After leaving Smith Rock and another brief stop in Chico, we headed south to the land of highballs: Bishop, CA. Mark has been dreaming about Bishop since we started this trip. Every time we were trying to figure out where to go next or scoping out the weather in different areas he’d chime in with, “Bishop is only 10 hours away.” “It’s 90 degrees in Bishop right now, but there’s no rain!” Even in the middle of the summer, the opposite of ideal bouldering conditions in a desert. You could say that he’s a little obsessed. In fact, he’s been dreaming about Bishop for the past two years, ever since our first visit that was the catalyst for this whole trip. We flew out to LA for a friend’s wedding, rented a camper van for the week, and drove up to Bishop to get a glimpse of where the big kids play. After the first day in the van we were hooked, and immediately started scouring Craigslist to find one of our own that we could convert. Fast forward two years and we were back, in our own home on wheels, eager to see if the boulders here are as awesome as we remembered them to be. So it was no surprise when immediately upon arriving in town, pulling into the Pit (climber campground), and passing Marco and Caitlin on their way out (some friends we met in Moab back in April who came to join us in Bishop for a couple weeks), it took almost no convincing to get Mark to turn around and follow them straight to the Happy Boulders.
The eagerness to do something active after a day of driving, excitement of finally being in Bishop, and the shared stoke of friends on their first visit here all added up to Mark being a little too gung-ho on the first day out. He and Marco both strained a finger pulling too hard on a mono pocket. Nothing too serious, but finger injuries are not to be taken lightly, and Mark ended up spending the next few weeks nursing it and being very careful not to pull too hard on it. Good thing he has nine other fingers, right?
Not long after we arrived, Mark also set his sights on the Hulk, a classic V6 with a burly, shoulder extending move on it. He and Marco worked on it for a few days, along with a handful of other folks we met at the crag. The shoulder-popper reach proved to be a little too much, though, and Mark ended up straining his shoulder. This is the downside of bouldering. Shorter problems, harder moves, and a format that allows you to keep trying over and over and over again with nothing forcing you to rest means that it’s a lot easier to get injured than, say, trad climbing.
So here Mark was, in the place he was most looking forward to on this trip, with a tweaked finger and a bum shoulder. What do you do when you can’t pull on hard crimps on one hand or make big muscley moves with one arm? You focus on other styles and try to work your weaknesses, namely footwork, slopers, and slabs. We would go out and spend all day finding ways to traverse around all of the boulders in an area, focusing specifically on efficient footwork. Or we’d spend the day trying to make our way just a few feet up a slab problem, balancing on the tiniest divots, learning to trust the feet and hope for good friction on the rock. We also had a couple of friends come out from New York for a week, and we had a lot of fun showing them around. They even got some fishing in and Mark finally got to try out his Tenkara fly rod. And of course, a visit to Bishop wouldn’t be complete without spending a few days in Owens River Gorge, sport climbing on volcanic tuff.
But even when you’re battling injuries and struggling to let your body rest when you just want to climb all day every day, it’s impossible to not appreciate the magic of Bishop. There’s so much variety in such a concentrated area. The Buttermilks are these huge granite behemoths, scattered at the base of the Sierra Nevadas. The sheer size of them, strewn out like a giant game of marbles is pretty amazing to take in. Tucked into the various washes cutting through the volcanic plateau are the Happy and Sad boulders. Further north on the Sherwin plateau, hidden amongst the pines and feeling altogether different from the lower elevation bouldering areas are the Dreamers. And the Druids, Mark’s favorite, are nestled in the foothills 2,000 feet above town. Remote, quiet, and with a view that can’t be beat, the Druids feel like civilization is much farther away than it actually is. We even found a primitive hot spring just south of Mammoth and went up there a few times to relax and get a soak. Some folks made a sitting pool from rocks and concrete and directed a pipe from the source of the spring so you can control the temperature of the water. But it’s still just a pool out in a big open field, surrounded by mountains. That may have been my favorite place of all.
So even though Mark felt like he wasn’t able to do what he came there to do, that just means that we’ll have to go back again. Bishop will always be a special place for us.