Heading to Bishop to go bouldering at the Buttermilks? Be sure to get the beta before you go.
High in the California desert sits the gem of the Eastern Sierras. Bishop is known worldwide as the mecca of bouldering in the U.S. Each year climbers travel from all over the world to experience the area’s notoriously large high balls, the large concentration of bouldering, and the super-hard test pieces.
“To say Bishop is “world-class” is an understatement. Bishop has a variety of rock types and climbing styles, mega-classic problems and heady highballs, all surrounded by beautiful scenery. It’s a place to test your crimp strength, your thick skin, and your mental game! With an almost endless amount of climbing (and incredible sunsets), it’s impossible not to keep coming back for more!”– Amanda Jaramillo @amandarjara
This area has a lot of history related to both the climbing and the land. Don’t be surprised if you run into a professional climber or one of the area’s locals who helped shape the history of climbing!
Trip Beta: Travel Tips for Bishop bouldering
Head up the 395 until you see the mountains. The town of Bishop is one of the small mountain towns you’ll encounter on the way. While in town, don’t forget to visit us at Têra Kaia Bishop! Our new home base is set to open Spring of 2020. Follow our progress on Instagram at @terakaiabishop.
Bishop bouldering is divided into three main areas:
- The Buttermilks: Huge highballs with a backdrop of snowy mountains.
- The Sads: Steep pocketed caves and shade from the desert heat.
- The Happies: Volcanic and dynamic problems on pockets.
Dispersed camping is available all over the surrounding areas, and is fairly easy to secure a spot. The Buttermilks is the most popular spot to camp, but be warned it can get very cold in the winter.
Access: Climbing Etiquette for Bishop Bouldering
In addition to being a climbing destination, Bishop is surrounded by sublime natural formations including the Eastern Sierras, Mammoth Mountain, and Owen’s Valley. Once a beautiful and thriving oasis in the desert, conflict, and colonization have altered the landscape. Additionally, the ongoing influx of climbers has had an impact on the natural balance of the local ecosystems.
Here are a few tips to minimize your impact:
- Travel in groups of five people or less
- If possible, avoid big holidays and weekends
- Don’t crush the desert plants with crash pads
- Stay on the trails as much as possible
- Brush your tick marks
- Clean up after yourself and your pets
As always, be sure to educate yourself on leave no trace principles for the area. Read more about the seven principles of Leave No Trace (LNT) in our article: What is the Leave No Trace Philosophy?
Looking for some nearby Southern California bouldering destinations? Check out the guides below:
Bishop Bouldering Part 2: The Happy Boulders and The Sads
Joshua Tree Bouldering
Black Mountain Bouldering
Welcome to Payahuunadü
Bishop, the Owen’s Valley, and the surrounding climbing areas are part of indigenous territory, known as Payahuunadü.
Payahuunadü is the Paiute word for the Owens Valley and Eastern Sierra region of California. Payahuunadü means “land of the flowing water”.– Reimagining Payahuunadü An Indigenous Water and Land History of the Eastern Sierra Nevada, California
The area of Bishop has a tumultuous history of colonization. This includes an unresolved conflict regarding the ongoing diversion of local water sources into the Los Angeles water supply. We recommend any visitors take some time to learn a bit about the history of the native people and the land.
How can you respect the land? Here are some points of action from Indigenous Women Hike:
All people need to recognize the cultural significance of the lands on which they recreate and respect Native communities; this includes but is not limited to:
- Picking up trash, and leaving no trace.
- Respecting and not disturbing sacred sites petroglyphs, show gratitude, time, and memorial.
- Connecting to the land in a way that respects Paiute communities.
- Recognizing that all land is sacred.
Learn more about decolonization and the native history of the area on the Indigenous Women Hike website.
Girl Beta: Bouldering Videos for Bishop
Sometimes it helps to get another woman’s perspective on which boulder problems to get on. Below you’ll find a selection of female favorites, and a great roadmap on which routes to add to your tick list when visiting Bishop.
Warning: If you’re climbing onsight, scroll no further. Spoilers ahead!
Welcome to the mecca of high balls. If this landscape looks familiar, that’s because you’ve probably seen it in a climbing movie at some point.
Many of the female and first ascents here were pioneered by the original femmespiration of highball bouldering: Lisa Rands. Her bold ascents like This Side of Paradise (V10) and Golden Showers (V10) have paved the way for future generations of women in climbing.
So, why do these massive quartz monzonite boulders look so alien to the native landscape? Well, according to the AES (Applied Earth Sciences) website, the boulders in the Buttermilks are “glacial erratic” boulders, meaning glacial ice carried them a great distance from their original location. As a result, the features of these monolithic boulders don’t resemble the surrounding rock.
Anyways. Let’s get to the send vids!
The Birthing Experience – V1 *?*
Is this rock climbing? You be the judge.
Monkey Dihedral – V2
Green Wall Essential – V2
Iron Man Traverse – V4
Cave Problem – V4
Go Granny Go – V5 (Right Finish)
The Knobs – V5
Beekeeper’s Apprentice – V5
Fly Boy Arête – V5
Leary Bard Arête – V5
Bowling Pin Sit – V6
Green Wall Center – V6 *Test Piece*
How’s your footwork? The Green Wall Center will put it to the test. Good luck!
Seven Spanish Angels – V6 *Ultra Classic*
What do you prefer – static moves on crimps or big dynos? Choose your own adventure when you hit the top of Seven Spanish Angels. Will you take the red pill or the blue pill?
Cindy Swank – V6/7
Pope’s Roof – V7
High Plains Drifter – V7 *Ultra Classic*
This boulder is the epitome of buttermilks climbing. Hard pulling on bullet crimps with precise footwork and a bit of burl. The high ball finish is your reward for a job well done.
Junior’s Achievement – V8 *Ladies Choice*
Let’s just say we have a love-hate relationship with this boulder. Many women claim Junior’s as their first ascent of the grade. Some women can’t stand it. Those who love tiny crimps and delicate footwork should certainly add this to their tick list. Ignore the haters downgrading the problem and decide for yourself!
Cocktail Sauce – V9
Soul Slinger – V9
Whew! That was a whole lot of heart-pumping action. Ready for more? Read on to our Bishop Bouldering Guide Part 2: The Happy Boulders & The Sads
Big shout out to the climbers who provided these videos! You can follow their sends on the following links: