Bishop, California is a town of 3,500 people, roughly 4 hours south of Reno. Located in Inyo County, Bishop is known historically as a popular location for Western films, the likes of which Charlton Heston and John Wayne headlined. But perhaps most famously, Bishop is known for rocks. Big rocks. Over 2,000 volcanic tuff and granite boulders, to be specific. As their visitor center proclaims, Bishop is "possibly the greatest location for rock climbing and bouldering in California, America and maybe even the world!” A bold claim, yet one that climbing connoisseurs have reiterated time and time again.
From the Happy and Sad Boulders to the Buttermilks, Bishop is home to terrain that is both technical and challenging, and fit for all experience levels. Frankly, no matter how old or young you are, how experienced or inexperienced you are, there’s something for you to climb in Bishop. This quality made it the perfect destination to send Team OV to wear test our new OV Outdoors collection.
Here's what happened, in their own words.
Chris Ralston: We landed really late in in Reno, grabbed supplies and headed toward Bishop. We got to our campsite around 1:30 in the morning, so it was pitch black. So black that you really couldn't get a sense of the surroundings at all.
Hillary Sells: The stars. Mindblowing. Just mindblowing. No other way to put it.
Chris: The next morning I woke up, unzipped my tent and realized we were surrounded by the Sierra Nevadas. It was exactly what I needed.
Nic Slevin: I could stare at those mountains all day.
Chris: The sheer scale of everything around you forces you to marvel at it. The way the sun hits the mountain peaks in the morning, the cloud formations, not to mention the one-of-a-kind granite and volcanic rock formations.
Anais: The whole time you’re out there you just think, how did these rocks even get here? They’re glacial erratic boulders. They’re hypnotic in their magnitude and symmetry. Some scattered and others huddled together creating epic spherical shapes with minor dustings of chalk showing people’s attempts.
Chris: When we first drove up to a set of boulders called The Buttermilks, I was immediately intimidated by the size of the rocks. I knew The Buttermilks were big, but seeing them in person was... humbling, to say the least.
Anais: The Buttermilks are iconic. Their height makes you question everything. We have a hard time grasping the magnitude — watching people waddling into the park, crash pads hugging their backs, shrinking into specks as they got closer to their boulder of choice. It wakes you up.
Hillary: These boulders are freakin HUGE. HUGE. Think of some two-story houses, then envision people with a lil bit of chalk on their hands scaling them.
Chris: Everyone was on edge during the first few routes we climbed. If you fall, it's going to really suck. There's an extreme level of focus necessary when you're on boulders that big.
Anais: The first climb was by far the most overwhelming. I sat there staring at the chalk marks showing me the way, fingers shaking, adrenaline pumping to the point of discomfort. It’s that moment of truth. Did you train enough? Are your calluses going to hold up? What about your shoes? Are you going to be able handle the height? The difficulty? The sharpness of the rock? That moment of realization. This is it. Now...start climbing.
Scout Vernon: I watched one by one as everyone in our group attempted the climb. About halfway up, the sheer height gave everyone the jitters.
Anais: What do you do when you’re 20-ft off the ground and your leg starts hysterically shaking? Or when you realize that you’re too high up to fall? For someone like me who is notorious for being in my head The Buttermilks is a mindfuck.
Hillary: While your footing might be solid, your brain is telling you "damn you're up high...this is gnarly." It might be obvious that it’s physically hard, but mentally...it’s super intense. It can't be understated.
Nic: It’s highly vulnerable. And sometimes terrifying - that's also why I call it type-2 fun!!
Nic: I didn’t expect to feel as emotional as I did when I successfully completed a climb. It was a wave of emotions and endorphins – I still get chills thinking about it. Ellery had been talking me through the last few moves of a “highball” route – I was pretty high up and starting to get scared. My right leg would NOT stop shaking. I had to remember to breathe, while telling myself, All you gotta do is put together a few more strong moves and you'll be done. When I finally did, Ellery was right there, waiting, and immediately gave me the biggest hug.
Ellery Hollingsworth: This was the scariest climb of the trip. It was a high ball and by the time you got past the easy part, you were too high to down climb so it was really "all or nothing." I couldn't see the hold from the way I was positioned lower on the rock. Luckily Nic was at the top and giving me the confidence to send it.
Scout Vernon: Laying on top of that rock never felt better. It felt glorious to be able to put gravity to rest.
Scout: After a full day of climbing and as the sun was setting we headed out to a hot spring just up the road from camp. We made it there just before dark.
Adam Kingman: I was facing west, laying back against submerged boulders, when I noticed the moon starting to peak above the mountains in front of me. The moon escalated quickly — swelling and reddening. The crew recognized my confusion and we all turned to watch the mysterious glowing rise.
Hillary: At first everyone was a little freaked out/thought it was a supernova/explosion/end of the universe.
Adam: My mind went to Cloverfield, ready to fight the galactic ships. We were all speechless.
Chris: We thought it was a UFO.
Adam: Turns out it was SpaceX testing one of it's new rockets.
Interested in exploring Bishop? We highly recommend hitting up Sage to Summit, a mountaineering and outdoors store where we rented gear for this trip. They were super helpful (and even have a climbing gym inside if you want to practice). If you are looking for a Guide book, we recommend the Bishop Bouldering Guidebook. (We found ours on eBay, but they have them available for rent at Sage to Summit.) And if you are looking for a campground, we camped at Pleasant Valley Owens River Campground. Try to find a spot near the river. Oh, and be prepared for a lot of wind.