storming castles

See Rock and Ice Issue 195 for the full feature on Sierra adventures.

 

Two days into our supposed one day approach, near the summit of Mt. Whitney, things were getting grim. It wasn’t really one thing that was causing discomfort, but more of a combination of many minor and not so minor issues. The 70 pound packs didn’t help. Nor did the 12 mile approach up and over the Whitney Crest – the tallest ridge in the lower 48. Beyond the crest however, lay the stuff dreams are made of; gold and ivory ramparts shooting straight to the sky – white castles.

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The Incredible Hulk and Maltby Lake.

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It all started a year previous while basecamping at The Incredible Hulk with my partner, Josh Finkelstein. Perfect white granite, sandy bivy sites, bountiful fishing – the place provided so much inspiration that we vowed to return the following year with friends for Hulk-a-Mania 2010.

While at the Hulk in ’09 we met two bad ass dudes with a similar mission as ours – head into the hills and climb soaring white castles. One of them, Jimmy Haden, was on the first ascent of Sunspot Dihedral, and the other, Mike Pennings, is known throughout the land for his ability absolute need to “stay in the ‘pine.” Jimmy and Mike spoke of bigger, more remote and more wild walls deeper in the Sierra. We were hooked.

Fast forward to Summer 2010.

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Josh Finkelstein warming up on The classic Tuolumne cracks of Lucky Streaks.

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Chop a 300′ steep, orange section out of El Cap and you’d have the Tioga Cliff.

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After getting our groove back in Tuolumne, we’ve returned to the Hulk, complete with a small posse psyched on the dream that is Hulk-a-Mania. Representing North Carolina are Jacob Neathawk and Sam Fagg, while Josh’s friend Gabe Metzger and a long lost buddy from Camp 4, Taylor, have hooked up as the hometown Cali crew. With the weather forecast calling for highs in the low 70′s, no wind and 3% chance of precipitation, we knew this was shaping up to be all time.

Having already climbed the ultra-mega-classic Positive Vibrations last year(twice – its that good), there was only one logical option for us – Sunspot Dihedral. Jimmy had raved about this line last year, and we were eager to get up there and feel it for ourselves. We had other motivations too. A link up of Sunspot, Positive, and The Red Dihedral ranked high on our wish list.

Just like Positive Vibrations, Sunspot was so awesome that we decided to do it again. Only this time would be a photo mission with Josh leading every pitch allowing me to shoot Gabe and Taylor climbing below us.

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Taylor Lamoureaux on the wild third pitch traverse of Sunspot Dihedral.

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Gabe pulling off the beta bonus shakeout on Sunspot.

As we approached the top of the climb, the weather began to turn. The wind whipped up and the temps plummeted. Time to drop the clutch and punch it to the top. Gunning for the Venturi Effect raps, we jumped onto the most direct path – the top of Positive Vibes. Traversing over, we snaked a British team finishing up Positive, but they were psyched for photos and psyched to share ropes on the descent.

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Brits on the last pitch of Positive Vibes.

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What next? An alpine rest day complete with capes, trout and snowgaritas with friends, of course.

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Snowgarita recipe: powdered tangy slurp of your preference, a fork-load of snow (don’t worry about germs – the liquor will take care of ‘em), at least double of your ration of tequila/vodka/beam/whatever you brought.

After our epic rest day, our batteries were recharged and we felt ready for the linkup. Unfortunately, we couldn’t quite manage Sunspot, Positive and the Red Dihedral. Why not? Well, to be frank, that would have involved getting up way too early. So in the interest of fun, we leisurely unzipped our bags around 8am and cruised our way up Positive Vibes and The Red Dihedral at just the right pace so as to catch the sunset on the summit. After all, timing is everything.

To quote the wise words and sage advice of Dave Nettle, Peter Croft and Greg Epperson: “It’s good to pack a (rope) gun!” and “Wahoo!”

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Summit register entry from the birth of Airstream.

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Another day comes to an end at The Hulk.

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And now for a Public Service Announcement:

As a large group in the backcountry we felt it imperative to minimize our impact. We hate nothing more than arriving at one of our favorite pristine places and finding human evidence. Whether its trash, fire rings, feces or trampled vegetation, creating such things removes the sense of desolation and wilderness for those that follow. On Hulk-a-Mania 2010 we chose to contain our presence to sandy seasonal lake bottoms and to pack out ALL of our waste. We hope you’ll do the same to preserve not just the area, but the future wilderness experiences of others.

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Crucial piece for the rack – the wag bag!

Stay tuned for the next installment. The hikes get longer and the walls get taller…


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  1. Pingback: Storming Castles [part 2 - the sequel] – Chris Brown's Blog

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