These are the first inklings of warm weather the Autohome is experiencing. Wrapped with an insulator the inside holds a steady 5 degrees warmer in the winter (output of occupant body heat) and seems to keep it about 7 or 8 degrees cooler in the warmer months (our curious minds snagged an indoor/outdoor digital thermometer). This morning’s sky is threatening release and we’re both craving in-town coffee – the last vestiges of leaving urbania. So Reno it is and an ensuing drive leads us to exit right and pursue breakfast. Searching my iPhone for “breakfast” reveals three likely options: Peg’s Glorified Ham & Eggs (an antsy crowd out front – we’ll pass); Pluma’s House (turns out to be a bed and breakfast – mental note next time traveling to Reno… stay here); and Stone House Cafe (promising with upscale Reno folk who obviously know a good atmosphere…. but we haven’t showered for two days and the point of this trip is escape).
And so here we sit, two Seattleites on a Sunday morning occupying a strip mall Reno Starbucks. Sigh. We’re really tapping those last vestiges of urbania aren’t we?
Fed and full we leave Reno via Interstate 431/ SR 27 Hwy. This is my first trip to Lake Tahoe but I’m intimately familiar with the ubiquitous “Keep Tahoe Blue” bumper stickers. Doing a bit of background research on the iPhone, I find the lake has been loosing its clarity at a rate of one foot per year and, since the 1950s, the amount of algae has increased three-fold in some estimates. By the accounts I can find, these are symptoms of a fixable source – logging and new construction near the lake’s shore – which the city seems to be intently pursuing. We pass three snow lines between Reno and Tahoe – and crest at 8,260′ to the end of season slopes of Mt. Rose. A few winding twists further down the road brings my first glimpse of the lake. Incredible. So this is what all the fuss is about? Gorgeous blue mineral water and beautiful beaches reminiscent of my childhood’s Salmon River lined with age-softened boulders. Even better I spot surfers catching waves in a small cove at the north end. Mentally I’m tracking the snow level with the wave height. I’m curious… could you actually do a morning of plank riding followed by an afternoon of surfing? Its a compelling question and one I’m tightly pursuing. Rounding the lake we take 28 South (lucky timing - 431 is slated to close in less than five hours) and begin the winding descent to the valley floor with the lay of California stretched out ahead and the lure of Yosemite in the distance. We’ve opted out of Yosemite this trip but I can feel a Half Dome I’ve never seen and it’s climber’s mystique pulling the corners of my compass. A hard decision for sure but we’re on the cusp of prime tourist season and a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Its early in the year so our preferred eastern entrance remains closed. I can see why – as we pass the eastern rim hot sun and wildflowers bloom to our left and snow capped vistas with looming veils of storm clouds lurk to our right. I’ll get there…I promise!
Soon we’re past Mammoth and into Bishop, our first destination for three days of bouldering in the Buttermilks which has one of the world’s highest concentrations of bouldering at all levels. The region is named after an 1800′s dairy farm that produced, surprise, buttermilk. I’m used to spending much of my desert time in the wilds of Utah or the middle of Oregon where the dirt runs richly red. Here the hues run in greys and diluted golds accented with a pristine blue sky and retreating streaks of late spring snow.
Setting up for my first route in the Buttermilks bouldering field.
And so, arriving in the headstrong wind of evening, we find a resting spot and survey the land we’ll call home for the next three days. Across the campground sage and willow hug low to the landscape and afford little protection from prevalent winds. Here, the Sierra Nevadas thrust in near vertical ascent from the 6,000′ valley floor and provide an ominous background to a field dotted with gigantic, egg-shaped boulders. This is my Alice in Wonderland. Due to my ankle injury, I still consider myself a somewhat novice climber – especially alongside the advanced skills of my traveling companion – and I’m entranced by the idea of picking a project egg that both of us could potentially climb side by side and feel accomplished.
Where to Go:
I highly recommend perusing the local gear shops when you arrive in any town and in Bishop, Wilson’s Eastside Sports has a noteworthy selection of daypacks and women’s climbing attire from Patagonia to more independent brands such as MoonClimbing and Sickle. Visit the White Mountain Ranger Station in downtown Bishop for public recycling and trash bins as well as a fresh water pump to top off your drinkable supply.
What You’ll Need:
At Wilson’s my traveling partner picked up “Bishop Bouldering” a guide by Wills Young – thorough with clear documentation of the routes, parking, camping, and photographs of the boulders, etc. Don’t worry with the others, this is as comprehensive as they come.
Lake Tahoe Area Road Conditions
Bishop Bouldering- Blog on the area’s opportunities managed by Wills Young