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Overview: Bishop, California

Bishop is unreal. Dramatic topography of tall rugged peaks, semi deserts, rocky foothills, and hot springs create unforgettable scenery. The magnificent backdrop of the Eastern Sierras at every turn inspires and humbles you. The climbing, found between 4 to 6 thousand feet, is bold, beautiful, and exceptionally diverse. Buttermilk Country’s sharp, skin tearing quartz monzonite boulders offer perfect, tall lines that range from easy to hard with flat landings—attracting anyone with an adventurous spirit. The immense volcanic tablelands formed by one of the greatest pyroclastic events the planet has ever seen, delivers an entirely different style of world-class bouldering at the Happys and Sads, just 20 minutes away. And, if you’re not a boulder-er, you can rope up on the power-endurance routes of the Owens River Gorge or discover classic climbs on the beautiful granite of Pine Creek Canyon. It would take most people over a lifetime to complete all the high quality climbs in the region. The high desert environment can be harsh, but it offers some of the best climbing weather for the majority of the year. Bishop carries the traditional, bold climbing ideals, yet continues to compel climbers to continue to push the limits of the sport.


Climbing styles

bishop climbing styles

Bishop serves as home to any climber. Bouldering—the main attraction—has the highest reputation and for good reason. The Buttermilks are world-class. The tablelands offer great dynamic and featured climbing. Owens River Gorge offers an abundance of long technical sport climbing, but fledgling trad climbing and other sports crags can be found scattered across the Eastern Sierras—not to mention the Alpine potential.


Best season

bishop season

Bishop is a place of extremes: it’s the desert, after all. Summer is generally too hot, but winter carries sending temps—also known as freezing. Winter is by far the best time to go, but you can get away with shade-hopping until as late as June some years. For the best bang for your buck, October-May is the time to go. If you don’t like bugs or project dampening humidity, Bishop will be your kind of place.


How stiff is the grading?

bishop grades

Owens River Gorge offers sport from 5.nothing to 5.13+, while the Buttermilks and the Tablelands each boast unlimited boulders at every grade. The bouldering in Buttermilk Country is not as friendly to the V0-V1 climber with little outdoor experience, and will feel stiff if you aren’t used to the sharp rock, but the volcanic tablelands are a good place to start and feel on point when it comes to grade. No matter your skill level, Bishop has unlimited climbing at every level for all types of climbers!


Top climbs in area

bishop recommended climbs


The Buttermilks:

  • The Grandpa Peabody Arete 5.8 – this climb (solo) ventures up an enormous boulder, feasible for most climbers with the ability to stay calm up high
  • The Hunk V2 – crimpy highball goodness
  • The Green Hornet V4 – if you like slab, you will love this!
  • Iron Man V4 – the ultimate classic pump traverse
  • Jedi Mind Tricks V4 – more crimpy highball goodness
  • Seven Spanish Angels V6 – a bulbous slopper route with a jug waiting to be latched at the very top
  • High Plains Drifter V7 – completely unique movement and a memorable crux finish
  • Luminance V9 – overhanging crimps with dynamic movement and an intense mental test, due to its no fall zones and need for many pads
  • Xavier’s Roof V11 – a dreamy sequence through a large roof with a crux mantel that will test your flexibility
  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories V11 – “safe” highballing with incredible movement; a must-do if you climb this grade
  • Spectre V13 – absolutely incredible tension moves

The Happys/Sads (volcanic tablelands):

  • Heavenly Path V1 – ultra classic entry into highball bouldering; a committing line with great movement (Happys)
  • Rio’s Secret Arete V3 – a balance-y arete climb (Happys)
  • Solarium V3/4 – technical climbing on amazing holds (Happys)
  • Serengeti V5 – a brilliant line with several variations for different types of climbers (Happys)
  • Strength in Numbers V5 – a bit of everything; decently high (Sads)
  • Molly V5 – short, but oh-so-sweet (Sads)
  • Atari V6 – awesome feature, awesome compression movement, awesome view, just awesome.(Happys)
  • The Hulk V6 – thuggy, gymnastic climbing (Happys)
  • Highbrow V8 – heady compression climbing (Happys)
  • Beefcake V10 – PSAAAAAT! cave thuggery (Sads)

Owens River Gorge:

  • Heart of the Sun 5.9 – super pleasant vertical phase that gets progressively more challenging
  • Abitarot 5.10a – great sequence up a dihedral to a slightly committing steep section with excellent jugs
  • Show Us Your Tits 5.10b – a pumpy climb with fun movement all the way up
  • Sendero Luminoso 5.10b – a super fun arete climb with an unexpected challenge at the finish
  • Blood Sugar Sex Magik 5.10d – a long, fun route of mostly jug hauling with a few cruxes
  • Crash Landing 5.11a – extremely fun thin face climbing with a challenging start; if only it was longer!
  • Love Stinks 5.11a – a sustained, long, and steep route that captures your attention the whole way up
  • Pick Pocket 5.11a – first sport route in the Gorge; awesome pocket climbing; challenging for the grade
  • From Chocolate to Morphine 5.11d – an awesome long pumpy endurance climb with really fun movement
  • Crybaby 5.12c – a striking climb up a definitive feature with uniquely techy climbing for the Gorge


Where to stay

bishop where to stay

The Pit can get crowded, so if it’s solitude you crave, get out to the Buttermilks and camp at one of the many unofficial campsites just past the main bouldering area. Plenty of places like the Druid Stones, Bardini boulders, and Pollen Grains give more privacy for busy weekends. If you are climbing at the Happys/Sads, you can most likely find seclusion on the BLM-owned Tablelands off of Casa Diablo Rd. Closer to the Gorge, try the Pinyon Pine area for a cooler and more remote setting. Pine Creek Canyon also has beautiful and rarely occupied camping right by the entrance of the Canyon.


Best local spot

bishop local spots

In town do not miss out on Schats’ Bakery, Black Sheep, or Looney Bean Cafe for the morning cup of coffee and pastry. For a nice place to eat dinner and have a beer, Bishop has great Mexican food options like Amigos or Taqueria Las Palmas. Cross your fingers that Whiskey Creek opens again soon, because with a 4-6pm happy hour that gets you a full, delicious meal for $5-10, it’s easily the best deal in town.


Best kept secret

Knowing where to find the best camping spots and the best hot springs after an exhausting day of climbing are some of Bishop’s greatest secrets. But there are still so many more. Meet the right people with this treasured beta, and get out and explore for yourself!


Now to you

Moja Gear’s rock climbing destination guides are only made possible through the feedback from climbers like yourself. Are we missing some beta? Have anything extra to share? Leave your feedback in the comments below.

Additional contributions have been made to this article by: Ben Parsons

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Photos in this posts have been sourced from Flickr, with usage under Creative Commons.