Bouldering in the Buttermilks – Bishop, California

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about bouldering in the Happy Boulders, and I said that I’d write up the second part of our bouldering trip in Bishop, California. Well, better late than never – here it is – bouldering in the Buttermilks.

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If you’ve ever seen pictures representing bouldering in California, it was probably one of two places, Joshua Tree National Park or the Buttermilks in Bishop, California.

Greyson Bouldering Buttermilks

Mountain Project describes the Buttermilks as:

“The scenic and awe-inspiring Buttermilk Country has long been one of California’s premier bouldering destinations with a long history of ground-breaking ascents and some of the proudest, boldest, and most aesthetic lines in the world. These massive glacial erratic boulders sit in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada under an impressive backdrop of high peaks just a mere four miles to the west. Granite-like quartz monzonite makes up the boulders featuring sweeping blank faces, polished patina crimps/plates and sharp slopers and edges.

Buttermilks bouldering is BIG, literally. Some of the larger stones rival the largest erratics known anywhere. Many problems here feature reachy standing or jumping starts with huge moves, so on many routes you’ll soon find your feet well above a height you’d want to drop off. Don’t leave any pads at home because alot of the classics top out at 20+ feet, luckily most of the landings are flat and uniformed. Before you hop on a boulder scout the down-climb first, as many require some techy down-climbing and/or a big jump to the ground.”

These highball, glacial erratics are iconic in the world of bouldering, with world famous problems ranging from V0 all the way up to V14+. One incredibly highball route, The Process on Grandpa Peabody, was featured in Reel Rock 10’s High and Mighty.

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The Buttermilks are a fun area with a ton of different problems, but warning – they tend to be on the more difficult side. I flailed around unsuccessfully on most of the V1s, and the V0s seem harder than in other places.

Lynn bouldering Buttermilks

In addition to world class climbing, the Buttermilks are worth visiting just for the views. The day we visited this fall was foggy and cold, but the mountains occasionally peeked out.

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If you have any interest in bouldering, the Buttermilks is a place to put on your must climb list. At my current beginner skill level, I prefer bouldering in the Happy Boulders, but I love going to the Buttermilks at least once while I’m in Bishop. They’ve got an amazing vibe full of world class climbers, and it’s inspiring to be around.

How to Get There: The Buttermilk bouldering area is easy to find. Head west on Highway 168 from Bishop, and turn right on Buttermilk Road. There are designated parking areas on the right about 3.5 miles up Buttermilk Road, near the boulders .

Where to Stay: There’s camping at Pleasant Valley & the primitive Pit Campgrounds, as well as free camping before and after the Buttermilks main area. Bishop also has a hostel,The Hostel California, that I hear is pretty cool, though I’ve never stayed there.

Where to Eat & Drink: Mountain Rambler Brewery, Taqueria Las Palmas

Bouldering in the Happy Boulders – Bishop California

I needed to be down in Bishop, California for work last week, so Greyson and I decided to go down on Saturday and make a weekend of it. Not that we ever need an excuse to go to Bishop, but the American Alpine Club was hosting a stop of the Craggin Classic there during that weekend. We were excited to check it out.We took our time driving down on Saturday, stopping to check out the fall colors and expansive views whenever we felt the urge – like the Mono Lake lookout.

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Coming over Conway Summit (north of Mammoth Lakes) I spotted a huge bird flying parallel to our car. It landed in a tree a few hundred feet off of the road, and we were able to pull over on the side of the road and check it out. I had my binoculars, and Greyson had his longest lens so we were able to see it pretty clearly. We debated whether it was a juvenile golden or bald eagle, and finally settled on juvenile bald eagle (with help from instagram). He or she was quite content to hang out in the tree, so we watched it for quite awhile before moving on.

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Photo by Greyson Howard.

We pulled up  in Mammoth Lakes for lunch, beer sampler and growler fill at Mammoth Brewing Company. I’ll have to do a full review of Mammoth one of these days, but they’ve recently started serving food. I had a brussels sprouts salad and some of Greyson’s black currant, arugula, goat cheese, gruyere, and balsamic flatbread pizza and both were to die for.

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We arrived in Bishop early enough to set up camp at Pleasant Valley Campground. Last time we stayed there, I got eaten up by biting ants and the campground was filled with RVs plastered in confederate flags whose occupants partied late into the night. We vowed not to come back, but the price ($14 a night) and location lured us in. We figured that the cold weather and off season (for everything except bouldering) would keep the ants and noisy neighbors at bay.

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Greyson re-stakes the tent in a windstorm, during a previous Pleasant Valley Campground experience.

One of the best reasons to camp at Pleasant Valley Campground is its proximity to the Happy Boulders.

Bishop, California is a bouldering mecca, and people come from all over the world to climb in the area. There are several well-known areas, and the Happy Boulders are arguably the most beginner-friendly. Not to say that there’s not a bunch of challenging routes for the hard core, but I was able to find lots of routes to play around on that fit my VB-V0 skill level.

The Mountain Project describes the Happy Boulders as:

“The Happy Boulders offer highly concentrated world-class volcanic bouldering with hundreds of worthy problems ranging from simple to impossible.

Long shadowed by the more well-known and publicized Buttermilks, more and more climbers are realizing the potential inside the Happy Boulders canyon. Most first-time visitors will be overwhelmed by the amount of projects they just gathered and will find themselves making time to return. Some say at the Happies your muscles will fail first, whereas in the Buttermilks its usually your skin that will be your reason for leaving. Regardless, it’s nice to have the options so close. Visitors experiencing Bishop in the colder months can find shelter and warmer temps here rather than the exposed and wind-swept Buttermilks.”

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The parking lot was fuller than I’ve ever seen it before, as the crisp November days make for awesome climbing. We were a little worried about the crowds as we hiked up the loose, kitty litter gravel to the boulders, but once we arrived we saw that most of the people there were crowded at a couple of classic routes.

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Photo by Greyson Howard

These routes are far above my pay grade, but it was fun to watch people climb them. The best was when the girl pictured above made the route look easy after two muscled, shirtless climber bros failed on it! I have no idea what routes or boulders I actually climbed (next time we’ll remember to bring the book!), but I had a blast. Everything I climbed was easy in the scheme of things, but I did challenge myself a few times. Greyson claims that I fist pumped and said “Yes!” when I got to the top of a particularly challenging route, but I’m not sure if I believe him.

One of the many cool things about Bishop is that it’s packed with truly awesome climbers to watch and learn from. I’ve said it before, but while mountain biking is number one in my heart and will likely stay there, the people I’ve met climbing and bouldering are the best. They are friendly, outgoing, encouraging and really just want you to send it!

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Another great thing about Bishop in general and specifically the Happy Boulders is the literally hundreds of routes within a short walking distance. When we got tired of working on a problem, or our feet and fingers needed a break, we just packed up and walked 10 – 100 yards until another boulder caught our eye. We also hiked to the top of the Happy Boulders area for the first time and caught an awesome view.

I’m pretty out of shape for climbing (especially finger toughness), so we called it a day during the afternoon and drove into town. We had to stop by Mountain Rambler for a beer and lunch. I had the Phainopepla Black IPA (phainopepla is a type of silky fly catcher, FYI), Greyson got the Sky Pilot Pale Ale, and we split a Picture Puzzler Session IPA. The chef was testing out a beer fondue recipe which we got to sample, along with some beer caramels. I hope they’re both on the menu soon.

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Bishop is a must-visit destination for climbers of any levels and I’d highly recommend the Happy Boulders as a place to start. They’re easy to get to, have something for every level of climbing, and a great scene. When you’re there, be sure to stick to the paths, stay out of the plants, and pack out your garbage. “Crush the problem, not the plants!”

Check back next week, and I’ll be writing about the other place we bouldered, the Buttermilks!

How to Get There: The Happy Boulders Trail is located on Chalk Bluff Road north of Bishop. There’s a gravel parking area with an interpretive sign and a trail marker directing you where to go.

Where to Stay: There’s camping at the nearby Pleasant Valley & the primitive Pit Campgrounds. Bishop also has a hostel, The Hostel California, that I hear is pretty cool, though I’ve never stayed there.

Where to Eat & Drink: Mountain Rambler BreweryTaqueria Las Palmas

Highlights from the weekend: Eastern Sierra Edition

We left South Lake on Friday and meandered our way towards Bishop. We drove up to Virginia Lakes, snapped some photos of Mono Lake, ate the world’s best gas station food at the Whoa Nellie Deli, and set up camp at Pleasant Valley Campground near the Happy Boulders. I also had a chance to hang out with my old roommate, having beers in her beautifully xeriscaped yard.

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  • Since we were camped near our first bouldering destination, we got a slow start on Saturday morning. But eventually, I had my coffee and we headed down the bumpy road. Bouldering at the Happys was really fun, though I chickened out on some of the taller boulders. It was a million degrees, though, so I’d definitely bring plenty of water and a hat. We left the Happys and headed into Bishop for lunch. We lucked out and stumbled on Raymond’s Deli. It was so good that I was tempted to eat there for every meal after (As of 2/2018 Raymond’s is now closed!). I had a BBQ Roast Beef sandwich with Ortega chillis called the 51/50. It’s a lot of food, but I recommend it highly!

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  • After lunch we moved on to the Buttermilk Boulders. The view from this spot was incredible! I thought that the bouldering here was more challenging than at the Happys. That could be related to the fact that I had my first real bouldering fall and sliced open a couple of fingers on a sharp flake. Ooops. That was the end of bouldering for the weekend.

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  • My bloody hands meant that we went back into Bishop to find some hot running water and soap. Cleaning out the large flap of skin on my finger was not pleasant. Bet you’re super disappointed that I didn’t take pictures! Since we were in town, we grabbed some bread and cheese and beer for dinner back at our campsite. We got the “famous” sheepherder bread from Erick Schat’s Bakkery.
  • Our leisurely outdoor dinner plans were scrapped by a massive windstorm! We ate while crammed in the front seats of the Element, taking turns running outside to re-stake the tent. Eventually the tent blew completely away! We managed to catch it and re-stake it closer to the car for a little more shelter, and it stayed attached to the ground for the rest of the night. The windstorm eventually calmed down around dusk, though all of the other tent campers in our campground had given up and left!

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  • We headed out of town the next morning, very dusty, but refreshed. Before we left Bishop, we grabbed bagels from Great Basin Bakery. Since Tuolumne Meadows were reportedly still full of snow, we decided to ditch that part of our plan, and slowly worked our way north towards Tahoe. We detoured to Convict Lake, but it was a little cold for the short loop hike. In Mammoth, we to fill my growler at Mammoth Brewing Company and checked out their gorgeous new tasting room. I filled my growler with 395 IPA but also loved Hair of the Bear, a seasonal doppelbock. For lunch, we had burgers at Toomey’s. (which I thought was a little overpriced, but pretty good with an incredibly friendly waitress). Our last stop was the Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport. I love a good hot spring, and these are amazing, with gorgeous flowstone, views of the Sierra and multiple pools at different temperatures. They were pretty crowded though, especially for the middle of the day.

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It was a totally fun weekend, and I’m excited for more throughout the spring and summer. Though I can do without the sliced up hand!