Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
If it’s not quite big-wall free climbing, it’s the next best thing. It sure felt big to me when my first trip up Davis-Holland to Lovin’ Arms yielded close-up views of BASE jumpers and bald eagles, both taking flight as I tried my best not to. With a crux of well-protected 5.10 moves and a stunning position above the Central Cascades’ Skykomish Valley, this six-pitch line on Index’s Upper Town Wall provides even the weekend warrior with an unforgettable dose of exposure.
Looming above the mossy hamlet of Index, Washington, the Upper Town Wall provided Yosemite training (and adventures in their own right) to folks like Fred Beckey and Jim Madsen. The Davis-Holland route was climbed by Dan Davis and John Holland in 1964, offering a direct passage for three pitches before veering left and finishing up a major, vegetated weakness. In 1980, Don Brooks pushed a line straight above pitch three’s belay, creating the Lovin’ Arms extension, which goes at 5.11b by the original route or 5.10c by a later variation that most climbers now follow.
Regarded by many as the best 5.10 in the region, Davis-Holland to Lovin’ Arms (DHLAto the Index faithful) stands out for its amazingly consistent difficulty, regardless of the type of climbing. From pitch two’s left-leaning, thin-hands corner to the overhanging quartz edges of the route’s final 40 feet, the grade seldom varies by more than a letter. But as the 200-foot firs grow smaller beneath your feet, it won’t be the grades so much as the quality of stone that will impress.
The route is bordered by classic aid routes (now 5.13 testpieces), and it’s not unusual to see a portaledge hanging nearby. Yet the unfolding array of too-good-to-be-true holds only runs out with pitch six’s climactic mantel atop the wall. Pitches one, two, and four all offer sustained crack sections and jamming cruxes, while pitches three, five, and six present challenges of gear-protected face climbing.
With a set of nuts, doubles of cams from fingers to three inches, and an extra thin-hands piece for pitch two, you’ll have enough pro to sew up all the leads. An optional five-inch cam protects the undercling above the belay to start pitch three. However, secure edges and an encouraging nearby partner (all belays are bolted) will likely allow most climbers to power through this pitch’s opening sequence sans big piece. On a big route like this, your partner needs to be encouraging, even if he’s just trying to prevent a BASE jump… back onto the belay.
Getting There: Index is located just north off U.S. Hwy. 2, about 60 minutes east of Seattle or 50 minutes west of Leavenworth. The gravel parking lot is on the north side of Avenue A, a mile west of town along the Skykomish River. Walk across the railroad tracks, turn right (east), and walk along the tracks for five minutes, until a trail leads left through the woods toward an obvious crag. Follow the unmarked trail past the base of this crag (The Country), and uphill through old-growth fir and spruce trees. Take right-hand turns at both unmarked trail junctions, and switchback up to the base of the 600-foot upper wall. Walk left for five minutes, aiming for a hand crack below the leaning, right-facing dihedral of pitch two. Allow 30 minutes from the car.
Guidebooks:Sky Valley Rock, by Darryl Cramer (Sky Valley Press, 2000).
Descent: Rappel with a single 70m or walk off.
Equipment: You can purchase snacks and guidebooks (but no gear) at the combination general store, deli counter, and post office in Index.
Season: Generally, May through September are the best months, with a fairly predictable window of nice weather each year in February. The route dries quickly, but the 5.9 hand crack on pitch one can remain damp.
Camping: There is free camping next to the Skykomish River across the road from the gravel parking lot, with water and bathrooms located one mile east in Index. The closest full-facility camping is at Money Creek, 14 miles east along Hwy. 2; $16/night; (425) 783-6000.