Bishop Bouldering, California

by Michael Ryan Oct/2010
This article has been read 22,175 times
+Brian Kuhl on a Buttermilk classic, Funky Tut V3., 90 kbBrian Kuhl on a Buttermilk classic, Funky Tut V3.
© Tim Steele

Someone once described the bouldering around Bishop as 'better than Hueco or Font even' - probably some over-enthusiastic guidebook writer trying to promote the area. But talk to anyone who has visited Eastern California to boulder and they will tell you tales of hundreds of friendly volcanic tuff boulders offering juggy gymnastic problems at areas like the Happy and Sad Boulders, and more technical and tweaky challenges on the huge golden orbs of the Buttermilk Country.

You will notice that they probably have a tan, even though it is mid-winter. Then they will go all dreamy eyed as they recollect bathing in natural hot pools under a star-filled sky watching the spindrift blow off the tops of the nearby 14,000ft peaks.

The Mandala, The Swarm, Evilution, Maze of Death, Stained Glass, The Spectre, The Hulk, Strength in Numbers; these Bishop problems trip off a boulderers tongue as easily as Sharma, Graham and Rands, three modern boulderers who have made their mark on the boulders of the Eastern Sierra.

+Sarah Schneider on an unrecorded problem (about V3) at The Alcove , the Sherwin Plateau., 213 kbSarah Schneider on an unrecorded problem (about V3) at The Alcove , the Sherwin Plateau.
© Mick Ryan

Over 2,000 boulder problems have been recorded around the small town of Bishop in California's Owens Valley, nestled between the Sierra Nevada and the White Mountains - easily twice that many problems have been climbed and are unrecorded. The area is also known as 'the land of little rain' sitting in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada. During bouldering season, October to May, it is t-shirt weather - most of the time - whilst 5,000ft above you it is winter, typically 30ft of snow gets dumped in the mountains and Mammoth Lakes 40 miles to the north is a major ski and snowboard resort.

At the end of a long day bouldering here, sat with friends and a few beers around a camp fire, you'll probably reassess your life and decide that this is what it is all about, and that you aren't going home because you are already there.
If you tire of bouldering there are over a thousand sport routes nearby at the Owens River Gorge and the Alabama Hills, and for the adventurous the alpine climbs of the High Sierra are world class. Add a dash of ice climbing at nearby Lee Vining and June Lake,the skiing and snowboarding, mountain biking, trail running, outdoor swimming and natural wonders like Death Valley, Mono Lake, the Bristlecone Pine forest, some western history at Bodie, the native people and it's clear that a visit to the Eastern Sierra goes far beyond bouldering.

I don't think that over-enthusiastic guidebook writer was far off the mark. The Bishop bouldering experience is different than Heuco or Font, but just as world class - but there again I would say that wouldn't I?

+Ethan Pringle in full flow on The Buttermilker V13 at the Cave area, Buttermilks main area., 126 kbEthan Pringle in full flow on The Buttermilker V13 at the Cave area, Buttermilks main area.
© Tim Steele

The Areas, the Classics, This Article

+Bishop Bouldering Area Map, 171 kbBishop Bouldering Map, areas in red letters are in the guidebook, orange areas are self-exploration areas Mick Ryan. Click to enlarge

In the latest guidebook are the main Bishop bouldering areas; the Rock Creek boulders, some Sherwin Plateau areas, the Happy and Sad Boulders, and most of the Buttermilk areas. I have briefly described these in this article with some suggested classic problems.

As you can see by the map on the right, there are other areas around Bishop and if it gets too busy at the main areas you can always search these areas out - some of them are quite good.

There are many other good and great bouldering areas on the Eastern Sierra. To the north of Bishop are the Mammoth areas, particularly good in the summer, and to the south areas like Crystal Ridge and the Alabama Hills. Some of these areas are described in Marty Lewis' guidebooks (www.maximuspress.com), others you will only find from talking to locals. I have listed some of these areas at the end of this destination article.

Also to the north are the bouldering areas of Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite, both best in the autumn and spring. If you do visit the Bishop areas in the autumn/winter/spring months, from October until May, and want to make a visit Yosemite be aware that the Tioga Pass (CA - 120), the high road that links Highway 395 to Tuolumne and Yosemite, will more than likely be closed and you would have drive north to Reno and take Interstate 80, a drive of 500 miles rather than 140 miles when the Tioga Pass is open.

It's quite a way to go to Bishop from Europe, and will probably cost more than £1,000 for a two week trip. I think it is worth it, and I hope you find this article useful in planning your trip if you decide to go. There is lots of logistical information at the base of this article and also comments and thoughts from climbers who have visited, after all you can't trust me as I see the area as my spiritual home, a place where I have had some of the best climbing experiences of my life.

+Honey From Stone V8, a world class pocket problem at Royston Vasey, Sherwin Plateau, 136 kbHoney From Stone V8, a world class pocket problem at Royston Vasey, Sherwin Plateau
© Mick Ryan


Happy Boulders

+The Hulk V6 on the Happy Boulder at the Happy Boulders, the Volcanic Tableland, 201 kbThe Hulk V6 on the Happy Boulder at the Happy Boulders, the Volcanic Tableland
© Chris Dainton (ChrisJD )

Bishop, and the Buttermilk Boulders in particular, are my favourite bouldering destination in the world. The lines are proud, obvious and non-eliminate. The climbing is steep, positive and athletic. A lot of the boulders have the bonus of a highball-glory-jug -haul-topout!

I'm not that bothered about the bouldering at the Happies or The Sads, but I know a lot of lower grade boulderers who prefer those areas to the 'Milks. The Druid Stones is a long walk, but well worth it. I didn't really rate Rock Creek, but I know people who love it..

TimS
UKC Forum thread about Bishop Bouldering

Just five miles from Bishop, the Happy Boulders is a 3/4 mile long shallow canyon lined by short bluffs and filled with free standing boulders. The volcanic tuff offers deep pockets, heucos, flakes and positive holds. This canyon has children's circuits, lots of beginner problems and is suitable for any climber operating up to V12, with the majority of problems between V2 and V7 - most with flat sandy landings.

At an elevation of 4500ft and in the middle of the Owens Valley, the area is usually protected from snow off the nearby mountains that sometimes afflicts the higher elevation Buttermilk. It's a rare day when you can't climb here. In high season it can get crowded, but if that isn't your thing there are plenty of alternatives. Projecting is good here, but one thing you are assured of here is lots and lots of climbing. Pace yourself, the rock can be sharp and hard on the skin. It's a beautiful place to climb, get up on the rim and take in the views, especially as the sun sets.

Some classics:Sabres of Paradise V7, Hand To Hand Combat V7, Toxic Avenger V9, Mr. Happy V5, Every Colour You Are V7, Less Poetry Please V7, Morning Dove White V7 , Pursuit of Wow V1, The Corner V0, Atari V6, Heavenly Path V1, Action Figure V6, I Am Leaving For Constantinople , Tonight V1, The Hulk V6, Big Chicken V2, Solarium V4, Cue Ball V4, The Sixty-Foot Woman Traverse V2, Swordfish Trombone V12

+Dan Mills on the ceiling of Goldfish Trombone V13, a powerful small pocket and pinch problem, Happy Boulders., 155 kbDan Mills on the ceiling of Goldfish Trombone V13, a powerful small pocket and pinch problem, Happy Boulders.
© Tim Steele

+Kling and Smirk V2, Savannah Boulder, Happy Boulders, 195 kbKling and Smirk V2, Savannah Boulder, Happy Boulders
© Chris Dainton (ChrisJD )

Sad Boulders

I walked up this canyon one blistering day in August and thought it of little worth until I saw an amazing overhanging wall with a huge hueco feature. That initial bad impression of this area is how this canyon got its name. As soon as it cooled however, I was back with friends and I soon topped out on Strength in Numbers. It wasn't so sad after all! Many others joined in the fray, and the Sad Boulders soon had over 250 problems on the Prozac Nation bluff, the Kindergarten Area, in the Ice Caves and all down the canyon.

photo
Strength In Numbers V6, the Sad Boulders, Volcanic Tableland.
UKC Articles
© Mick Ryan

Again, the featured tuff is a joy to climb on at whatever your ability level. Some problems do need padding and careful spotting. Some of the caves are cool in hot weather, and avoid climbing here after rain as some holds can be friable - especially in the Ice Caves. The Sads does provide shelter the wind during breezy spring weather.

Some classics: Guantanamera V3, Humpty Dumpy V3, Kung Fu Grip V5, Rio's Crack V6, Anti-Hero V5, Hot Pants V5 Los Locos V7, Molly V5, French Press V6, Pow Pow V8, Strength In Numbers V5, Rorschach Test V11, It's All About Love V8, Beefcake V10, Fire Pit V2, Diamond V2, Crystal V3.

Other Volcanic Tableland - Self-Exploration

+Lisa Rands on a classic pocket highball, Love V1 on the Love Boulder down the Fish Slough Road., 141 kbLisa Rands on a classic pocket highball, Love V1 on the Love Boulder down the Fish Slough Road.
© Mick Ryan
The Happy and Sad boulders are located at the southern end of the vast Volcanic Tableland and are the tip of the iceberg of the bouldering found at this area. Many areas have been developed and others await to be discovered, local climbers have agreed with the climber-friendly Bureau of Land Managment (BLM) not to publicise any other areas apart from the Happy and Sad boulders and leave the rest open for self-exploration. Ask a friendly local if you want to know more, or use Google Earth.

Do not drive off established roads and if you see any native artefacts: petroglyphs, arrow heads, grinding stones, middens or stone circle camps please leave well alone and report them to the Bishop Field Office of the BLM. The area was well used in the past by native peoples as a home and for food. Almost every plant and animal resource found on the Tableland were used by native Americans. Their food sources included indian rice grass, desert needle grass, great basin wildrye, waterfowl, deer, freshwater molluscs, and a variety of native desert fishes.

The best bouldering I have encountered thus far! Bishop has the highball reputation, but there is so much more to it than that. I'm a bit of a girly wuss when it comes to highballs, but I found more than enough to entertain me over two separate visits.

I think the grades are a bit stiff (or the UK ones are too soft) on first acquaintance, but it eventually falls into place after a few top outs. I very much enjoy the gymnastic powerful style of the problems that is commonly encountered in Bishop, but the variety is such that other types are also abundant.

Jenn
UKC Forum thread about Bishop Bouldering


The Buttermilk Country

+Big Boulder, small mat. Peabodies, Buttermilk , 189 kbBig Boulder, small mat. Peabodies, Buttermilk
© ChrisJD, Oct 2006

photo
Buttermilk Country Map, Mick Ryan. Click to enlarge

+Dale Bard, the heir to Smoke Blanchard, and the King of the Buttermilk., 106 kbDale Bard, the heir to Smoke Blanchard, and the King of the Buttermilk.
© Mick Ryan

To many the Buttermilks is the crown of Bishop bouldering. Situated ten miles west of Bishop in the foothills of the majestic Sierra Nevada at an elevation ranging from 6,400 to 8,000ft, the area is beautiful high desert Great Basin Chapparall full of sweet smelling sage, desert peach, Jeffrey pine and the occasional stream, with cliffs and free-standing golden boulders stretching for as far as the eye can see. In the winter, on a crisp sunny day with the Sierra cloaked in white, there is no better place to be whether you are bouldering, mountain biking or running. At the end of a long day bouldering here, sat with friends and a few beers around a camp fire, you'll probably reassess your life and decide that this is what it is all about, and that you aren't going home because you are already there.

The area is collectively known as Buttermilk Country, or just the Buttermilks, and there are around 9 different areas and hundreds if not thousands of quartz-monzonite boulders to climb on.

The surface of the boulders varies. There is the beautiful golden brown varnish, known as desert patina. The patina can be fused, knobby, cracked or formed in large plates like a tortoise shell or alligator hide. The most classic problems are on patina. Then there is the grain. This has two forms, both favourites of climbers. The consolidated solid grain usually has a fused crystaline structure. The loose grain which is unconsolidated and exfoliating, has the consistency of dry oatmeal, which can add a sense of urgency to some highball top outs. Occasionally you will find dark knob-like inclusions (xenoliths).

The climbing here is different than the Happy Boulders, by the way, the Buttermilk is not all highballs and mind altering off-the-deck problems; a more considered, technical approach is required to climb. You'll climb holdless slabs, juggy romps, crimpy vertical walls, and very steep overhangs; pulling on crimpers, edges, small knobs and slopers. It is more technical for both hands and feet than the Happy Boulders, and is generally more powerful. The landings again are good, flat and sandy, but it sometimes feels a long way down to your bouldering pad or pads!

+Buttermilk 360, Owens River Valley, California, 193 kbButtermilk 360, Owens River Valley, California
© ChrisJD, Oct 2006

Peabody Boulders

+Tony Lamiche (front right) and Chris Sharma (front centre) watch boulderers attempting the Mandala V12, 92 kbTony Lamiche (front right) and Chris Sharma (front centre) watch boulderers attempting the Mandala V12 just before Lamiche's historic flash. Mick Ryan

If the Buttermilk is the crown of Bishop bouldering then the Peabody Boulders, there are around sixty of them, are the jewel in that crown. Some climbers call the Peabody Boulders, 'The Buttermilks', in the guidebook the area is called "Buttermilks Main/Peabody Boulders'.

Smoke Blanchard was one of the first climbers at the Peabodies. From the early 1940's into the 80's he spent much of his time wandering around the Buttermilk and in the Sierra. He coined the term 'Buttermilking' for his adventures on the pinnacles and ridges east of today's popular Peabody boulders. Smoke's son Bob and Doug Robinson were some of the first climbers to boulder at the Peabody boulders. Because of the Buttermilk's proximity to Yosemite, Tuolumne Meadows, and southern California, climbers from throughout the world have been visiting since the late 60's. The roll call of greats that have made their mark at the Peabody Boulders include Smoke Blanchard - the Emperor of the Buttermilks, the King of the Buttermilks - Dale Bard, Doug Robinson, Gary Slate, Tony Puppo, Mike Pope, John Bachar, Kevin Thaw, Tommy Klinefelter, Fred Nicole, Antony Lamiche, David Graham, Kevin Jorgeson, Jason Kehls and of course Chris Sharma.

Climbing here has a tendency to expose your weaknesses and it is best to warm up slowly if it is your first visit. You will find most of the easier VB problems on boulders in the Stained Glass Area, on the Boy and Girl boulders, on the Ranger Rock boulder and the Hagar Boulder. Another strategy is to climb all the descents. Once warmed up and used to some of the lofty problems you'll have the time of your life, whatever level you boulder at. The grade range is wide; VB to V14, and there are over 600 problems here.

+Tim Stubley on the Dale Bard classic, High Plains Drifter V7, Drifter Area, Buttermilk , 199 kbTim Stubley on the Dale Bard classic, High Plains Drifter V7, Drifter Area, Buttermilk
© Chris Dainton (ChrisJD )

Some classics:Birthday Mantel V0, Birthday Direct V3, The Prow V2,The Rising V4,SheepHerder V2, Haroun and the Sea of Stories V11, Fly Boy V6,Hero Roof V0,Iron Man V4,King Tut V3,Funky Tut V3,Buttermilk Stem V1,Buttermilker V13,Soul Slinger V9,Evilution V12, Ambrosia V11, Essential Peabody V0, Magnetic North V8, Go Granny Go V5, Good Morning Sunshine V1, East Rib V3, Green Wall Essential V2, The Mandala V12, Saigon V6, Monkey Dihedral V2 and lots more.


Bishop Videos

There are lots of videos about Bishop bouldering on the internet, I'm sure you can find them on Vimeo or YouTube. These are four of my favourites, that show a good selection of problems and areas, and are well filmed and edited - some good music too.

Bishop Bouldering 2009 by David Heerema

Featuring The Corner, Slowdance, Redrum Sit, Molly, Strength in Numbers, Small Fruit, Xavier's Roof, Go Granny Go, Peabody Essential, Cave Route, Soul Slinger.

Bishop Bouldering 2010 by Alex Quiring

Featuring Evilution to the lip, Cave Problem, Atari, Stained Glass, Iron Man Traverse, Checkerboard and a birthing experience.

Bishop Bouldering: Winter 2009 by William Bazargani

Bishop Bouldering by Jordan Seering

Featuring Anti-Hero V5, The Hulk V6, High Plains Drifter V7, Sheepherder V2, Jedi Mind Tricks V4, Flyboy Sit V8


The Buttermilk is a big area and if the Peabody boulders are too busy you have lots of choice.

Other Areas in the Buttermilk To Visit

photo
Amanda Lyons on Cindy Swank V7 at the Pollen Grains, Buttermilk
UKC Articles, Sep 2010
© Stuart Stronach

Checkerboard Area, Painted Cave Area, The Boneyard, Solitaire Boulder : These areas are opposite the Peabody boulders, from 5 to 15 minutes walk. Not to be missed is the world class Checkerboard V7/8 a fingery wall of perfect golden patina. Also of note are the slopers of Painted Cave V6 and Solitaire V8 You'll find a 100 or so problems here across the grades that are well worth searching out, and you will be more than likely by yourself.

Dales Camp: Once home to Dale Bard, he lived here in a camper van, and now home to about 130 boulder problems around a dome south of the Peabody Boulders. Look out for Hueco Wall V9, Painted Cave V6, Xavier's Roof V11 and Cuban Roll V4.

Bardini Boulders: Named after Alan Bard, the Great Bardini, Dale's brother. Mainly harder problems - V3 and up - and highballs including A Maze of Death V12, This Side of Paradise V10,and The Beautiful and The Damned V13. This area is not covered by the guidebook, it is a self-exploration area.

Get Carter Boulder: A solitary perfect boulder right by the road; home to Seven Spanish Angels V6, Grommit V4, Get Carter V7 and Sunshine Naked V0, Roadside Crack V1.

Secrets of The Beehive Area: A secluded spot on the west side of Buttermilk Mountain worth visiting whatever level you climb at, but the stand out is the world-class Secrets of The Beehive V6 and the very hard The Swarm V14. Also here is the Luminance Block home to Luminance V10 and other hard highballs.

The Pollen Grains:

Thirty or so boulders on the east side of the Buttermilk, home to some very big boulders and highballs of all difficulties and a unique heuco-like cave. This area was made famous by David Graham's Spectre V13, a glassy ceiling with few holds, but there are problems for all here.

Some classics: Jedi MInd Tricks V4, Suspended In Silence V5, Original Line V0, Cover Me In Flowers V2, Beekeepers Apprentice V5, Lidija's Mouth V3, Drone Militia V6, Spectre V13, Golden Shower V10, The Ninth V7.

Sherman Acres:This area is not covered by the guidebook, it is a self-exploration area.

The Druid Stones

+Stuart Stronach climbs up to Chris Fryer and Rowena Beaton, Everlasting Soul V0, Blood Kin Stone, The Druid Stones, 108 kbStuart Stronach climbs up to Chris Fryer and Rowena Beaton, Everlasting Soul V0, Blood Kin Stone, The Druid Stones
© Mick Ryan

It's worth the 40 minute uphill hike to the The Druid Stones. You will be greeted with with an almost other-wordly rock garden of pinnacles and granite orbs centred around the 45ft high Druid Stone itself, sat high above Bishop and with satisfying and breathtaking views in all directions. Sitting away from the crest, it is often sheltered from winter storms and if hot, a cool breeze often blows.

The bouldering is diverse and there is something for everyone, lots of VB's, short with good landings and taller problems on juggy white patina - don't miss the Blood Kin Stone. This is a great place for mileage at the lower difficulties if you move about. Stand out however are a number of boulders that have faces of the best smooth patina: Thunder Wall, the Skye Stone, Sacrificial Boulder and the Hall of The Mountain Queens all have vertical and overhanging problems on excellent rock.

Some classics: Arch Drude V5, The Sloth V9, Through The Heart V2, Winter Sun V2, Golden Child V9, Blood Kin V1, Lounge Lizards V11, Kredulf V4, Thunder V3, Skye Dance V6, All Fired Up V7, Suspenders V5, Pretty In Pink V2, There Is No Party V1, Antiquities of Cornwall V0+.

Go to Rusty's Saloon in Bishop for the real wild west drinking experience. Whiskey Creek is a bit more sedate but the pitchers of paranoid pale ale at happy hour are a steal at $11. The food there is pretty good too.

A visit to one of the many hot springs is a surreal experience.

Can't give this place enough superlatives, spent five days boarding at Mammoth and just two days at the Milks, a great combo trip. Oh and Wilsons' Eastside Sport for bouldering pad hire.


adi3969
UKC Forum thread about Bishop Bouldering


22 miles north of Bishop are two contrasting areas that are accessed near Tom's Place, a must-visit bar and cafe.

Rock Creek

At an elevation of 8,500ft and a two minute approach, are a small collection of Yosemite-quality, gray granite boulders that sit under a canopy of pine and aspens next to a crystal clear creek. The bouldering in Rock Creek Canyon is hard, V4 and up, with the best problems being above V7. The climbing is crimpy and powerful and the landings are excellent. Often cool in the summer and even cooler in the fall, which is the best time to visit.

Some classics: Pull Down Like De Jesus V4, River Face Arete V10, Campground Arete V9, Compression Session V9, Blood Brothers V7, Groove and Arete V4, Life Ain't Easy V9.

The Sherwin Plateau

+Rich McDade on Everything and Nothing V5, expertly spotted by Josh Harrington, Pocketopia, The Sherwin Plateau., 113 kbRich McDade on Everything and Nothing V5, expertly spotted by Josh Harrington, Pocketopia, The Sherwin Plateau.
© Mick Ryan

+Sarah Schneider enjoying the steep thrills of I Am A Pathetic Bastard V3, The Catacombs, The Sherwin Plateau., 152 kbSarah Schneider enjoying the steep thrills of I Am A Pathetic Bastard V3, The Catacombs, The Sherwin Plateau.
© Mick Ryan

While Rock Creek is west of highway 395 and is in the Sierra Nevada, to the east is a vast volcanic plateau (elevation: 7,200ft) that is rich with pockets of small bouldering areas; shallow canyons littered with free standing boulders and labyrinthian stands of pinnacles. I've had some of my best days bouldering up here, I love it. The rock here is Bishop tuff that is heavily pocketed (and often sharp). Good in the summer and on warm winter days. These area can be hard to get to after snow requiring a 4-wheel drive.

The Dreamers is the most accessible and amenable area on the plateau. It's a compact area of pinnacles with around 50 problems characterised by hard pulls on short overhangs to easier but scarier highball finishes, with lots in between. An idylic place to spend the day and great for kids. Bourbon IV is a V0 classic and the harder problems on the Crippler boulder will test your fingers.

The nearby Alcove is a wave-like overhang of bubbly pockets and pinches offering a handful of problems with a soft pumice landing - worth searching out.

Some classics: Bourbon IV V0, Three Men and A Crippler V2, Super Crippler V4, Sweet Dreams V7.

More extensive is the cliff line of Pocketopia that consists of several good buttresses and boulders. The rock is overwhelmingly pocketed and can be bullet hard to slight crispy. You can drive right next to this east facing area. Stand out are the short, solid pocket-pulling classics of the Wedge Boulder, the higher problems of the Maximum Joy boulder. Area classics include the amazing roof of Everything and Nothing V5-V7, The Scent of Magnolia V5 and Goldenrod V6.

Some classics: Blue Heat Steel V5, Welcome To The Pleasure Dome V1, Maximum Joy V2, Kevin Cauldron V2, Everything and Nothing V5/7, The Scent of Magnolia V5, Goldenrod V6.

More remote is the Catacombs a jumble of boulders in a canyon right on the edge of the Owens River Gorge. This is a place to take a picnic and spend a full day in one of the most beautiful and unique bouldering areas on the Eastern Sierra. Whilst much has been recorded here, there is much that isn't, although climbers have been visiting this area for over twenty years - Doug Robinson had a camp here and John Bachar was an early explorer. The central wash area has many fun problems with classics on the Devil and Beautiful Man Boulder. Then make your way along the rim of the Gorge to the classic arete of The Church of Lost and Found an amazing arete climbed at a reasonable V1 on its rightside and V3 on the left.

Some classics: The Church of Lost and Found V1/3, Looks Like We're One Horse Shy Partner V5, Be Prepared V1, I Am A Beautiful Man V7, The Sniper V1, Ride V1.

Other Areas

+Rich McDade at Huerte Thicket by Pine Creek just outside of Bishop, 120 kbRich McDade at Huerte Thicket by Pine Creek just outside of Bishop
© Mick Ryan

The guidebook documents the areas described above, but it is only part of the story. Around Bishop itself there are several areas worth searching out - ask around, some are on the Bishop map at the start of this article, or check one of Marty's guidebooks out at www.maximuspress.com.

To the south:

  • Other Tableland Areas
  • Huerte Thicket
  • Smolko Boulders
  • Tungsten Hills circuit
  • Purgatory
  • Heaven
  • Bishop Creek
  • Little Egypt
  • Rossi Hills
  • Crystal Ridge
  • Deep in the White Mountains
  • Alabama Hills
  • Pinyon Boulders
  • Gray Rim Boulders
  • Royston Vasey

To the north:

  • Bachar Boulders
  • Deadmans Summit
  • High Tension Boulders
  • Geothermal Boulders
  • Way Lake
  • Ricks Rocks
  • Tall Boys
  • June Lake Boulders



Logistics

photo
Downtown Bishop with the White Mountains in the background.
UKC Articles, Sep 2010
© Chris Dainton (ChrisJD )

The Guidebook

+Bishop Bouldering: Expanded Second Edition, 40 kb

Our Western adventures began in Boston. We loaded up the brown VW bus with our belongings, not much, $2,000 in cash, and the three of us, Gabriella, Xavier our 9 month old son and myself. 3,000 miles later we limped into Tahoe with a dodgy CV joint and next morning awoke to snowy white mountains, pine trees and the shimmering blue of Lake Tahoe. Gabriella got a job as a physical therapist and for a year with lived in Truckee then Calpine. We then moved down to Bishop in the summer of 1996.

My first visit to the Happy Boulders was with Mammoth local Dave Talsky, and fellow Brits Mike Weekes, Paul Twomey, Ian Vickers and Kirilee Wood. The Hulk had been established the year before by Peter Croft and there were a few other problems. There was a single narrow trail which stopped at the Happy Boulder. The next 8 years saw an explosion in bouldering the likes of which Bishop had never seen. I was part of it and documented and mapped all the activity. I produced several interim guides to feed the thirst for information and wrote several articles about the area. It was age of the internet, cheap digital cameras and camcorders. Words, images and video helped spread the word. Teaming up with with Dave Pegg of Wolverine publishing, and ace writer and photographer Wills Young we published the areas first proper guidebook, Bishop Bouldering, which now is in its second edition. We hope you find it useful and enjoy your visit to Bishop.

Bishop Bouldering: Expanded Second Edition is now available in the UK from your local climbing shop or from Cordee

When do I go and what's the weather like?

+A storm clearing the Owens Valley. From the Buttermilk looking across the Tungsten Hills, the Volcanic Tableland to the White M, 127 kbA storm clearing the Owens Valley. Taken from the Buttermilk looking across the Tungsten Hills, the Volcanic Tableland to the White Mountains. Mick Ryan'
Plan your bouldering trip from October through the winter to May. The summer is scorching hot, although you can boulder early in the morning and late in the day.

From October to May expect it to be sunny and dry. Bishop sits in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada and precipitation is rare, on 200 days of the year you'll experience blue skies. Typically during the bouldering season day temperatures are warm (65 F / 17 C), but as the sun drops it will get cold, save your hard projects for later in the day, and at night it will be freezing - you'll need a down jacket.

Storms do pour into the valley in the winter bringing rain and snow, but usually blow through in three or four days (do bring a rain jacket with you). The higher elevation Buttermilk Country and Sherwin Plateau can be snow-bound for a while after a dumping. The Happy and Sad Boulders only rarely experience snow or rain - once or twice a year - if they do avoid for a day so that the rock dries out.

Skiing/Snowboarding/Mountain Biking/Running/Fishing
Whilst bouldering in a T-shirt you will have the snow-draped Sierra Nevada as company. 40 miles north of Bishop is the ski town of Mammoth Lakes. Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort ( www.mammothmountain.com) usually opens early November and the season can last through June! They get on average 400 inches of snow! June Mountain ( www.junemountain.com) at June Lake is a smaller, and cheaper ski resort, just north of Mammoth. The area is also a paradise for mountain biking and trail running - oh and fishing, you can pull trout out of the creeks like there is no tomorrow. If you want a multi-sport holiday you have come to the right place.

+On the same day. Xaver and Felicity Ryan, and Spud the dog enjoy sledding in the morning and swimming in the afternoon., 107 kbOn the same day. Xavier and Felicity Ryan, and Spud the dog enjoy sledding in the morning above Bishop and swimming in the artesian well in the afternoon.

Getting There?
Bishop is 230 miles north of Los Angeles, 170 miles south of Reno, 430 miles from San Francisco and 275 miles from Las Vegas. If you are visiting from outside the USA most fly to Reno (Reno/Tahoe International Airport) or Los Angeles (LAX), rent a car and drive to Bishop.

Flights from Manchester/London to Los Angeles or Reno usually cost between £300- £500 Car Hire will cost around £250.00 for two weeks.

No Car?
If you are on a budget you can easily visit the area without a car. You will camp at the Pit campground and either hitch or cadge a ride from other climbers to the bouldering areas - the Happy Boulders is 2 miles from the campground, the Buttermilk 10 miles from the campground.

Getting To Bishop Using Public Transport
You can get to Bishop by public transport from both Reno and Los Angeles. From Reno airport buses of the Carson Ridgecrest Eastern Sierra Transit (CREST) leave at 1:50pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Cost is around $50. www.easternsierratransitauthority.com or in the USA call 800-922-1930

Getting from Los Angeles is possible but is more complicated. Take a bus to Union Station Flyaway Bus in LA, then to Lancaster then on to Bishop. It will cost you $40. Details at www.easternsierratransitauthority.com.

+How the West was won? Mules, whiskey and good women. Bishop is the Mule Capital of The World., 108 kbHow the West was won? Mules, whiskey and good women. Bishop is the Mule Capital of The World.
© Mick Ryan

Where do I stay?
You have three choices: camping, staying in a hotel/motel or in cabins at a resort.

Camping

If you are camping you will need a warm sleeping bag and mat (as well as a tent), it is usually freezing or below freezing at night.

The Pit or to give it its Sunday name, The BLM Pleasant Valley Climbers Campground was developed by the BLM and local climbers specifically for boulderers who visit during the winter. It's an old borrow pit - where bishop tuff was extracted for building. It's cheap camping, $2 a night; there is a pit toilet, individual fire pits and a large communal fire pit and that's about it. There is no water. A campground host (a climber) lives in a small caravan at the site during the winter. It is a couple of miles from the Happy Boulders (6.5 miles from Bishop) and provides a great social scene for climbers. It can be windy here and is freezing at night.

+The Pit Campsite (aka The BLM Pleasant Valley Climbers Campground), 193 kbThe Pit Campsite (aka The BLM Pleasant Valley Climbers Campground)
© Mick Ryan

Pleasant Valley Campground is near the Pit and is open all year round. Cost is $10 a night, it has toilets and water. Next to the Owens River, bouldering in the site. 2 miles from Happy Boulders. 6.5 miles from Bishop. BLM Horton Creek Campground. Open early May to October $5 per site. No water. Pit toilets. 8 miles from Bishop. Brown's Town Campground. Open March 1 to Oct 31, partially open Oct-Nov. £20 per site (2 people). Showers, laundry, store. 760-873-8522. In Bishop itself.

Millpond Campground: Open March 1 to Nov 31. Full service campground. £20 per campsite for four people. Showers, laundry, fire pits. 6.5 miles from Bishop. 760-937-6775

Keough Hot Springs Resort: Don't miss this place. This is a great naturally heated swimming pool (90 to 92 degrees in the winter) 8 miles south of Bishop. It costs $8 per session. It also has a great campsite; sites are $20-25 for two people, $1.00 for each additional person. Token-operated showers and toilets. They also have Tent Cabins, $75.00- $90.00 per night. www.keoughshotsprings.com

+Keough Hot Springs - a must, 154 kbKeough Hot Springs - a must
© Mick Ryan

Cabins

Tom's Place To the north of Bishop is Tom's Place Resort, a store, a bar, a restaurant and offering cabin accommodation. Rates are $65 for a room or $35 per person for a dorm room. Cabins are ideal for a group, 3 bedrooms and six beds for $135 a night. www.tomsplaceresort.com or when in the US, 760-935-4239.

Wild Camping

You can camp at the Buttermilk for free (but not on LA Department of Water and Power land). Camp away from the bouldering areas and parking areas and clean up after yourself. This is a good option in the autumn and spring. Do not leave any valuables in your tents. You cannot camp near the Happy and Sad boulders.

Hotels and Motels

Bishop has over a dozen choices of hotels and motels, usually starting at $50 and up a night for 2 people. Some do offer more communal rooms with separate kitchens: Best Western Creekside, Holiday Inn Express and Mountain View Motel. Others have kitchenettes in the rooms; try Motel 6, Ramada, Village Motel and Best Value Inn. For a full listing and to make reservations go to: www.bishopvisitor.com

Groceries, Good Coffee, Laundry, Restaurant, Nightlife, Internet...
There are three supermarkets in Bishop: Vons, Joseph's Bi-rite and Manor Market. Make sure you check out Manor Market on West Line Street on the way to the Buttermilk. It's got a great selection of cooked food, imported items and a great selection of beer and wine.

+Gus Webber in the Whiskey Creek. If you're eating out at Whiskey Creek, get there for happy hour as most food is half price., 162 kbGus Webber in the Whiskey Creek. If you're eating out at Whiskey Creek, get there for happy hour as most food is half price.
© Mick Ryan
For good coffee there is the Black Sheep in Spellbinder books, The Looney Bean, Starbucks and Bishop's famous Dutch bakery, Schat's. There's a K-Mart fort all things non-food. There's a cinema, a laundry - The Wash Tub - three outdoor shops: Wilson's Eastside Sports, the main climbing shop, Mammoth Mountaineering Supply and Gear Exchange and a running shop, Sage to Summit.

Bouldering Pad Rental: Pads are $10 per day from Wilson's Eastside Sports. Best to contact them before you go to check on availability: eastsidesports.com/eastside/contact.

For a cooked breakfast and evening meal there is a selection of restaurants from; Mexican, Chinese, Fast Food, Pizza joints , and Mom and Pop homestlye diners. The place to go for a beer is the Whiskey Creek on Main Street which is also great for bar snacks. For a true Western experience check out Rusty's bar if it still there!

There are wireless hotspots at the Black Sheep and Looney Bean, plus free, bookable PCs with internet connection at the library.

+Piute woman collecting reeds for weaving by the Owens River - which is excellent for trout., 135 kbPiute woman collecting reeds for weaving by the Owens River - which is excellent for trout.

Stuart Stronach has visited the Bishop Area four times now. I asked him some questions.

+Amanda Lyons and Stuart Stronach celebrate their marriage in Buttermilk Country - they got married there too., 82 kbAmanda Lyons and Stuart Stronach celebrate their marriage in Buttermilk Country - they got married there too.
© Stuart Stronach collection

What did you think of the bouldering and the area?

I love the place - if I won the lottery, I'd buy a house there. One of the best things about the Bishop area is the sheer quantity of bouldering on offer - we were there for 6 weeks this year, and didn't climb the same problem twice. When it was hot, we went to the higher altitude Buttermilks main area and the Pollen Grains; when it was cold, we climbed on the Tableland; when it was windy, we sheltered at the Sads; when we wanted to explore, we headed up to the Sherwin Plateau.

Although the Buttermilks in particular have a reputation for being highball, I managed just fine nursing a slightly gammy knee by finding problems with low cruxes (of which there were plenty), so you don't need to be too brave to have a good time at the Buttermilks (though obviously you've more options if you are!).

The other thing I love about the area is the scenery - you're climbing below a backdrop of Alpine scale mountains. A good rest day - for the fingers/skin at least - is to drive the 45 minutes up to Mammoth and go skiing (they were open for business until July this year, I believe). You can then stop off on the drive back to town at one of the Benton road natural hot springs.

Bishop itself isn't particularly pretty when you're driving down the main street, but it has everything you'll need for your trip.

How did you get there and how much did it cost?

On different trips, I've flown to San Francisco, Reno and Los Angeles and hired a car for the last part of the journey. The drive from San Francisco was the longest but most scenic, Reno was quickest (though watch out for the change in speed limit going from Nevada to California) and Los Angeles was cheapest. This year's flights to LAX cost us £630 from Aberdeen via Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic.

+Amanda Lyons on roof hueco's of  The Beekeeper's Apprentice V5, at the Pollen Grains, Buttermilk, 83 kbAmanda Lyons on roof hueco's of The Beekeeper's Apprentice V5, at the Pollen Grains, Buttermilk
© Stuart Stronach
I've always hired a car in advance. This year I paid £500 for a 4x4 for 3 weeks. Having been stuck there by the volcanic ash cloud, I had to extend the booking by another two weeks at the rental agency desk and that cost an extra £1000, so booking in advance saves you a fortune.

We stopped for the night in Mojave to break up the drive. If you're going to stay there, it's worth booking a motel off the main highway because the adjacent train track is in use all night and is bloody noisy!

Where did you stay and how much did it cost?

On previous trips, I've stayed in apartments we've managed to find through contacts in town. However, this year, I went onto a local real estate agency website, found an apartment advertised for rent and asked if they'd do me a deal for 1 month. Net result was a furnished apartment for our trip for £750 (a lot less than staying in a motel, but obviously not as cheap as camping).

Did you have a good time?

We actually got married there this year, underneath the Get Carter boulder up near the Buttermilks, so yes, we definitely had a good time. Getting our climbing trip/honeymoon extended for a couple of weeks by the volcanic ash cloud was a bonus!

One other thing that's always impressed me about Bishop is how friendly and supportive the locals and other climbers have been - lots of positive encouragement, good beta and spotting.

+Stuart Stronach on The Clapper V6 at the Happy Boulders - it's not all pockets!, 98 kbStuart Stronach on The Clapper V6 at the Happy Boulders - it's not all pockets!
© Amanda Lyons
Any other useful snippets, hints and tips that would be useful for those thinking or planning on going?

First of all, make sure you take out BMC insurance before you go. In 2008, I tore my cruciate ligament in my knee in an inocuous fall, and required hospital treatment which was all paid for by the BMC. They also rearranged flights home for myself and my girlfriend (now wife) and were generally brilliant - can't recommend them highly enough. Also, if you need them, you can sometimes pick up second hand crutches for next to nothing in charity shops (a lot cheaper than they'd cost you new at the hospital!).

If you're going to be there a while, get yourself a Vons Card for your grocery shopping. It's free and instant to take one out, and you'll save yourself a small fortune. Even with the discount card, with the current exchange rate, we actually found the cost of groceries to be a bit more than back in the UK.

The Banff Mountain Film Festival comes to town in the spring - worth a visit if you're there at the time.

The Mountain Light Gallery is also worth a visit - stunning photographs by the late Galen Rowell. Spellbinder books next door is well supplied if you run out of reading material.

You can hire bouldering pads from Wilsons Eastside Sports, but we selected Virgin Atlantic to fly with because they still have a free sporting goods allowance, meaning that we could take our own pads with us for no additional cost.

I've always gone there in the spring so that I could get in a little skiing too. However, this means that the Tioga pass has always been shut and I've not been able to visit Yosemite. If you're wanting a twin centre trip, autumn might be a better time to go before the snows shut the pass.

It's not essential to hire a 4x4 car to get about, particularly for the Happy or Sad boulders, but there are some rougher sections on the road up to the Buttermilks and it gets rougher still on the tracks to the Pollen Grains, Dale's Camp and the Druid Stones, so it's probably worth it.

If you're eating out at Whiskey Creek, get there for happy hour as most food is half price.

Finally, the rock in Bishop can be quite hard on the skin, so look after yours while you're there.

+Climbing on the Eastern Sierra Nevada and in the Owens Valley: Watercolour, line, photos., 200 kbClimbing on the Eastern Sierra Nevada and in the Owens Valley: Watercolour, line, photos.
© Mick Ryan

A big thank you to Tim Steele, Chris Dainton and Stuart Stronach for the photos in this article. Thank you to David Heerema, Alex Quiring, William Bazargani and Jordan Seering for the videos. Thanks to all my friends in Bishop.


About The Author
+Mick Ryan at Sky Rock, somewhere on the Volcanic Tableland, 212 kbMick Ryan at Sky Rock, somewhere on the Volcanic Tableland
© Mick Ryan
Born in Blackburn, England, Mick Ryan started climbing in 1979 on the millstone grit quarries near his home. He soon started climbing new routes and discovering new areas and was significant in the sport climbing revolution in England in the late 1980s.

In 1994 he moved to Boston, Massachusetts, then to Lake Tahoe, California, and eventually to Bishop with his wife Gabriella, son Xavier and eventually the Bishop-born Felicity. Along the way he published guidebooks to New Hampshire's Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges, and Rumney; to Rifle, Colorado (Bite The Bullet), the limestone of Las Vegas (Islands In The Sky) and then several editions of the Bishop Bouldering Survival Kit. He is author, with Wills Young of the Wolverine Publishing guidebook, Bishop Bouldering.

In Bishop he was instrumental in exploring new areas, he discovered and named the Sad Boulders, the Druid Stones, several Sherwin Plateau areas, Heaven and made first ascents such as Morning Dove White, Every Color You Are, Strength In Numbers, Suspended In Silence, The Beekeepers Apprentice, Cover Me In Flowers, Everything and Nothing, The Scent of Magnolia, Maximum Joy, the Church of Lost and Found and Arch-Drude, and established about 400 more boulder problems in the area. He was also a driving force behind access and conservation work in Bishop, working closely with the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service, organising work parties and designing flyers and educational materials for visiting climbers.

Today, Mick lives in England, enjoying the climbing (and the rain). He works as the senior editor and advertising manager for UK Climbing Ltd who run the websites UKClimbing.com and UKHillwalking.com and publish Rockfax guidebooks. He climbs, goes fell runnning, swims, bikes and has just done his first triathlon.

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