The truth about Index, the quaint Northwest climbing paradise-at least during periods of dry weather-is that deep inside the granite batholith, whose slow erosion has gifted us with copious amounts of steep stone to climb, more mysterious forces are at work. Theories abound as to why there are so many incredible routes in such a relatively small area of rock. They range from the quasi-scientific to the profoundly mystical, from potential hard nuggets of truth to mere fluff and folly. Here are some of the more credible theories to date; it is the sincere wish of this author that they honor the entire spectrum of possibility.
Theory 1: The Fifth Force- Gravity. Electromagnetism. The strong and weak nuclear interactions. The four fundamental forces govern the physical universe as we know it, from the almost inextricable fusion of subatomic particles and the emission of energy to the facility of communication via ionospheric wave propagation to the strange and exotic workings of black holes and galactic cores. At the Index Town Walls, in the center of an area known by climbers as The Country, is a tunnel bored into the dense, dark granite. Large enough for at least five persons to stand abreast and taller than any man, the tunnel is the product of drilling equipment tests. Since the 1990's, the University of Washington Physics Department has used the tunnel for more arcane purposes: to separate myth from hard scientific reality in the search for the elusive Fifth Force. The dense granite of the tunnel walls should, in theory, shield the test equipment from any interference and allow discrepancies in the expected gravitational measurements to be investigated. So far, no one has been able to produce truly compelling data validating the existence of the Force. However, at Index the clues are truly written on the soaring walls of granite as the Force quietly morphs the stone into five star climbing routes, covering them with moss and thorn shrubs in order to veil its inscrutable purpose.
Theory 2: The Bats are Not What They Seem- Bats are a perennial sight at the Index Town Walls, soaring through the gathering dusk to catch insects and screeching at the unsuspecting climber from cracks during the day. To wit, I had a close encounter with a bat at Index last year and ended up having a rather harrowing (not to mention expensive) rabies vaccination series as a precaution. Virus harboring potential aside, bats are a wonderful and useful presence anywhere, not to mention that they are rather fantastic creatures. But moreover, at least according to some sources, they are the focal point of a rather powerful form of mystical energy. Vampires may be one product of their eccentricities, but no vampires have been seen at Index for at least three years. Nay, the focus of this particular energy is rather peculiar: freeform stonemasonry. Inside the fissures and flake systems of Index Town Wall granite, a secret society flourishes. The bats have used this network of natural spaces as their microcosmic empire, communicating via sonar as well as a certain phosphorescent lichen they use for signalling. No one, of course, is privy to their most intimate concerns but rest assured, they have shaped the stone around them to their liking, using their acidic saliva to etch the rock. Of course, the routes we climb are completely secondary to their efforts; whether religious or simply pragmatic in nature, we cannot say. The only certainly is that their presence at the walls is much more than mere habitation.
Theory 3: Weathering- Prevailing wisdom would say that the features we use for climbing are part and parcel of a process of natural weathering. In the case of Index, since glaciation was probably minimal in the immediate area, the weathering would consist almost entirely of water runoff, freeze/thaw and wind-based processes. Yawn. How much more colorless an explanation could one devise? That the perfect flakes, cracks, knobs and other permutations of holds are all mere happenstance that we find under the layer of moss that covers the cliffs?
Other explanations might range from the mundane to the entirely fantastical, but one thing is for sure: Index is the cream of Washington rock climbing. Some cosmic rule has determined that every route must be of at least moderate quality. Another rule has determined that it must be sheathed in rain and slime for at least nine months out of the year. These rules are surely mutually exclusive. As for the truth behind the geological processes present at the lower wall: we'll leave that to the Fifth Force.