Last fall, a few Outdoor Research athletes headed for Central California’s Sierra Nevada for an epic climbing and camping road trip. They made their base out of Bishop, the closest town to the world-class Buttermilks Boulders, where they spent most of their time scouting routes, tackling problems, and sending highballs.
Take a look below to see what you can expect to find in this must-see Sierra Nevada town.
South of the epic big walls in Yosemite Valley and northeast of the bulk of California’s 14ers lies Buttermilk Country; one of the most sought-out destinations for bouldering in the world. These boulderfields and forests lie on the western edge of the Owens Valley, and rise towards the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to form the Volcanic Tablelands that created such a unique and superb climbing climate.
The Buttermilks gained their all-star reputation for distinct rock formations and tall lines that provide truly some of the most awe-inspiring natural features of California rock climbing. What else do these boulders have to offer?
— Scout your own way. Weather washes away chalk on this side of the Sierras, giving you the chance to on-sight your next problem.
— High, high, high balls. Bring a crash pad or two per person, and stack them up for 30 foot+ problems like High Plains Drifter and Suspended in Silence.
— Dog + rattlesnake friendly. Keep a close eye on your pets, and a closer one on suspicious holes in the ground.
Once you’ve soaked up the wonder of these impressively huge boulders, it’s time to head into town to grab a bite, catch some sights, and see how much more adventure you can pack into your trip.
Downtown Bishop, California
From the Buttermilks, head east on 168 to hit Bishop proper. The city is Inyo County’s largest populated place, boasting just under 4,000 full-time residents, and hosting many more travelers drawn in by the Sierra. Follow these insider tips of what not to miss.
Don’t leave Bishop without doing...
— Sport climbing at Owen’s River Gorge: Over 1,100 routes from 5.6 to 5.13.
— Trail running up South Lake Bishop Pass Trail.
— Year-round trout fishing in Owen’s River.
— Driving west for hiking out of South Lake Trailhead.
— Ice climbing June Lake out of Lee Vining Canyon.
— Peak bagging the third tallest mountain in California, White Mountain Peak, for the best walk-up views of the Sierra Nevada.
Don’t leave Bishop without seeing ...
— Visit the Mountain Light Gallery for stunning local photography from renowned climber Galen Rowell.
— Learn about Bishop’s outpost history at the Laws Railroad Museum.
— Drive 7 miles south for a dip in Keough’s Hot Springs (dirtbag tip: check out the Hot Ditch for a fee-free hot spring).
Doing leave Bishop without eating at ...
— Mountain Rambler Brewery: Local’s favorite after-work kickback spot.
— Black Sheep Coffee Roasters: “Because all climbers are coffee addicts.”
— Las Palmas: Homemade salsa and hand-crafted margaritas.
Local Tip: Outdoorspeople love their beverages. Catch boulderers scouting their next problem on the free wifi at Black Sheep Coffee in the early morning, and hear route conditions first-hand from locals winding down at Mountain Rambler Brewery after a long day outside.
More in Bishop
Share these local pointers with whomever you trust to keep them safe.
— Camping at The Pit: Just $2 to crash at this first-come, first-serve climber’s campground that’s known for its “spontaneous gatherings that turn eventful.”
— Pine Creek: This relatively undiscovered crag has sport and trad climbing from 5.7 to 5.12, and hasn’t yet made it into its own guide book. Find what you can for now in Bishop Area Rock Climbs.
— Depending on when you plan your trip, be ready to adjust to Bishop’s seasonal temperatures – and activities.
— The Memorial Day Event You Can’t Miss: Mule Days, celebrating the rancher-rich heritage of Bishop and the cowboy culture steeped in its history.
— Night of Lights: Head downtown on the first Friday of December to enjoy hot cocoa, chocolate, and other winter goodies served by the storefronts lining the main drag.
Big shout-out to photographer Forest Woodward for his stellar shots in the Sierra. High fives to Leici Hendrix and Jenny Abegg for their tireless work and epic sends.
Huge thanks to Kurt Wedberg, owner and founder of Sierra Mountaineering International, for his words, ideas, and input into the local tips included in this article.