How to enjoy the Incredible Hulk, a trip up Positive Vibrations

7 07 2009

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On our way to Twin Lakes and the Sawtooth Range.

Last year on Labor Day weekend, while Lizzy was away at Field Camp,  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 long 5.10 routes with significant approaches in an alpine setting. I had climbed 5.10+ in the Valley and Tuolumne before but Lizzy and I usually stick to routes closer to the car. Despite bad weather our trip in 2008 was a success, and Konstantin and I tentatively planned to go back to the Hulk for 4th of July weekend 2009.

I had struggled with the altitude during our Car to Car of the Red Dihedral so this time we decided to take it easy and hiked in and camped near the base of the Hulk. This would allow us a night at altitude to acclimatize and help us send the much harder Positive Vibrations.

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At the big trail side rock before crossing the stream.

Both on the way in and the way out in 2008 we got wet crossing the stream. This year we approached in daylight and were able to find a dry way across the small river. After about 2.5 miles of hiking on the main Barney Lake trail the rock in the photo above will be on the left side of the trail. It’s a pretty piece of granite and is hard to miss.  Continue up the trail at most 300 feet looking for a good way to cut left into the meadow. There is not much of a trail but you will be hiking perpendicular to the main trail towards the creek. The view should look something like the photo below.

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The best log crossing was beyond this meadow.  Simply walk towards the small striped cliff.

After the meadow the ground will turn a bit marshy and one should continue walking towards the stream trying best to avoid the random water channels. When you get to the water you should be able to see the rock in the photo below.  If  you don’t see the log jam continue up stream until you pass this rock.  In the off chance you approached to far up stream look for the cliff band in the photo above and go back down stream to it.  At this point you should still be dry and have almost made it across the stream!!

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This rock is just down stream of all the logs we crossed on.

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Konstantin is psyched to find a dry crossing.

We found a good number of logs and were able to cross without taking off our hiking boots. This spot is a bit down stream from the suggested “beaver dam” crossing but it was very easy to do and I recommend it. I think that it could even be done in the dark which is nice for a C2C ascent. After crossing the stream you continue up river with a bit of technical traversing on a rock ledge just above the water (seen in a photo below). Keep on going through some marshes on a trail that fades in and out until an obvious cairn at the beginning  of  steep switchbacks that go up through the trees. The rest of the SuperTopo description for the approach should get you to the base of the hulk.

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The various logs where we crossed the stream.

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A few fun moves  get you from the log crossing  to the trail. (This photo is from the way out so you would be traversing to the  right on the way in)

This year we had full back packs with food for two nights, a tent and a Jetboil but we were still able to make it to camp in about 3 hours. We camped about 25 mins below the hulk so it would be reasonable to hike higher up with full bags in under 4 hours. I thought our time was quite good and I was happy that my legs were not too tired. We managed not to get lost and only had to do a bit of over snow travel.

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The Hulk from our campsite.

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There were lots of mosquitoes so it was nice to have a tent.

We arrived and setup camp and decided on a brief nap. Laying on the rocks dodging mosquitoes and getting a bit of shuteye I managed to get a tiny hole in my Prolite 3 Thermarest. The first night I tried to sleep on our rope to get a bit of padding but I tossed and turned all night. On our second night Konstantin cut his foam pad in half which helped a bit but was no where as comfy as my Thermarest. Since I don’t backpack often I learned the hard way that it is worth while bringing a foam pad since it can’t accidentally get a hole.  I wonder if the first sleepless night was partially due to the altitude since we camped around 9300 feet.

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The sun lighting up the other side of the valley.

Incredible Hulk - July 09 218So psyched that its not windy.

We got up slowly on Saturday morning but still managed to get to the base of the route by 7am. It was not too chilly and I set off on the first pitch wearing a Cap2 and Pants. The granite was fairly solid and I was able to make quick progress and setup the first belay below the P2 crux.  The next pitch started off with 1oc tips and was well protected by nuts.  I had to do a hard pinky and ring finger move to gain a higher foot hold while Konstantine used a flake out to the side since his fingers were too big for the crack.  The 2nd pitch ended at two bolts rap station on a big ledge. This was our first lead swap and Konstantin took over  for the first crux pitch, which was supposed to be reachy. The wind had started a little and was blowing across the snow at the base chilling the Hulk. I switched to an R1 at the belay to keep warm while Konstantin expertly onsighted the pitch.

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Looking down at the base snowfield from the P2 ledge.

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7am mandatory pre climb photo!

Pitch 3 was fairly easy climbing until the crux face traverse that required commitment with gear a bit below your feet. I was worried I would not be able to make the reach with the pack on but after getting my feet sorted I fired the move and was at the belay. This belay was also bolted and the small ledge had very cool exposure. Pitch 4 required stepping across a small void into a stemming chimney. Konstantin, despite telling me he didn’t like stemming, confidently worked up the pitch and dispatched both crux bulges to another bolted belay.  The belay was on a nice ledge but put us out of sync with our topo. On the next pitch (the 5th) Konstantin stopped at a cool ledge with an obvious 2 bolt belay. This belay was not shown on our topo and was actually a belay for the Venturi Effect and caused us a bit of excitement.

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Are we excited for the first crux?

Pitch 6 was mine and the second crux pitch. The plan was to break it up into two sections to alleviate rope drag as suggested by MountainProject. The crack directly above the “belay” was about 2.5″ and did not match the 5.10c micro nut corner described by the SuperTopo. We were definitely on a cool ledge (which we thought was marked on the topo) so I decided to go for it. I climbed up passing two pins, also not on the topo, before things started getting more difficult.  I kept going to a bolt at which point I was fairly sure the climbing was too hard and  I was off route. As well I could see another two bolt anchor about 50 feet to the left that might be the correct belay before pitch 6. I left a biner on the bolt and lowered down and traversed to the a two bolt belay with a bunch of old slings.

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Konstantine at the belay after onsighting the first 11a crux (P3).

This was definitely not a “cool” ledge but rather a COLD one. However around the corner I could see the correct next pitch and after some trickery Konstantin followed and I got back on track. I later found out the pitch I had attempted was 5.12- and P7 on The Venturi Effect. The hard climbing on Pitch 6 started right away and there was crazy exposure as you stepped around the corner from the bolted belay. I fiddled in a few small nuts and started stemming. I was happy to have lead Pure Palm and TRed Sunshine Dihedral at Smith Rock the previous week and was very prepared for this lead. Once past the stemming there as an awkward rest and some crazy laybacking/underclinging around a roof to a crack in a chimney. I kept my weight on my feet and got through it taking time to chill out and make sure to control my breathing since we were above 10,00 feet.

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A slightly chilled Luke on belay duty.

After pulling over the last 10c bulge I was at a good stance but was running out of gear. I couldn’t see the bolt I was supposed to belay at and made an anchor and went off belay. After fiddling around  for a while I looked up and saw the bolt and had Konstantin put me back on. Unfortunately the rope drag was so bad that I had to pull through about 20 feet of rope and climbed the next section without a good belay.  I reached the stance but was confused since the finger crack I just climbed was no way 10d. I should have checked the SuperTopo page for the route which notes the finger crack is more like 10a/b. Konstantin was able to free the rope, that had been causing the drag, and followed the pitch noting that stemming was farily tricky.

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Konstantin heading up the fifth pitch.

Thinking I was at an incorrect belay, not having climbed 10d fingers, I continued up the crack instead of going left across the face for the correct ending of pitch 6.  This led me up the “12a fingers” variation on the SuperTopo which brought me up to a large seemingly detached flake and a belay on the right. I knew this was not my belay (actually the belay after P8 of Venturi Effect) so I did not stop. I also knew I needed to go left and so I embarked on the hardest climbing of the day. There was an steep V slot that accepted a #2 camalot at the bottom. A lack of feet below the slot  prevented me from jamming and forced me to improvise. After much hesitation I committed and laybacked up the right side pasting my feet on the left wall hoping to figure something out. As my feet got up higher I was able to work them into the slot and pulled inside and was greeted with a hand jam. Adrenaline pumping I found some face feet got in a couple of nuts and pulled on to a windy headwall. The crisp alpine air felt so good and I was psyched to still be climbing. I kept going up working steadily left and found myself on a wall of splitters.


Chilling out on top of the crazy flake before committing to the layback.


Luke on leads up the overhanging Slot.  Last two photos thanks to Wendy! (She was part of the first party we saw on the Red Dihedral)

I thought that perhaps I could be in the right place and but was instead too high and to the right (See Photo Below) . I tried traversing left but could neither reach nor see the correct hand crack.  Tired and running out of gear I tried to go up the middle crack but a lack of foot holds cause me to downclimb. Finally I committed to the far right crack and slowly made my way up the wall using my feet as much as possible. I needed to save my cams for a belay and ended up desperately placing nuts using locking biners to clip in since I was out of quickdraws. I saw a slab above and used my glove biner as my last point of gear, unable to remove my gloves since I was so pumped.  I made it onto the slab and placed another nut but had nothing to clip to it. I left the nut in the crack and kept going and got in a #1 before finding a ok crack to make a belay.


I took the crack just left of the red line. (photo from

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It was cold. I swear… (I was actually adding another layer)

Konstantin and I were pretty sure we were lost but there were still cracks above so I kept going. Our 8th pitch was similar to the end of the last pitch with flaring finger cracks that were not too cruxy but very sustained. After gaining a ledge I thought we might be back on track but the cracks continued to be filled with lichen as I climbed up and down the trying to find the best way. After a few hard moves to gain yet another ledge I was below another wall of splitters. This ledge was the biggest yet and traversed way right towards the summit. I saw some fixed nuts and set up a belay far to the right about 20 feet above a rap station that we saw later on. I would guess that this rap station was either for Astro Hulk or Venturi Effect.

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A summit self-portrait from Konstantin

At this point we knew the difficulties should be over and hopefully we could simul climb to the top. Konstantin took back the lead and started traversing right before dead ending in a bushy corner. We re belayed and then simuled about 500 feet on the right side of the ridge past lots of loose rock. It was clear that no one went this way.  Eventually Konstantin lead us over the notch and I recognized the 3rd class traverse to the final two pitches of Red Dihedral. It was still a bit early in the season and we had to climb over snow to reach the last two chimneys.

After swapping leaders, so I could climb the final two pitches,  we caught up with the second party that was doing Red Dihedral. We had a nice chat and followed them up the final chimney and let them rap our rope after getting to the summit and descending to the rap station.

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After 10+ hours on route I was a bit tired…

The first part of the descent was fairly casual with loose sand and scree. We had done this part before and moved fairly quickly. Since we were still fairly early in the season the bottom gully was still filled with snow and added some excitement to our decent. Konstantine went first with a sharp rock in each hand and started kicking steps. I followed him, happy to have my insulated belay gloves, and kicked the steps even deeper since I was a bit unnerved by the steep snow. The couple from SLC followed us down the snow filled gully and we all made it safely to the bottom. It was one of those no fall times but I’m sure that it was much less steep than it seemed.

After picking up my pack I was anxious to get back to camp and did a bit of glacading on the less steep snow (seen in a photo above) to speed things up. Even with the soft snow it took a little less than 2 hours from the summit back to camp. I think next time it might be worth while to bring a 2nd rope and rap the route, as long as it was not windy.   Back at camp we had a yummy dinner thanks to Mountain House. I highly recommend the freeze dried Pasta Primavera, I even added tuna for extra protein! It was after 9pm and it had taken about 14 hours camp to camp and we were ready for sleep.

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One of the many pretty wildflowers in the Hoover Wilderness

The next morning we overslept our alarm but still were packed up and moving down the trail before 8am. We flew down the trail and made it back to the car by 10am an amazing time for sure! After a cooling dip in the lake we stopped in Bridgeport for lunch at the tasty Burger Barn which despite the title also serves Mexican food!  8 hours and a bit of traffic later returned us to San Diego before 7pm. It  was nice to be back so early from a weekend and to get to relax a bit before another busy week at work.

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A victory BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger at the Burger Barn in Bridgeport!

This trip was a really fun and I was very happy to perform so well at altitude. I am hoping to go back and do the proper finish to Positive Vibrations and possible try out some of the pitches on Venturi Effect and Sunspot Dihedral.






13 responses

7 07 2009

Looks like you guys had a Sick Trip. I see your still wearing your Arc’teryx Harness… Did you ever try on the BD one you ordered? I’m having decision issues, I don’t know If I want BD or Arc’teryx? I need one of the famous Dream in Vertical Reviews! Help!

8 07 2009

I like the Arc’teryx one I have (the women’s all-around version), although I still don’t like it for trad climbing because the gear loops just aren’t as good as my cheap mammut harness. But it’s great for sport climbing. Wore it a lot in Smith Rock and it seems to be pretty durable so far.

8 07 2009

I tried on the new BD Chaos and almost kept it but It seemed very similar to the Arc’teryx. The gear loops are a bit bigger on the R320 but I couldn’t suggest either way. One thing that has been bothering me trad climbing with the Arc’teryx is that cams will slide over the front of my leg. I think I need to switch the gear loops (which are reversable) to make the gear slide back instead of forward.

If you want a sport climbing harness I tried on the BD Ozone which was pretty spiffy and also has the special construction.

If the Leg to Waist ratio doesn’t work on the R320 I was told that the R280 (the womens version Lizzy has) might fit better due to a different ratio.

As sad thing I noticed on all of these new harnesses (BD included) is that the size of the gear loops are proportional to the size of the harness. So even though Lizzy and I both have the “same” Arc’teryx harness my gear loops are bigger…

8 07 2009

Yeah, who says that since I’m a small female that I need less gear loop space??? Where will I fit all my widgets???

9 07 2009

I want to add that two pitches that Luke led (and onsighted) were f-n insanly hard. On the first one he convinced me that that finger crack is just very thin 10d for my big fingers. But on the second overhang/slot i got convinced that Luke is on steroids or something. Great job!
and the whole trip was done “hot wine free”:)

13 07 2009

Cool man. Thanks for the approach beta. Last summer I was swimming in that swamp holding my pack above my head. It sucked, but the HULK is amazing!

13 07 2009

I also had an encounter with the swamp last year. My trekking poles were the only thing that kept me from going in past my waist… Crossing on the logs is the way to go.

After climbing at Temple Crag I am even more impressed by how good the rock is on the Hulk. I guess I am just a sucker for fine grained granite cracks!

6 08 2009
Reflecting on Smith Rock. « Dream in Vertical

[…] Smith did accomplish a big goal of getting me in shape for my successful ascent of Positive Vibrations. I have been writing up a climbing bio which made think about my strengths […]

10 09 2009
Matt D

Hey guys,

Great documentation!

did you need to wear long underwear during the climb?

what was included in your rack?

word UP

10 09 2009

I did not and I don’t think Konstantin did either. A month later when Lizzy and I were on the Hulk I am pretty sure she either had long underwear or tights under her pants… (Lizzy gets cold easily)

Many people do wear long underewear and it is possible I would have been a bit warmer with it. Most of the time I tend stay warm and its tricky to remove bottom layers on a multipitch wearing a harness.

19 03 2010

I think the fact that you nailed the approach definitely compensates for climbing all over Venturi! Nice work guys- and I’m stoked to make an appearance in the photo of the pitch 7 handcrack.

Sunspot next?

28 03 2010

The plan was to do Venturi this 4th of July but a recent injury is pushing that plan back. Instead hopefully I’ll do Sunspot and Astro-Hulk or perhaps Tradewinds…

11 06 2012
Incredible Hulk Topos and Information | DreamInVertical

[…] on the 4th of July and do Positive Vibrations. A lot of climbing, training and maturing later we climbed Positive Vibes this past July. I was so amazed by the route I wanted  do it with Lizzy and so in August we went […]

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