Bishop Bouldering Excursion - 3/22 - 3/29/2014 / by Ray Phung

 Twilight near the Get Carter boulder in the Buttermilks, Bishop, California

Twilight near the Get Carter boulder in the Buttermilks, Bishop, California

Winter has been long.  Though my heart will always belong in the Northwest, the seemingly relentless gray skies and rain starts to wear both on my sense of adventure and my photographic inspiration.  Many months ago, I began tossing around the idea of a spring climbing trip in Bishop, CA.  It had been at least a year and a half since I last made the journey to Bishop - that was just unacceptable.  After consulting with the Erik's, we finally marked some dates on the calendar.  And through several long weeks, it finally arrived - an 8 day vacation of sun, climbing, photography, camping, and friends.

 Lauren and Erik in the midst of a stretch and yoga session at our campground, with mountains looming in the background.

Lauren and Erik in the midst of a stretch and yoga session at our campground, with mountains looming in the background.

Bishop, CA is at the eastern foothills of the Sierra Nevada's in central California.  It's is located about 3.5 hours south of Reno, NV, and 45 minutes south of Mammoth Lakes.  Bishop has become known as one of the (if not the) premier bouldering locations in the US.  It's easy to see why.  Thousands of problems, packed nicely against a stark backdrop of mountains and high desert.  I absolutely love this part of the country.  The Eastern Sierras are breathtaking.  I often say its one of the most aesthetically pleasing places to boulder.  Imagine topping out on an enormous thirty-foot boulder with the 13,000+ ft snowcapped peaks of Mt. Tom, Mt. Humphreys and Basin Mountain framing the background.  There is nothing quite like it.  

One of the unique aspects of Bishop climbing is the vastly different types of rocks located within a few miles of each other.  The Buttermilks are located right at the base of the aforementioned mountains, at an altitude of 6400ft.  As you drive up Buttermilk Road, the boulders look like a bunch of pebbles strewn across an open desert.  But as you walk next to them, you realize that you are walking among giants.  These pebbles soar sometimes 40 or more feet in air.  The rock here is quartz monzonite, a sharp, friction-y crystalline rock that has formed into crimps and plate-like patina.  I consider the climbing here to be fairly technical, requiring some finesse and thought-out footwork.  Plus, this is where the real high-ball problems live, which requires lots of pads, trusty spotters, and a strong head-space.  

A few miles down the road, a couple thousand feet lower in elevation, is the starkly different terrain of the Volcanic Tablelands.  Cut into two deep valleys at the base of a plateau are the Happy's and the Sad's.  The rock in this locale is volcanic tuff, which forms into all kinds of fun textured features, like big hueco's, deep pockets, crimps, and everything in between.  Climbing here tends to be steep and physical, and is the home to many classic lines.  We spent a couple of days both in the Happy's and the Sad's, pulling on all the lovely stone.  

On one of the last days, we hiked up the Druid Stones.  Though closet to the town of Bishop, the 30 minute hike (and not to mention the 1200 feet of elevation gain) often deters most of the climbers.  I have been wanting to check out this area for a while.  And with the Spring Break crowd in full force this week, the remoteness and solitude of the Druids were a much welcomed change of pace.  The rock here is similar to the Buttermilks, except probably sharper due to lack of traffic.  There are still a ton of classic problems here.  If you make the hike, check out Kredulk (V4), Arch Drude (V5), Skye Dance (V6), and the Sloth (V9).  

 Sequence shot of Erik throwing for the hand-sized pocket-jug at the top of Arch Drude, V5, at the Druid Stones

Sequence shot of Erik throwing for the hand-sized pocket-jug at the top of Arch Drude, V5, at the Druid Stones

 Danielle in a morning jam session around the camp.  

Danielle in a morning jam session around the camp.  

During the time not climbing (so called rest days), we explored the area in and around Bishop.  If you are in Bishop, be sure to check out the Mountain Light Gallery, which features the work of the late Galen Rowell.  We also made several trips to the natural hot springs near Crowley Lake, around 30 minutes north of Bishop.  This place is magical.  Beautiful, natural, in-ground hot springs in the middle of a yellow field, surrounded by mountains.  Here, we soaked our sore muscles, stared at the stars, and talked of science and philosophy.  We also checked out the Owen's River Gorge, the premier sport climbing destination in this area.  A long, narrow gorge cut by the Owen's River has created steep cliffs full of sport climbs.  Since we spent a rest day here, we mostly hiked around, soaked up the sun, meditated and watched climbers clip bolts on beautiful rock.  And let's not forget the time sitting around the campfire, talking, playing music, and laughing at inappropriate conversation.  

 Leanne and Danielle, lovely yogis high above the Owen's River Gorge.

Leanne and Danielle, lovely yogis high above the Owen's River Gorge.

As for my own climbing, I felt super strong during this trip.  I've been to Bishop a number of times, and this was the first time I felt pretty confident and comfortable on the rock.  I got a project from the last trip (Pow Pow, V8), and sent a slew of other moderate classics.  In the Bishop Bouldering guidebook, there are two four-star routes - the Hulk (V6) and Suspended in Silence (V5).  I did some calculations, and I think I have given the Hulk at least sixty goes over the last 6 trips to Bishop - and it finally went.  Suspended in Silence I on-sited the last day before a giant wind storm moved in.  It starts with two-handed a dyno and continues on to tenuous (broken holds! felt like V7 at least) climbing, topping out at like 40 feet. It was exhilarating. Other classic ticks are the stunning line Atari (V6), Saigon (V6), Rio's Crack (V6) and Strength in Numbers (V5).  After a long day of work, I almost got to the last jug on the Sloth (V9).  Alas, another project for next time.  Sadly, the photographer rarely gets photographed (not with my own camera anyway!),  so I don't have any self-climbing photos to share.  

Oh man, what an amazing week.  I have said this several times since I've been back: this was my 6th visit to Bishop, and I think this is probably the most fun I have ever had here.  Sure, climbing, weather, and locality (and hot springs!) were fantastic; but even more important, the people on this trip were amazing.  Thinking about and reliving these memories to write this post definitely brought a smile to my face.  And I am glad I took these photos to commemorate the times we had.  Until the next adventure! 

 Part of the crew.  Love these guys!!! 

Part of the crew.  Love these guys!!! 

As a side note: this was my first time shooting climbing/action shots using film.  I will admit, it was pretty tough to get the exposures right (shaded overhanging rock in bright desert light...).  And the timing to get the shot at the perfect moment was nerve racking.    But I am still pleased with how they came out.  I also brought along and used my 4x5, which is always exciting!

All color photos on this page were shot with a Nikon FM2, using either Fuji NPH 400 or Fuji Press Color 400 (renamed Superia...).  The black and white photos were taken on a Linhof Technika III using Arista 400 (4x5) sheet film, home developed in D-76 for 22 minutes.