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Vitaliy Musiyenko completes 32-mile Goliath Traverse in High Sierra
Posted on: August 19, 2021
[This story has been updated to correct estimates of elevation gain and distance, and references to different segments of the linkup.—Ed.]
Sunset from below Mt. Sill, after Vitaliy Musiyenko stopped early because of 30+ mph winds (Miwok, Mono/Monache, Shoshone and Paiute land). [Photo] Vitaliy Musiyenko
From August 2 to 10, 2021, Vitaliy Musiyenko climbed a traverse of gargantuan proportions along the Sierra Crest, in California's Sierra Nevada Range. Over the course of eight days Musiyenko covered approximately 32 miles of mostly technical terrain, 80,000 feet of elevation gain, and 60 summits above 13,000 feet, including eight Fourteeners: Split North, Split South, Middle Palisade, Sill, Polemonium, North Palisade, Starlight and Thunderbolt. It may be the longest ridge traverse in the Western Hemisphere. He's calling it Goliath.
"It's a beautiful day to come out of the mountains ALIVE having sent what I believe to be the longest technical ridge traverse in the Western Hemisphere, solo and alpine style," he wrote on Facebook August 9.
Vitaliy's claim struck me as dubious at first. There have been quite a few very long traverses done in the Alps and the Himalaya. But those are all east of the Prime Meridian. Surely, at some point in history, someone, somewhere in the Western hemisphere had done a longer traverse. But after talking with colleagues at the American Alpine Journal, as well as some of the leading mountain athletes pushing these kinds of climbs today, I believe Musiyenko is correct. No other traverse on this side of the globe really compares in terms of sheer length, technical difficulty and elevation gain.
Consider the Fitz Roy traverse, a massive Patagonian ridge climb first completed by Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold in 2014 (and soloed in reverse by Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll earlier this year). The Fitz Traverse (as it's commonly called) covers approximately 13,100 feet in elevation over about 3.1 miles. The Torre Traverse, another well-known linkup in Argentine Patagonia, is much shorter—only about 7,200 feet of gain, which Honnold and Haley climbed in a single day in 2016.
Musiyenko after traversing from Mt. Goode to Trapezoid. "I remembered it being one of the cruxes of the evolution crest for me when I soloed it in 2016 going the opposite way," Musiyenko wrote. "I was happy to have that difficult section behind me." [Photo] Vitaliy Musiyenko
"Comparing [Goliath] to the Fitz Traverse or Torre Traverse is like comparing an ultramarathon on fifth-class terrain with occasional shit rock to a lap up El Cap," Musiyenko said. "The Fitz Traverse is much shorter, but much more sustained in technical difficulties (and has better rock!). The ridgeline I linked is more of an endurance/mountaineering challenge. Think Ueli Steck on his 82 summits in 62 days challenge, except I did about 60 summits in less than eight days." But that comparison, too, is problematic, since Steck was bicycling all over Europe to access 82 different peaks, while Vitaliy's 60 were all lined up along a ridge.
Perhaps a better analog would be the 35-mile long CDUL traverse, which Honnold and Caldwell teamed up for in 2020 along the continental divide in Rocky Mountain National Park. Their horizontal distance was 3 miles longer than Musiyenko's 32, but their elevation gain (20,000 feet) is roughly a quarter of what Musiyenko estimates he covered. Musiyenko tagged something like 60 summits, depending how one defines a "summit," while Honnold and Caldwell only summited 17 peaks. Moreover, the CDUL traverse spends far more time hiking or running in nontechnical terrain. It's arguably a bit of a stretch to call it a ridge traverse at all.
"Having done some of the sections of the traverse that Vitaliy just did," Honnold said, "I tend to agree with him that it's probably the longest and most adventurous ridge traverse that I've ever heard of. There are some sections of truly horrendous rock, and it's incredibly sustained— literally miles of rock climbing. He's right to point out that most other giant traverses are either much more technical (Fitz/Torre traverses) or more like hiking/running objectives (the CDUL or Grand Traverse). This new Sierra link up really hits a hellish sweet spot in the middle: Too technical to move super quickly, but still horrendously long. I'm both intrigued and repulsed."
The ridge on the southern section of the Palisade Traverse, taken during the third day of Musiyenko's traverse. Seen here are the summit of Mt. Williams, the Palisade Crest, and the start of the regular Palisade Traverse with Mt. Sill dominating the skyline. [Photo] Vitaliy Musiyenko
Musiyenko's new enchainment is actually a linkup of two different traverses: the Full Monty Palisade traverse (VI 5.9), and the Full Evolution Crest traverse (VI 5.9). When I spoke with Musiyenko on the phone, he joked that together, they must make a grade XII.
"It seemed logical to link up two of the most jagged sub-ranges of the High Sierra because they are connected on the Sierra Crest, and are only separated by a pass," he said.
Musiyenko told me that prior to his recent summit spree, he believes that the Full Monty had never been successfully completed (the Full Palisade traverse, which is six miles shorter had only been done about a dozen times), and that the Full Evolution Crest had only been done three or four times, including once by Musiyenko in 2016.
Looking back at the northern end of the Full Palisade Traverse. [Photo] Vitaliy Musiyenko
"That 2016 climb was actually an attempt to do the mega linkup I just completed, but [in 2016] I had a bad feeling that if I kept going I would die as I was finishing the Evo Crest on day three, with only four days of food left, and the more difficult Palisade traverse still to go," Musiyenko said. "On that trip, I carried the ashes of Edward Lau, a friend who passed away, and maybe the weight of the whole thing or being tired or being a quitter at heart or good judgment, or a combination of these made me not continue past Bishop Pass. At the time it was the climb of a lifetime and I felt Bishop Pass was a nice place to let go of some of his ashes."
When the COVID-19 pandemic canceled his travel plans (he was slated to go to Nepal on an American Alpine Club Cutting Edge grant to try the South Face of Nuptse), Musiyenko turned his attention to training for this closer-to-home objective. In Oakland where Musiyenko picked up a couple of contracts as an ER nurse, he would run on his breaks: about 1.5 miles for his 15-minute break, and 3.5 miles for each of his two 30-minute breaks, averaging about 8.5 miles each shift. He would do that two to three times per week.
"Co-workers that noticed thought it was nuts," he said, "but it was productive to be done with a 12-hour shift and not have to do cardio after."
He also made a trip to Bozeman where he onsighted the Nutcracker (M9 WI5+, 5 pitches), completed an aid-solo ascent of El Cap's Shortest Straw (VI A4), and climbed the Denali Diamond and most of Mt. Hunter's Bibler-Klewin in the spring. "On Denali I also made sure to work on cardio and made two fast ascents to the summit from 14,000 Camp (one by the West Buttress and one via the West Rib)."
Following Alaska, Musiyenko turned his attention to the Sierra, where he continued to train. He wrote via email: "Within about a month I ran the Tuolumne Triple, linked up the triple in the same day with the North Ridge of North Peak and North Ridge of Conness; did the Minarets Traverse; ran the Saber Ridge car-to-car (34 miles/9,000' of gain in under 10 hours); [and climbed the] North Arete of Bear Creek Spire in under 5 hours car-to-car, along with a few FAs and other smaller-scale scrambles. I also did the second ascent of an interesting traverse with shit rock in the Sierra, and another [traverse] that had only been done a few times. So a lot of traversing this year!"
Musiyenko nearly had his carefully laid plans spoiled when he sprained his ankle on the second day of the Goliath Traverse. By the fifth day, his knee was badly swollen from overuse. He even fell a few times in steep talus, badly bruising and scraping his bicep. For eight consecutive days, he averaged 10,000 feet of elevation gain and 4 miles of horizontal distance. For seven consecutive nights, he slept little more than an hour because of the cold—he only carried a 1 lb. down quilt, and temperatures above 12,000 feet regularly dropped below freezing—and anxiety about the next day's trials to come.
"On the last day, after the final technical section, I got to the top of this unnamed peak above Piute Pass and cried for probably more than 10 minutes," Musiyenko told me. "I was happy to be alive, to be liberated from this obsession, and also happy with myself for not quitting."
"Besides," he added, "this was good training for the trip to Nepal."
When Musiyenko got home, he was 16.5 lbs lighter than when he started.
"I'm sure it's not like some Himalayan epic with days of starvation, but [that's some] pretty impressive weight loss knowing I brought a bunch of high-calorie shit and tried to eat consistently in order to avoid bonking," he said. "I treated it as an ultramarathon that I needed to pace myself for every day and not burn myself out, though every day would be huge by any standard."
Sunrise from Musiyenko's bivy at the start of the fifth day, looking at the traverse du jour—Mt. Sill to Thunderbolt, the classic Palisade Traverse. [Photo] Vitaliy Musiyenko
Musiyenko wrote the following descriptions about his itinerary and kit (edited for clarity):
Day 1 (8/2/21)
My girlfriend helped shuttle my car to the trailhead before I started and by the time I was halfway through I think I missed her and our cats more than I've ever had. :)
(You can see a detailed rundown of the specific brands in Vitaliy's ultralight kit here.)
- Dehydrated meals transferred to zip locks and cooked in a Nalgene for dinners.
- For snacks, I had a combination of Skittles, Snickers bar, Pro Bar, Shot Bloks, and a variety of chocolate with protein bars.
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