Trip ReportHulk-O-Rama 2013 - Round TWO!
Usually it all starts with a picture, or a story. This time motivation comes in video form. As Adam and I rapped down the Hulk after climbing Sunspot Dihedral my eyes were drawn to the line of bolts dotting the fire colored arete. Here was the route from the video, one of the few unfamiliar routes left on the Hulk. No one I knew had tried Solar Flare, I was intrigued. It offered difficulty that I knew would overwhelm me but also it offered adventure in spades. As we descended I could tell the climbing would be in the 5.12 range and upon returning home I watched the video again, trying to etch the route into my mind.
Check out Hulk-O-Rama round one HERE!:
Rapping down Solar Flare
Somehow I am always bringing new partners to the Hulk. Getting to show off such a spectacular area is something that I really enjoy. It's nice to come and play tour guide. I have stories and memories for so many of the Hulk routes. I love sharing my passion for the place with others. For my first attempt on Solar Flare I was able to recruit Kyle from Monterrey. We would stick with our strengths and Kyle would take the harder bolted pitches, while I would lead the cruxy gear pitches.
I'm learning that my enthusiasm for climbing is not always in my best interest. Logistics and fatigue are something that should not be discounted. I've done the hike to the Hulk over a dozen times, sometimes alone, and relish the feeling of lactic acid filling my legs. But destroying one's partner by hiking too fast is not a good plan, so we enjoyed the scenery and took it easy.
I was psyched to get a route in after the hike and wanted to link up the first few pitches of Airstream into Sunspot Dihedral. This would allow Kyle and I to find our groove and allow me to do a few new pitches. On the last trip I had not been too psyched about the anchors on Solar Flare and had hiked in a bunch of hardware to replace the tattered slings with rings and chains. A bunch of this hardware was supplied by the ASCA so a big thanks to Greg Barnes!!
Kyle near the end of P1 of Solar Flare
The climbing on the first two 5.11 pitches of Airstream is stimulating with cruxy climbing a little ways above your gear. Luckily I was full of confidence and the added challenge made for a great day of climbing. Kyle led the super long money pitch on Sunspot which he defined as one of his harder efforts, despite having redpointed many bolted 5.13's. I got to swing through and lead the crux of Sunspot, which I had followed previously with Adam. This was a great linkup with four back to back 5.11 pitches of high quality.
A sluggish start the next day put us in a bad place when afternoon storms rolled in. We had made good time up the first part of Solar Flare but had stalled on the first 5.12 pitch. Kyle did a great job leading the pitch taking a few whippers and I struggled mightily on the thin face climbing.
Kyle following the first 5.11 pitch on Solar Flare
I really hate bailing, but without a rain jacket we decided to rappel. Thunder had been booming in the distance for the last hour and we had been waiting to see if the rain would materialize. No sooner had Kyle finished the first rappel then the large drops covered my shirt.
Luckily the rappels are fast and in no time we had scrambled down to a cave near our bivy spot. The rain lasted only and hour, and the rock easily dried for the next day. Our bodies, however, had not recovered from the climbing and after a few pitches we hiked out for a celebratory feast at the Burger Barn. Stuffing our faces was a great way to finish off the tiring weekend.
This photo is from 2009 but I'm still wearing the same visor and still order a BBQ Bacon burger post Hulk. Same Luke, different Hulk trip.
A rematch with Solar Flare was setup and Adam was more than happy to come along for another Hulk adventure. We tried to take it a littler easier on the hike in so we would be fresh to put some work into Venturi Effect. Adam lead the first pitch of Eye of the Storm, a better warmup compared to pitch one of Venturi and climbed the short pitch to the terrace. This set me up for the .11+ traverse on Venturi, ie pitch 3. Spirits were high until I went to clip the fixed piton and it wiggled and almost came out. Yikes! I went back to the ledge and found a big rock to solve my problem. With a body weight 000 C3 I whacked the piton back in and sent the traverse. Now in the groove, physically but not mentally, I struggled with the lack of holds and came off. Eventually I managed some trickery and climbed the rest of the pitch to the belay.
Hammer time on the Venturi Effect photo by Adam
The real business was next and I hang dogged my way up the "book of secrets" corner. I was able to figure out most of the thin gear and eventually got through the super thin crux. What a pitch!! The anchor had been recently upgrade, replacing a fixed nut and cam with a bomber bolt so I lowered off so Adam could give it a burn. He almost nabbed the TR send, but his foot peeled at the post-crux rest.
Without the stress of getting in the thin gear I managed to climb it on TR which helped solidify my beta for the tips crux. Not wanting to get any more tired we quickly rapped off with our 70m rope, psyched to catch some zzz's before Solar Flare.
My lack of success on pitch five of Solar Flare with Kyle made me curious to try the right start, dubbed Solar Burn or Sun Burn. I had a good idea of where it went, based on the Secor guide and soon enough Adam and I had climbed the familiar first two pitches of Airstream. Solar Burn is about the same difficulty but swaps a 5.12b bolted pitch for a short 5.12 thin finger splitter (shown above). While cracks are usually my forte this pitch took me a good while to figure out.
After you have executed the sequential 5.12 crux you romp up 100 feet of varied hands to finger crack to a gear belay on a nice ledge. Adam cruised the strenuous pitch and I kept on the sharp end for another pitch of splitter fun, with a long unprotected traverse. This put us below the a bolted traverse that would take us back to Solar Flare.
So far our friends Steven and Vlad had been working up the regular Solar Flare start and we had been hollering support and beta across the face. My mental map put us a pitch ahead of them but I was soon to be proven wrong.
Psyched to have finished P5 of Solar Burn Photo by Vlad
Adam did an amazing job onsighting a very techincal 5.11+ traverse and when I pull around the corner I saw the traffic jam. I had misplaced the belay where Solar Flare and Solar Burn converge and now it was a cluster. With all four of us at the same belay the party ascent began. We were happy to leach psyche from Vlad and Steven since the difficulty was able to skyrocket.
Adam on the first 5.12+ of Solar Flare photo by Vlad
Adam charged off falling, cursing and fighting his way up the next two 5.12+ pitches. The pitches may lack in holds and rests, but make up the difference in difficulty and position. Doing such cryptic moves so high on the Hulk was both inspiring and mind numbing. These were some of the hardest pitches Adam or I had tried on a multi-pitch and our repetitive failures showed as much. Fortunately glory came from below as Vlad flashed the 5.12c crux and Steven followed it clean. The chalk and beta shouted from above was making a difference and despite our failure we were inspiring success.
The sunspot arete is continuously difficulty with a vicious crux down low. Steven, on his first visit to the Hulk, flashes the pitch showing his depth in hard climbing. It is an inspiration to watch as I try to lead the final 5.12 pitch to the end of the route. I've moved outside my own success and am so excited for Vlad, who takes a single fall on the route having onsighted or flashed three of the 5.12 pitches. Steven almost makes it look too easy flashing one of the hardest routes on the Hulk and managing a no falls weekend. With all the anchors updated the rappel down is easy.
Steven flashing the crux arete on Solar Flare. Photo by Vlad the Impaler
On Sunday I barely want to get out of my sleeping bag. I've been on more hard pitches than I can handle and the thought of leading something is beyond me. I cook up a plan and Adam agrees that some power laybacking is a good idea. We warm-up on the first pitch of Positive Vibrations and I cut off all the tat on the Power Ranger anchor, one of the few I had left to fix. I go first and manage to hang at only at one section, my forearms terminally pumped. Adam skilfully sends the pitch "TRONsight" and I give it a second go, finally able to piece it together. I had delusions of doing more but Adam agrees we should hike out while we are ahead.
Solar Flare & Solar Burn Topo
Another pair of great trips and I'm full to the brim with Hulk climbing. Getting shut down is a huge motivator and I will need to step up my game before getting back on Solar Flare. Huge props to Steven and Vlad who kept up the psyche and climbed Tradewinds the following day. Such a great display of climbing makes me push for that next level of fitness!
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