Second Times the Charm, Climbing Positive Vibrations (5.11a) on the Incredible Hulk

Positive Vibrations is an exceptional rock climb in the Sawtooth Range of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. It took two tries for me to climb this route successfully in summer of 2022.

Difficulty: 5.11a YDS
Number of Pitches: 11
Route Length: 1,200 feet
Approach Time: 3 Hours
Location: 25 minutes from Bridgeport, CA
Summit Elevation: Approx. 10,740 Feet

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Approach to the Incredible Hulk

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The first time we tried to climb Positive Vibrations (Positive Vibes) was in June 2022, and we ended up bailing due to high winds. In August, we went back for a second attempt with better weather. This post will describe the second trip, but the pictures will be from both trips.

We drove to Bridgeport and turned off 395 onto Twin Lakes Road. Twin Lakes Road zig-zags through beautiful green cattle grazing fields with the spectacular backdrop of the Sawtooth Range. We took the road to where it ended at a massive RV campground where it cost $15 to park in a dirt lot with no shade (grumble grumble).

We packed up and started the 4.3 mile approach to the camping area below the Hulk. At around 2.5 miles, we turned off the main trail and headed up Little Slide Canyon. On the way we passed by Little Slide Spires, which looked awesome and worthy of a return trip at some point.

After a few hours, we made it to the campsites at the bottom of the Hulk. There are a good number of campsites spread out in the area, but it can get pretty full during summer weekends. This time, we were one of the only parties up there on a late-August weekend, so you never know.

The next morning, I took the lead on the first pitch. On our previous attempt, Zach took the first pitch (P1), so we mixed it up so we could each lead the opposite pitches this time. The first crux of the route comes at P3. You climb up past the left side of a roof, then traverse right above it. A few exposed and reachy moves gets you to the belay. We both thought this 11a pitch is waaay easier than the second crux. In fact, I think it is easier than the 10c/d before the crux on P6.

P4 climbs an intimidating chimney that goes a lot easier than it looks with some wide stemming. Eventually though the chimney pinches off and you have to exit right on a fairly burly overhanging hand crack. After passing a couple bolts, we reached the belay for P5.

P5 starts with some discontinuous cracks. The rock is ok, but it’s probably the worst rock quality on the entire route. After this discontinuous broken section, we reached a splitter crack. After pulling through an awkward pod, we were rewarded with our first stretch of splitter hands. On our first attempt, we got a picture of a woman climbing this section as we rappelled. Pretty awesome!

P5 ends at a triangular ledge with huge exposure. From this vantage point, we got an awesome view of the shadow coming off The hulk from the morning sunshine.

P6 is listed in the SuperTopo guide book as the crux. We ended up splitting it into two pitches. I’ll refer to the first half before the 5.11a section as P6 and the crux as P6.5. Zach led P6, which starts out in a beautiful thin and smooth corner. Zach spent some time fiddling w/ the small gear but eventually committed and blasted through. After that, you traverse under a roof and turn around a corner. I found P6 to be really challenging, but that might be because I suck at liebacks.

I led the crux P6.5, which climbs a beautiful curved wall with several thin, steepening cracks shooting up through it. Before the cracks get too thin and too steep for mere mortals to climb, you bust out left and climb a mix of crack and face holds to pull up onto a ledge. Moving from the splitter cracks up and left to the ledge is the crux. I took a few respectable falls before I figured out my sequence and managed to finish the pitch. I was very excited, since I wasn’t sure if I was going to figure it out or not. Zach followed the pitch without falling like a boss.

Zach had bad memories from P7, so I took the lead on that one. At this point, we had made it through the crux, so I felt like nothing was going to stop us from finishing the route. In reality, there was a lot of sustained climbing ahead and it wasn’t a sure thing.

P8 climbed a corner with mostly hands, but some of it was a bit deep in the crack and it was steep! Zach ended up on a vision quest going off route to the left, since the topo lacked enough detail to be useful at this point. Because of that, we ended up splitting P8 into two. That meant I got to take the last pitch and finish us out.

P9 climbs up a clean face split by multiple cracks. It was mostly hand cracks of some variety for a lot of P7-8. At this point, besides being very tired, my feet were killing me from all the foot jams. I never thought there could be too much hand crack, but this was putting that to the test.

The end of the route isn’t the summit of the formation. It is a good stopping point though. To reach the summit you have to do a bunch of ambiguous scrambling, which ultimately will merge you onto the finish of Red Dihedral.

A short traverse lead us to the rap route. You need a 70m rope, and not one that has had an end shortened. One of the raps was pretty much the perfect length for my rope. It took about 3 hours to rap the route and hike back to the campsite. We made it back just before the last bit of light left The Hulk. We camped for the night and hiked back down to the car in the morning.

Overall, the climb definitely lived up to the hype and was worth a second trip. Even though I felt like I could have finished the climb on our first attempt, it’s probably better we ended up bailing and coming back for it. The climbing above P5 really doesn’t let up, and is on average harder than the first 5 pitches.