Classic Routes: Washington's Slow Children

The route that revolutionized Western Washington climbing
By Chris Kalman ,

Photo: Truc Allen

Location: Index, Washington
Type: Trad
Length: 100 feet (pitch); 400 feet (full route): Godzilla to p2 of City Park to Slow Children to Tommy’s Sandbox
First ascent: 1983; Terry Lien, Jon Nelson, Jon Carpenter, Pat McNerthney

On a snowy winter day in 1983, local climbers Terry Lien and Jon Nelson stood on the railroad tracks in Index, Washington, eyeing the gray granite of the Lower Town Wall. Pointing to a long, curving line of moss a few hundred feet off the ground, Nelson said, “Up there! That snaking green line! That would be an awesome climb … if we cleaned it.”

Clean it? At the time, the concept did not exist. Most of the original climbs at Index followed obvious, shrub-free features. Nobody had considered exploring for new routes underneath the large swaths of moss and lichen. Nelson made a compelling argument (“Why not?”), and soon enough the duo was rapping in from the top with a wire gunbarrel brush. What they would unearth was not only a stellar route, but also a new future for climbing in the area.

When the weather cleared, the pair returned with Jon Carpenter and Pat McNerthney to climb in two teams. After moving through Godzilla and pitch two of City Park, the group stood below the newly revealed finger crack in a sinuous V-slot. Lien began up an awkward, sloping ramp, walking the plank-like feature before making a controlled lunge into the bottom of the slot. He placed a questionable stopper, then climbed nearly 100 feet of perfect fingers in a tight corner, slotting good nuts before the crack petered out at a showstopper finish. Modern climbers protect the final move out right to the sloping jug with a purple TCU. Lien, who didn’t bring a single cam, made the move with a small stopper well below his feet.

Nelson called their route Slow Children, in honor of a road sign in the town below. Lien suggested a grade of 5.10d, since it was a touch easier (he felt) than the nearby 5.11a Thin Fingers. More than 30 years ago, Slow Children ushered in a new era of development at Index. Over the next two decades, Nelson and Lien would each go on to establish 40 to 50 new routes, many of which are now area classics.

Chris Kalman and Matty Van Biene are working with Sharp End Publishing on a guidebook for the Index Town Walls, which they hope to release in summer 2017.

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