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YEARLONG PROJECT YIELDS INCREDIBLE HULK'S BIGGEST LINE
Posted on: September 25, 2007
Brent Obinger leads the ultra-clean splitter on Pitch 3 (5.11+) of Eye Of The Storm (V 5.12, 12 pitches, 1500'), Incredible Hulk, Sierra Nevada. Obinger and Nils Davis freed the route in its entirety on August 21, 2007, thereby completing Davis' project on the Hulk. [Photo] Nils Davis
I'm becoming domesticated. Screw expeditions. No more suffering through weeks of logistical work, planning and headache. No more dysentery and living on fried goat's milk. No more waiting out weather of any kind. After all, what was I thinking? I live in the heart of the best weather and some of the best rock on earth.
Although most of the good lines have been taken, there are still some gems waiting to be unearthed in the Sierra Nevada. "Growing up" climbing in the 1990s, I often had scoffed at this notion—I just assumed you had to travel across the planet to climb good new lines. In helping me to disprove this assumption, friend and fellow shenanigan-perpetrator Jonny Copp joined me in August 2006.
Although we found a quality line on Mt. Chamberlin at the southern end of the range, we discovered that my speculation of good weather was flawed. Jonny traveled light and had relied on me to bring a tent or bivy sacks. Of course, I brought no tent and had only one bivy sack. We spent the first night huddled under a dripping boulder as black skies rained down for a continuous twenty-four hours.
We still had some luck and managed not to get too soaked, though, when we climbed a fun line that went almost free on one of the biggest faces in the High Sierra. Two days later, on the way out, we were all smiles and wanting more.
We took a day off to let the thunderstorms cool and then hiked into the west-facing wall of the Incredible Hulk (ca. 11,300') at the opposite end of the range. For many years, climbers interested in the Incredible Hulk had only a limited number of options. Until 1996, The Red Dihedral (IV 5.10b, Bard-Farrell-Locke, 1975), the Polish Route (V 5.10, Harrington-Wheeler, 1976) and Positive Vibrations (V 5.10 A1, Bartlett-Harrington, 1981; FFA: 5.11, Bard-Lyde, 1986) rounded out the collection of established lines on this Sierra giant. But beginning in the mid-90s, Tahoe local Dave Nettle initiated a number of noteworthy route developments with Astro-Hulk (V 5.11, Nettle-Davis, 1996) and Sunspot Dihedral (V 5.11, Nettle-Hayden, 1999). Development of these routes spurred imaginations and in recent years has catalyzed development of numerous hard, aesthetic free climbs on the Hulk. In early Summer 2005, Sierra legend Peter Croft completed Blowhard (V 5.12+), which he started in 2004, with partners Andrew Stevens and Hans Standteiner. In 2005, Nettle joined with Croft and photographer Greg Epperson to establish Airstream (V 5.13). In 2005 Croft and I returned to a route that he and Nettle had put up in 2004 and—by adding a direct start—helped round out the route. Croft subsequently added a direct finish to fully establish Venturi Effect (V 5.12+). In late spring 2006, Nettle and I contributed Tradewinds (V 5.11+) to the Hulk's already impressive list of long free climbs. Our effort pieced together a direct free line up the wall using three or four pitches from other routes. While Dave and I worked on the route I spent time gazing at the unclimbed pitches still remaining on the face. There had to be more possibilities.
Nils Davis follows the steep crack on Pitch 3 (5.11+). Eye of the Storm is the longest line on the face and offers pristine crack climbing. [Photo] Nils Davis collection
While working on Tradewinds last year I gazed at the lower pitches of a potential new route. They looked phenomenally good—steep, clean splitters and corners. Accessing them would be a problem, though: the systems were disconnected, and piecing them together would involve blank and potentially unprotectable face climbing. The potential route soared up and right, taking the longest line on the face, but I doubted all the systems would connect.
Having arrived at the base, Jonny's interest piqued when I pointed out the line. Instead of following the obvious system en route to Positive Vibes, we chose to break right out of the corner to access a hanging section of the lower wall. Jonny led this pitch without bolts on improbable terrain. Having creatively rigged protection on the blank face traverse, we discovered that access to the headwall would go free.
Once in the business, we climbed Pitch 3 and Pitch 4 mostly free, using aid to clean lichen-encrusted sections. After converging with other routes on the bivy ledge we followed a 5.8 ramp 150 feet up and right, crossing Tradewinds and Astro-Hulk in the process.
The next pitch proved our undoing. The flake/crack had dicey rock and technical face climbing with poor to no protection. With no bolt kit, we decided we could go no farther.
Jonny's stint in California was over, but he left happy with many adventurous pitches under his belt.
I enticed local powerhouse Brent Obinger to head back and dig deeper. We re-climbed the first five pitches, freeing them in the process. Since I have neither Jonny's skill nor his inclination for making unprotectable faces (semi) protectable, I added two bolts to Pitch 2's face traverse.
Obinger following the sporty deadpoint out of the corner on Pitch 8 (5.12). This crux pitch provides the most strenuous climbing on the route: demanding stemming, fingerlocking, and liebacking up a seam/splitter/corner. [Photo] Nils Davis
These pitches hooked Brent. At the previous high point on Pitch 6, we traded leads and managed to struggle through an additional fifty feet of climbing before backing off again. The flake lent itself to thin face climbing. We added two bolts to get through this section, taking time to clean out small placements for nuts and small cams. Fifty feet higher than the previous high point, I encountered some highly dubious hanging teeth. They proved to be hollow, seemingly ready to break off at the slightest pull. Fortunately the technical difficulty eased, allowing me to tip-toe through this section. I added two more bolts so I wouldn't have to plug cams behind the delicate and imposing flakes. At the topmost flake, after about fifteen feet of nervous movement, I added the fourth bolt to the pitch and lowered off, discouraged by its looseness.
We camped that night and the next day decided to see if the upper section would go free. We climbed Astro-Hulk, and from high on the route we could see the upper sections of the project. It pinched to nothing. It would never go. In a long string of jaded moments, I confessed I was no longer interested in the line if it wouldn't go free. Disappointed, we gave up. We realized, however, that we still had climbed four excellent pitches that provided a great starting variation for any of the four other routes on the face.
Spring came this year, and summer in the High Sierra started early. The winter had been very dry. I concluded that a second, closer look at the line was necessary for peace of mind. Brent wanted in, so we headed back to climb Bob Harrington's super-classic, The Polish Route (V 5.10). This route is seldom done, as it possesses probably the only wide crack climbing on the entire peak. Once on the ridge we traversed a few hundred feet and completed two rappels that set us atop the project's upper corner. I set off down the third rappel, and as I slowly slid down the cords, I realized that, indeed, the crack in the corner pinched to nothing—but there was a seam on the face that might allow passage.
Within one week we returned, ready to suffer through any aid shenanigans. Climbing through Pitch 6, I discovered that the terrifying teeth weren't as bad as I had remembered. I turned a roof above the teeth and found another long, beautiful finger crack in a corner. The end of the corner brought us to a flat ledge at the base of a lonely headwall in the middle of the west face.
Brent made his way up, carefully switching through four left-facing corners; Brent added two bolts to a totally improbable face traverse that linked the third and fourth. After making the connection he hurried up the system, and soon we were on the headwall at the base of the prize corner.
Obinger on Pitch 10 (5.10), the final length to the ridge. [Photo] Nils Davis
I half aid-climbed and half freed the pitch. It seemed completely freeable, but it would be difficult—a challenge we expected and hoped for. We weren't able to free the engaging climbing (the finish, before two quality crack pitches that led to the summit ridge, even demanded a spectacular deadpoint out of the corner) fully that trip.
But after a few more days of coming and going, and a good amount of labor-intensive cleaning and buffing, we were ready to go. We linked the route free on August 21, 2007. In the end, the line yielded high quality, enjoyable climbing.
The Hulk has a reputation for being subject to heavy winds, but we experienced perfect weather on every day we worked the project this year. Because of its isolation from the wind we named the route Eye of the Storm (V 5.12, 12 pitches, 1500 feet). It takes the longest line on the face and manages to have some of the best rock—high quality crack and face climbing—nearly the entire length.