It has become a pilgrimage to visit the High Sierra yearly for me and Kelly. Ever since the first outing I did with Mike Knarzer to climb the Sunspot Dihedral, I appreciate climbing in the altitude more now. The uncertainty on how I can perform on each climb depends on how well I acclimatise each time I head up there. The peace and tranquility of the Sierras is hard to beat anywhere else. Sure I love climbing in the Valley, with all the mega walls and multi pitch that never seems to exhaust and all the timeless test pieces that kick your butt so hard that it makes you look like a gym gumby.
Climbing in the High Sierra always involve a hike to get to the base of the wall. The hike can be quite a ways for some or for the ultra fit in a day dudes a quick dash from the car. Kelly and I prefer to take our time, enjoy some photo taking, sit in a tent cook our dinner and watch the stars. Its really a ‘us’ time out there since there will be other 4 climbers in the area doing the same thing.
This summer, Kelly have to cut her season in USA short and head back to The Bivy to guard it from the tropical typhoons hitting the island. So its the first year since 2013, she did not spend her birthday in Yosemite (lucky girl)! So we had a pre birthday climb this year and again she chose The Incredible Hulk. In 2015, it was her introduction to the High Sierra and her first climb above 10,000 topping out at 11,040ft. The loads from the packs killed her knees and the loose talus field descend from the climb did not make things better. Needless to say she was tired after the climb but determined to get into shape to tackle the Incredible Hulk again.
This year, while I’m working and guiding, she would spend time hiking in the Valley. Although she did not get as much climbing as we did in the past years, we made sure the climbs we did were good training building up to the 2 weeks climbing holiday we get after the last guided group leave Yosemite.
Positive Vibrations is the climb Kelly chose this year, a notch easier than the Sunspot Dihedral and a good entry level 5.11 multi pitch on the main face of this 1200ft rock. We hike in after a long drive through Yosemite getting to 395 from Lee Vining. Had a short break, a shot of espresso and ate our packed lunch. I was surely feeling the effects of having worked 45 days straight and going for a climb in the High Sierra. But hey, that is the only 2 weeks I have to climb with my wife in USA before she heads home!
Same deal as before, we parked at Twin lake, paid the fees for parking at the resort and blasted off the trail. This year we pack light, getting out loads down by about 35% -40%. We also reviewed our carrier system and conclude that haul bags are one of the worse ways to hump loads if you are not getting on the big wall. So we talked to Arcteryx Singapore and did a quick review on how much stuff we actually need and came up with a light weight system. I used the Altra 65 with a S sized frame and Kelly used the light weight pack with the Alpha FL 45. I got my pack under 20kg and Kelly’s pack at about 10kg which is about 10-12kg combined weight under what we carried last year! The Altra 65 made a difference and I will be talking about that in my product review for this pack soon.
We got to the base of Incredible Hulk after a 3.5hr stroll constantly stopping to take photos, chase marmots and basically taking in a piece of the High Sierra. We setup the Satu tent and got in it to get warm and cozy. It was a windy evening so we made dinner in the patio of our tent as we watch the sky turn dark. Somehow I had a really bad sleep waking up every hour or so and barely getting any eye shut. That was a sign of poor acclimatisation.
Alarm clock rang at 6am and as usual the snooze monster hit us and we only started to make breakfast at 6.30am. By that time it was already bright and the first party made their way to the start of Positive Vibrations. As I was having coffee, I saw another crew high up on Sunspot Dihedral’s crux pitch. They must have had a dawn start!
I took my alpine shit, rack up and stroll to the base of the climb. Surprising the first party is just starting up on the route so Kelly and I sat around to wait for them to get off. The plan was for Kelly to lead most of the 5.10 pitches and I will lead the 2 crux pitch and the 5.10 pitches higher as the route finding gets tricky.
Kelly cruised the 5.10c tips getting and I was starting to feel the effects of the lack off sleep and the 1.5 months of guiding fatigue. I got to the first 5.11a crux on pitch 3 which should be really simple for me but struggled on the exit of the crux. I got up anyways, Kelly was enjoying the climb and it was great to see her climb so well on the Incredible Hulk.
Pitch 4 was Kelly’s lead, it is a cool looking easy chimney with steep hands and fingers leading to a windy belay. Kelly floated the pitch and by this time 2 Austrian climbers who were super chill and friendly caught up with us and we shared the belay. They were not interested in passing and instead we talk shit all the time at the belay. Suddenly we heard, ‘Its Peter Croft!!! OMG!’ It is so cool to see the man on this piece of rock. It was his video with Lisa Rands on Venturi Effect that inspired me and Kelly to come here. So he was the one high up on Sunspot and now is rappelling the route to run another lap on Positive Vibrations. Talking about in a day. This dude just did 2 days in 1. Legend material at its best!
Kelly was in fan mode and talked to him for a bit before putting me on belay. When I got up, Peter Croft has already left the belay. Pitch 5 is a nice wide hands at the back of the crack and some parts of it, you will need to reach in deep in order to get purchase. Graded only 5.10, I think some climbers may get thrown off if they were not used to such cracks. This was also the time we caught up with the party in front of us. Apparently they have pitched out in the middle of Pitch 5?
Pitch 6 was the business, I got there pretty fresh and was ready to gun for it. It was very windy at this belay and I was climbing in my Arcteryx Fortrez Hoody and Alpha SV shell to keep the wind out. The first part of of Pitch 6 is small fingery pods where you put your feet to work and the gears are sparse. I used the crack on the adjacent left wall for protection and got to the roof. The roof is 4-5 easy moves traverse to the right and up a flare section. At this point of time, the party ahead pitched it out again in the middle of this pitch and the belayer with some really bad rope management dropped his rope all over the pitch and did not bother to stack it. I was climbing in the flare navigating his rat’s nest and just below his belay stance I asked for take as it was really frustrating since the belayer pretend to not see me and did not bother to clear his rope. I hung out there for about 30mins before they got off and did the rest of this amazing pitch.
The second part of Pitch 6 contains tight hands and thin fingers with a small bouldery crux before the anchor. I was gas by the time I got to the fingers section and fell a few time before figuring out the boulder move. Beautiful pitch! Would be perfect if I have managed my rope drag a little better. 165ft of great climbing.
Pitch 7 was mine as Kelly was feeling tired after Pitch 6 so I started off with a easy hands on the climb and getting to the fingery roof section where the party ahead have pitch it out again?! This time I just hung on to the hand jams and waited. The Austrian party were getting frustrated and one of them was shouting out some unknown language, I guess he was cursing.
Pitch 8 was uneventful with a short pitch past a wide hands section where Kelly got lost and I took over and got us to the top of summit ridge. I felt tired, perhaps more tired than when I climbed Sunspot Dihedral. Maybe I did not sleep well, there wasn’t enough coffee in my system or just much waiting behind a slow party. But hey, its in alpine and every climb is a different climb. The body reacts differently everyday as its get acclimatised to the altitude but before that, you just got to take it nice and easy. It was a great climb and judging from Kelly’s smile on the summit ridge, my wife is happy.
We simu rap most parts of the descent and when we got to the base of the climb, the Austrian party just started their descent from the summit ridge. It must be frustrating for them but hey I guess this could be one of the most popular routes in the High Sierra. Looking forward to the next trip out there!
These are climbs which puts trad skills and multi pitch skill together and creating an incredible experience. I hope to share this experience with more people in future! If you are looking to attain these skills check out the classes we hold for SNCS rock level 1 (trad climbing class) and SNCS sports level 3 (multi pitch class) which runs from Oct 2016 – Jan 2017
If you are looking forward to climb in the High Sierras, do contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org I will be happy to hook you up with a itinerary and training leading up to the climb! Stay safe and thanks for reading!