Bouldering in Bishop
Bouldering in Bishop - California, USA (© A. Gatta)
Introduction to Bishop
When it comes to bouldering, Bishop
is probably one of the best places in the World but its reputation of highballs may scare many climbers.
When we started thinking about bouldering there, we were wondering if we could enjoy it and survive two weeks of intense climbing.
After a memorable trip there, we definitively can answer yes to these two questions!
highballs fascinate and well deserve their scary reputation, there are tons of world class problems that are not so high and have good landing.
In fact, you can even send hundreds of problems and traverses without having your feet above 2 meters from the ground.
With over 2,000 problems
recorded and even more unrecorded or unclimbed, the potential is phenomenal.
Add to that a favorable weather 7 months a year (October to May), an easy access and many lodging options and you will understand why Bishop
is a top bouldering destination.
Keep in mind though that you may need some time to "acclimatize" to the elevation, temperature, style of rock and eventually jetlag...
Buttermilks area, Bishop (© P. Gatta)
Lodging and weather
is located in the Eastern Sierra
region of California
, at northern end of the Owens Valley
, halfway between Death Valley
Big cities like Los Angeles
and Las Vegas
are about 435 km (270 miles) away, while Reno
is at 320 km (200 miles).
There are about 10,000 people leaving in Bishop area
with many lodging, dinning and shopping possibilities.
In our case, we decided to stay in Mammoth Lake
which is halfway between Bishop
is at an elevation of 1,260 m (4,150 feet) and has an arid climate with limited precipitation and important diurnal and annual temperature variations.
The best months for climbing are between October and May.
We were there early October and could climb from the sunrise (7°C) to 1pm (37°C).
The temperatures remained high in the evening and the boulders were too hot to climb.
The good thing though, is that with variety of areas, elevations, sun exposition, caves...it is possible to climb within this range of temperature.
Anna in Mothership Connected, V6. Ice Cave, Sad Boulders (© P. Gatta)
The guidebook and the grades
Trying to understand and use a guidebook is sometimes harder than sending the routes or problems it describes.
This is not the case here and the Bishop Guidebook
from Wills Young
and Mick Ryan
is one of the best I have seen.
Almost the weight and thickness of a crash pad, its 428 pages and countless photos perfectly shows the problems, access and all necessary information. A must.
Figuring out the problems... (© A. Gatta)
Over the years, I noticed that climbers often have two passions in common: the loves for rocks and... polemics about grades.
Once again, I must say that the grades given in Wills and Mick's guidebook seemed pretty accurate to us with a few comments though.
It is in the grade V5 that we found the most discrepancies.
Some V5 were more like V3 and some others harder than V7.
All other grades seemed more consistent.
It also depends on how famous the problems are, some became so polished that they are getting harder and harder.
Lastly it may be worth checking hold breakages.
No polemics please (© A. Gatta)
The different areas
Even though we all say Bishop
, there are in fact multiple bouldering areas, which are anywhere from 11 km (7 miles) to 50 km (30 miles) away from Bishop
They are also at different elevations; from 1,370 m (4,500 feet ) for Happy and Sad Boulders
, up to 2,620 m (8,500 feet) for Rock Creek
Some areas are somehow in forests (Rock Creek
) while some other are fully exposed to the sun (Happy and Sad Boulders
The nature of the rock varies also; from volcanic tuff (Happy and Sad Boulders
) to granite (Rock Creek
This great variety is another asset of Bishop
and makes it easier to play around with the weather and temperatures.
Map of the the different areas
West rim of Happy Boulders (© A. Gatta)
Among the different areas, Happy Boulders
is where we spent most time and it is probably our preferred place for the quality of problems.
is easily accessible and just 11 km (7 miles) from Bishop
There is a good parking place and the access to the first boulders take less than 10 minutes.
Happy Boulders area, Bishop (© P. Gatta)
There are over 500 problems
there, all located in a small canyon that is 600 m long by 80 m wide.
The rock is volcano tuff which sometimes requires some attention.
There are many boulders in the center of the canyon plus many problems on both rims.
Overall the climbing style of the boulders in the center of the canyon is very similar and the boulders are of different heights with good landing most of the time.
The West rim has many more pocket problems with some awesome traverses, while the East rim has tricky landings and some scary problems.
Acid Wash Right, V9. Acid Wash Cave, Happy Boulders (© A. Gatta)
The canyon is very dry, hot and dusty.
Fortunately, it is easy to play around with the boulder expositions, caves and rims to find the best conditions depending on the temperatures and seasons.
Amazing traverse of Hand to Hand combat, V7. The West Rim, Happy Boulders (© A. Gatta)
The flip side of all these advantages is that many problems are very polished, especially the ones with 3 or 4 stars in the guidebook.
That makes some problems very hard for their grades, especially by hot days.
Sometimes we had more fun climbing problems without stars or not even in the guidebook than climbing totally polished classics.
Groundwater, V5. More Water Less Power Boulder, Happy Boulders (© P. Gatta)
Our preferred problems in Happy Boulders area
V1: Not The Clapper, Clapper Boulder. A bit hard for the grade but nice problem. The Clapper Boulder is at the beginning of the West Rim, it gets the first light and offers nice view. There are a couple of nice V2’s around and a tricky V6.
V2: Big Chicken, Happy Boulder. There is a sit start variante in V4. The famous Hulk and its variants are on the same boulders which gets the sun very early and is almost unclimbable when its hot.
V3: Beer Tumor, Headbangers Cave. The V4 right is nice too.
V4: Weekender (highball), Slow Dance Cave. The left and right walls remain in the shade all day and are a good spot on hot days.
V5: Rave, Slow Dance Cave (there is V7 sit start version). The V5 is hard for the grade, especially on hot days...
V6: Westward Expansion (traverse), Hair Trigger Wall. Nice boulder of the West Rim where there are two nice pockets V5's.
V6/7: Sabres of Paradise. I skipped the first moves that I found ugly compared to the rest of this beautiful traverse. I started in the pocket under the prow. There are nice V4 and V5 on the right.
V7: Hand to Hand Combat Traverse, Hand to Hand boulder. Starting from the left - with the crux at the begining is easier.
V9: Acid Wash Right, Acid Wash Cave. There is a V7 variant.
V10: Acid Wash, Acid Wash Cave. The V7, V9 and V10 remain in the shade.
V11: Dance The Night Away, Slow Dance Cave. Note that if you do not start at the bottom and/or skip the 3 first nasty holds, it is less than V11. The left and right walls remain in the shade all day and are a good spot on hot days. There are plenty of good problems there between V9 and V12.
Weekender, V4. Slow Dance Cave, Happy Boulders (© A. Gatta)
The Queen of Savannah Boulder. Good problems up to V4. Happy Boulders (© P. Gatta)
Of course there are many more great problems. Also there are some very famous ones that are not in this list, mainly because we found them too polished (Hulk, Redrum...)
Dance The Night Away, V11. Slow Dance Cave, Happy Boulders (© A. Gatta)
Pretty much everything we wrote about Happy Boulders
is true for Sad Boulders
Looking toward Bishop with the Sierra Nevada in the background (© A. Gatta)
The parking is 1.3 km away along the same road.
The canyon is a bit smaller, around 400 m long by 50 m wide.
The boulders are a bit more messy, often on top of each other which makes the landing sometimes dangerous and walking around with the pad...interesting.
Walking with the pads in the chaos of Sad Boulders (© P. Gatta)
The Sad's has 250 problems
with some masterpieces, especially in the caves.
Climbing in these caves is a good way to escape the heat or the snow but we wonder sometimes why the hell did we travel thousands of kilometers to spend the day, laid down in the dust, below a boulder without even seeing the sky...
Taking a break in the Ice Cave, Sad Boulders (© A. Gatta)
Our preferred problems in Sad Boulders area
V1: Great Dominions, Molly Boulder. Nice V3 and V5 on the right.
V2: Hauck a Loogie, Hauck a Loogie Boulder.
V3: Undercling Problem, Ice Cave Entrance. Same ends as Shizaam which is a nice V5 (or V7) too.
V4: The Fang, Bird Cage Boulder. Super fun problem. The V3 and V7 are worth doing as well.
V5: Cow Skull, Cow Skull Boulder. Nice powerfull V5.
V6: Erotic Terrorist, Ice Cave Entrance. Nice and fun climb, easy for a V6.
V8: Honalee, Dragon Cave. Fun powerful start, desesperate and frustrating exit. Try it and you will understand why... There are a V9 and V11 variations.
V8: Mothership Has Left Sit Start, Passageway. Powerful problem with a nice V6 option too.
V9: Water Hazard Right Start, Passageway. Great fingery problem, two more moves makes it V10. The spotters have to be careful with the boulder behind.
V10: Aquatic Hitchhiker, Beef cave. Note that the good finger hold that was at the right end of the rail of Beautiful Gecko broke. This hold was used in Aquatic and many problems around.
Honalee, V8. Dragon Cave, Sad Boulders (© A. Gatta)
Note that we haven't climbed in Strength in Numbers Boulder which seems to have nice problems.
Cow skull, V5. Cow Skull Boulder, Sad Boulders (© P. Gatta)
We really enjoyed the Ice caves, lots of good problems, totally in the shade all day. We wish we could have spent more time there.
Water Hazard Right Start, V9. Passageway, Sad Boulders (© P. Gatta)
Mothership Has Left Sit Start, V8. Passageway, Sad Boulders (© A. Gatta)
After Happy and Sad Boulders
, Buttermilk Country
is our third preferred bouldering area.
region lies at 2,450 m (8,000 feet), East of the Sierra Nevada
and 16 km (10 miles) of Bishop
Buttermilks (© A. Gatta)
It is the largest bouldering area with around 1,000 problems
and very good landing most of the time.
This place is beautiful with open views over the mountains, meadows and its amazing giant boulders.
Roadside Rail, V3. Roadside Boulder, Buttermilks (© A. Gatta)
The trails between the boulders are easy and nice.
The Flake, Smooth Shrimp Boulder, Buttermilks (© P. Gatta)
Why Buttermilk Country
is only our third choice then?
Simply because there are many highballs and we found that Happy and Sad's
problems have more variety in climbing styles.
Smooth Shrimp, V6. Smooth Shrimp Boulder, Buttermilks (© P. Gatta)
Our preferred problems of Buttermilks
V1: The Flake, Smooth Shrimp Boulder. This small boulder has lots of good problems.
V2: Monkey Dihedral, Saigon Boulder. Technical climb.
V3: Roadside Rail, Roadside Boulder.
V4: Slipstream, Grandma Peabody.
V5: Shelter From The Storm, Cave Boulder. Make sure to warm up your shoulders before... The cave boulder remains in the shade.
V6: Smooth Shrimp, Smooth Shrimp Boulder. Nice traverse. There is a V5 version too.
V6: Cave route, Cave Boulder. The boulder in the back is a bit annoying but the problem is good.
V7: Unnamed in Lower Smocking Boulder.
V8: Gleaming The Cube, Cave Boulder. Starting with the left heel high up helps...
Gleaming The Cube, V8. Cave Boulder, Buttermilks (© P. Gatta)
We only climbed in the main one, Buttermilks
) but Buttermilk Country
has a few other areas and many boulders that we have not tried.
Amazing features of Grandma Boulder (© A. Gatta)
is totally different from the other areas.
No more volcanic tuff, desert heat and sand, welcome to some nice granite boulders in a nice forest of Pines and Aspens.
At an elevation of 2620 m (8,500 feet), Rock Creek
is perfect for the hot days.
It is located 40 km North of Bishop
and there is a camping nearby as well as lodges (Tom's place resort, Rock Creek Lodge...).
Small bridge betwen the Campground boulder and the other boulders (© P. Gatta)
There are 11 boulders and around 70 problems
and the majority above V5.
The climbing style is different, mainly on crimps, slopers and aretes which changes from the aggressive volcanic tuff.
Figuring out Slap Wallick, V6. Campground Boulder, Rock Creek (© A. Gatta)
Our preferred problems in Rock Creek
V1: Arete to Arete Variation, Campground Boulder. Climb the arete straight up instead of going left.
V3: One Move Blunder variation, Clearcut Boulder. Finsih in Aspen instead of going straight up.
V4: Pull Down Like De Jesus, Campground Boulder.
V5: Unrecorded problem other side of Eric In An Easy Chair, Sloper Boulder. Sit start below the boulder and top out straight up.
V6: Slap Wallick, Campground Boulder.
One Move Blunder variation, V3. Clearcut boulder, Rock Creek (© A. Gatta)
Sherwin Plateau - Pocketopia
The Sherwin Plateau
is very close to Rock Creek
, on the East side of the highway 395.
The Plateau is beautiful and quiet with Pines, sparse vegetation and amazing views over the Eastern Sierra
At an elevation of 2,230 meters (7,300 feet) it is cooler than Happy and Sad boulders
Amazing views from Pocketopia, Sherwin Plateau (© P. Gatta)
There are four areas, two on each side of the Owens River Gorge
, The Dreamers
, The Alcove
and The Catacombs
In addition to these 4 areas there are tons of boulders everywhere waiting for first ascents.
We only climbed in Pocketopia
that we describe here.
The rock is volcanic tuff, highly pocketed like in the West Rim
of Happy boulders
If you don't like pockets, your are in trouble (© A. Gatta)
The boulders are 100 meters away from the parking and very close to one another with good landing most of the time.
The majority of problems are below V5 and many of them are really nice.
Shiva rising, V4. Everything and nothing boulder, Pocketopia (© P. Gatta)
Our preferred problems at Pocketopia
V1: Welcome To The Pleasure Dome (highball), Maximum Joy Boulder.
V2: Kevin Cauldron, Wedge Boulder.
V3: Outer Galaxy Exile, Magnolia Boulder. Hard start for a V3.
V4: Shiva Rising, Everything and Nothing Boulder.
V5: Frankie Says, Maximum Joy Boulder. Very nice traverse.
V5: Todd Daniels Low Traverse, Wedge Boulder. Another good traverse.
V6: Native Hymn, Maximum Joy Boulder. Nice and fun problem.
Frankie says, V5 (traverse). Maximum joy boulder, Pocketopia (© P. Gatta)
We must admit that we were pretty miserable at the beginning of this trip, struggling on most problems, even easiest ones.
We probably underestimated the impact of the heat, altitude, specific climbing style, boulders heights and the jetlag.
Fortunately we optimized our recovery (muscles and skin) by climbing two days in a row and running the third one.
Finally we climbed 12 days over a 3 weeks period, happy to send over 150 problems up to V11.
We really enjoyed Bishop
, the variety of problems, style, rock and areas.
We were sad to leave with so many projects everywhere and knowing that we touched less than 10% of the recorded problems!
We definitively have to come back, probably later in the season for another crazy 3 weeks.
I'll be back... (© A. Gatta)