Figuring out where to go on a climbing trip is not just about which areas have the best rock. For me the hang and the weather are huge decision factors. I think this is mostly because I tend to take climbing trips when I am not focusing on competition. My outdoor adventures are really about decompressing from all the hard work and pressure that goes along with being a competitive athlete. After ABS Nationals my decision to go climbing in Bishop, CA just made sense.
The main attraction of Bishop is The Buttermilks, which is a boulder field nestled beneath a section of snow-capped mountains on the east side of the Sierras. This area is known for having some of the most massive developed boulders in the world and predictably sunny weather! Plus the breath taking views of Mt. Tom are a reminder of just how small we really are which helps keep things in perspective. This area has a lot of boulders with marginal quality stone yet it still contains some of the most impressive lines in the country, maybe even the world! It was a perfect place to reflect and check in with myself all while having a great time with my friends.
Aside from the freak snow storm that lasted a day and half, the weather was mostly a little too warm for hard climbing but we embraced it! The small window of cold weather that we got allowed me to try a harder boulder that I’d wanted to try for years. The Swarm is an area test piece that checks in at the V13/14 range. To access The Swarm we hiked 20 minutes up a snowy hillside. When we arrived at the boulder we discovered the upper holds to be wet from snow run off from the top.
We went to work attempting to dry the holds with our extension stick brush. The idea of slipping off wet holds from the top was discouraging and it seemed silly to try the boulder. After a long warm up the temperature had increased and the upper holds had dried substantially. I decided to give it a shot, thinking “I probably won’t get very far in one session anyway.” I figured I would likely need to put in multiple days to learn the moves. After a couple hours of failing on the crux jump move I decided to try a different method which allowed me to do the move much more statically.
“I was furious! I was robbed of my glory!! I stomped away from the boulder yelling profanities and looking ridiculous.”
My next try I found myself past the crux at the top of The Swarm setting up for the last big pull. I went for the hold and as I pulled with my right hand the hold ripped from my grasp and I found myself standing on the pads below staring at my soaking wet fingers. NO!!!!! I was furious! I was robbed of my glory!! I stomped away from the boulder yelling profanities and looking ridiculous. I didn’t care though. I had basically done The Swarm but Mother Nature had tripped me just before the finish line!
It took me twenty minutes to pull myself together and I was left with an overwhelming sense of defeat. I made the walk of shame back over to join my friends and apologized for my outburst. I sat down and thought it was over. I started to pack my things and then noticed my boyfriend stacking the pads to make a sort of make shift platform to reach the upper holds. He started furiously brushing chalk on the holds. He looked down at me and said “I think we can do a much better job at drying these suckers!”
After he and my other three friends encouraged me to not give up I decided to try once more. On this attempt I concentrated harder than ever and executed each move perfectly. I felt strong as I found myself at the move that thwarted me. I’m still not sure if that right hand hold actually felt any drier. But I knew what to expect this time and I knew I was not letting go. I stood up hard on my feet and executed the last move with authority! Within a few seconds I found myself topping out a boulder I had dreamt about for years.
It was surreal and was a perfect moment shared with my friends. I can’t express how much it meant to me to have my friends support and help me push through and succeed. I will never forget it and this sense of camaraderie is one of the best things about bouldering. This was one of many memorable moments throughout my two-week stay and as I sit here and reflect I am already wondering when I will return. The Buttermilks have left an imprint of inspiration on my soul and I feel forever indebted. :)