The past week and a half has been exhausting. 40+ hours of driving, two long free climbs and a big wall meant that a few days of rest were in order. We decided to travel to the nearby town of Bishop to meet up with a close friend of mine.
Bishop is quite possibly the best candidate in the country for a “climber’s town.” It’s a stone’s throw from the Valley, with none of the crowds or tourists. Oh, and it contains the best bouldering in the country, if you’re into that. We rolled into camp smack in the middle of Buttermilk Country, the beautiful desert home to some of the world’s tallest boulders. And boy, are they tall: the monolithic Grandpa Peabody boulder clocks in at a whopping 50 feet, seriously blurring the line between bouldering and roped climbing. Of course, the vast majority of folks never touch these lines (Kevin Jorgensen’s V11 testpiece Ambrosia, which takes a 50-foot overhanging line, has seen only three ascents in history). After meeting up with my friend Jeff Swaney (with whom I climbed Half Dome’s Snake Dike route last summer), we did a late night session at the Buttermilks. He sent a V5 called “Go Granny Go” that he’d been working, which was sick to watch.
The next day, the crew went for some morning bouldering at the Buttermilks. I sent a V4 called “Cave Problem” that had eluded me one year prior (and by “eluded” I mean “ripped the skin off of all four fingers”). I also tried my hand at a V2 called “The Hunk,” a 25-foot highball slab. I was pretty dejected that this one shut me down, but it was time to move on.
Our next destination was the Happy Boulders, an endless cluster of wild volcanic tuff formations stretched out across a plateau called The Volcanic Tablelands. First on Jeff and I’s ticklist was another 25-foot highball called Heavenly Path. This problem is a gorgeous, clean slab with a crux move pulling over the lip into the upper section. Both of us climbed it and agreed that it was an incredible problem. The rest of the team did not share our affinity for highballing, and began working the much-harder but much-shorter Vulcan Traverse, a V5 endurance route that traverses the Happy Boulder about one foot off the ground. Nobody got the send, but it was a fun time trying. We also worked a V4 called Solarium to no avail. Disappointed, we returned to the town brewery for dinner and beers.
The next morning, we returned to the Milks for a morning session. Voss and Elam worked Cave Problem hard, and I finally got the send on The Hunk. Jeff bagged a huge send on Flyboy Arete, a girthy V5 with several committing moves. Side-note to this event: we had to wait 15 minutes for Jeff to get on the problem because a small group was taking guidebook photos nearby. The model was displaying some sort of fancy new chalk bag. It was pretty funny to observe the fine art of chalk bag modeling.
After our morning bouldering session, we bid Jeff goodbye and spent the day sport climbing in the Owens River Gorge. Driving across the desert to the Gorge, you’d never expect that there is a 200-foot chasm splitting the flat desert. But sure enough, as you drive down Gorge Road, the flat ground splits and gives way to an immense ditch. We pulled over and hiked down 200 feet of chossy steps to reach the Gorge floor. All around are enormous expanses of chalked-up volcanic rock just waiting to be climbed. Voss and Elam were tired from bouldering, however, and decided to skip the climbing in favor of a swim in the Owens River. Matt and I roped up and hopped on a few routes. Matt capped off the day with a go at a 5.11b called The Hangover, which was a humbling and pumpy experience.
We packed up and headed to Yamatani Sushi for dinner, where we met Whitney, who is great. Rest weekend having ended, we now face the mental challenge of the dauntingly overhung Leaning Tower as we embark once more for the Valley.