Incredible Hulk
(Positive Vibrations, V 5.11)

11-13 Jun 2004 - by Craig Clarence

The west face of the Incredible Hulk is an amazing piece of stone - outside of the Valley, nothing I've seen in the Sierra comes close for sustained technical climbing. Several corner and face crack systems run from bottom to top, starting steep and not letting up for 8 full pitches. The white granite is also the cleanest I've come across in the backcountry.

After that introduction, you might think that a technical climber could have some fun on the Hulk. You'd be thinking right. I climbed Positive Vibrations with Andy Magness a few weeks ago, and I only hope I will be lucky enough to climb another alpine rock route that is even close to as good as this one.

The topo and written description for this route in Peter Croft's book "The Good, The Great, and the Awesome" make route finding easy. Don't even bother bringing the topo in Moynier's "Climbing California's High Sierra," as it's hard to follow, rates a few of the pitches incorrectly, and is vague on where to start the route. The only detail I would add to Croft's topo: the thin cracks above the bolt on the 6th (crux) pitch are off route, as Secor and Moynier mention in their descriptions.

I guess there are several variations for the start, but the one in Croft's book is the most direct. Start by climbing the thin steep cracks on the left side of a huge, roughly triangular slab. There is a 5.11+ crack variation with a bolted anchor just to the right of this start - you'll know you're starting in the right place if you see some dark slings hanging at the end of this difficult-looking crack.

After that, follow cracks up for eight pitches, roughly following the arjte dividing the west and north faces. Only one pitch is short (pitch 3), and we guessed the average pitch length to be about 150 feet. All of it is sustained technical terrain, with a few short and well-protected 5.11 sections. Few moves on the route are easier than 5.9 - we brought a lot of gear and used most of it. One great thing about this climb is there are no wide sections - one 3.5 Camalot is the biggest you'll need.

The route has rappel anchors from the 5th pitch down to the ground (brand-new cold shuts - weird to see in the backcountry). I think there probably are rappel anchors all the way up to the summit ridge, but at the 5th pitch the rappel route veers off from the climbing route so we couldn't see them. If I did the route again, I'd bring 2 ropes and descend by rapping from the top of the ridge, assuming I could find the first rap station.

We tried the Southeast Arete on Outguard Spire the next day, but bailed after 2 pitches - the rock quality was poor and the route hard to follow. Probably about average for the routes listed in Moynier's book, but disappointing compared to the Hulk.

Additional details on Positive Vibrations are located at Supertopo.com, but you have to purchase the High Sierra e-book to get them, so I don't know if they add anything to Croft's description. But as I mentioned, his is the only guide you really need for this exceptional route.

Pitch by Pitch

We followed Croft's belay position recommendations and they worked well. All pitch lengths are approximate.

  1. Thin and hand cracks up and slightly right, sandbag 5.9+. (170 feet)

  2. Very fun, short 5.10 finger crack leads to easier climbing. (140 feet)

  3. Easy crack in corner leads up to first 5.11 section - traversing straight right to gain a left-facing corner. The 5.11- move involves trying to find a decent foot edge on an otherwise blank slab. The short corner above the traverse is also difficult. (100 feet)

  4. The chimney pitch. Awesome bridging with hand-sized pro will get you though this one. Intimidating, but not as hard as it looks at 5.10-. (180 feet)

  5. Work your way up and left through discontinuous cracks, to a two-bolt anchor on the crest of the arjte. This is the only section where pro is a bit sparse at times. The pitch ends with a very fun handcrack that goes on for quite a ways. Give the camera to the leader before this pitch because a photo of the follower jamming the crack up to the anchor is great. (5.9+, 160 feet)

  6. Crux pitch. Steep corner right off the anchor takes very thin gear, solid 5.10+. More sustained 5.10 climbing around a roof and straight up a finger crack to a single-bolt anchor. If you still have enough gear and motivation, now pull the 5.11 crux by traversing about 7 feet left from the bolt, then moving up to the crest of the arjte. We broke this pitch in 2 by belaying at the bolt. The crux is thin, vertical face climbing, protected by small Aliens and HB offset nuts in discontinuous cracks. (160 feet if done in one pitch)

  7. Awesome straight-in finger and hand crack on the crest of the arjte, 5.10-. After a 10-foot traverse right, the pitch ends with a flaring, steep finger crack, 5.10+. (170 feet)

  8. Maybe the best pitch on the route, if you still can enjoy it after so much sustained climbing. Very secure 5.9 handcrack in right-facing corner leads up to a small roof, then more hands to a point about 15 feet below the crest of the arjte. Traverse right, then straight up a great 5.10- finger and hand crack to the crest of the ridge. (190 feet)


To file a trip report, please fill in the
Report Entry form or contact the webmaster.