It’s approaching spring climbing road trip season! Around this time last year (2021) I took off to Bishop California for three weeks of bouldering, and despite breaking my wrist on day four learned a tremendous amount about the Bishop bouldering scene, especially as it pertains to beginners. I climbed at the Buttermilks as well as the Volcanic Tablelands, and this article will focus `on both areas from the perspective of a V2-V3 outdoor boulderer.
(all photos licensed from Adobe Stock – my shots were lost to computer water damage)
#1 – Boulders Look Smaller on YouTube
If you’re a climber thinking about heading to Bishop, chances are you’ve already dove into the litany of classic videos from the world-famous Buttermilk Boulders. Grandpa and Grandma Peabody, Ambrosia, To Big To Flail, Footprints, Evilution – they may look like a “highball” on the computer screen, but in real life they are downright terrifying. Heck, many of the classic Buttermilk boulders are taller than five bolt sport routes at my local crag. Even the “beginner” boulders regularly trump twenty feet, which as a novice pebble wrestler turns V0 into a completely different grade. Should one forget a spotter, multiple pads, a steel head or a death wish, many reasonable problems still abound – they may just take a little more effort to find. Want to dial it back? A greater abundance of sub-twenty foot boulders can be found at the Volcanic Tablelands.
#2 – Caution: Buttermilks – Slippery When Always
After dozens of first-day foot pops mere feet off the ground, I quickly grew frustrated. What was I doing wrong? Sure my footwork wasn’t quite that of Kevin Jorgeson, but these boulders also get climbed A LOT. After hundreds of thousands of smears on the same critical edges for the better part of a half century, easy boulders, especially on Buttermilk granite, begin to get harder. After two days I grew semi-accustomed to the slippery footholds and subsequent core tension required to stay on the wall, but nevertheless many of the classic Bishop problems are just plain old polished. Come mentally prepared, elevate your footwork to Buttermilk level or once again, take a hike to the stickier and grippier volcanic stone of the Volcanic Tablelands.
#3 – Deadly Sandbagging – These Locals Are Loco
I guess it makes sense. Just like Minnesotans think ten degrees is acceptable t-shirt weather, Bishop locals think thirty foot boulders are normal. I talked to many a resident climber, asking for opinions on recommended boulders in the V0-V3 range. I received responses like “oh yeah, try “xyz”, it’s got a safe landing too.” Better yet, I would just watch some wandering dude with AirPods, no helmet and a half buttoned flannel clamber up and down a thin forty foot slab without any pads in sight. In the land of the crazies, advice is often crazy. If you’re a pinch more conservative and trying to recreate safely in the highball capital of the world, evaluate local beta and sources carefully.
#4 – Scared? Frustrated? Too Hot? Check Out The Tablelands
The Volcanic Tablelands are home to the “Happy” and “Sad” bouldering areas, two massive collections of unbelievably unique eroded volcanic stone. Hundreds of problems adorn these neighboring areas just north of Bishop. Because of the rock medium and decreased traffic, boulders in the tablelands are typically more user friendly. Even though air temperatures are reliably hotter than the higher elevation Buttermilks, many overhanging boulders situated in deep eroded washes create massive shade zones worthy of climbing all day long. Are you a crusher looking for V5… V8… V10? Have no fear. Though the Happys and Sads boast a greater abundance of entry-level problems, they are also home to many a difficult overhanging cave conundrum. In more ways than one, the Volcanic Tablelands provide a refuge when things get a little too wild over at the Buttermilks.
#5 – Scout Your Down-climb!
This last tip should be a backbone bouldering fundamental in all areas, but becomes especially more pertinent in Bishop, and exponentially so if you are climbing alone. On my first day I topped out several problems in the V0-V1 range, only to find the down-climb a greasy steep slab baking in sun on the opposite side of the stone. After getting stuck down-soloing on one particularly difficult retreat, I began scouting every boulder religiously. If the down-climb was difficult enough I would either skip the problem entirely, pre-place a second crash pad beneath the down-climb or just boulder up and down the down-climb to make sure I could safely return to terra firma sans protection.
Heading to Bishop as a V3 boulderer with no friends? Here’s some of my favorite solo-friendly boulders in both the Buttermilks and The Volcanic Tablelands Area.
- Savannah Boulder
- Serengetti Boulder
- Girlfriend Boulder
- Classique Boulder
- Fit Homeless Boulder
- Tut Boulder
- Five and a Dime Boulder
- Ranger Rock
As always, I would like to give a huge thank you to my supporters, Icelantic Skis and Chasing Paradise.
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Climbing is dangerous. Bouldering is weird. Should you attempt anything you read about in this article you are doing so at your own risk. This article is written strictly for informational purposes and is no substitute for personal research, skill and a lack of ego.