Sometimes it’s easy to think about how pointless climbing is – how in both the grand scheme and in individual moments we risk precarious battle against gravity only to arrive back where we started, no worse for wear but wearing worse our sunburned wrinkles.
In Bishop you will not think those things.
Though the trip from the Bay Area is long, the vast and wandering California landscape never fails to keep the mind occupied.
Winding our way south through desolate valleys and sharp passes, we came to the edge of a colossal basin, filled to the brim with a heavy cloud. The scene felt as though one could walk to the edge, ladle in hand and dip into a divine, icy elixir.
After stopping to take in the a once-in-a lifetime sight, we moved on, descending right into the tool fog of the cloud on our way to the Buttermilks.
The main Buttermilk area is a speckled maze of massive warped granite spheres. These plump boulders keep watch over a naked desert meadow. A snow striped Sierra backdrop never escapes the corner of your eye. Aside from the feeling of walking into an artist’s creation when setting foot on the crunchy trail, the convocation of granite Bishops planted there by the Rock Gods yields a collection of sculpted problems that keep the congregation of boulderers content.
After shaking the car ride cobwebs and waking our muscles on some perfect warm ups we wasted no time getting right to business.
Our first stop was Junior Achievement, a true crimpfest culminating in a stab at a deep detached flake.
I could feel a new layer of my spoiled skin getting shredded on every attempt. But I was close and stuck with it until I nailed down a truly desperate send.
Gabe said it best regarding Junior Achievement, “You’ve got to pay for that one.” Without fresh pads, the problem would have probably been too painful to fully commit to the sharp pulls.
We then cruised over to Soul Slinger, a tension and body position test piece involving desperate rounded friction pinches on a blunt arete and a minuscule key left hand crimp. Gabe has been working the problem for a year and gave it a good cleaning with the most sophisticated brush tool I’ve ever seen. Don’t tell him, but I’m planning on stealing the idea and selling mass produced brush/blow kits.
In exciting fashion, Gabe put the problem to bed for a seriously proud send and day 1 was in the books. A fast start.
On day 2 we left the beaten path for Dale’s Camp, another set of incredible Buttermilk boulders that sat in a field of crusty snow.
We started with a visit to Xavier’s Roof (V11).
The tough problem was described to me as the best V8 in Bishop followed by an incredibly hard top out. I had a great time working the line to the last couple moves and gave the crux a couple burns before deciding to save some energy for problems more in my reach.
After touring a few other tough problems, we ended at Solitaire. The V8 boils down to 2 huge left hand throws on good ledges. The problem was definitely not my style, especially after two days of climbing hard, but provided some quality fun.
Dinner was in order and Uncle Bob’s famous salsa, guacamole and a bottle of mead put us into insta-coma for the night.
In November I left Flyboy (V8) blistered, sore, depleted and unsent. After numerous attempts using a set of beta that played to my weaknesses, I had discovered a path that eliminated the need for a giant right-hand chuck to the lip, instead utilizing a small crimp, repositioning and finishing with a left-hand toss. I knew exactly what to do, but fatigue won the day. I’ve been dreaming of a return trip since and we made the short hike first thing on day 3. After a brief warm up, we threw down our pads, I tossed on my shoes, thought through the moves, dusted my tips with chalk and fired it off first go.
The rest of the day was pure bonus and we celebrated an awesome trip with a flask of whiskey. Gabe wasn’t sure what kind, but he assured me it wasn’t Evan Williams – a bit disappointing but I managed.
Gabriel loves the Buttermilks like I was addicted to Eldo in my Boulder days. He knows the area very well, climbs hard and has fun. Send or no send he’s always smiling and sharing a laugh. It was great getting to know him and a bunch of his friends during the long weekend. I’m lucky to have friends willing to give me the tour of their favorite areas. It’s always better to experience a new destination with someone who’s genuinely enthusiastic about the place and appreciative of how lucky we are to climb. Hopefully a return to the Buttermilks is in the cards soon!