quickly as he’s been ticking off area classics at Castle Rock and in our mountains. This year he climbed Backbone Ridge on Dragontail Peak and The Complete North Ridge on Mt. Stuart, doing both with me as long day climbs. His overall technical abilities on stone have improved quickly, as you’d expect of someone who is motivated and who is in his late 20s. Predictably, it doesn’t take much arm twisting to get him to join me for a November romp at Index on Washington’s best, or second best, multi-pitch rock climb.
We leave Wenatchee with temps in the low 20s, but by the time we are standing below the vertical dark granite of Upper Town Wall, we are in T-shirts and sunglasses. With just one other party on this mega-classic route, I could already sense the needle on my opinion meter starting to waver.
DHLA is an amalgam of two climbs. The Davis-Holland route is essentially three pitches rated at 5.10c, while the Lovin’ Arms extension is climbed to the top of UTW in four more pitches. Lovin’ Arms clocks in at 5.10b.
We boot up and cast off with expectations of a great day. We pass the lone party in front of us and don’t look back. Loren and I cruise through each pitch jamming, crimping, stemming, and smearing, giddy to have hit perfect conditions at a place with notoriously terrible weather in November. We have climbed together enough over the past couple years that none of our movements are wasted, whether they be belay changeovers, stacking the rope or handing the gear back and forth. We both know which tasks need doing at each anchor and carry them out wordlessly. It’s the kind of efficiency you want when climbing a long route in the abbreviated daylight of late autumn. We’re almost too efficient — in what feels like a disappointing blink of an eye, I’m completing the final moves at the top of the wall.
We rappel the route and reach our packs with plenty of daylight to make the hike back down. Perma grins are stuck to our teeth from a day that far exceeded our most optimistic expectations. By now, the needle on my opinion meter has reversed: Davis-Holland/Lovin’ Arms is without a doubt Washington’s best multi-pitch rock climb. I stand by that assertion!
At least until next spring when Snow Creek Wall dries out. Then I’ll be standing at the base of Outer Space, feeling the needle twitching. I suspect I’ll disagree with myself again.
Details, Details – Davis-Holland-Lovin’ Arms Route (DHLA)
Access. Drive Highway 2 about 29 miles west of Stevens Pass and, at the Index turnoff, turn right. Drive one mile into the tiny town. Just after the school, turn left on Index Street and then follow this at it makes a few right angle turns to become the Old Gold Bar Index Road. About a mile from Index, you’ll see the gravel parking area on your right for the Lower Town Wall. Park here – no permit is required.
Warning. Car break-ins are notorious and, unfortunately, all too frequent at this parking area. Do not leave anything of value in your car. You might even consider leaving your doors unlocked and/or the windows down, as there have been reports of people breaking into parked vehicles without even stealing anything. One climber, Mark Shaffer had this happen to his vehicle, stolen was a pair of glasses, a box of Wheat Thins and two broken windows. We suggest parking in town at the church and walking to the climbing spot down the road. That way the car is parked in a more visible location within town (this section of the post was updated by Sarah Shaffer on 4/27/2016 to include details about Mark Shaffer’s car break in).
Camping. Free primitive camping exists100 yards or so towards town from the Lower Wall parking area. Camp near the river or near the car.
Accessing the Walls. Access to the Lower Town Wall, which has many fine routes, is a four-minute walk from the parking lot. The trail to the Upper Town Wall for the DHLA leaves from the far north end of the Lower Town Wall. Get there by following the railroad tracks and then cutting left by the Country area and the huge tunnel door.
Equipment. Stringing together these two routes into one climb gives you a total of 7 pitches. A 60-meter rope is good for the ascent. You can rappel the route so bring a thin-diameter rope for the descent. A standard double rack is plenty of pro, but having triples in 0.75-size cams is reassuring for the cruxy second pitch.
Climbing Beta. Clint Cummins’ website has older but very good information and climbing topos of both of the Upper and Lower walls at Index — definitely worth a browse. The Mountain Project also has good info and photos: Davis Holland route and Lovin’ Arms.
Climbing Topo. See map 1 below for more information.
Additional Map. Map 2 will help you find the parking, walls, and trails.
Leave It Better than You Found It. This should be every user’s goal. Do no damage and pick up trash left by others.
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or not know all the issues affecting a route. You are responsible for yourself, your actions, and your safety. If you won’t accept that responsibility, you are prohibited from using our information.