Sierra Suffering or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Altitude

3 09 2008

After serious sport climbing for the past two weekends I needed a bit of break from small crimps and powerful moves. An early afternoon departure on Friday started the long trip to Tuolumne and the High Sierra. Three accidents coupled with Labor Day traffic delayed our arrival until 11:30 pm. Eight hours on the road was a bit more than we expected but we managed to find our bivy site without a problem and passed out.

Waking at 6am I saw a familiar face of Lukasz who was planning on climbing in Tuolumne that weekend with his friend Troy. After breakfast and packing up we split paths and headed to Tioga Lake. Our first object was to climb the 3rd Pillar of Dana. The trail skirted around Tigoa Lake and led up to the Dana Plateau

The scenery was pretty and it was a shame we did not have a camera. Steep switch backs led up an canyon alongside a gurgling stream. After passing through a few gorgeous alpine meadows we took a gully of orange rock up to the Dana plateau. We missed the trail and stayed on the right side of the gully following the occasional cairn. (We found the real trail on the opposite side of the gully when we descended) Once we gained the Dana Plateau we followed flat terrain for a while and then crossed a large field of small boulders.  The wind had steadily been increasing and I had become quite cold and had to stop to add another layer. I wondered what had happened to the SoCal summer heat? Being cold was quite the different feeling from our heat exhaustion at Echo the weekend before. The hike ends at the edge of the plateau and the top of the route. A steep decent is required before starting the technical rock climbing. We were worried about the wind since both Konstantin and I were wearing all our layers as we racked up. 

A series of steep 3rd and 4th class ledges that go along a ridge parallel to the 3rd Pillar allow passage to the base. The route was quite exposed and exciting and I was happy that there was no snow. It took another 45 minutes to get down to the base and luckily the wind had died down and we could take off a few layers. The first two lead were mine and passed smoothly. I was able to climb fairly quickly and dispatched the cruxy pitch two flared finger crack. Konstantin took over leading and we kept our fast pace and quickly made our way to the final pitch. With the altitude catching up with me I was happy to be close to the top. Seconding with the pack and two pairs of approach shoes was tiring and almost proved harder than leading.

The final pitch was full of variety and spice and we were back on top and in the wind again, 3 hours after leaving the base. Happy with our time and anxious to get out of the wind, which had picked up, we practically ran down the trail. I had a huge shit-eating grin on my face as I tried to keep up with the boyish strides of Konstantin. (I don’t really know what shit-eating grin is but I sure was smiling the whole way down) Our first climb together and my first time placing gear in almost a month was a great success. Little over an hour after summiting and a brief dip in Tioga lake, we were back in the car. Out of Tuolumne we sped, our legs tired, on the way to Bridgeport for our date with the Incredible Hulk.

Taking only 7.5 hours car to car we were ahead of schedule and went straight to the ranger station to secure a permit for the Hoover Wildness where the Hulk is located. When we arrived and inquired about a permit the ranger said “We closed the Hulk about an hour or two ago”. Closed… I thought… must be due to the winds.  So we inquired WHY?!? “Filled up for today” he responded. Few… “Can we get a permit for tomorrow?”  We asked much relieved.  A bit of paperwork later we were back in the car going towards Twin Lakes. 

With our plan compromised, we started talking about alternatives. Should we do the Red Dihedral car to car? Should we hike in some gear and stash it but camp at the campground? We discussed the various plans over lunch at the Burger Barn in Bridgeport. A root beer float was a nice reward for sore legs and a great morning of climbing. We got back on the road without a conclusion and made our way to the campground by the Twin Lakes at Mono Village. 

Based on a much longer approach (5 miles) and twice as many pitches (12 vs 5) we estimated that if we were to climb car to car we would take about 3.5 hours to approach, 7 hours to climb and then another 3.5 hours to come back. If we left at 3:30 am 14 hours of travel would put us back by 5:30 pm well before dark (7:30 pm). This seemed like a good option and allowed our legs some much needed rest. We ate an early dinner and passed out by 6pm. 

While 3:30 am might be standard for an alpine start I don’t really do early mornings. Waking up was easy and I felt well rested after almost 9 hours of sleep. With our gear already packed we ate and hit the trail with headlamps blazing. 2.5 miles of easy trail lead to a tricky stream crossing. If we could find a certain boulder we would be able to cross on a log bridge otherwise we would have to walk across a series of beaver dams. After spending about 15 minutes wandering in the dark we found a trail and crossed the stream. Our directions told us to head up stream to find a climbers trail that would lead up into the woods. Another 15 minutes of crashing through trees in the dark yielded no path. Looking at the map and checking with our compass we headed off up hill. We had to keep moving since it was still more than an hour before sunrise. 

Over an hour of bushwhacking in the wrong direction and we were on the west side of slide canyon far from the trail and our objective. With the help of the morning light we made our way to the east side of the canyon and found the correct trail. Another hour and half and we were at the windy base of the Hulk. 4 hours and 10minutes after we left was a bit slower than we expected but pretty good for how far off track we got. 

Despite the wicked cold we racked up and soloed 100 feet of easy 3rd and 4th class to belay below a 5.8 bulge that would be the start of the technical climbing. Konstantin lead the first 3 pitches in one block with our 70m rope to a hanging belay below the Red dihedral. As Konstantin lead the crux pitch I was being tossed around by the wind at the belay. The pitch was of high quality with sustained hand jams to a tricky bulge. Luckily there was a nice rest before the powerful 10b moves. With all the gear and bag and shoes following was even more strenuous than the day before and I was happy to take over the lead. I climbed pitches 5 -8 in 3 blocks stopping at the best ledges I could find. It was so nice when we moved around the corner into the sun. 

My pitches were fairly easy with one short section of 10a and a fun 5.9 finger crack. Despite eating a lot and trying to stay hydrated my arms were cramping and I was leading slowly. Since I could follow faster Konstantin took back the lead and led the rest of the pitches. The next 3 pitches, which gained the 3rd class traverse and lead to the final chimneys, were some of the easiest of the route. In hindsight we both agreed that simuling would have saved time.

The last two pitches were dirty and the final slot was more straightforward than we expected.  Even though the last two pitches were short it would be very tricky to link them due to horrible rope drag.  It had taken 8 hours to get to the windy summit due to the very cold conditions (for the end of August) and the constant wind. The wind was so strong you had to take extra care while leading not to get blown off. A series of 3rd class ledges allowed passage from the summit to the rappel station on the back of the Hulk. Down climbing was slow due to the constant gusts of wind and dizzying exposure. 

The rappel was straightforward and we were happy to have made it to the gully. Unfortunately when we tried to pull the rope it was very stuck. We did not have enough rope to lead back up to retrieve the rope and we had no guarantee if we could free the rope that it would not get stuck again.  We decided the best option was to leave the rope since all other options seemed quite dangerous.  

We descended the loose gully with lots of choss surfing and were back at the base in about an hour. It was nice to have lighter packs without the water or rope and we made good time down the trail. We met a couple of dudes from Colorado who may try to retrieve my rope and hopefully I can pick it up in Bridgeport next weekend. Following the climbers trail all the way back to the stream was much faster than the way we approached. However when got to the stream we could not find the log bridge and oped to cross on one of the beaver dams. This was not a great option since the stream had widened to 500 feet of marshes compared to the 15 feet of where we crossed. In addition to the greater expanse of wetness the marsh had sections of waist deep water. The water we had crossed in the dark was barely two feet deep. 

Wet up to the waist we made it back to the main hiker trail and continued on our way, wet and smelly from the marsh. A few hundred feet later we found the “boulder” in the middle of the meadow with a tall cairn on it that marked the dry crossing. The rock was much further back from the wilderness sign than noted on-line. I would expect it could be as far as 500-800 feet before the Hoover Wildness sign. The boulder is small and is quite far from the trail and would be tricky to locate in the dark. The best way to find it would be to look about 100 feet after a clean boulder on the left of the trail but a good ways before the wilderness sign. 

We made it back to camp in the fading light and celebrated with hot showers and food. Car to car was a good decision and while we were both tired, but far from wrecked. My legs hurt less than the day before and I was happy to be warm again after 8 hours in the cold and the wind on the climb. 

We slept in the next morning and made the 7.5 hour drive back to San Diego. Labor Day turned out to be the most relaxing of the weekend. Saturday and Sunday however were jam packed with over 15 miles of hiking and 17 pitches of climbing.  It was great to be in the Sierra’s and this trip makes me excited to do more long routes!







3 responses

4 09 2008

Great job guys. I am so jelous……..

27 02 2009
Sweet Gear: Generation 3, The Reverso, The OZ and C3’s « Dream in Vertical

[…] belay device is pretty essential for mult-pitching. My Reverso3 got put through the paces with 17 pitches in the first two days of use. I learned quickly that the device was a bit picky with diameter. […]

7 07 2009
How to enjoy the Incredible Hulk, a trip up Positive Vibrations « Dream in Vertical

[…]  Konstantin and I climbed regular route on the Third Pillar of Dana and the Red Dihedral on the Incredible Hulk. These were some of my first longer 5.10 routes with significant approaches in an alpine setting. I […]

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