It’s just a 5-minute walk from the parking lot of one of Washington’s most popular crags, but City Park–a striking seam that divides Index’s Lower Town Wall–has only had a handful of ascents. On July 10, Brittany Goris became the first woman and sixth person to free climb the storied first pitch, which has a reputation as one of the hardest trad lines in the state at 5.13c/d. Goris, 25, was also just the third person to place all gear on lead.
Technically the route is four pitches long with difficulties not exceeding 5.10 on the upper three pitches. Climbers usually access the second and third pitches–the 5.9 fourth pitch is rarely climbed and has been “lost to the moss,” Goris said–by climbing an easier pitch or by aiding through the difficulties of the first pitch at C1.
Established as an aid route in 1966 by Roger Johnson and Richard Mathies, City Park was first freed by Todd Skinner in 1986, when its requirement of continuous pinky locks on the crux pitch made it the most difficult crack climb in the US. According to Paul Piana in a 2012 story for Rock and Ice, one climber was apparently so put off by Skinner’s prominent reputation, outsider status, or the hang-dogging he did to practice the moves, that they poured grease into the crack in an attempt to thwart him–Skinner blowtorched the grease out and finished the route anyway. The second ascent was made by double-amputee Hugh Herr, who had tailored his prosthetic legs for climbing.
According to the Index guidebook by Chris Kalman and Matty Van Biene, Chris Schlotfeldt made a third ascent with all the gear preplaced (a “pinkpoint”), while Skinner and Herr had only used some preplaced gear. Mikey Schafer made the first true redpoint ascent in 2005, placing all the gear on lead, followed by Blake Herrington in 2016.
Goris described the crux pitch on her blog: “It consists of 35 meters of 5.10 bolt ladder, 5.11 splitter fingers, 5.12 tech, and 5.13 pinky lock after pinky lock above nuts and size 00 cams. The smallest trad gear on the market.”
An accomplished sport climber, Goris is one of the few Washington women who have climbed 5.14 (Audrey Sniezek and Jasna Hodzic are two others from the area known to have climbed the grade). But Goris said she only really started trad climbing last fall, after she burned out on a sport project at Little Si, Washington.
“It felt like I had just pushed myself so hard for so long. To continue to level-up, I couldn’t even fathom what it would take,” she told Alpinist. “I felt really lost.”
And so, she came to Index. Goris said that initially her intentions at Index were simply to have fun and rediscover her passion for climbing. However, the first pitch of City Park conveniently shares anchors with one of the most fun climbs at the crag, a 5.9 called Godzilla. It didn’t take long for Goris to swing the rope around the corner and set up a City Park toprope. Translation: it didn’t take long for Goris to find her new project.
City Park quickly became a lesson in placing tiny cams, enduring runout cruxes and bleeding knuckles, and confronting the fussiness of climbing on granite in Pacific Northwest weather.
“I knew I was going to give it everything I had,” Goris said. “But I didn’t know if it was something that would take the rest of my life to do, or if it was close to happening.”
As it turned out, it only took a matter of months. Goris started up the pitch for her second attempt of the day around 9 p.m. on July 10. She fought through the final pinky locks and clipped the chains just as it was getting dark.
Five days later, Goris returned with Chris Schlotfeldt, who had just heard about her climb. Goris racked up and Schlotfeldt belayed her as she climbed the two 5.10 pitches above the 5.13 crack that are also technically part of City Park (although they are usually accessed by Godzilla, as Goris did that day).
“Getting to do it with one of the few other people who has finished the route was pretty cool,” Goris said. “I’m still shocked that I had the opportunity.”