Trip ReportThe Incredible Hulk--Positive Vibrations: A Reflective Everyman's TR
The ivory granite wall faced west, glowing a brilliant orange in the fading afternoon light. Shadows crept slowly toward the base as the chill in the air made me reach for another layer. I did not fully appreciate this perspective until completing two climbs on the monolith, but this sight would now be forever etched in my memory.
The route Positive Vibrations on a peak called The Incredible Hulk was intended to be a grand conclusion to five weeks of rock climbing in Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra. All of our training and climbing led to this line, a sustained series of cracks and corners rising to a summit of 11,280 feet. I believed the climb to be well within my ability, but the alpine setting and the speed and efficiency with which we had to climb introduced enough of the unknown into the equation to make Positive Vibrations a very compelling objective.
Don Juan, a climb at The Needles in Sequoia National Forest, prepared me well for the later stages of our road trip through California. Both legendary and mythical in nature, this 400 foot route was equally enticing and intimidating. It takes an uncompromising line up thin cracks lacing a golden granite tower. Red and yellow lichen adorn the face and enhance its wild, surreal quality. During the ascent my body fell into a distinct rhythm: lock fingers, paste feet, tension, release, breathe, smile. A feeling of integrity and confidence resulted from the constant conversation between muscle and mind and now.
After completing our first climb on The Incredible Hulk, The Red Dihedral, we rested for a day. The six mile approach to this valley worked our knees and backs while the nebulous trails tested our patience. So I relaxed, reflected, and wrote in the beautiful snowy surroundings.
hummocks of granite
the unfocused green of pine
to the north
gale from the south
blowing wild hair barely contained
under a trucker hat
Freedom to Roam
snowy waters tumble down
east of my perch
Little Slide Canyon
mysterious spires west
broken squarish unknown alluring
water and wind and dive-bombing birds
sporadic symphony from insects
five weeks of traveling and climbing
has chiseled me down to a
narrow focused specimen
a final exam of sorts awaits
days and days of simplicity and drive and
“going up there to find out”
culminate right here
The Incredible Hulk
I’m making too much of it
but that helps me practice
no big deal
5.10 5.11 5.10 5.11
tips fists hands fingers
still…the feet have to be good
some of the time
relax breathe find the solidity
from Don Juan
that constant conversation between
muscle and mind and now
lock paste tension release smile
I have to go up there
despite the feelings of unworthiness
I do belong in the steep
The Tilted World
the challenge is to rise above the selfishness
doubt and history that undermine
enjoying the effort
both victims of scree and talus
the product of thousands of feet
of the real work
slender arms still do well to haul this light frame skyward
every system is a part of it
steps not to be ignored
ritual and spirit
the energy that brings you back
another breath and this entire expansive moment has
passed only to be relived
with the next inhale exhale
grand cosmic everyday
The watch alarm fired off early though I was already awake staring up at the green and mesh ceiling of the tent. It was time. I was psyched. Coffee (Peet’s Garuda Blend), a bagel with peanut butter and Nutella, yet another inventory of gear, and we were on our way.
Julie and I were not the first climbers to arrive at the Hulk on this particular morning. Two folks were far ahead of us in the talus field. Another pair approached distantly from the west. Two more were on the snow field behind us. We seemed like pilgrims slowly moving toward the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, each quietly dwelling on their own prostrations.
Twelve hundred feet of pearly white granite perfection soared above us. We racked quickly and set off up the first pitch, a friendly corner and double crack system that yielded to fun bear hug moves and allowed us to easily establish a rhythm with the rock. The first five pitches flew by in a blur of gleaming grey-white feldspar, pink quartz, highlights of mica, and the dark recesses to which we attempted to fit our bodies—we were not climbing what was there, but what was not there. The movement flowed so naturally, impeccably. At times it was hard to believe that this route was simply one more consequence of tectonics and erosion. Whatever the machinery, we connected fully. Muscle. Mind. Now.
Pitch six is the crux of the route—a stemming corner and a pair of roofs lead to a series of finger cracks angling toward the final arête. One sustained section right on top of another, an ancient tapestry of lithic genius. It was profoundly exciting. There was no room for hesitation or indecision, only attention and execution. I climbed with a crystalline focus, struggling, but never really fighting. There was a cooperation between the rock and my body—we both offered our fully present best. For a time, nothing made more sense in the universe than for us to be here in the alpine sun and wind.
The major difficulties of the route ended two pitches later, but the final rope length really brought everything together and drove home the message: this is quality that is almost unbelievable. Pitch eight wove through elegant discontinuous cracks and required me to traverse right to gain the final splitter that led to the top of the headwall. Tired, but joyful, upon reaching the start of the final forty feet of crack climbing I gazed up at an aesthetic line that would take mostly finger jams and, every now and again, accept a full hand to keep the movement engaging while not entirely easy. It would be hard to plan a better finish if I had been sculpting the climb myself. I yelled down to Julie something mildly obscene, but of the tenor “This is too good to be true!” The phrase seemed to describe nearly every foot of the climb. I paused to appreciate the wild exposure, majestic atmosphere, and stirring ever-present wind, then launched blissfully into the final challenge.
Positive Vibrations continued on for several hundred feet along an interesting ridge to the ultimate summit. The climbing was casual and we moved rapidly. Bizarre exit moves planted us on a ledge where we unroped and clambered to the top. While coiling the rope I was still trying to process what we had accomplished and just how good the climbing had been. If each pitch was a song, then Positive Vibrations is a “Best of” or easily a perfect album side; the music one reaches for when seeking an authentic, transcendent, and uplifting experience.
The summit was surprisingly calm with the winds experiencing a late afternoon lull. Sunlight streamed down at increasingly shallow angles, the hue beginning to suggest that the day had grown late. Julie and I wore silly grins as we quietly descended, each digesting the last five weeks in our own way. Me, I started with Rene Daumal:
“One climbs, one sees. One descends, one no longer sees, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.”
It was time to return, perhaps to share. I was temporarily at peace—I was ready.
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