A Bishop Bouldering Report

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Recently, Touchstone Climbing member and obsessive climber Jordan Shackelford traveled to the bouldering mecca of Bishop, California. Jordan sent the Touchstone blog a trip report of his winter bouldering excursion.

Touchstone Climbing

I’m sure you’ve heard the name Jordan Shackelford before. When Ryan Moon made the first ascent of Gentleman’s Club in the Columbia Boulders, I spotted him. My handsome mug can be found in the winter issue of California Climber.

Now that we are acquainted, let me tell you about my recent 16-hour drive from the Bay Area to Bishop, CA. (16 hours, you say?! That’s not possible…)

That’s not a typo, that’s what happens when you chart your course to Bishop through Bakersfield, by way of Tahoe, during a major blizzard in the Sierras. I guess sometimes that’s the price you pay for twelve days of butter-milking, pocket-pulling, hot-springing, snow-camping, igloo-collapsing, teeth-chattering fun.

I began the trip by trolling around the Bishop climbing scene, making friends with owners of warm homes and vans at every opportunity. As the New Year approached I welcomed the good company of fellow touch-stoners Christian Shackelford, Ari Oppenheimer, and Paul Lee, who all joined from Oakland to share in the suffering and fun.

Touchstone Climbing Bishop

Generally, we prefer climbing in the unbridled magnificence of the Buttermilks to the, shall we say, more subdued beauty of the Happy and Sad bouldering areas in Bishop’s volcanic Tablelands. But the Tablelands tend to stay warmer and drier so they got a lot more attention this trip. Though as this album cover shot at the Happies shows, snow abounded there too.

Bishop Bouldering

Even so, the volcanic tuff yielded some good results, including a Shack Attack of the magnificent line Morning Dove White (V7). The Shack Attack is a phenomenon where my brother and I take down a project together in the same session. Our last name is Shackelford, so there you go. Due to our competitive nature, Shack attacks are pretty common.

Rio's Crack, Bishop California
Christian getting aggro on Rio’s Crack (V6) in the Sads.

I managed to booty a few other gems at the Happies, including the lovely Atari problem and a possible first ascent of a fun, easy, and altogether sketchy route around the corner. Wills Young, curator of all Bishop bouldering knowledge is looking into this route’s history for me.

Bishop BoulderingIf it does not have a name I thought the anagram iratA would be fitting since it sits directly opposite Atari’s right arête (Atari │iratA). Though it is only about 1/3rd as difficult and 1/30th as classic.

While in the Happies I also finished up [SPRAY ALERT!] my first V10, Acid Wash; a real Miss Congeniality of a bouldering problem—climbs well but ugly to look at. A more photogenic line was Rio’s Secret Arête (V3); so good it elicited a rare smile from old man Ari.

On to the Buttermilks. Anyone familiar with the location understands the intense draw of the scenery surrounding these amazing and world-class boulders. My pulse quickens a little at the thought of the Buttermilks landscape. I guess this is true love. And as the snow heaps up the surrounding mountains take on new life, looming prouder and more intimidating than ever, making even the leisurely half-sport of bouldering seem TOTALLY EPIC!

Bishop BoulderingThis magical place is also the setting of the legendary and heroic several-year battle between Paul Lee and the Iron Man Traverse. Paul makes several pilgrimages per season to the Buttermilks for the singular goal of dispatching this problem. Each year he endures countless hours of driving and countless more in the windswept hellhole of a campground known as the Pit, all in the name of defeating this obstinate foe. He tolerates my little brother campusing his project to warm up, he tolerates my incessant beta spray, maintaining the balanced composure of a Spartan warrior all the while.

He gets closer and closer to sending, but doesn’t stick the last move. We move on to the Soul Slinger boulder. Paul patiently waits. I do the problem quickly to aggravate my little brother. He sends immediately—it’s a Shack Attack folks. Next up is the Saigon boulder. Paul catches me on camera surprising myself by [SPRAY ALERT!] flashing Saigon Direct (V9), a beautiful and classic Bishop highball that still gives me the shivers. Or is that the memory of a treacherous 30-minute descent through the snowfield off the back?

After a while, we notice that Paul has disappeared, presumably to confront his stone adversary again. We pack up and trend toward Iron Man to see how he is faring. Halfway to the boulder we see his lonesome figure slowly wending along the dirt trail.

“Well?” we shout.

Indifferently, he replied. “I did it.”

“What!?” we exclaim.

“There were witnesses” is his stoic response. Paul is Iron Man.

7 Iron TCPaul saw the battle with his nemesis through to the end like a real champion, and I can now focus my spotting abilities elsewhere. Truthfully I think this boulder was just a means to an end all along. Underneath his demure disposition, Paul secretly is as wild and passionate about Buttermilk country as the most dedicated dirtbag. Iron Man is the excuse that has allowed him to put up with long car rides, longer nights, insufferable bouldering crowds, and more; all so he can be in the land he loves. To wander alone with a soggy over-used crashpad on one shoulder, going to give that project one more go. Or is it really just to enjoy another solitary hike through this enchanted place, lost in its unique and moving beauty?

Now that Iron Man is vanquished, what new reason Paul will conjure for making the trek and suffering the elements in the far-off wonderland of the Buttermilks? What will your reason be? Bring it along and I’ll meet you out there next time, ready as always to spot and spray you expertly up your project of choice.