Index's First 5.14

My friend Blake Herrington originally pointed me to the undone direct start of Ten Percent Meteorological Vinculation. “Ten Percent” is a 5 pitch climb in the center of Index’s Lower Town Wall, first aided in 1972 by aid climbing legends, Bruce Carson and Dave Anderson (Carson and Yvon Chouinard were the first to climb the Nose clean, without a hammer). The first 50 feet of true start still had not been freed and was one of the most obvious remaining challenges at Index.

When I got on it for the first time, I couldn’t do all the moves but I could see that it would go, and was surprised that no one had done it yet, there being no lack of strong climbers in Washington. The holds and the sequences are quite beautiful, but you can’t really tell from the ground. You really have to discover it by experiencing the moves on the wall. The style fit me quite well and it seemed like I could be the person with the right skill set to make this long standing project happen.

It took about a year of getting on it here and there till I saw how it went and could link large sections. After an easy intro, the main part of the climb is only 25 moves, but 25 moves of tricky and hard vertical granite bouldering, with some classic Index funk and consistent bad feet. I linked the crux 3-move boulder for the first time this winter and knew then that it could go at any point.

I decided to add 2 bolts to be consistent with how the rest of Ten Percent is bolted, and started to make attempts on lead. After 15 or so attempts over a few months, including a couple falls above the crux, I sent on a cool and dry spring evening, likely one of the last good days before the summer heat. Thank you Chad Walker for the send belay! He graciously came out just to support me.

The route breaks hard right on a line of crimps to the ledge below the low anchors on Japanese Gardens. You could probably go straight up and avoid the ledge, but this seemed contrived. And instead of continuing up the 5.11+ climbing on Ten Percent I decided to end it short. It didn’t seem to fit the nature of the free variation to lengthen the pitch.

I’m calling the direct free variation “En Passant,” French for “In Passing,” because it kinda sounds like “Ten Percent,” and because it’s the name of a weird chess move that seemed to have some parallels to the route. The crux clocks in around V11, and as I found out with some huge whips on my minimally placed bolts, you can fall in other places as well. I think it’s a solid step up from Amandla (5.13+) in difficulty and could be Index’s first 5.14.

I was super lucky to have Andy Wickstrom photograph a really close attempt about a week before I sent. All the amazing photos posted here are his. Thank you Andy!! And thank you also Tonde Katiyo and Liz Hadley for all the belays and support.


Opening sequence on parallel cracks above a #2 cam.


Pressing with my left thumb to move my left foot up.


The crux move — flipping the right hand from a gaston to sidepull with terrible feet.


Moving above an interesting triangle feature on pin scars. Matching feet in the triangle proved to be a second crux. I fell there once after making it through the true crux for the first time.


While Andy was photographing me I fell on this funny match, my best attempt of the day.


Moving left on edges toward Japanese Gardens.


Crossing to the final crimp before the arête jug below the anchors. I did not use that old aid bolt.