Incredible Hulk Topos and Information

15 10 2009

It all started on Labor Day of 2008, Lizzy was away doing geology and I needed to go rock climbing. A friend from the gym, Konstantin, suggested that we climb the Red Dihedral on the Incredible Hulk. After doing the route we proposed that almost a year later we should come back, 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 back and climbed both the Red Dihedral and Positive Vibrations.

Peter Croft and Conrad Anker climbing  Solar Flare from Jeffery Morse on Vimeo.

On my first time up Positive Vibrations we got a bit lost and I became intrigued by the variation pitch I had led and wondered about the other routes on the face.  I surfed the web, posted on Supertopo and came back with a bunch of information.

I also ended up buying the awesome High Sierra: Peaks Passes and Trails  by RJ Secor. This book had been suggested multiple times and I was able to previewed it on Google books and saw the Hulk section had much of the information I was looking for. There were route descriptions for all of the major routes on the Hulk as well as a rough photo overlay with route lines.

Sadly not all is improved in the 2009 3rd edition. My friend Shay has the 2nd edition and on our trip to Mt Langley we discovered his book has a photo topo of the Keyhole Wall, but mine does not…

Topos for the easier routes on the Hulk can found on Supertopo.  You can get a free topo of Red Dihedral and more info about Positive Vibrations and SunSpot Dihedral here:

To get the full Positive Vibrations and SunSpot Dihedral topo you have to buy the High Sierra Guide.

An alternate topo for Sun Spot Dihedral can be found here:

In my research I was able to track down a bunch of topos by Dave Nettle

Airstream 5.13b:

The Venturi Effect 5.12+:

Tradewinds 5.11d:

I also found a fairly cool article about Eye of the Storm (V 5.12, 12 pitches, 1500 feet) but no topo….

The MoonBlog confirmed that  Airstream had seen a 2nd ascent by Nic Sellars and Tom Briggs.

I pulled the following post from my feed reader since I could no longer track down the actual blog entry from September 2007:

Nic Sellars and Tom Briggs have just returned from a trad climbing trip in the states where amongst other things they made the 2nd ascent of a classic Peter Croft route called Airstream. Nic sent in this report.

“Just got back to Blighty after a fab month long trip to the states to climb in the High Sierras on an Alpine rock trip. Tom Briggs and I managed to make the 2nd ascent of Airsteam, a 12 pitch Peter Croft route on a crag called The Incredible Hulk. The route comprised numerous pitches of 5.11 (E4 ish) up to the crux pitches of 512c (7b+), 513b (7c+), 512c. We managed to on-sight all pitches except the crux pitch which managed to squeeze in all it’s difficulty into about 15 ft of slippery groove technical shinaniggins. I red-pointed this by the skin of my teeth as I was fairly trashed by the climb up to this point. All in all we took 12 hours from bivvi to bivvi. The next day we quested down to a very hot and sweaty Bishop to contratulate Peter on his route with some beers (and meet up with a real US role model). Hope the photo attachment arrives in a useable state.”

Larger View

Since I was not content with the currently available information I started putting together some more information. This coincided nicely with a few additions that Scott Bennett made to the Incredible Hulk Mountain Project page. The comments he had made, the Nettle topos, combined with my experience and the Secor book allowed me to create the following photos. I’m still working to get all of the routes in photo topo form and will eventually be including BlowHard 5.12+, Solar Flare 5.12+, SolarBurn 5.12+, Airstream 5.13b and Eye of the Storm 5.12+ when I’m finished.

Above and below are the photo overlay topos that I made.  Feel free to leave comments here or on

Larger View




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.

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.



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!