I was breathing heavily and my palms were sweating. I moved my hands and feet up the rock the way the muscles in my body remembered to, and I didn’t dare look down. I told myself I had to make it… and when I finally made it to the top, a massive wave of relief washed over me… And that, my dear friends, was the story of how I climbed my first V0 highball.
There was no grace, there was no finesse, and I’m sure I could have climbed (what is considered the easiest bouldering grade in climbing) with a little more elegance, but Ms. Never-Doing-a-Highball finally did her first highball.
Location: Bishop, California
Coordinates: 37.3635° N, 118.3951° W
Type of Climbing: Boulder, Sport, Trad
Geology: Volcanic Tuff, Quartz Monzonite
Known for: Premier Highball Bouldering
Prime Season: Nov-April
Star Rating (out of 5): 5*
It was 4 months into our relationship when David and I went on our first weeklong road trip together. I, for one, believed it was a relationship survival test masquerading as a climbing trip, but what better way to learn if your boyfriend is the one for you than to be enclosed together in a metal box on wheels for 20 hours? Thankfully, the relationship came out alive, and 20 long hours later, we made it to the land of skin-splitting highballs.
The actual town of Bishop is quite big, and the residents and visitors consist of not only climbers, but of other outdoor enthusiasts alike. The locals are blessed to have the popular bakery known as Erick Schat’s Bakkerÿ famous for their original Sheepherder Bread®. For us, their chili-cheese bread was a great way to refuel our bodies after a hard session of climbing rock, although I’m sure many high-performing athletes would have disagreed…
For $2 USD a night, we stayed in “the Pit” campground. Our accommodation unit was David’s Green Honda Element, commonly known as “the Hulk”. The back of the SUV was converted cleverly as our sleeping space, cushioning the hard plastic ground using one tattered, sad-looking Madrock crash pad.
During the week that we were there, we had a simple routine. I called it, the “Routine of the Valley People”… (for no apparent reason other than it sounded pretty frickin’ awesome). The days would always begin with the sweet light of nature’s alarm clock, the sun. After having an easy breakfast of yogurt and cereal, we would clean up, pack up the crash pads, and head straight into town for our first stop. We needed our daily boost of caffeine and our “go-to” was Looney Bean, a coffee shop just off the main road. There, we would update on our social media sites and write back home to let our family and friends we were still alive.
After our morning duties, we went out to play!
There were three main boulder areas that David was most familiar with:
1) The Buttermilks (his favourite)
2) The Happy Boulders
3) The Sad Boulders (my favourite)
On our first day, we hit up the Happy’s. It was pretty overcast that afternoon but the conditions were good. Warmer days made it harder to climb as a result of less friction; cooler days were favourable. The Happy’s was where I climbed my first highball. I wasn’t entirely keen at first, but when one is in the land of highballs, one must climb a highball…
After our first day of preparing ourselves up for the week ahead, we headed back into town and grabbed some essentials, namely food and toothbrushes. Our meals weren’t too extravagant, but they sure beat a lot of other campers’ meals. (That happens quite often when your boyfriend is an amazing chef, even with the most limited of resources.)
On the consecutive days, we would mainly climb at the Milks. This climbing venue is quite possibly the most well known if not most popular area in Bishop. It is home to some of the hardest routes in the world such as the Mandala V12 and Evilution V11 in the milks.
A unique feature of the Milks includes the highballs, which could reach up to 5-stories high at the peak. While highball climbs are ones I stay shy of, it’s breathtaking and awe-inspiring to watch other climbers push their mental game.
During our entire stay, we had two rest days. One was spent at a natural hot spring at a slightly secret location (in which I will only reveal the whereabouts in exchange for your favourite secret location… or “the Google”); the other rest day was spent in a secluded stretch of brush and weeds where we basked in the sun, played around, and drank beers. We also had a game of “pull body hairs out with tweezers”, but it got old real quick.
On some nights, we had big bonfires and invited our neighbours over for beers. One particular night, I pulled out my ukulele and our neighbor Yve brought over her Mandolin. Together, we jammed over the dancing flame and into the night. It’s pretty wild yet clear how one place can bring so many people of different avenues together.
Bishop, hands down, has been one of my favourite climbing playgrounds. It is a land where desert plains are dusted with sand-coloured boulders resembling colossal eggs; where the view from the top is strikingly different yet immensely magical all the same. Bishop, we will see you again some day.