Rising From Obscurity

This past weekend was quite nice for climbing: cloudy, dry and with temperatures in the low 60's. The long face routes on the Upper Town Wall at Index are notoriously difficult in hot weather; even direct sun on a 65 degree day can make the small edges and foot smears seem less and less plausible as holds. While Sunday had some sun breaks that heated things up a bit, overall it proved to be a boon for Jeanna and I for our attempt on an obscure classic free climb: Rise and Fall.

Nice looking place!

Now, the history of this climb is a bit hard to parse and has assumed a rather mythological guise. As far as that goes, this article has a nice account of Greg Child's near-fatal rappelling accident that inspired the route's name. Aside from that and the fact that he and Andy DeKlerk, two expert Index micro-face climbers, established the route in 1991 or so, little other accurate information exists about the route. Conflicting opinions abound: while Darryl Cramer's 'Sky Valley Rock' more or less accurately describes the route and its difficulties, Jeff Smoot's 'Rock Climbing Washington' guidebook embellishes both the danger and the difficulty with descriptions of 'back-off slings' and undergrading. To add to the mystique, Mikey Schaefer recently nabbed what may be the second free ascent of the route this summer (19 years after the first ascent!!!), commenting that it felt quite hard indeed.

Having tried and failed on the crux first pitch six or seven years ago, I remembered little except that I had mostly figured out the hardest moves but had perhaps stood on a bolt hanger to get through one particular section. I remembered the route as being a little dirty with lichen, which can sometimes feel like ball bearings underfoot on thin granite face climbing, making it feel much harder than it would if clean. After Mikey's redpoint and some other recent traffic, however, it was sure to be clean and I was inspired to try it!

Jeanna and I began on the first pitch of Green Drag-on (instead of the normal 5.9 handcrack start of Davis/Holland, which was quite busy at the time), which is a really enjoyable 5.11- finger and lieback crack that looks like it was made for stopper placements. Luckily, I had some of those aboard and promptly placed all except one.

Crazy lichens that are obvious from the road grow under the roof next to the route

The crux pitch begins on pitch two of Green Drag-on, which is a right-facing corner with broken pins that sports four bolts at the beginning that protect delicate 5.11 stemming. After the fourth bolt, the pitch exits the corner on the left and ascends a steep, featured face. A hard move or two left gains a really intriguing quartzite deposit/dike with egg-sized crystals (!) that is followed for about twenty feet to the crux: a tough section establishing on a large foot ledge and pulling over a bulge. Strenuous and still difficult liebacking up a dike feature culminates with one more pull over a steep bulge to the anchor. As I climbed the pitch, I found myself actually recognizing features, which was as problematic as it was helpful: I remembered which parts were hard which limited my ability to see all my hold options. Despite this, to my delight I made it through without falling in the style of the proverbial 'forgetful person's onsight'. Jeanna followed with a few hangs, but made mince meat out of the cruxes once she figured them out. Once again, I watched in dismay from above as she found a much easier way of sequencing the hardest crux, then pulled through the balance lieback above with panache where I felt taxed and nervous. This is beginning to be a familiar pattern when we climb routes together!

Guaranteed to be a good day with this crew

The second pitch is 5.10a and, while the bolts are spaced a little at the beginning, no longer deserves the 'R' rating it once received. Either bolts were added later (there were two more present than in previous topos) or the danger was overblown to begin with. The climbing is quite good, with more quartzite features (the same dike continued from below), a crux roof encounter and an interesting shattered quartz corner.

The third pitch is almost as difficult as the first, but not quite. It begins with a step right into more quartz-like rock (I believe the same dike wanders up the wall in this area) and climbs a corner with some knobs as well. A lieback crack (piece of gear) leads to a roof with some surprisingly featured climbing. After pulling over onto a slab with some difficulty, the features disappear and a typically desperate Index face crux ensues. Luckily, there is just enough to get by on but some of the holds were shockingly minute. I was extremely gratified to squeak through with an onsight (or 'flash' as there was a huge chalked tick mark on a key hold) of this pitch. Once again, Jeanna cruised up to the slab but hung once or twice before pulling it off effortlessly. Once she figures something out she makes it look far too easy, especially if it's actually hard-as-nails, 'magic toe levitation face climbing' on granite.

Me looking valiant on pitch 3. Photos courtesy of Matthew Schutz, who was climbing Davis Holland/Lovin' Arms right next door to Rise and Fall
A series of Jeanna on Pitch 3. I'd rather not admit how long it took me to make this in Photoshop

After some creative removal of the aforementioned tick mark, we continued on to the next 5.11b slab pitch. This pitch is long compared to the others and is remarkably featured: I had to look twice when I found myself pulling on strange granite pockets that lasted for most of the pitch (and no, they are NOT manufactured!). One thin section comprises the crux. Unfortunately, a crumbled foothold denied me on my first attempt at this section but after lowering and pulling the rope I managed it on the next try.

Jeanna on Pitch 4: thin, artsy face climbing typical of the Upper Town Wall

The final pitch is 5.10a or b and is short, overhung and ominously blocky at the top. At some point, a couple of bolts were added to the top part, obviating a need for gear. That said, one of the bolts is in a MASSIVE block stacked on other blocks that vibrated when I sounded it out. Visions of riding it down to the base danced through my imagination and I found a place for a small cam further from harm's way.

A view across the wall to the left side of the Cheeks

While this post is intended to provide a rather tongue-in-cheek analysis of the history and a detailed description and some photos of the route and its characteristics, I'll also offer some of my thoughts. First, I would like to encourage other interested parties to attempt Rise and Fall as I found the climbing to be quite in line with what one would expect from Index at that grade. In terms of difficulty, it falls in line with other routes of similar style such as Swim (.11d; slightly easier aside from pitch 1 which is HARD), Calling Wolfgang (.12b; slightly harder), Technicians of the Sacred Pitch 1 (.12b/c; harder still) and Soul on Ice (.12c; quite a bit harder). Expect tough cruxes, but nothing outlandish if your footwork is precise. Friction climbing on the UTW is quite temperature dependent, so plan accordingly. Finally, don't forget to take in the view, as it is quite spectacular from up there! The way the ground slopes away down to the town kind of makes the wall feel 1000 feet bigger than it is.

Gear list:
-12 quickdraws, 4 runners.
-Other gear is dependent on choice of approach pitch. For Green Drag-on P1, bring nuts #3-9 Black Diamond size, cams to #1 or #2 Camalot; small cams useful. For Davis Holland P1, bring gear to #2 or #3 Camalot. For Rise and Fall proper, a singles rack of smaller cams to .5 C4 size is nice to supplement bolts on a few of the pitches.

Pitch list:

P1 (5.12a/b): corner to crux face. P2 (5.10-): face climbing on dike. P3 (5.11+): quartz corner, roof and crux slab. P4 (5.11b/c): thin face climbing with pockets and one harder section. P5 (5.10b): steep, juggy liebacking and scary blocks.


  1. Excellent vicarious experience for me; thanks.
    You guys are amazing.

  2. Nice work you two!! Green Dragon next?