Bouldering Bishop, California

Bishop is a small town on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range in California. It is actually the largest populated place in Inyo County with a whopping population of 3,879 people as of 2010. It is well known for two things: mules (mix between a donkey & a horse) and rock climbing.

Unfortunately, we did not come for the annual Bishop Mule Days Festival, but rather the alluring bouldering problems offered by the “Happies” and the “Buttermilks.”

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After 7 hours of driving from Palo Alto, CA we finally made it to Bishop! Our first stop would be the collection of  boulders called “The Happies.” This is a canyon full of world class boulders made from volcanic tuff that offer a diverse range of about 120 problems V0 and up. Note: directions to the Happies are at the bottom of this page. IMG_1354

Before we began our climbs, we took to the climbing guide “Bouldering Bishop” by Wills Young and Mick Ryan which includes nearly 2,000 routes in the Bishop area. If you don’t have a copy, Wilson’s Eastside Sports on North Main Street in downtown Bishop can help you out. Do note though: their idea of a V0 is not your average gym level V0…the standards here tend to be a bit wacky and definitely difficult.


Scotty warming up on a V2 overhang called “Dance Mix” while I attempt to keep up 🙂


Then it was off to the Buttermilks. At an elevation of 6,400 ft, the Buttermilks offer spectacular climbing on huge granite-like quartz boulders. They sit just at the base of the Sierras, so although it may be quite warm while you’re bouldering, you can still have snow covered mountains in the background if you visit in winter or spring.

There are some epically HUGE boulders here with many top outs at over 20 feet so make sure to big as many crash pads as you can fit! We decided to stay relatively low, so we packed two.


This V3 named “Birthday Direct” apart of the Birthday Boulders in the Buttermilks provided quite the challenge with tiny crimps on hard granite-like rock.


Scoping out my climb. Always a good idea to know where the good holds are before you start.


Definitely took a few goes before I was able to climb this V0 called “Birthday Left.” Normally its great to be small, but sometimes the reaches mean you really have to think about how you are going to maneuver your body- time to get creative!

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Made it to the top for a view of the East side of the Sierras.


Totally chalked up and my hands are hurting! Fun chalk fact…climbing chalk is actually made from magnesium carbonate instead of calcium carbonate. I’m not completely sure why magnesium carbonate is used instead, but perhaps it is an easier/cheaper reaction to reproduce? This is what is occurring: Mg(OH)2 + 2 CO2 → Mg(HCO3)2MgCO3 + CO2 + H2O (product after drying) 


Scotty crushing this V6 named “The Clapper” like a beast back at the Happies! Get it! IMG_1441 IMG_1368And lastly, the sunset over the Sierras is well deserved after 2 hard days of climbing. I just wish we could have stayed longer!! So much to climb!


Getting There

The Happy Boulders: From US 395 in Bishop, take US 6 north out of town. After ~1 mile, turn left on Five Bridges Rd. Follow this down the straightaway past the Rocks Plant to a 4-way intersection where the pavement turns to dirt. Take a left on Chalk Bluff Rd. Follow for 2.3 miles and park on the left side of the road. The canyon can easily be seen to your right, up the hill. There’s a porta potty there as well. 

The Buttermilks: From downtown Bishop, take W. Line Street/Highway 168 west towards the Sierras. After eight miles or so, turn right onto Buttermilk Road. The sign may have been taken down, but look for climbing stickers on the metal post. Follow this bumpy, washboard road for approximately 3.5 miles to the main area on your right. Make sure to stay at 25 mph as they do ticket. The boulders are on the right (north) side of the road. Park in designated areas. Do not camp here.


The best place to camp is called “The Pit.” Technically its called Pleasant Valley Climbers Campground and its located on BLM land just outside of Bishop. There’s a small fee of $2 to stay there and you can’t really beat that. There’s not much there but some campsites with picnic tables and a few scattered pit toilets, but who needs much more? (Note: there is no water- that would be nice…)

To get to the Pit: From downtown Bishop, go ~7 miles north/west on highway 395. Look for Pleasant Valley Road on your right. Follow this road for a pit until you see a small wooden sign pointing to the left and saying “The Pit.” Follow this for 1 min and you are there!

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