Saturday, June 29, 2013

Incredible Hulk! Positive Vibrations and Polish Route!!!

Free climbing Positive Vibrations (IV 5.11a) was one of my VERY ambitious goals for 2013. It is labeled as "probably the best alpine climb of High Sierra" in Supertopo guidebook, and takes a striking line up the middle of The Incredible Hulk (which was labeled as the best alpine wall in the country by Peter Croft). With only a week left before a 7 week trip to Peru, I knew it might be the last chance I had to climb on the Hulk this year. Not because I am planning to get injured, but because mountaineering does not help one to become a better rock climber - it actually weakens your upper body. Even though I did not feel quite ready to lead half the pitches on a sustained climb like PV, I looked back at the amount of climbing I have done in the last few months and decided I could surprise myself one more time. 

Incredible Hulk at sunset
Outguard Spire as seen from the approach

Climbers on Outguard Spire
This trip ended up being even better than I though. Hamik and I were clearly psyched to get on granite since on the day we hiked in we climbed another gem of a climb - Polish Route. Since I like some basic wide climbing, I had this climb on my short list since last year, and it did not disappoint. Starting from Twin Lakes at 9:20am we got up to camp in exactly two hours. After eating, setting up camp, and procrastinating we got to the base just before 1pm. Hamik took the first pitch, which ended up being one of the best single pitches I have climbed. Varied finger and hand jams take you up to a roof after which you pray the climbing will ease off, but it leads to a lie back after which my cold fingers tried to let go - I did not let them though. It was a windy day (what a surprise! Is it ever NOT windy at this crag?!) and we made sure to move fast. I moved the belay to top of pitch 2 (bolted belay in the sun) and took third pitch per our topo. This pitch started from a short climb up a wide crack and traverse right on delicate face. It takes a bit of time to figure out this traverse - I rushed and whipped on my first attempt figuring it out on the second, with not much trouble. Once you finally get into the wide crack the climbing becomes pure fun and I did not bother putting in gear (some small gear available in parallel cracks) too often. Only used one of our 2 BD#4s in first half of wide crack. Hamik transitioned to a beautiful finger crack that got only better- perfect hands for 30+ ft! He took the pitch up to the next bolted belay, after which the climbing got a bit exciting.

Hamik starting up beautiful first pitch
Hamik in the wide crack (p2)
Hamik on pitch 3. Great climbing here.
Last moves before we top out Polish Tower

Hamik in da wide

I took 4th pitch (we climbed the route in 4 pitches) and did not like the way some ugly wide crack to my right looked. I chose to climb left, closer to an arete and up to a bolt. Climbing here was not easy (for me at least!). Continuing my way up to a piton I realized that at 6'2 I am not quite tall to clip it. Down-climbing was not an option here. Somehow I managed to place a bomber micronut - pink DMM offset - and pulled a few insecure stemming moves before I was able to clip that pin. Not sure if this section was part of the Polish Route, but it was real cool! From there I took the best looking easy way to the top of Polish Tower. This pitch was just under 70M. Even though we were done with the climb, the adventure continued. MP indicates you could rappel back down with a 70M rope, which is not quite true. Even though we managed to get down in one piece, it wasn't very straight forward. On our first rappel we did not quite make it to the next station, and had to do a belayed down-climb (short but annoying). On the next rappel one has to swing right around the arete (with a running start and shiet) to get to the anchor. On the next rappel we didn't make it to the bolted anchor once again, but downclimb there was easy and did not require a separate belay station. So if you have a 70M rope be careful and tie your knots...

Rappeling off from Polish Tower
Polish route goes up the left side of the formation

Views from the Hulk

Incredible Hulk
Alpine glow
Next day (Saturday) was a big one. Another great climb, another great test to my skills. I was so excited about it that I had butterflies in my stomach. Even with all the excitement in my stomach, we waited till about 10am to start climbing - it was a bit cold in the morning. By than there were about three parties ahead of us! Both of us were surprised to see so many people climbing PV, but it wasn't too shocking as it was a day with the best forecast (there were no parties climbing it on Sunday). I took the first pitch (5.10a), and Hamik crushed the second (5.10c). Third pitch was my lead and featured first 5.11a crux of the climb. This pitch was not very sustained and I was able to surprise myself and onsight my 2nd 5.11a ever! It felt special getting it done on the Hulk, since in 2012 my first 5.10b lead was the crux pitch of Red dihedral. We swong leads a few more times and Hamik got to his big lead of the day - second 5.11a crux.
Excited or what?!
Start of PV from the bottom
Adam and took an alternative start to Sun Spot Dihedral
Me sending first 5.11 crux (pitch 3)
Joe on 3rd or 4th pitch of Sun Spot
To avoid rope drag and make communication easy (did I mention how windy it was on the arete yet?) he broke it down into two pitches. First part featured a really cool stemming corner. Second had thin climbing with a crux pulling over the arete. This crux seemed like THE crux of the route and I was BARELY able to follow it clean. The only reason I did was because I wanted to lead and follow all the pitches on this climb clean, and I REFUSED to let go when my forearms were getting truely pumped. When I got to the belay station I was stoked to get it clean, and stoked about Hamik asking me if he could take the following pitch - when he climbed PV a year prior he didn't get to lead the correct variation. My forearms were on fire and really needed rest. In addition, I have heard how amazing the last LONG pitch of the climb was, and originally wanted to steal that lead. Both of the finishing pitches were stellar and we got to the summit ridge with plenty left in the tank. I was a little surprised with how well I (wasn't surprised with how well Hamik did, he is a crusher!) did, and now have some hope that Sun Spot Dihedral could actually be possible by the end of this year. As we got to camp we were rewarded with a beautiful alpineglow and ate dinner. This turned out to be one of my favorite days out in the mountains.
Hamik on a powerful lie back (pitch 6)
Luke and Adam climbing Tradewinds
Hamik knocking out pitch 7
Aside from joy I received from climbing on the Hulk, it was also a cool setting to meet new people. Some of them I have met in cragging in the past, "knew" from internet forums, met at the gym, and even saw in magazines. Interacting with other people psyched on climbing and watching some of them climb harder lines (than I am capable of at the moment) was quite inspiring and filled me with fresh energy to train harder and do better.
Hamik following 8th pitch
Two happy wankers after climbing PV
Last rays of sun hitting the summit ridge
My next entry will be about climbing in Peru, since that is where I am right now, and will be for 7 weeks! Hope all the mountaineering we plan to do here will not drain our upper body strength - I want to make another date with Incredible Hulk by the time this year expires!
Hulk in black and white

Panorama of the area


  1. shit, everyone's gonna be like, "what a wanker, he laybacked the roof"

  2. I'll lieback your face! Strong work!