Gifting a wall to Washington

Washington Climbers Association continuing stewardship

Kelly Sullivan

The organization that purchased the Lower Town Wall near Index almost a decade ago is getting closer to turning the property over to Washington State Parks.

The Washington Climbers Coalition has two big projects planned for this year. An arborist found nine trees that need to be removed for safety, and a toilet will be installed at the start of the access trail.

“This has been a remarkably complicated project,” according to the coalition.

The group had to petition Snohomish County, hire a consultant to map the property’s wetlands, and develop a mitigation plan, according to this year’s project update. A surveyor and civil engineer were brought in, and they also had to collaborate with the railroad.

The coalition will have to widen a portion of the trail leading to the climbing area, within a railroad right-of-way, to make it work, according to the update. Then a gravel road will be developed there, so the toilet can be built and serviced.

A timeline has not been set yet.

Vegetation may be cleared in spring, or later in 2019, when the installation can happen at the same time, according to the update.

The coalition first purchased the Lower Town Wall in 2010. The area is renowned among climbers for its “high-quality granite trad climbing,” which is a style of climbing where protective equipment is placed while someone climbs, and then removed once a pitch, or section of a climb, is completed.

The property is among a number of neighboring climbing sites that make Index Washington’s most popular climbing spot, according to the coalition. Bouldering has also become more prominent there in recent years.

“Index has a reputation for tough, steep climbing,” according to the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau.

Athletes of all abilities are drawn to the crags. Climbers frequent the site nearly year-round, according to the bureau.

Only one section, the Upper Town Wall, is closed for a brief period each spring for peregrine falcon nesting, according to the coalition. Weather can also play a role in attendance.

Washington Parks director Don Hoch signed a management plan last year for the Forks of Sky State Park, which includes most of the Index climbing areas. Once the coalition donates the property, the Lower Town Wall will also be managed under the plan.

Under the plan, the falcon closures will start March 1, which only affects some routes, according to a coalition news release. If a nest is built, the timeframe will extend through July 1.

The coalition has historically announced if any are found — one was found this year.

“These birds can fly over 250 miles per hour and they are tough,” according to the coalition. “Seriously do not mess with these birds. Even outside the closure area, please leave if you experience swooping falcons defending a nest.”

The Lower Town Wall is the easiest spot to get to, and most popular, according to the management plan. It is 350 feet tall, and includes mostly difficult routes. 

Climbers have been visiting the area for five decades, according to the coalition. It has been listed among the best climbing areas in the country.

The previous owner put up “No Trespassing” signs in 2009, according to the coalition. Within two years, groups of climbers and organizations had amassed $300,000 to purchase the property, as well as an endowment fund for maintenance and improvements.

Renowned climber and author of the first Index Guidebook, the late Fred Beckey attended the ceremony to celebrate the purchase that was held at the Outdoor Adventure Center in 2010, along with other well-known Washington climbers.

The state then agreed to manage the property, but was required to develop the management plan prior to acquiring the land, according to the release. The plan also ensures protections to keep the area as a venue for technical rock climbing and bouldering.

In the plan, climbers are allowed to create new routes with fixed anchors, and can use power drills, without approval from the state ahead of time, according to the release. They may also clean routes of vegetation that is not threatened or endangered, but sparingly.  

“State Parks, however, takes no responsibility for climber safety, including the safety of fixed anchors,” according to the release.

In 2015, the coalition wrote a set of unofficial procedures, encouraging others to follow them, so the beloved location remains protected.

“We share this area with our fellow climbers, other visitors, land managers, and local residents,” according to the letter. “Our actions matter.”


Photo courtesy of Washington Climbers Coalition: The Washington Climbers Coalition is getting ready to turn over the Lower Town Wall property in Index over to Washington State Parks.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment