Two incredible climbs on some of the most incredible rock in the High Sierra.
In the Summer of 2013 I became somewhat obsessed with a desire to climb the Incredible Hulk. The Incredible Hulk is known for three things: the best rock in the High Sierra, long routes, and incredibly sustained climbing. I just had to climb it. I think part of my obsession resulted from the challenge of just making it happen.
California Climbing Trip I (June 18-30):
In June, I headed to the High Sierra to do some climbing with my Californian friend Mark, where we planned to climb the Hulk after a week in the Palisades. Our week in the Palisades was a grand adventure, but it left too little time and energy to tackle the Hulk afterward. So I flew home, already scheming of how I could squeeze another trip to the High Sierra into my packed summer. (Links to TRs from California Climbing Trip I: Norman Clyde Firebird Ridge, Norman Clyde Twilight Pillar, Palisade Crest, Third Pillar of Dana, Cathedral Traverse).
California Climbing Trip II (August 18-29):
Over the next couple of months, I had several great mountain adventures, but the Incredible Hulk continued to hulk in the back of my mind. In late August I returned to California on a climbing roadtrip with Dan, Chad, and Sarah; the Incredible Hulk was the primary objective. But the Hulk was not going to make it easy on us. First there were thundershowers in the northern Sierra; then the skies were clear but accompanied by 30 mph gusts; then the air was calm but a thick layer of wildfire smoke settled in the valleys east of Yosemite (where the Hulk is). Fortunately there is no shortage of rock to climb in the area, so we still enjoyed a successful week of climbing other Sierra classics. But again I returned home to Washington a tad frustrated that yet again my hands had not touched the steep white granite of the Hulk. (Links to TRs from California Climbing Trip II: Fairview Dome Regular Route, Mt. Russell Fishhook Arête, Bear Creek Spire North Arête, "TMC Linkup": Tenaya, Matthes Crest, Cathedral).
California Climbing Trip III (Sept 7-13):
Now with only about ten days of summer left before school started up again, the Hulk looked unlikely. But I just couldn't get it out of my mind. Then (on a Wednesday) I got an email from Mark from California, about his weekend plans to climb the Hulk with his friend Nic. Mark mentioned that he himself wanted to climb the popular Red Dihedral route but that Nic was more interested in climbing the less crowded and more challenging Positive Vibrations route. A flurry of emails later, and I was throwing climbing gear into my car. The Incredible Hulk, here I come! (Links to TRs from California Climbing Trip III: Incredible Hulk Red Dihedral (this page), Incredible Hulk Positive Vibrations (this page), Merriam Peak North Buttress, Cardinal Pinnacle West Face).
And Finally...The Trip Report for the Incredible Hulk:
The following page gives a trip report for the two climbs I did on the Incredible Hulk: Red Dihedral (5.10b) and Positive Vibrations (5.11a). I climbed Red Dihedral with Mark on Saturday (Sept 7) and Positive Vibrations on Sunday (Sept 8) with Nic. These are probably the most popular climbs on the Hulk. The RD-PV pairing makes a great full-on two-day trip with over 2500' of truly incredible climbing.
DAY 1: Red Dihedral
Height of route: 1200', 8-12 pitches
Route overlay by Mark "King of Route Overlays" Thomas.
Climbers on the Incredible Hulk. Mark and I are the climbers at the top of The Red Dihedral.
The Red Dihedral route is named after the giant dihedral comprising the entire fourth pitch. This route is the most moderate classic route on the Incredible Hulk, but still sustained and challenging (only one pitch is easier than 5.8). The rock is perfect, clean, golden granite. It is not surprising that the Red Dihedral route is extremely popular; on a summer Saturday, there can be several parties lined up at the base.
The route can be done car-to-car in a (very long) day, but Mark and I climbed it camp-to-camp since Nic and I were planning on climbing Positive Vibrations the following day. The SuperTopo (ST) topo shows the Red Dihedral route as having 12 pitches, but we climbed the route in 8 long pitches by linking together Pitches 1 & 2, 5 & 6, 8 & 9, and 11 & 12. The first half of the climb is sustained and follows major crack systems. The second half ascends more broken rock on easier terrain with the occasional 5.8 or 5.9 section.
Below are some photos (and video) from my first climb up the Incredible Hulk. It was indeed incredible.
Looking up the Red Dihedral route from the base. You can see the pitch-long namesake of the route above. The route starts with a short 4th class scramble up the ramp until the climbing becomes more difficult.
Mark at the belay at the top of SuperTopo (ST) Pitch 2 (this was the top of our first pitch since we linked ST P1+P2). Just below him is the "5.9 stem & poor pro" section.
Mark leading off into The Red Dihedral of ST Pitch 4. This pitch is one of the more memorable pitches in the Sierra. Sustained hand jams lead to wild stemming moves through a 5.10b bulge (the crux of the route), followed by an airy traverse right on broken and steep 5.8.
GoPro footage of Mark climbing The Red Dihedral. "5.9 hands, incredible and sustained." I am at the belay below taking the video.
Here is another photo of The Red Dihedral, taken after the climb when alpenglow colored the rock with an appropriate tinge of red.
Looking up at the crux 5.10b bulge at the top of The Red Dihedral. Both Mark and I found this short section easier than the more sustained 5.9 stemming and jamming below.
Shadow of the Hulk below. Our camp was in the dried lakebed to the left of the Hulk's shadow.
Looking over at climbers on Positive Vibrations (5.11a, which I climbed the next day with Nic) and Venturi Effect (5.12+). The climbers at the upper belay are at the top of Pitch 6 of Positive Vibrations. Pitch 6 is the endurance crux of the route containing the most sustained and difficult climbing. The section directly below them in the sun is one of the two 5.11a cruxes of the route. The other climber below is on Venturi Effect.
Above The Red Dihedral, the routefinding becomes more challenging and there are many options. This photo was taken looking up ST Pitch 7 (our fifth pitch). We climbed the "5.10a splitter" in the middle top of the photo instead of the "5.9 fingers" off to the left and out of view.
Looking down at the "5.10a splitter" of ST Pitch 7.
At the belay at the base of The Shattered Pillar between ST Pitches 7 and 8. There were five parties on the Red Dihedral route that day, which is probably typical of a summer Saturday. Notice we are wearing jackets—it was a clear day, but quite windy.
Looking up the 5.9 layback of ST Pitch 8. Fun climbing! (And sheltered from the wind!)
An old bolt just above The Shattered Pillar on ST Pitch 8.
Fun moderate (5.6-5.8 with the occasional 5.9 move) climbing on the upper pitches of the Red Dihedral route.
Mark at the notch at the top of ST Pitch 10.
From the notch, the route drops over ridge onto NE Face and goes SE for 200 feet on third class. The route goes up the broken chimney just above and right of my head in the photo and continues into a 5.6ish chimney (hidden in the photo) and tunnel-through to just below the summit. We linked these final two pitches (ST Pitches 11 and 12) into one pitch.
Looking down the "tunnel-through" at the top of the final pitch. We had to hang our packs from our harnesses to get through.
The famous Hulk Super Ball in the summit register. I wonder if this is the original, or if there are a several previous Hulk Super Balls filling up the cracks below the summit block.
Swiss goat Zeiggy and mountain goat Billy along with their new wombat friend Wombie (Mark's) on the summit of Incredible Hulk.
The descent took us about an hour from the summit back to our camp below the Hulk. From the summit, downclimb the steep 3rd class on the south ridge (opposite direction o the climbing route) for about 300 feet to a rappel anchor (bolts and slings) on the left side of the ridge.
From about 300 feet down the south ridge, locate the rap slings to the left and make an 80-foot rappel to the notch between two gullies.
From the notch, it's pretty obvious that you need to take the south gully (the north gully—in the direction of Twin Lakes—looks quite dangerous). Taking the south gully, downclimb 3rd class for a few hundred yards. When the gully opens up, stay left and go down the gully in this photo, which brings you to the main talus and scree gully that wraps around to the base of the climbs.
Descending the main gully back to the base of the climbs on the Hulk.
Evening light on the Incredible Hulk as we made the descent. We noticed a cool spanning rock bridge on the ridge on the right. This photo would be even better if there was someone standing on top of the rock bridge.
DAY 2: Positive Vibrations
Height of route: 1300', 8 pitches (~1500' and ~13 pitches if you go to summit)
Route overlay by Mark "King of Route Overlays" Thomas. This great photo was taken by Nic Risser when Mark and I were climbing the Red Dihedral route the previous day.
According to some sources, Positive Vibrations is possibly the best rock climb in the High Sierra. It takes an incredible line up an exposed prow in the center of the face. The rock quality is exceptional and the climbing is unrelenting with the first eight pitches rated 5.10 or harder. There are two sections of 5.11a on the route: a devious but short boulder problem crux on Pitch 3 and a steep and tenuous section at the end of Pitch 6. Pitch 6 is definitely the endurance crux of the route, featuring unrelenting 5.10 moves all the way to the pumpy finish with the 5.11a crux. The climb has an even balance of finger and hand cracks with no wide sections. Because the route is harder than Red Dihedral, it tends to be less crowded. Nevertheless, the climbing is so good that there can be a lineup here as well. Since the upper pitches are extremely exposed to the wind, the SuperTopo guide notes that it is probably not a good idea to climb this route when high winds are forecasted.
Positive Vibrations essentially ends on the summit ridge at the top of Pitch 8, even though this is not the actual summit of the Incredible Hulk. Unless you want to tag the summit (via a fourth class ridge scramble to the final two pitches of the Red Dihedral route), a great descent option is to rappel down the next-door Venturi Effect.
Below are some photos (and video) from my second climb up the Incredible Hulk. It was even more incredible than the first time up!
Nic starting up Pitch 1. Since the climb is long and demanding and we wanted to hike out that evening, Nic and I decided to start early in the morning so that the sun rose when we were on the second pitch. This pitch features a 10a bulge.
Looking up Pitch 3. This pitch has a devious but short boulder problem 5.11a stem crux (the first of two 5.11a sections on the route). In this photo Nic is just before the crux.
A handy piton just before the 5.11a crux of Pitch 3.
Nic starting up Pitch 4. This pitch has some incredible bridging/stemming moves leading up to a 5.10c bulge and then a 5.10b step.
Looking down the "cool bridging/stemming" section of Pitch 4.
Nic at the belay at the top of Pitch 4. Nic is such an all-star climber he climbed the route in bare feet (just joking; the true story is that Nic had a new pair of climbing shoes, so he took advantage of belays to rest his aching squished toes).
Looking up Pitch 5. From here the route takes an exposed line up the prow in the center of the Hulk's face. More incredible climbing ahead!
About half of the belays on the route feature a pair of bolts, which is nice for setting quick bomber anchors.
Looking up the "steep hands" (5.10a ish) of Pitch 5. Positive Vibrations is full of incredible hand cracks and great jams.
Looking down while climbing the steep hand crack of Pitch 5.
GoPro footage on Pitch 5 of Positive Vibrations. Note the cool shadows of the Hulk on the valley below.
Looking up the "5.10c stem" section at the beginning of Pitch 6. This part was tricky to protect, but there are good placements once you find them.
Looking up the upper half of Pitch 6. Nic and I both agreed that the 10d fingers section just above in this photo was some of our favorite climbing on the route. The sixth pitch is definitely the endurance crux of the route, featuring unrelenting 5.10 moves to a pumpy finish on a 5.11a crux up top.
A "thank God" bolt just before the steep and thin 5.11a crux of Pitch 6. This is the second of two 5.11a sections on the route. This crux is a bit more technical and involves more tenuous moves than the first crux.
Nic enjoying his protein shake at the belay just above the enduro Pitch 6.
Looking up Pitch 7. Even more incredible exposure, incredible 5.10 cracks, and incredible jamming to come.
Looking over at the Red Dihedral route, which I had climbed with Mark the day before. The Red Dihedral is quite distinguishable. Although there had been five parties on the route the day before, there were no parties on Red Dihedral this day.
Nic at the top of Pitch 8 of Positive Vibrations. Between me and him is a splitter 5.10b steep handcrack. Pitch 8 is the final real pitch of the Positive Vibrations route.
GoPro footage while climbing the final splitter handcrack ("5.10b steep hands") at the top of the Positive Vibrations route. Note the smoke from the still-smoldering Yosemite Rim Fire of August 2013.
Smoke from the recent Yosemite Rim Fire (the 3rd largest wildfire in CA state history) obscured the views. The smoke was worst in mid-afternoon, to the point where we could sometimes taste the smoke in the air.
From the top of Pitch 8, one has the option of rappelling down the neighboring Venturi Effect or continuing to the summit along a 4th class ridge and then the final pitches of the Red Dihedral Route. We initially decided we would try to go for the summit (although I had reached the summit via Red Dihedral the day before, Nic had not yet summited the Incredible Hulk). In this photo Nic is starting along the ridge in the direction of the summit. Smoke from the fires gave everything an orangish glow as the sun got lower in the sky.
Then we decided that the traverse/climb to the summit would take too long (we wanted to hike out that night), so we backtracked to the rappel anchor at the top of Venturi Effect (not far to climber's right of Positive Vibrations). The rappel anchor is shown in this photo.
We rappelled down a mix of Venturi Effect and Positive Vibrations. We had climbed the route with a twin 60m rope set-up, since there had been a small possibility that we would climb a route on the Hulk as a team of three (however, apart from teams of three, I think that the ideal rope for the Hulk is a single 70m). We had read that the rappel descent down Venturi can be done with a single 70m rope, but not a 60m. So we used both ropes to rappel, even though we were a bit reticent to rappel with double ropes due to the increased likelihood of a rope getting stuck, especially in the windy conditions on the prow. But the double rope rappels ended up working out well overall, allowing us to rappel to the base in 7 rappels (some double rope, some not quite). We ended up getting a rope stuck once, but freed it from the voracious rope-eating chockstone culprit after a bit of work. With the stuck rope shenanigans, it took just under 2 hours (5:30-7:15pm) to get to the base.
There are rap rings all over on the Incredible Hulk. On the rappel descent, our tact was to establish a new rappel anchor every time we found a new set of rings, unless we saw any that were still reachable lower down.
Some General Photos (Approach, Camp, etc.):
The trailhead for the Incredible Hulk is at Mono Village, 13 miles west of the town of Bridgeport at the end of Twin Lakes Road. This photo was taken driving along Twin Lakes road. The area of the Hulk is obscured in smoke from the still smoldering Yosemite Rim Fire of August 2013 (this was the 3rd largest wildfire in CA state history). The smoke was worst in the afternoons when the winds blew it eastward from Yosemite.
We parked at the backpackers parking area at the Mono Village. As of 2013, the parking fee was $10 for up to 7 nights. The parking fee had to be paid during opening hours (8am-5pm).
(Notice that the car in this photo is not my faithful Subaru. I had decided to rent a car for the 2500-mile road trip, since at an average vehicle wear-and-tear cost of 24 cents per mile, I figured renting a car for a week would be cheaper than the trip's maintenance expense on my own vehicle.)
To get to the trail, we walked through the campground maze to a dirt road that is chained off. If you go through the two trees in the photo and follow the yellow markers westward this will bring you to the right place. Since we planned to make the approach in the dark (Mark and Nic drove to the trailhead after work on Friday, so we actually began hiking just before midnight, figuring we had just enough time to get the requisite three hours of sleep before climbing Red Dihedral), I had arrived early to get parking permits and to scope out the route to the trailhead. After passing the chain, walk a few hundred yards on the dirt road and then turn right onto the Barney Lakes Trail. Follow the trail for 2.5 miles before turning off on a climbers' trail.
After 2.5 miles on the Barney lakes Trail, we turned left on a climbers' trail. A few minutes along this climbers' trail brought us to Robinson Creek, where there was a convenient log for crossing. The SuperTopo guide mentions needing flip flops for the crossing and that many people get lost here, but the tree made flip flops unnecessary and we found the trail easy to find. From Robinson Creek, a climbers' trail ascended steep dirt switchbacks through trees and eventually entered flattened out and entered talus. From here the trail was a bit hard to find so we basically followed the canyon up until beneath the Hulk, taking the path of least resistance up the canyon (not in the middle, that's where the brush is!). The route from the Robinson Creek crossing was about 2.5 miles and gained about 3,400 feet in elevation.
Mark brought along a GPS loaded with an approximate route line for the approach. This was handy since we approached in the dark. The approach from the trailhead at Mono Lakes to our camp below the Hulk took us just over three hours (11:15pm-2:30am).
We camped in a flat area about 20 minutes below the base of the Hulk. It's a fantastic location to camp.
It had been an especially dry year and the streambeds near camp were bone dry. Fortunately, we found a water source about 10 minutes above camp draining from a tiny snowfield.
The day we climbed Positive Vibrations, we made it back to camp just as it got dark. The spiders came out in mass. This was definitely the crux of the trip for Nic. Time to head back to the car! (It took us a bit under 3 hours to hike out in the dark. We were back at the car almost 48 hours since we had left it.)
I definitely found time to stop at Erick Schat's Bakkerÿ in Bishop (about an hour south of Bridgeport) for a freshly made sandwich. Yum!
More on my website
This trip report is copied from my website, which has several other climbing trip reports and photographs from the North Cascades and elsewhere: www.stephabegg.com.