Incredible Hulk Double Header!

13 08 2009

Although Luke had already climbed on the Incredible Hulk twice with his friend Konstantin, he wanted to go back with me so I could experience the wild alpine granite and so we could do Positive Vibrations without getting lost. I was a little nervous, but I’ve done some alpine climbing before – in Tuolumne and the North Cascades – so I wasn’t too worried. Maybe I should have been a little more concerned…

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Crossing the creek on logs.

All worries aside, we woke up early on Saturday morning to drive up to Twin Lakes, where we’d ditch the car and start hiking with our big packs. The drive was uneventful and we made it to the campground/parking after a rather disappointing lunch (at least on my part) at the Burger Barn in Bridgeport. Luke worked on packing all our gear (rack, slings, QDs, tent, sleeping bags and pads, food, JetBoil, etc.) into our packs, while I added a middle mark to our rope (because Luke’s beloved Sterling ropes don’t come with middle marks, for some reason that I still don’t understand).

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Looking up at the Hulk from the approach.

We set out on the Barney Lake trail, stopping a couple times to apply bug repellent and adjust my pack suspension, since I hadn’t worn this pack for over 6 years (but, thanks to Lowe Alpine’s nifty adjustable torso length, still fits me!). After the first ~2.5 miles, we left the main hiking trail and started winding our way up the climbers’ trail that heads up-canyon towards the Incredible Hulk. We’d started hiking at about 7,000ft, and were steadily gaining elevation toward the base of the Hulk, which is at about 10,000ft. The elevation hadn’t initially bothered me, but as we got higher, I definitely started to feel it. I live in Pasadena, which lies a whopping 864ft above sea level, so I am essentially a huge altitude wimp. Especially with no acclimatization, I was definitely suffering my fair share on the latter part of the hike.

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Hiking up the talus.

However, we made it to the flat below the Incredible Hulk talus field in time to see the lovely evening light on the Hulk, having completed the hike in somewhere around 5 hours. We set up the tent, pumped some water from the stream, and quickly retreated into the tent to escape the mosquitoes while we boiled water for dinner in the vestibule. We were hungry after the long hike, so we stuffed our faces with Mountain House Chili Mac and a packet of tuna before drifting off to sleep. Our sleep was disrupted in the middle of the night by some heavy-sounding footsteps and heavy breathing. Terrified, and holding our breaths in our sleeping bags, we waited for the whatever-it-was to pass. Luke had thought it might be a bear, but I was pretty sure it sounded like it had hooves, and the breathing sounded like a horse’s heavy breathing. We laid there, wide awake and hearts pumping, as the possible-small-elk-with-breathing-problem ran by a second time. It took us a while to calm down and fall back asleep.

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Sunset on the Incredible Hulk.

Sunday morning, we’d planned on sleeping in and taking a slow, relaxing start to the day to minimize our time on route before it got in the sun. We ended up waiting a bit longer than we’d originally planned because the other party hadn’t started super early either and were moving a bit slow on the first pitches. After soloing up to the first 5.8 bulge, we roped up and Luke led up to the base of the Red Dihedral while I shivered below, nibbling on a Mojo bar and trying to recover from the nausea I’d developed while hiking. Again, huge altitude wimp…

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Lizzy leading up the Red Dihedral.

When it was my turn to climb, I felt off. My fingers and toes were numb and the backpack was quite heavy – food, 2L of water, and both our pairs of approach shoes. Plus altitude. I was feeling discouraged by the time I got to the belay, but it was my turn to lead next (no pack!) and Luke convinced me I wouldn’t want to have to do the next pitch with the pack. So, with that, I reluctantly set off into the “money pitch”, the namesake “Red Dihedral” – a sustained 5.9 left-facing corner to some crazy 5.10 stemming moves at the top. Not the most awesome pitch I’ve ever done, but pretty good.

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Luke is psyched after leading the 10a mostly hands splitter.

After this, we stepped around the corner for the remainder of the wandering, mostly easy pitches. Although the position was great, the route was a bit wandering and the heavy pack made following not-so-much fun. Also, it was really cold. Even after the route came in the sun, there were many clouds and it was pretty windy, which prevented me from ever warming up. A little bit of simul-climbing took us along the traverse to the last 2 pitches to the summit, both of which would have been cool if they weren’t so dirty. We paused on the summit (over 11,000ft of elevation) for some snacks and a few quick snapshots before carefully down-climbing to the rap station. After rappelling, we began the long hike down the West Gully on talus and scree. This was no Stawamus Chief descent trail, ladies and gentlemen.

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On the summit of the Incredible Hulk.

Back at the tent, we pumped some more water and had more Mountain House food and another tuna packet for dinner, along with some chocolate cheesecake in a packet (mmm, chocolate…). I was exhausted and very apprehensive about the next day. The Red Dihedral had been hard, maybe not technically, but definitely physically, and Positive Vibrations is much harder. There isn’t a single pitch easier than 5.10. I was worried about being able to get myself up the harder pitches with the pack.

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Looking out at the Hulk from inside the tent.

The next morning dawned warmer (even before the sun) and Luke dragged a very not-excited me back up the approach talus to the base of Positive Vibrations. I was tired and sore and was still suffering from the altitude. I have no future as a high-altitude climber and that’s ok with me.

Fortunately (although I didn’t think so at the time), the first pitch was mine to lead, which forced me to get my rock climbing face on and helped me warm up a bit, which managed to help me stay positive for the rest of the day (that, and eating more food). As Luke had suggested, I linked the first 2 pitches, with 2 5.10 cruxes, onto a nice ledge below the first 5.11 pitch. The next lead was Luke’s – the climbing was pretty easy for most of the short pitch, with some crazy, balance-y stemming towards the end, which I was able to follow without falling even with the pack on! Thankfully, since we were planning on rapping instead of hiking off, the pack was much lighter today because we didn’t have to bring the approach shoes. The third pitch (Luke’s again) was some crazy stemming up a corridor, finished by some hard, awkward moves getting over a bulge. Again, I was able to follow without falling, although I was tired by the time I reached the belay.

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Lizzy leads up the first pitch of Positive Vibrations.

The next pitch was supposed to be mine, but I told Luke I really needed to rest longer and I wasn’t having too much trouble with the pack. So Luke lead again (and ended up leading the rest of the route, too, which was just fine with me…) up some awkward cracks to the base of the crux pitch. He decided to break this pitch up into two, since the hard part (which he hadn’t done before, due to he and Konstantin getting a bit lost) was at the very end. The crux was a hard reach after some tricky thin cracks and a couple of crimps that weren’t quite as good as they looked from below.

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Taking a break to make silly faces on Positive Vibrations.

After that pitch, Luke and I were both getting pretty tired, but we forced ourselves to keep drinking water and eating our snack food to give us energy for the last two long 5.10 pitches. The last pitch was probably one of the better pitches of the route (although I was too tired to fully appreciate it) – never-ending jamming.

Once at the top (not the summit, since you can’t rap once you traverse and climb up there), we immediately started focusing on rappelling (forgetting to take the summit photo) so we would have enough energy and light to get back down safely. With our single 70m rope, we were able to make it to the ground in 12 rappels, mostly rapping down the anchors for Venturi Effect, and getting a little confused about which anchors to use closer to the ground. It only got dark for the last 2 rappels, but Luke had wisely packed 2 headlamps in the pack, so we were ok. (Update:  The best way to rap with a 70m rope from the 2nd pitch ledge is as follows. Rappel down to the optional anchor (P1 in the Supertopo), slings and maybe a rap ring on a horn but don’t stop.  Go down about 5 more feet and swing left 10+ feet to bolts. From here you should reach the ground in one rappel ~35 meters. With a 60m rope you have to use the sling anchor and then do a short 40+ foot rappel and  swing right to the bolts atop the Power Ranger start.)

Back at the tent, we devoured Mountain House pasta primavera with some tuna added in (SOOO GOOD) and laid in the tent, sore and tired but unable to fall asleep for a while.

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It sure is Incredible and Hulking.

The next morning we scraped out tired selves out of our sleeping bags, packed everything up, and hiked back to the car in a little under 3 hours. We opted to make our hungry stomachs wait a little longer and went to the Mobil Station Restaurant A.K.A. Whoa Nellie Deli instead of the Burger Barn. The fish tacos are SO GOOD!

It was an exhausting weekend. The whole Incredible Hulk experience made my other alpine climbing experiences, like Washington Pass and Cathedral Peak, seem like cragging. I mean, the approach was short, the altitude didn’t kick my butt, and the climbing was easy… Luke had taken some altitude pills (Diamox) his last couple of alpine climbs with Konstantin and thinks that that could have helped us. Although I didn’t enjoy the Red Dihedral a ton, Positive Vibrations was actually quite good – mostly crack climbing with much better rock and position.

Luke still wants to climb all the harder routes on the Hulk (there are quite a few) and I haven’t decided yet whether to go back. I guess I’d want to be in better shape so the hiking doesn’t destroy me as much and so that climbing an entire day of 5.11 (which would be the easiest of the harder routes) wouldn’t be hard. Yeah, I’m not there yet. I guess I’m a bit spoiled and I like the lack of additional mental challenge that comes from being at a high, remote climbing area (as opposed to, say, the Chief in Squamish, which is pretty much at sea level and not at all remote). But at the same time, Positive Vibrations forced me to push myself harder than I usually do – I was really fatigued on the last couple pitches, but just kept jamming.

Anyways, the Incredible Hulk, what an experience.




5 responses

13 08 2009

Wow nice trip report! Fun read!

Have you guys considered using lightweight trail racing shoes for approach shoes? I know you lose out on some support and stability, but mine are 6oz total. Just a thought. Inov-8 makes some great shoes AND they stick on rocky approaches.

Sounds like a great trip! I don’t know how you guys have that much energy…and the photos are beautiful.

13 08 2009

I think for most situations, I like the fact that my approach shoes are technical enough that I can climb easy 5th class, which I don’t know if I’d be able to do in trail running shoes. On the other hand, it would be nice to carry less weight on those long routes!

13 08 2009

Like Lizzy I prefer a solid climbing platform when approaching climbs since I can move faster over more difficult (4th or 5th class) terrain. However the idea of brining a ultralight shoe on route for the decent is very appealing. The descent from the Hulk is not really technical (endless loose rock but not very steep) and I expect you could get away with a light shoe.

13 08 2009

great pics, gonna have to get up there someday.

15 10 2009
Incredible Hulk Topos and Information « Dream in Vertical

[…] July. I was so amazed by the route I wanted  do it with Lizzy and so in August we went back and climbed both the Red Dihedral and Positive […]

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