10. SIERRA NEVADA
RECOMMENDED FOR CLIMBING VARIETY
Like California itself, the Sierra Nevada is HUGE. Spanning from the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California to the Cascades in Northern California, few ranges cover this kind of expanse. For climbers, most of us consider the most appealing area to be between the Needles in Sequoia National Forest on the southern end and Lake Tahoe on the northern end. In the middle, areas such as the Alabama Hills, the High Sierra, Bishop, Mammoth, June Lake and Lee Vining all offer their own taste of what the Sierra has to offer! I’ve focused most of my attention on the east side of the Sierra. Typically, this is anywhere from Bishop in the south to June Lake or Lee Vining in the north. My two favorite places to climb in Bishop are easily Pine Creek and the Owens River Gorge!
A great mixture of sport and trad in Pine Creek
Pine Creek contains a myriad of granite climbing that is easily had in the shoulder seasons (and a bit in the summer as well). Sport lines such as Becky Route and Burning Inside are great examples of what Pine Creek can offer as far as clipping bolts. For trad, Sheila is pretty hard to beat!
The walls of the Owens River Gorge
The Owens River Gorge arguably gets most of the attention. Walls such as the Great Wall of China and the Warm Up Wall in the Central Gorge are some main draws here for folks just visiting wanting the best. However, prefer areas on the Upper Gorge, walls like All You Can Eat for warming up, and then over to areas such as the Dihedrals and Gorgeous Towers, where 70 and 80-meter ropes won’t go unused! Park only in designated sites; L.A. County owns the roads and water rights in this area, and you can impede access by blocking roads and gates.
On up the Sherwin Grade to more summertime crags, I love to head over to the Benton Crags for some solitude and fun, moderate climbing. A little further up the hill into Mammoth, I love to run up the beautiful and moderate summit of Crystal Crag. There is a smattering of lines here from 4th class to 5.11, the former of which often summit the formation, making for a quick morning or afternoon romp!
Sport climbing in Clark Canyon
Clark Canyon is my next choice for fantastic, high elevation sport climbing on volcanic tuff. Much of the landscape here was charred by a fire in 2016, and the road can sometimes be impassable by low clearance vehicles, but the effort is well worth the pockety, crimpy, juggy tuff bolt clipping that you will experience on routes such as Wild Will’s Arete, King Spud and even the multi-pitch Pull My Finger. Further north, during the winter months, I can get my ice fix in while most are skiing in Mammoth! June Lakes’ Horse Tail Falls and Lee Vining’s Main Wall have plenty to offer when swinging the sharp things!
Fall Highball Craggin’ Classic
During the first weekend of November, Bishop becomes inundated with climbers from all around the world for the annual Fall Highball Craggin’ Classic, an event prepared by the Bishop Area Climbers Coalition in partnership with the American Alpine Club and others. This event has many of the same features and itinerary as other Craggin’ Classics, but with that quintessential Bishop flavor. Remember to show up to the service day on Sunday and contribute your time and energy to taking care of these places we love so much! Feel free to donate anytime to the local climber’s coalition!
Where to camp (and not to camp)
While in town, my favorite places to stay often change with season and venue; however, some areas remain constant. The Pleasant Valley Pit Campground (The Pit) is the quintessential climber’s venue for camping, and at just $5 per site, it’s a steal if you want a pit toilet and camping with a beautiful view of the mountains. Free camping exists on BLM land just outside of Bishop off of Casa Diablo Rd. In Mammoth, you will find luck camping at Benton Crags and The Ravine, which is great for parking, climbing and camping! Do not camp on the L.A. Dept. of Water and Power (LADWP) land. They own most of the watershed around the Owens River, which includes the many hot springs in the valley, and they can remove the hot tub soaking, fishing and climbing privileges if camping continues on this property. Despite this minor inconvenience with some camping spots, the climbing and lifestyle here in the east-side are genuinely sublime and rewarding. You will find many lifetimes of climbing here that will keep you coming back for more Eastside goodness.
The fantastic and tall Locals Only wall is great for an afternoon or sunset session, especially in the shoulder seasons. This wall sees full sun and is mostly set with all bolted anchors on excellent Quartz Monzonite.
by Cody Bradford – AMGA Certified Rock Guide and 57hours ambassador