In late fall, I hear alpinist and skier types complain when the first snows of the season start to stick to the mountainsides. Hopes for one more high altitude rock climb before the end of season are dashed, and impatience for the backcountry skiing sets in during this hiatus from the high country. These addictions can only be fed by wallowing on talus covered in 10 inches of faceted snow, generally alone (since you are the only one who thinks this sounds fun) or perhaps Mammoth Mountain opens one meandering white ribbon of death upon which you can be entertained for a good 45 minutes just to claim you skied in November this year. It seems rare that this 'tween season is very long in the Eastern Sierra. As excited to ski as I always am, I still sometimes find myself wishing it was longer.
Trish in Alabama Hills; Photo Credit: Weston Walker
The 'tween season forces us to capitalize on the best of what we have way down near the bottom of the Owens Valley. There is perhaps no better place and time for rock climbing than the Eastern Sierra in late fall. I was just down in the Owens River Gorge yesterday discussing this with a British couple, when one of them said, "You don't have to explain it to us. Last Fall we accidentally spent a month here!" I have heard international climbers proudly proclaim such statements without shadow of doubt as, "We will be climbing in Bishop every Fall for the rest of our lives," and "As far as I am concerned, the Buttermilks are hands down the best bouldering venue in the world." Legendary masters of stone such as Peter Croft, Lisa Rands, Chris Sharma, Doug Robinson, John Fischer, Bob Harrington, and many others have made their homes here, either for a good while or more permanently. Croft points out, "Bishop has more climbable weather days than any major climbing venue in the country." He is right. Even J-Tree and Red Rock are more often either too hot or too cold throughout the year. There are literally thousands of accessible sport, trad, and mixed routes in the Valley, plus more bouldering problems than you can hang on in a lifetime, on multiple rock types. Bishop is a hard place for a rock climber to get bored, and an easy place to stay strong all year without having to pull on plastic.
Climbing in the Owens River Gorge
That's cool if you are more concerned with keeping up with the jonesers on Mammoth Mountain this Fall, or perhaps donning those ripped, nylon, knee-high gaiters you still have from before the advent of soft shell pants. On the other hand, don't obsess so much that you forget to take advantage of the season when we can, without missing a great day of snowsports, put on a T-shirt and bask in the sun on a desert boulder or sparkling granite wall, or feel the pumpy burn that hurts so good on a steep, pocketed wall of welded tuff. This time of year, with the sun relatively low in the sky, and the dusting of snow on the foreground Sierra peaks, the world of rocks and mountains sparkle with the colors of the Earth and the warmest hues of sunlight. It reminds you how inspiring life is and how lucky we are to be able to commune with nature as we do.
Peter Croft in the Buttermilks