Home » 2018 Eastern Sierra

Bishop, CA

Thursday, May 24, 2018 - 8:30pm by Lolo
155 miles and 3 hours from our last stop - 4 night stay


Day 1 - Arrival

Mule Day ParadeMule Day ParadeIf it wasn’t for the kids wanting to take advantage of the long Memorial Day Weekend to go to a rock climbing destination, Herb and I would never have chosen that weekend to spend in Bishop.

Memorial Day Weekend in Bishop means Mule Days, and with that means crowds of mule enthusiasts - yes, there are thousands of mule enthusiasts. I guess the best way to describe Mule Days is that it is part mule show, part test of skills, and part Wild West Show. Over its 47 year history, it has grown from attracting a crowd of 200 to becoming an international world class event bringing in 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.

Needless to say, getting a campsite anywhere near Bishop during this time is quite a challenge. Fortunately however, I had faced this identical problem 3 years ago and discovered that Brown’s Millpond Campground has an overflow area where they could put us. There was no water or electric, but it would just have to do.

The drive from Red Rock Canyon to Bishop was a lovely 3-hour drive up Highway 395, my favorite highway. Also known as the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway, Highway 395 runs the entire length of the Sierra Nevada Range, from south of Lone Pine to Carson City. The scenery along the way is breathtaking – snow-covered mountains, incredible lakes teeming with fish, ancient bristlecone forests, natural hot springs, and so much more.

Pond on the way to Ruby LakePond on the way to Ruby LakeWe arrived at Brown’s Millpond Campground late in the afternoon and found that we had been upgraded from overflow into an actual campsite - still no water or electricity, just a higher price.

The wind was really picking up, but I decided to go out for a run anyway, just 2 miles out and 2 miles back. The way out was fine, and I felt like I was somewhat effortlessly cruising along. When I turned around to head back, I found out why it had seemed so easy up to this point. The wind, which had been at my back the whole first half of my run, was now in my face and practically stopping me dead in my tracks. It was a little scary. Having no choice, I forged on, head down, body bent into the wind, dodging tumbleweed.

When I finally made it back to the motorhome, hair so windblown I looked like a crazy woman, I found a contented Herb lounging in the back of the motorhome, listening to music and drinking a beer. Trying to keep a straight face, he asked “How was your run?” I just shook my very dishevelled head.

Day 2 - Hike to Ruby Lake and Tommy and Erin Arrive

Hike to Ruby LakeHike to Ruby LakeIt was Friday, and the kids wouldn’t be arriving until late tonight after work, so we had a full day to entertain ourselves.

We decided to hike to Ruby Lake, a beautiful alpine lake set in a hanging cirque. To get to the trailhead we drove north on Highway 395 for 18 miles to Tom’s Place, where we made a left onto Rock Creek Road. From there it was 10.5 miles to the end, at the Mosquito Flats parking area and trailhead for the Ruby Lake hike.

Although only 4.5 miles round trip, the trailhead is at 10,200 feet and the lake is another 1,000 feet higher. The distance and elevation gain was not a big deal, but the high elevation would make it more challenging, especially since we had had no time to acclimate.

After parking the car we headed out into the Little Lakes Valley, with lovely views of the snow-covered Sierras all around us. In fact, we would soon be encountering some of that snow up close and personal.

Sierra HerbSierra HerbAfter about ½ mile, we came to a junction and took the trail to the right heading up to Mono Pass. Before long we were crossing small patches of snow. I was glad I listened to Herb and brought along my trekking poles because the snow kept getting deeper and deeper.

Two miles in, we began looking for the spur trail to Ruby Lake. We managed to find it, but it was impassable because of the snow, which we were now postholing through up to our knees. While we were standing around, a bit confused as to how and if we should proceed, two young hikers came along and said they were going to go up and scramble along the rocky ridge to the lake.

We followed behind, a bit slower, and soon came to a view from above of Ruby Lake. Rather than the emerald waters we had been promised in the hiking book, the lake was completely frozen. However, ringed by a granite cirque, it was still quite impressive.

A little more snow than anticipatedA little more snow than anticipatedWe decided that it made no sense to posthole our way down to it, so we enjoyed a picnic lunch from above, and then made our way back from whence we came.

It would have been nice to have gotten all the way down to the lake, but you just never know what the conditions are going to be in the Sierra, no matter what time of year.

Tommy and Erin arrived about 10:00 that night, after a quick stop to boulder in the Buttermilks, but Andrew and Celeste got a much later start and spent the night in South Lake Tahoe. They would join us in the morning.

Rather than 6 of us trying to squeeze into the Lazy Daze, Tommy and Erin now had their own camper van, so they had left the nest. Andrew and Celeste are getting a camper van as well, but for now, they would stay with us, probably for the last time. Saying it that way makes me feel a little sad - the end of an era. But more room for all of us!! Yeay!

Day 3 - Mule Day Parade, Andrew and Celeste’s Arrival, and Bouldering in the Buttermilks

Tommy bouldering in the ButtermilksTommy bouldering in the ButtermilksUsually our time with the boys and their girlfriends on these mini-vacations is spent rock climbing, but this time we were dealing with several injuries. Herb had a bruised or possible fractured rib and Celeste had a very bad high ankle sprain and was wearing a boot. That left Erin and Tommy (one complete pair) and Andrew and Mommy (not exactly Andrew’s ideal set up).

While waiting for Andrew and Celeste’s arrival, we took a ride over to Cardinal Pinnacle to check out a multi-pitch trad climb that Tommy and Erin planned to do the following morning. It was one of Bishop’s must do classic climbs. They didn’t want to be away from all of us the whole day tomorrow, so they wanted to make sure they knew how to find the approach to it and the actual start of the climb itself, so they wouldn’t waste time in the morning.

The scramble up the rocks to the base of the climb was a bit too much for Herb’s sore rib, so we went up about halfway and then sat and waited for Tommy and Erin’s return. They came back beaming and excited about climbing it the following day.

Tiny Andrew atop High Plains DrifterTiny Andrew atop High Plains DrifterWe still had time before Andrew and Celeste arrived, so we stopped in town to see the end of the Mule Day Parade. We had never seen it before and it was quite a scene - people in cowboy hats and attire as far as the eye could see, lots of American flags, mules pulling carts, prancing Clydesdale horses, cute little cowgirls on ponies, giant pooper scooper trucks to clean the streets, etc. It was a hoot!

Now that we were all feeling in the holiday spirit, we decided to welcome Andrew and Celeste at the campground with a traditional Memorial Day BBQ - complete with hamburgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, and all the fixin’s.

However, since this was a climbing trip after all, immediately upon completion, we headed over to the Buttermilks, a world-famous bouldering destination just 20 minutes from our campground, the last part of which is along a 3 ½ mile bumpy, washboard road. It’s an amazing landscape - hundreds of huge boulders (or more technically, glacial erratics) strewn along a vast hillside with the snow-capped Sierra in the background.

Lolo on her projectLolo on her projectEven if you’re not bouldering (as half of our party due to injuries was not), it’s a great place to just hang out, enjoy the scenery, and watch people puzzle out the “problem” of getting to the top of a boulder - and then, even more interestingly, puzzle out how to get back down again.

I’m not a particularly big fan of bouldering, because I don’t like to fall - even three feet. Plus, I get a bit nervous watching the boys and their girlfriends boulder, because unlike “trad” or “sport” climbing, there are no ropes. Rather, 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. The reasoning behind the lack of ropes is that bouldering routes are much shorter than “trad” or “sport” routes. Well, generally that is true, but the Buttermilks are known for their especially tall boulders, some as high as 45 feet.

The injured crew spectatingThe injured crew spectatingAndrew and Tommy gave me a boulder “problem” to work 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. I think they were pretty proud of me when I completed my boulder problem the first try - I think they gave me a pretty easy one. Even so, I had to drop down about 5 feet from the top, so they very gallantly grabbed my hips and lowered me down like I was in an elevator. What service!

Andrew and Tommy spent some time working on a boulder called High Plains Drifter, a . At 35 feet, it was a little too high for my comfort. They reassured us that the tough part of the climb was at the bottom and it got increasingly easier as it got higher. Still, it did make us quite nervous watching them do it. The photos afterwards made it look even worse.

Andrew, Tommy, and Erin played around on a few more boulders while Herb and Celeste (the injured) and I (still basking in the glory of my completed “project”) spectated. We didn’t mind - the celebratory beers were cold and the sun was just starting to dip behind the snow-capped Sierras. The lighting was incredible!

Afterwards, we drove back into town and had dinner at the Mountain Rambler brewery, a popular hangout for climbers at the end of a day on the rocks.

Day 4 - Lots of climbing - Cathedral Pinnacle (Tommy and Erin), Alabama Hills, and Buttermilks again

Tommy and Erin excited about their next day climb up Cardinal PinnacleTommy and Erin excited about their next day climb up Cardinal PinnacleIt was a little challenging figuring what to do when 33% of the group is injured, but I think we had a pretty good plan.

As per plan, Tommy and Erin headed out early to climb Cardinal Pinnacle, the classic 3-pitch climb they had scouted out yesterday. Afterwards, they would meet up with us.

The rest of us got in the car and drove down to the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, where the scenery is beautiful and the approach to the climbs are easy, even for someone in a boot. Although the drive was long (about an hour), the trip along the 395 corridor is always a treat, especially when the Sierra Mountains are topped with snow.

Lolo hits the Alabama HillsLolo hits the Alabama HillsEven if you’ve never been to the Alabama Hills, if you’ve ever watched an old Western, you’ve probably seen its beautiful scenery. Because of its dramatic landscape and proximity to Hollywood (3 hours), this area has been the setting for dozens of Hollywood westerns, TV shows, and commercials, right up to the present.

However, finding old movie sets was not what we were here for. Today Andrew and I were climbing buddies (poor Andrew!) and there were hundreds of oddly-shaped boulders and towers just asking to be climbed. And they were so easy to get to.

Several dirt side roads branch off Movie Flat Road and lead right up to the base of many of them. Too often when we climb with the boys, we have to hike and rock scramble for miles to get to the start of a climb. Here I could practically start from the hood of our car.

Andrew victoriousAndrew victoriousI have to give Andrew a lot of credit allowing me to be his climbing partner for the day. He was so patient, finding climbs within my grade and encouraging me to keep trying. Talk about role reversal.

Poor Celeste was itching to get on the rock. Probably somewhat foolishly, she removed her boot and did one - it was an easy one for her, but still probably not a good idea with a badly sprained ankle.

Towards mid-afternoon, as so often happens, dark clouds began moving in over the mountains,. We immediately thought of Tommy and Erin and hoped that they were not experiencing a storm during their climb. Neither they nor we had cell coverage so we were just going to have to wait to find out.

Rather than have them drive all the way down to the Alabama Hills to meet up with us, only to be greeted by rain, we decided to head north up 395 and try to contact them on the way.

Tommy's new camper vanTommy's new camper vanI confess to being a little worried about them, so I was so glad when they picked up the phone. They were in a coffee shop in Bishop. They had finished the climb just as the rain was starting - in fact, they were the only party that made it to the top that day, as everyone else had to retreat back down to miss the storm. We decided to meet up at the coffee shop.

When we saw them, they were absolutely beaming. They said that the climb, which is a Bishop Classic, had been awesome.

There was still a few more hours of daylight, so rather than go back to the campground to relax like normal people, we went back to the Buttermilks to climb some more.

Good decision! What a fun evening - rocks to climb on, beautiful scenery, great company, much laughter, tasty celebratory beers, lovely sunset over the Sierras! We even got everybody to stand still long enough to memorialize the moment - perhaps the Gaidus 2018 Christmas card!

Boy I’m going to miss these guys when they leave tomorrow.


Andrew on High Plains DrifterAndrew on High Plains DrifterBishop is my favorite town in the Eastern Sierra. It is located along Highway 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.

Bishop location map in "high definition"

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