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

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mt. Conness - SW Face (IV 5.10c)

Bellow average snow year helped me out one more time - Hamik and I managed to climb SW Face of Mt. Conness in mid June! Even though this winter brought a bit more precipitation than last, it already feels like mid August in High Sierra. SW Face was one of the few reasons why I initially thought ability to climb wide cracks was a vital skill to have. At first I couldn't execute a basic heel-toe (for weeks). Than I learned how to knee jam and perform variety of stacks. After a while it actually became fun to learn techniques that depend on practice, rather than ability to crank.
SW Face from Toulumne Meadows
Hamik getting over a stream.

Snow on the approach was hard and perfect for walking - sun cups. No need for crampons.
Multiple different people, including a world class alpinist, told me Harding route was serious business. I can't say I got good sleep the night prior, but what's the worst thing that could happen when you are 30ft above your last piece of pro in a wide crack? Again, my worries were obviously silly - no one falls out of squeeze chimneys! And we did end up sending. But whoever said this route was burly, was correct. It was sustained and did not feel very easy. Climbing was pure fun on rare occasions, and often required some thought to get through crux sections.
Memorial plaque by the base of SW Face
First several pitches
Hamik starting up the 1st pitch. Not a cakewalk.
Even thought we did not end up making stupid mistakes on the climb itself, we made one by leaving our vehicle at 5:15 am. We were up above the descent gully by 7:45 am, but our route did not receive any sun till 9:30! Hamik, I, and our new friend Natalia spent almost two hours bathing in the sun before we made our way down to the base. At least we had something to talk about - on our way up we met two climbers who attempted West Ridge, but bailed, and had a forced bivy. It was a bit fortunate they did not see sock-less Natalia hiking in a pair of sandals on her way to solo her first alpine route. At times it is entertaining to observe people epic, but than you got to snap out and concentrate on avoiding own f-ups. We started down and Hamik started leading at 10:45.
Hamik on pitch two (it was not this steep, but that epic :) )
Looking up pitch 4 (OW pitch)
Old bolt on 4th pitch
Hamik coming up the squeeze chimney (upper part of P4)
Hamik starting up 6th pitch (long and fun)
We climbed the route in 8 pitches and divided it in four blocks of two. Hamik's ability to crush thin cracks and lie backs earned him first two, and my ability to trash my way up OWs earned me the following couple. I thought pitch two and four were two distinct cruxes of this route. Second pitch has a powerful roof with a thin crack (strenuous for a guy with above average hand size) and a delicate lie back section higher. Fourth pitch starts with an awesome hand crack that goes from thin to wide and transforms into an OW. It is protected well by a BD #6, but unfortunately was left side in (my weaker side), and seemed slightly overhanging. Business didn't last too long and I was chimneying up remaining squeeze while adoring the old bolts placed by a FA party. Even thought these bolts are more like a historic artifact rather than a piece designed to keep you from decking, I clipped one anyway. : )

Stemming corner on p7
Hamik is sad about feeling fat
TM and Half Dome as seen from Mt. Conness

Interesting looking swamp
SW face of Conness as seen from the top of descent gully
Hamik led the next two pitches above the big ledge, and I took the last two before we unroped and scrambled to the summit. There was some serious ice fall coming from the corner into which the original route transitions and Hamik took his pitch straight up to a big roof instead. From there he climbed a moss filled hand crack which felt like a painful 5.10c in it's present wet form. Remainder of 6th pitch had beautiful grooves with horizontal dikes that formed great stems or stances for rest. After 6 hours and 15 minutes on route we huffed our way to a hard earned summit. A few weeks prior I appreciated the view of Conness from Half Dome and today it was nice to view Half Dome aligned bellow other mountaintops. We were able to hike out with plenty of time to spare before the sunset. It was a real treat to start my 'alpine' season with a Harding route, hopefully I will do the other route of his on Keeler by the time this year expires.
Lamb Dome with a few climbers climbing 'On the Lamb'
Natalie belaying Hamik on some 5.10 slab
Natalie crushing her first 5.10b slab climb in TM
Sunset from Olmsted
View of HD from Olmsted
Tip of the month for all of you OW lovers out there: do not expose too much skin at work after a weekend of trashing - people will question your sanity if you tell them the truth. : )

Clouds rest
Half Dome
Last rays of sun leaving Half Dome