Home » 2019 Bishop Andrews 30th Birthday Bash

Bishop, CA

Friday, May 3, 2019 - 12:30pm by Lolo
360 miles and 7 hours from our last stop - 4 night stay


Day 1 - Arrival in Bishop

Andrew and his birthday surpriseAndrew and his birthday surpriseThe last half of our 7 hour drive to Bishop is always a treat - starting with Route 50 through South Lake Tahoe, and then down 395 through Bridgeport, Lee Vining, June Lake, and Mammoth Lakes. It’s an incredibly scenic drive.

We arrived around 4:30, just near quitting time for their remote workday. Celeste had planned a big surprise from all of us for Andrew’s birthday - a new Weber Gas Grill for their backyard, something never possible when they were living in a small apartment in San Francisco.

Wanting to support local businesses rather than Amazon, Celeste had ordered it from High Country Lumber, a nearby hardware store that Andrew had come to love. I never thought my son would have such a fondness for hardware stores, but Celeste said he was always finding excuses to go there during the week.

Hike into Pine Creek CanyonHike into Pine Creek CanyonThat was the problem. Bishop is a very small town and everyone knows each other’s business. Celeste was so afraid that if he walked in there, they would spill the beans on the BBQ they were assembling for him. So, all week long, every time Andrew said he was going to High Country Lumber, Celeste would make some excuse to stop him, and say let’s do it when your parents and Tommy get here - as if that was a way to entertain your guests who had just driven 7 hours to see you.

Climbing in Pine Creek CanyonClimbing in Pine Creek CanyonSo, when we arrived, we pretended we needed a hose clamp for the car and asked Andrew if he knew where we could get one. Of course he said High Country Lumber, and quickly volunteered to join us. So off we went - me, Herb, Andrew, and Tommy to shop for a hose clamp. Celeste said she would stay behind, but actually she was going to drive their van over after we left, as that was the only vehicle that would fit the grill.

When we got to the hardware store, we spent a ridiculously long time stalling in the hose clamp aisle waiting for Celeste to come. I think Andrew was starting to get suspicious that something was going on. When she pulled into the parking lot, he got even more confused.

Finally, an employee rolled out a beautiful new Weber Grill and placed it by the van. I think it still didn’t sink in that it was his until we all herded him towards it. Let’s just say he was very, very pleased.

After getting it home, we tested it out with marinated chicken kabobs, the ingredients for which Celeste had gotten ahead of time. They were delicious and just the beginning of many more delicious meals to come.

Day 2 - Climbing in Pine Creek Canyon and the Buttermilks

Tommy climbing in Pine Creek CanyonTommy climbing in Pine Creek CanyonWhenever we are away with the kids, we know that climbing is going to be a big part of it. Plus, Bishop is a premier climbing destination with numerous areas to do all types of climbing - trad, sport, and bouldering.

This morning we would start in Pine Creek Canyon, a stunningly beautiful canyon nestled between Mount Tom and the Wheeler Crest, less than a half hour from Andrew and Celeste;s apartment.

This is just one of the many climbing areas near Bishop. It alone has over 630 routes, including multi-pitch trad climbs and one of the largest collections of sport climbs in the state.

Even Lolo hits the walls of Pine Creek CanyonEven Lolo hits the walls of Pine Creek CanyonJust the hike into the canyon itself was worth the trip, even if I personally didn’t get to climb. I just love the beautiful scenery and watching them do what they love. However, they ignored my usual chant of “I don’t have to climb,” and informed me that indeed I did and that they would find something appropriate for my abilities. Oh boy.

We started off on “Mustache Wall,” the first wall on our left when we entered the canyon. True to their promise, they set up a top rope on Gimpenator, a 5.8 which is considered a warm-up by everyone else but me. However, we all “sent” it, including me.

Next they set up on B-Gizzle, a 5.10d climb on a left facing corner with a thin crack. Crack climbing requires jamming your fingers and feet into various sized cracks and hauling yourself up. It’s really rough on the fingers. They all successfully completed the climb and made me get on it too. I didn’t get very far, but I did get further than anyone expected, especially me.

While climbing B-Gizzle, the boys noticed that the man on the route next to us was Marty Lewis, the climber who authored most of the climbing guides for the Bishop area. He quite a legend in climbing circles.

Tommy bouldering in the ButtermilksTommy bouldering in the ButtermilksAfterwards we moved on to Gateway slab, just to the left of Mustache Wall where they did a 5.9 called Vanadium Miner’s Daughter and a 5.7 called King Dirtbag. I think the main motivation to be the first one to ever do a specific route is that they get to give it a creative name.

You would think that one climbing area per day would be sufficient, but oh no - not with this group. Now it was time for the Buttermilks, their favorite climbing area and one of California’s premier bouldering destinations. It too was just a half hour from their apartment, out along the bumpy, washboard Buttermilk Road.

First, a very brief primer on bouldering. Bouldering is a form of rock climbing that does not use ropes because it is done on “boulders” that are not too high. To protect from injury, crash pads are placed on the ground to soften the climber’s fall. In addition to the pads, other climbers stand at the bottom with arms extended upward to catch or slow the climber down if he falls. However, in the Buttermilks, the boulders are pretty darn big, some as high as 45 feet.

Andrew bouldering in the ButtermilksAndrew bouldering in the ButtermilksBouldering is not Herb and my thing, so for this portion of the day, we would just be spectators - not a bad thing as the landscape is amazing, with hundreds of huge boulders (or more technically, glacial erratics) strewn across a vast hillside with the snow-capped Sierra in the background.

It was a great place to just hang out, enjoy the scenery, and watch Andrew, Tommy, and Celeste puzzle out the “problems” they were working on. The word “problem” is used in bouldering because climbers often spend weeks and even months, working out all the moves to complete a particular bouldering route. The difficulty of a bouldering problem is graded on a scale from V0, being easiest, to V16.

Celeste’s “puzzle” for the day was a climb called Junior Achievement, a V7/V8 that can be pretty rough on the fingertips. She made significant progress before her finger skin ripped a bit, shutting her down for the rest of the day.

Late afternoon in the ButtermilksLate afternoon in the ButtermilksTommy worked for awhile on a boulder problem “Checkboard,” a V8 described on Mountain Project as having an “exciting last move high off the deck.” I'd say. He made some great attempts and came really close, but fell on the last big move.

The last puzzle for the day was “Zen Flute,” a V10 that requires a sizable dyno (short for "dynamic") finish where the climber has to make an all-out leap of faith to a jug (big hold) - quite exciting for both the climber and any spectating moms. Tommy came so so close, and Andrew did “send” it, complete with a primal scream. I think he had a little bit of a home court advantage.

I was exhausted from just watching them. Time for a beer at the Mountain Rambler.

Day 3 - Skiing at Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth Mountain SkiingMammoth Mountain SkiingYou can’t climb hard every day, so today was declared a rest day, which apparently is defined differently for twenty-year-olds than sixty-year-olds.

Our “rest day” was skiing Mammoth Mountain, which despite the fact that it was May, was still open for business, with most of their trails still open.

One of the many nice things about living in Bishop (elevation 4150 feet) is that you can enjoy a warm, sunny day pretty much all year round, and still just drive 45 minutes up to Mammoth Mountain (elevation 7,800) to ski, pretty much any day from November until June. Not bad.

Apres ski celebration in Andrew's vanApres ski celebration in Andrew's vanI’m not the best of skiers, but still, there were plenty of intermediate trails for me to enjoy, and the conditions were perfect - not a bad first time spring skiing in the West! I felt a little bad that the rest of them felt compelled to ski the same trails as Herb and I, so I kept telling them to go play on the black diamond runs. However, they sweetly said that they could do that anytime, but it wasn't everyday that they could ski with us. Awww…

It was a fabulous day, followed by “celebratories” (alias cold beers that you have earned) back at Andrew and Celeste’s van in the parking lot, and then a night of BBQing chicken kabobs back in Bishop on Andrew’s new birthday grill. Pretty perfect day.

I could get used to this.

Day 4 - Climbing in Owens River Gorge and the Volcanic Tablelands

Hike down into the Owens River GorgeHike down into the Owens River GorgeCeleste had to work today, but Andrew took the day off and suggested we go climbing - what a surprise! Today we would go to the Owens River Gorge, a third climbing area, this one with more options for me and Herb to climb, in that it has 416 sport climbing routes, which is the kind of climbing we like to do - none of this dropping a few feet down onto a crash pad when falling from a boulder. The time of my life where I would have considered that a positive experience passed quite some time ago. I’ll stick with a rope.

As with Pine Creek Canyon and Buttermilks, the drive to the trailhead to hike down into the Gorge was less than a half hour from Andrew and Celeste’s apartment - no wonder they moved here.

Andrew climbing in the Dilithium Crystal area of the Inner Gorge.Andrew climbing in the Dilithium Crystal area of the Inner Gorge.The drive along the Gorge Road was pretty unspectacular – flat and brown with lots of power lines. Usually when you approach a climbing area, you know it, because you see beautiful rock walls, and it’s exciting, but a gorge kind of sneaks up on you, and you don’t know it’s there until you are at its rim, and even then you might not see much until you hike down into it.

The hike down into the gorge is quite steep and a little bit intimidating, but no steep drop-offs so it was okay. The gorge itself is over 10 miles long and has many different areas to climb in. Today, we were headed to the Dilithium Crystal area in the Inner Gorge.

As I said, Andrew and Tommy were anxious to get me on a climb, so they set up shop at a 5.8 called Lava Java. I hoped I liked the climb as much as the name. 5.8 is about my outdoor limit, although I think I did do a 5.9 and 5.10a once. I love gym climbing but I am much more intimidated by outdoor climbing.

As must be done in sport climbing, somebody (Tommy in this case) had to lead the climb and set up a top rope on top for the rest of us to use. This was a very easy climb for the boys and for Herb, but just about the right amount of challenge for me. I “sent” it with a minimum of whining. The rest of them used it as a warmup.

Tommy bouldering in the Volcanic TablelandsTommy bouldering in the Volcanic TablelandsGreat, now that I did that, I thought they would leave me alone, but they weren’t done with me yet. The next climb we set up on was a 5.10b called Coffee Achiever (hmm...I’m seeing a coffee theme here). Andrew did the leading and set up and tried to convince me that I should at least try it. I did make fairly good progress, and made it about half way up, before taking a few falls and giving up. An outdoor 5.10b is a bit over my pay grade. The rest of them made it look easy.

Now, I was officially done, but they continued on, setting up on a 5.11b called Photon Torpedo, which Andrew successfully led. Herb did well, getting it after taking (hanging on the rope) a few times.

It was starting to get too hot, so Tommy decided to skip it and save himself for climbing at the Volcanic Tablelands next. That’s right, we were going to another climbing area, where Celeste would meet us now that the workday was over.

Andrew bouldering in the Volcanic TablelandsAndrew bouldering in the Volcanic TablelandsThe Volcanic Tablelands is another one of Bishop’s popular bouldering areas. It’s located just north of Bishop in a stunning area where the floor of the Owens Valley rises abruptly, forming a 300 foot-high volcanic plateau. It’s quite beautiful and only 20 minutes from Andrew and Celeste’s apartment.

Climbers refer to this area as the Happy / Sad Boulders because those are the two areas where the most routes have been established. The Happy Boulder area alone has 418 routes and the Sad Boulder area has 187. We went to the Happy’s, and that is pretty much describes the way I was feeling that evening.
To get to the Happy Boulders, we had to walk up a steep path to the top of the plateau where we were greeted with hundreds of boulders strewn throughout the plateau. They all looked pretty much alike to me, but the boys knew them all by name, features, and grade of difficulty.

Hiking out of the Volcanic TablelandsHiking out of the Volcanic TablelandsIt was beautiful up here, so Herb and I had no problem just following them to their boulders and watching them work out their “problems.” They had a very successful evening. They started off on a V6 called The Hulk, and did back to back “sends.” Next up was Acid Wash, a more difficult V9 route, which they didn’t “send” but made significant progress - in other words, this would become one of their “projects.” They finished off with back to back “sends” on a V6 called the Gleaner.

Not a bad day’s work. They pretty much were done after that. The rock in the Volcanic Tablelands is volcanic Bishop tuff, which is a solidified volcanic ash. It has a lot of sharp edges, pockets, and cracks, so after a few climbs their fingertips were pretty raw.

In fact, Celeste didn’t climb at all this evening because her fingertips were still too raw from her efforts on Junior Achievement the other day.

Well that brings us to the conclusion of what had been an extremely active and fun Birthday Bash - 4 climbing areas and downhill skiing at Mammoth Mountain. Time for us to go home while we are still able.


Bishop is my favorite town in the Eastern Sierra. It is located along US 395 between the towns of Mammoth Lakes and Big Pine. It lies at the northern end of the Owens Valley with the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east and the White Mountains to the west.

One of the town’s claims to fame is that it is the "Mule Capital of the World," holding a week-long festival each May called Bishop Mule Days. Part mule show, part test of skills, and part Wild West Show, this annual event has been attracting crowds for over its 47 year history, growing from a crowd of 200 in its early days to becoming an international world class event with more than 30,000 fans. Over the course of a week, more than 700 mules compete in 181 events including calf roping, steer roping, barrel racing, flat racing, carriage driving, team chariot racing, and even dressage.

The reason we go to Bishop is for the excellent rock climbing. The three major climbing areas in Bishop include:

The Owens River Gorge is a steep 10 mile long canyon just north of Bishop that is a very popular destination for rock climbing. With 416 sport-climbing and 52 trad routes it is California’s most concentrated sport climbing area. The climbing is on volcanic tuff and features edges, pockets and cracks. Although there is a full range of difficulty level, the best climbs are in the 5.10 to 5.11 range. The most popular walls are located in the Central Gorge – Warm Up Wall, the Pub, the Social Platform, and the Great Wall of China, which feature tons of 5.8 to 5.11 sport routes. Summers get a bit too hot to climb in the gorge.

Buttermilk Country, one of California’s premier bouldering destinations, is located southwest of Bishop along the western edge of the Owens Valley. These massive glacial erratic boulders sit in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada under an impressive backdrop of high peaks just a mere four miles to the west. There are 243 bouldering routes, many of which top out at over 20 feet.

The Volcanic Tablelands, another popular bouldering destination, lie just north of Bishop in an area where the floor of the Owens Valley rises abruptly, forming a 300 foot-high volcanic plateau. Along the southern tip of the plateau there are numerous canyons and washes containing thousands of boulders. The Happy Boulder area with 418 routes and the Sad Boulder area with 187 routes are the most popular. Because of its 4,500 foot elevation, the Volcanic Tablelands are climbable year round.

Pine Creek Canyon is a beautiful canyon nestled between Mount Tom and the Wheeler Crest with over 630 routes, including multi-pitch trad climbs and one of the largest collections of sport climbs in the state.

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