Tucked away in California’s Owens Valley, Bishop is the last in a series of sleepy highway towns that follow the 395, as it winds its way up through central California. Its handful of restaurants and hotels offer refuge to pilgrims, nomads, drifters, and free spirits of every stripe, as they seek spiritual renewal in the badlands of the Eastern Sierras. Located only hours from some of North America’s most iconic natural places, most outdoor enthusiasts overlook the wonderland at their doorstep.
Though not obvious at first glance, Bishop is an undeniable climbing mecca. Hidden by desert hills and mountain ravines, this region features some of the world’s greatest climbing sanctuaries. The high desert’s agreeable climate makes climbing accessible year-round, and spots are large enough that you can find solitude even on busy days.
Owens River Gorge
Considered to be California’s most concentrated crag climbing destination, Owens River Gorge is truly a spectacle to behold. This spot is rich with narrow edges, grippy pockets, and maneuverable cracks. Climbing here is mostly vertical, with steep lines found near Eldorado Roof. Note that most routes are fully sport bolted, so make sure to gear up before you arrive!
If you’re planning a climbing adventure to the Gorge, we strongly recommend checking out Marty Lewis’s “Owens River Gorge Climbs“. This nifty guidebook will provide you all the info you need to navigate the literal hundreds of routes that can be found in this mystical Shangri-la.
Sporting the most pleasant name in rock climbing, the Happy Boulders will mesmerize new arrivals with its hundreds of easily accessible routes. This climber’s paradise forms a jungle gym of porous, volcanic rock, and features problems totally unique to Inyo County’s colorful geological history. Happy Boulders is a can’t miss destination that offers a variety of problems for climbers of all skill levels.
Easily accessible from several nearby campsites, Happy Boulders is an ideal locale for any weekend warrior. We recommend checking out nearby Pleasant Valley Campground or the BLM Pleasant Valley Pit Campground.
Nestled among the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Buttermilk Country features routes up some of the world’s largest known glacial erratic boulders. Buttermilk’s idyllic scenery offers a picturesque backdrop for slapping routes on repeat, while it’s serene aura provides much-needed reprieve from the hassles of urban living. Beginner climbers looking for an inverted route can try their hand at Hero Roof, while kamikaze climbers charge Soul Slinger’s tricky lunge.
Vanish’s Recommended Essentials for Climbing Bishop
Before you throw yourself headlong into an epic backcountry adventure, know that the life of a desert nomad isn’t for everyone. If you’re going to contend with the elements, you’ll need the right tools for the job. Here’s a curated list from our Vanish experts to get you thinking…
Five Ten Quantum Climbing Shoe
Five Ten’s gravity-defying Quantum Climbing Shoe is an aggressive climbing shoe built for steep routes and overhung boulders. Five Ten’s famous Stealth C4 rubber provides maximum grip for narrow edges and tricky terrain. Further, its padded Ariaprene tongue keeps your foot muscles feeling fresh ALL DAY LONG! The Quantum shoe’s Synthetic Clarino reduces stretching to increase product longevity while mitigating the risk of accidents. Perhaps this shoe’s most defining feature is the performance-enhancing asymmetrical curvature of its midsole. Perfect for technical footholds, Quantums jam, smear, and toe into small holds with astonishing ease.
Nomad Packable Duffel
Whether you use it for climbing ropes or camping supplies, Coalatree’s Nomad Packable Duffel makes every outdoor adventure that much easier. Campers are shocked to learn that this compact little nylon bag is capable of fitting twenty-two whole liters of gear. A stylish and portable solution for any escapade, the Nomad Duffle is a traveler’s best friend.
WhiteDuck’s Canvas Swag – Explorer
Quite possibly the coolest tent on the planet, WhiteDuck’s Explorer Canvas Swag Sleeping Tent is the outback inspired camping solution every explorer deserves. Compact, durable, and easily portable, this tent combines the very best in outdoor technology with a traditional camping aesthetic. The Explorer’s “100% Cotton 14 Oz Rib-Stop Tear Check Canvas” offers natural UV protection and insulation from all weather.
The last thing you want on a midsummer adventure in the East Sierras is to find yourself in a stuffy nylon tent, suffocated by hot, stale air. You could sleep under the open sky, and risk getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, or you unzip the top of your Canvas Explorer to enjoy some stargazing and a breath of fresh mountain air from underneath its mesh screen.
Backcountry x NEMO Chigu Sleeping Bag
Backcountry’s NEMO Chigu Sleeping Bag strikes a perfect balance between functionality and comfort. This luxury mummy sleeping bag sports a backpacking forward design, making it ideal for traveling on foot. The Chigu’s blanket fold draft collar mimics the comfort of a real bed. Its pillow pocket can be equipped with loose clothing or a pillow. This bag is tailored to be slightly wider at the hips and knees to offer sleepers extra wiggle room.
Don’t let the elements ruin a good night’s sleep! The Chigu sleeping bag is designed to keep you comfortable and dry in wet conditions. Its shell is treated to easily shed light rain or morning due, while the Chigu’s waterproof footbox is designed to fend off moisture from tent-wall contact. On warmer nights, campers can make use of the Thermo gills to dump excess heat without letting in drafts.
Off the Beaten Path
Bishop’s renown as an outdoor destination doesn’t quite rival Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but that’s why visitors love it. It’s the not-so-secret hidden gem of Inyo County. With Death Valley, Mammoth, Yosemite, and Mt. Whitney all just hours away, it’s easy to overlook, but make no mistake, rock climbing Bishop is worth the detour.
Bonus: No trip to Bishop is complete without a stop at legendary Schatt’s Bakery.