We pulled into the Owens River Valley after spending a week playing cards in an unusually wet Red Rocks. The light of February’s supermoon spilled across the Sierras, painting the white mountains silver. Despite ice and snow surrounding the Buttermilks, we parked the van on a pullout near the Peabody boulders and settled into a new norm.
The trip had begun with a few minor mishaps: the rain in Nevada, getting the van stuck in snow, and a dog-vomit situation I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Once we found our groove, though, we were able to climb two days-on, one-day off for the majority of the trip. Skin proved to be the limiting factor, especially since we preferred climbing on the Buttermilk’s coarse-grained dinosaur eggs.
Jarred and I took different approaches to our climbing days. I decided to “focus” on four projects, while he leaned towards high-volume days, sending everything below his project grade. Somedays I’d take a break from the mental challenges projecting tends to demand and enjoy a circuit as well.
I learned a few things about projecting on a longer trip. For starters, I don’t think I’ll do four projects again at one time. Two projects offering diametrical movement would be a better balance between maintaining focus and avoiding burnout. I also think I’d be more proactive about building out the “pyramid” by getting on more climbs between the top-end of my warmup range and my project grade.
I was stoked to send a long-term goal problem of mine, Morning Dove White. I first encountered this climb the last winter I lived in the Sierras. I was new to climbing then, and I remember watching some of my guy friends send it. Precision moves between sharp pockets; a big throw; the committing top-out: it all seemed impossible at the time, but I put it on the tick-list nonetheless.
Seven years of exposure, training, and try-hard later and impossible has morphed into new things. Impossible, after all, is a fluid concept, one subject to experience and consequentially self-image.
Seven years also proved to be a big enough span in time to offer a striking contrast of how climbing grows as a sport. March brought hundreds—thousands?—of climbers to the boulders. We had the opportunity to befriend some rad people, all of whom we hope to see at crags in the future.
With the growth in climbing culture, though, popular destinations like the Buttermilks and Tablelands face threats to the ecosystems housing these world-class boulders. I became uncomfortably aware of my own impact, especially since I’m the proud mom of two dogs.
We mostly camped on the BLM lands near the Tablelands and Buttermilks. Dozens of other vans, campers, trucks, and tents populated these public places. After reading a sign near the Happy boulders’ trailhead, I realized my poop—our poop—doesn’t biodegrade easily in the high-alpine desert. Besides, with hundreds of climbers camping out each winter, how many poop holes can we actually dig before we’re causing mass erosion from upturned soil?
Jarred and I created a poop bucket situation involving heavy duty garbage bags, a lock-box, and hand sanitizer. There are outhouses at the Buttermilks and the Happy boulders parking lots, but also having a pack-it-out method for human poop will be important, especially since our sport will most likely continue its expansion in popularity.
Many thanks to the public land workers and volunteers who maintain the area’s integrity. I left Bishop with an even greater appreciation for the ecosystem and a humbling recognition of my impact on it. Recreating in the high-alpine deserts requires us to be mindful of our presence: staying on trails, controlling dogs, ensuring our poops and our pets’ poops are properly disposed, and brushing holds after climbing a problem.
And so many problems to climb! It’s cliché but especially true for Bishop—a lifetime of climbing fills the guidebook. Below are ten of my favorite problems as well as a collection of photos from our time there.
top Ten Favorite Problems
Heavenly Path (V1, Happies): highball slab climbing at its finest.
Buttermilk Stem (V1, Buttermilks): this V1 may feel impossible until tricky beta unlocks the way up.
The Hunk (V2, Buttermilks): a thin crux midway rewards the climber with a cruiser finish high off the deck.
Funky and King Tut (V3, Buttermilks): these climbs help teach an essential Buttermilk lesson—trust thy feet!
Ketron Classic (V4, Happies): beta varies per body, but my goodness does that drop knee feel cool.
Iron Man Traverse (V4, Buttermilks): yes, this one is worth enduring the seemingly ever-present crowds and sun exposure to enjoy.
René (V5, Happies): tall, thin, and tricky, this boulder offers a committing top-out onto the Tablelands.
Every Color You Are (V6, Happies): a power endurance classic where each move feels harder than the last.
High Plains Drifter (V7, Buttermilks): at once powerful and delicate.
Morning Dove White (V7/8, Happies): it ain’t over ‘till it’s over.