Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring Break in Bishop

I spent most of spring break around Bishop, CA. Situated in a valley with the Sierra Nevada to the east and the White Mountains to the west, Bishop offers some amazing scenery as well as world-class climbing. This was my first trip to Bishop, and I certainly found it lives up to its reputation. Unfortunately we didn’t have the best weather—a couple of storms came through—but even the worst day still allowed for a short bouldering session in the morning before the rain hit, and we had a day of perfect sun in Owens River Gorge.

Our first climbing ventures were at the Happy Boulders. We spent a couple of hours there before sunset on the day that we arrived, and a couple of hours the next morning before it started to rain. The boulders here formed from a huge volcanic eruption about 760,000 years ago that spewed out ash over an area more than 2,200 km2. This rock forms all kinds of cool pockets and flakes that make for really fun bouldering.

While the rain was a bit of a disappointment because it limited some of our climbing time, it led us to explore the town of Bishop itself, and to tour a fantastic photography gallery that displayed the work of the late Galen Rowell. His photographs featured some of my favorite places in the world, including Yosemite, Nepal, Patagonia, and Antarctica. I bought one of his books, Inner Game of Outdoor Photography. Maybe I can learn to emulate some of his techniques. You can see some of his photographs and books here:

The weather the next two days was quite a bit better—we spent them sport climbing in the Owens River Gorge. The Owens River carved out this steep gorge through the volcanic tableland (on which the Happy Boulders sit). It is at the center of a still heated debate, as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power bought the land in the early 1940s for the water rights and constructed the Long Valley Dam in 1941, leaving the gorge completely dry from 1953-1991. In a way this led it to become one of the first sport-climbing areas in the country. As the gorge already had a history of notable human impact when it became a popular climbing spot, its climbing pioneers felt less controversy over the ethics of drilling bolts into the rock. The genre of sport climbing relies on fixed bolts, which are more secure than traditional climbing gear (such as cams and nuts) and allow the climber to more safely try difficult routes on which he is more likely to fall.

Our last day we tried out what is probably Bishop’s most famous climbing area: the Buttermilks. The rock here was quite different from the Happies or the gorge. The area was a glacial moraine coming off from the Sierra Nevada—the climbing is on large granite boulders that were once glacial debris, dropped off from the higher mountains. It felt like a huge, beautiful playground. We left with still so much to explore—at all three areas we went to as well as the other quality sites around Bishop!

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