During the middle of last year Penny received news that her application to Berkeley had been accepted and that she would be spending six months there studying as a part of her PhD. Amongst our friends this had a 50/50 reaction: the first half saying ‘wow, great!’ and the other half saying ‘oh no, are you ok?’. Thankfully the two of us were pretty optimistic about it, seeing it more as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity than a major test on our relationship. There were also a variety of other positives: the first being that Penny got a rest from me hassling her to climb at a variety of shit venues across the UK and the second was that it gave me a great excuse to go out and see her. Were there to be a final inadvertent positive it would be that this gave me the green light to sit down and read climbing guidebooks in my underpants all day long without any fear of retribution…
Anyhow, whilst we were discussing where to go there was one place than came up time and time again: Bishop. There’s something about the Buttermilks that really appealed: the aesthetics (they really are beautiful), a good spread of grades (mileage and projects), near-perfect weather (you don’t travel in search of rain), and a whole lot of sexy looking highballs (which – lest we forget – are the best balls). From folk who’d been there was a lot of talk of sharp rock and lacerated fingers, but being a connoisseur of the sharp stuff down on Dartmoor I saw this of something as a challenge – could anything in this world be sharper?!?
Fast track to a few weeks/months later and we’re finally making the journey from Berkeley to Bishop, arriving sometime in/around midnight. I – perhaps unsurprisingly – wake up at dawn unable to sleep through a blend of jetlag and irrepressible psyche: I really wanted to see these boulders I’d waited for so long to see. Walking around the Peabodies I soaked up the sights as the boulders soaked up the first rays of morning light. This worked for me as I got to see all the problems I’d been reading about in my underpants, but also for Penny because it was 6am and she didn’t want to get up for another couple of hours.
I’ll write a separate article as more of a destination piece, so will keep this blog at the uninformative and recreational end of the spectrum. As such, here’s few favourites of each grade. I could have named a whole lot more, but have tried to make it select, although even then I’ve been naughty and included a few extras within the text. I’ve also focussed it on the Buttermilks simply because this was, without doubt, my favourite area (sorry Happys…).
V0: Robinson’s Rubber Test
What is it about slabs that people who can’t climb them hate so much? Furthermore, how can they feel so easy when you’ve got the knack, yet feel so impossible when you haven’t?! As such this problem can be something of a leveller, but a fun one at that.
V1: A Birthing Experience
Another upgradable beaut, which took me more goes than The Checkerboard. Start curled up in foetal position and…well…I can’t really explain what to do because I’m not sure I could repeat the move, so maybe it’s best improvising.
V2: Monkey Dihedral
I’m always up for a nice circuit and this stunning problem was the beginning of a great evening circuiteering with Penny and our new friend Kay. Peculiar moves, lovely rock, and a beautiful big boulder make this a classic on a great many levels.
V3: Funky Tut
It was tough choosing a V3, simply because there really are some amazing ones around. However, given the choice my favourite was probably Funky Tut simply because it climbed so well. It’s got some great holds, subtle moves, and then a wild move for a good hold right at the top. It was also one where Penny led the way and I had to try hard to repeat her efforts (excuse: skin thin, everything hurt, it’s actually quite cheeky!).
V4: Iron Man
I reckon this problem has ruined more trips to Bishop than any other, not least because it’s easy enough for you to get quite far but pumpy enough to eventually blow your arms. The fact the crux is at the end is the final kick in the teeth. After three weeks of witnessing countless people get sucked into this I cannot say in any more plain terms DO A DIFFERENT PROBLEM. Being brutal, it’s a nice enough problem, but it isn’t what you came to Bishop for. If you did come to Bishop for this you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
V5: Leary/Bard Arete
Wow, wow, wow: first wow for the arete, the second wow is for the meltdown I had at the top (which wasn’t actually too bad, but I was jet lagged and not fully into the swing of things), and the final wow goes for the down climb (which again, wasn’t too bad, but it was one of the first I’d done – as such was more alarming than it might have been a little later in the trip).
V6: Seven Spanish Angels
This was a hard one to choose, because I did a whole lot of amazing V6s – Saigon, Drone Militia, Pope’s Prow – but I’m choosing this because one of my favourite moments of the trip was seeing Penny latch the final (sinker) hold on this. The problem itself is pretty much perfect too, with a myriad of blobs stuck onto the wall, which are all used in a bunch of different ways (crimps, pinches, guppies, side pulls, gastons etc…), then there’s the glory jug/hole to finish. The perfect problem?? Still, I don’t have a pic of it so here’s one of Saigon…
V7: Secrets of the Beehive,
The Buttermilks are a very popular place to climb these days, with the Main Area taking the brunt of the traffic. If you move on towards Get Carter and the Pollen Grains the number of people decreases, but even they look positively busy compared to the Secrets of the Beehive area. There’s a number of valid reasons for this though, as there isn’t exactly loads there; however, what is there is incredible and the landscape was arguably my most favourite of the trip. The problem itself has changed quite a lot over the years, with patina breaking…and breaking…and breaking. In fact, it’s pretty freaky using any of the remaining patina because of this (and the fact what’s left doesn’t exactly feel solid!). Whilst I did a lot of highballing out in Bishop, this was the one that demanded the greatest respect as the crux really is at the top, plus the style of crux – a mantel – means that if you did fall it would be by peeling backwards (and the rest would be history). As such the whole thing is ingrained in my memory a little than High Plains Drifter, which has a positively leisurely top out by comparison!
World class in every way, shape, and form – problems rarely get more beautiful than this! For reasons unknown I chose one of the coldest days of the trip to get on this, which led to it being slightly less enjoyable than it should have been. By the time I’d crimped my way through the stand start my fingers were totally numb; by the time I’d crimped my way through 90% of the original (longer) start my fingers were TOTALLY numb.
V9: Soul Slinger
If there was one problem that represented the upper limit of my aspirations whilst out in Bishop it was this. I’ve done a load of 7Cs (aka V9s) lately, but that isn’t to say I expected to do this – I just wanted to have a good go at it. As such it came as something of a surprise when I did it in a session, but it was one of those problems where things all came together: we were were surrounded by a good crew, the psyche was high, everyone was encouraging each other, and we were all progressively getting further and further up the problem. Even then when I did it I was amazed to hold the final hold and definitely let out a scream to mark the event.
Finally, just in case anyone thought it was a case of all work and no play here’s a few pics of Penny relaxing in various locations in/around the Eastern Sierra #notsopoorpenny