For me Bishop is the best bouldering location in the western hemisphere, maybe only topped in the extreme east by the Grampians in Australia and Fontainebleau near Paris. There are tons of other bouldering areas, but none that combine thousands of problems, amazing quality rock, perfect accessiblity, nearly always perfect weather and all that within a range of a few miles.
The clustering of the boulders makes Bishop so unique. As soon as you arrive in one spot, you do not need to move more than a hundred meters the whole day because there are so many problems. And the other upside is: there is something for the hard- and soft-mover. Well, not the real soft mover, but if you climb grade 6a you should get by most of the beginners problems.
How to get to Bishop
There are different routes to Rome and Bishop. Situated in the High Eastern Sierra you can either drive into the valley from South, North or the East. So that leaves 3 options:
- We usually fly into Los Angeles. If you do that you best rent an AWD (all wheel drive) at LAX Airport and set out straight for Bishop. Take the I-405N for about 25mi, then take the CA-14N towards Palmdale for about 70mi, continue afterwards on the CA-14N (Aerospace Highway) for another 50mi, and finally turn into the US-395N for the next 110mi and you are there. Takes you about 4.5 h from the Airport at night, longer during the day.
- Fly into San Francisco. I would not recommend that unless it’s high summer. The risk that the passes are closed is high. The trip takes at least 2h longer, if the passes are open. Otherwise prepare for an 8h ride.
- The 3rd option is flying into Las Vegas. The drive takes about the same time as LA, a little bit faster maybe during the day.
We usually do a day or so after the Bishop trip in LA and simply like LA better than Las Vegas, but that’s personal taste. If you have the time (more than 3 weeks) try to do a full circle and either cover Bishop and the Red Rocks or the trip down the coast from SF to LA.
Where to rent/buy climbing equipment
The biggest question, as this is a bouldering location, is how to get the bulky stuff from Europe into the High Sierra. Well, don’t bother, and please do not bring your crashpad or your handy telescope cleaning equipment. You can rent all that stuff in Bishop at low prices at Wilson’s Eastside Sports (Google Maps: http://goo.gl/maps/xBJLGv). Wilson’s is just of the main road (US-395N) on the right side coming from Lone Pine, right in the middle of Bishop.
If I remember correctly it’s around 10$ per pad. As we usually stay 10 days and take 1 – 3 pads it evens out at around 300$. Seems a lot, but then it’s vacation and we usually combine it with a trip to Hawaii or the Bahamas, so taking our own pads is not an option. Otherwise make sure the cost for checking your own pad from Europe or buying one in the US (in my experience not really cheaper compared to Germany) is not cheaper than renting. Again, personal preferences.
If this is your first time in Bishop and all you climbed is Fontainebleau or Switzerland, or even only indoors, get 3-4 pads, you will need them. The boulders (at least the ones worth it) are all nearly exclusively high-balls, or simply death zones. Half of them with precarious landings just to add some spice. It should not deter you from coming, just setting your expectations.
Where to stay
Easier than it sounds. Actually depending on your preferences: outdoor vs. indoor.
If you like to stay outdoors there are several marked campsites around Bishop country and close to the campsites. Do not stay outside the boundaries/marked areas, the rangers take offenses seriously and rightly so! In some of the areas you will find mobile toilettes (e.g. Happy Boulders). In other cases please behave accordingly. Even better, take your trash (all your trash) away with you. I know (and used to myself) that boulderes like to enjoy the outdoorsy feel of a bouldering trip. But I fear the similar to Fontainebleau, this increases the risks to the environment and leads to significant problems with authorities and locals. In my view Bishop is still miles away from the situation in Paris, but it’s not out of a question boulderers will face a similar situation if we all don’t behave with the necessary caution. Back in the days we took everything (!!!) from a campsite and left nothing. Just hope the kids today will continue doing the same.
In case you like to preserve the High Sierra environment a bit longer, try to stay in one of the local places. That a) leaves some money in the community and b) in turn preserves the place we all wish to revisite next year.
There are enough places in and around Bishop to stay in, I’ll just recommend the ones I tried and really liked:
- De La Cour Ranch (http://www.delacour-ranch.com/)
Lone Pine is a bit south of Bishop (around 40min drive). Right in the middle of the beautiful Alabama hills, the sight and backdrop of many early Westerns, with quite a peculiar scenery and very unique rock formations.
Apart from that they are also a climbing destination, although a very classic one. I’ve rarely seen anyone except ourselves out there. Which I tend to understand, there are better climbing locations close by so the trip to the Alabamas just for climbing is probably not worth the drive. Additionally Lone Pine is close to several local landmarks and still fairly close to Bishop so a day trip is easily doable. The location is far away from civilization and only the odd Army or whatever jet-pilot trying to impress the marmots fyling on grass level disturbs peace, but that happens really seldom.
De La Cour Ranch is a place where me and my wife as well as some of my family have stayed over the last years. The setting is pristine in one of the last green little creeks in the Sierra. The water rights still belong to the owners (unlike in most places in the Eastern Sierra where most waterrights where bought up by the large cities on the coast). This means you sleep right next to the little stream that runs down into the valley under shady trees and all that in an environmentally friendly atmosphere. The main cabin is completely made from wood and has basic cooking facilities included. Bigger meals can be prepared in the joint cooking facility further to the right. The other cabins are partial tent cabins with tent walls but wooden framing and bottom (see in the picture above in the back right).
See additional photos from another traveller that stayed in the cabins (http://www.flickr.com/photos/there2roam/sets/72157635348227771/)
- Joseph House Inn (http://www.josephhouseinn.com/)
Price: 148$ / night
This is one of the more upscale locations in Bishop. Conveniently located in a side street to the main road and thus reasonably quiet.
The cool thing about this place is the European atmosphere. The owners are Germans or at least used to be a long while back. But still the property is meticulously maintained and worth the money if you want to treat yourself a little relaxed “luxury” B&B. Pricewise certainly not a bargain but the breakfast that is served here alone is worth the higher price tag. In this property you feel like you live in a families living room and interactions with the other guests at the breakfast table and the living room are regular and full of new stories and interesting characters! Bathrooms are large and clean with a shower/bathtub and the room has kingsized beds, very comfy indeed. The garden is the real treasure and very relaxing after a long day of climbing.
- Creekside Inn (http://www.bishopcreeksideinn.com/)
This is one of the classical motels/inns in Bishop, in my view the best. Clean rooms, although very American (dark interiour, a bit outdated design for EU taste).
But the main thing is the rooms facing back from the street are quiet, large, with a very comfy and large bed, enough storage room and an OK bath, sizewise. The look outside of the window is, well flexible: it depends on the side of the building your room is in. We had a room facing away from the street to the parking lot. The view behind the lot however is quiet ok with the range of the sierra in the backdrop. Again, we left the room in the morning for breakfast, which we took in one of the cafés down the road and came back dead-tired shortly before dark. Quick dinner in one of the villages restaurants and that was it. So the main thing was the comfy bed and large room, plus the washing facilities, which really helped after a longer trip through the Pacific and the Western climbing areas.
Where to eat – Breakfast and Dinner choices
That one is easy, not an abundance of choices to be honest.
For breakfast I either recommend eating in at the place you stay in case it is the Joseph House Inn, nothing beats their pancakes or yoghurt with fresh fruits. If that’s not an option (so you stay in any of the other places) try the following:
- Black Sheep Expresso Bar (http://www.blacksheepcoffeeroasters.com/) | my favorite, coffee and pastries are great, our favorite
- Looney Bean (http://www.looneybean.com/) | a good alternative, good coffee, rest ok
For dinner it depends, not an awesome amount of choices, but again, something for everyone:
- Steaks and classical American (Holy Smoke Texas BBQ and The Back Alley)
By the way the Back Alley is my favorite. Once you get over the shock walking into a Bowling hall, the steaks are really great there, as are the burgers, better than at Holy Smoke.
- Pizza and Nudles (The Upper Crust)
By far the best pizza place in town.
- Sandwiches and stuff (Raymond’s Dely)
I used to go there a lot, sandwiches and stuff any style. Out of my own favor in recent years but still very good and the portion are certainly not on the small side.
- Others: Schat’s Bakery, certainly the most hyped place in Bishop, and crowded, but to be very honest, foodwise ok, not more. You get everything you like from sweet stuff, hot meals, sandwiches and so on and so forth.
Where to climb
First of all: Get the guide book from Wills Young (Bouldering Bishop), you can either buy it on Amazon (although currently out of stock) or you simply buy it at Wilson’s Eastside Sports (they at least had some in stock mid 2013).
You can climb your fingers off on the thousands of boulders around Bishop so I will make it short here and focus on my two favorite areas: Buttermilk Country and Happy Boulders.
Buttermilk country is the prototype of Bishop bouldering. Large massive boulders, a lot of high and scary stuff. Flat and unstructured exits after structureless walls or heavily overhanging starts. You have to get used to it.
The area is rather dominated by round ledges, very round exits and a lot of mantling, or very tiny crimps on straight walls. Particularly the easy routes below V4-5 are mostly straight wall climbs with small crimps very limited footholds, often precarious and if you are not used to it scary at best. Do not be offended if you struggle in a V0 at 5m with no footholds except the sheer slightly inward leaning wall. You’ll get used to it the 2nd time and really enjoy the climb. My big recommendation: do the climbs a second time, a completely different feeling. The bottom is mostly very sandy and flat, thus friendly for unplanned exits. However that is of limited use if you are standing 6m above ground. The scenery particularly from the top of the boulders is breathtaking on this high plateau of the Sierra.
One other thing: If you really need to go to the toilette, walk far away from the blocks, preferably completely away from the bouldering area. In the last years the laziness of people starts bugging me. Help preserve this magificent environment!
Last time in 2013 we just went there at the end of a very long trip to do some relaxed bouldering at around the mid of February. Great time to be honest. Normally we hit the area a bit later, but this was much better. Understandable that the high time is late autumn and winter. Dry, relatively warm with around 20 degrees, always sunny, but still could enough to try a little bit smaller crimps. This time however we were going for the easy stuff and again the Happies did not dissapoint us.
It get’s a bit chilly around that time of the year due to the canyon channelling the wind from the mountains. Bring warm stuff and above all bring long trousers. In general Rattle Snakes where a problem in the last years due to the peculiar weather conditions, but we just saw one close to the happies. Just stay away from them, tread carefully and above all look before you step behind boulders or throw stuff on the ground. Generally look around wherever you go, it’s nature and that does not particularly care for a few humans hopping around the boulders especially not in the Happies. But don’t be affraid, that might be a bit unusual for us Europeans but normal for all the guys that live in and around Bishop. We saw a lot more around Lone Pine, especially when riding out in the Sierra.
Climbing wise the rock is very sharp with a lot of crystals putting a special strain on the fingers. It is also extremely sharp, many of the smaller holds have extremely sharp small crimps and if you don’t have strong callused hands the first day will ruin them for the next, so pace yourself.
- Wills Young’s (author of the Bishop guidebook) blog with all the latest news for Bishop (http://bishopbouldering.blogspot.de/)
- Article in gripped about a bouldering trip in Bishop (http://gripped.com/articles/boudlering-in-bishop/)