The allure to bouldering in Bishop lies in the variety of options – from the Buttermilks’ finger pricking quartz monzonite on boulders the size of houses to the Sherwin Plateau’s highly pocketed volcanic tuff. Not to mention the many moments I’ve spent just staring to the horizon over the Owens River Valley or up toward the sheer western faces of the Sierras.
Yesterday we picked out a few choice boulders in the Buttermilks for today’s tackling. The wind has died to a murmur but the heat has increased. I’m recovered, or at least learning from, yesterday’s struggle and spent most of the morning teaching myself to let go and fall to my trusty crash pad. I’ve gone from letting my left foot bear the brunt of my weight to consciously forcing my right heel into the ground and sucking up the impact with my knees. With each fall I’m better but it still requires a conscious decision to land correctly which may be the case for a very long time. I’m also taking it easy – forcing myself to climb with my legs and solidly place my feet before ascending the next move. It’s annoying, but certainly less stressful and in the long run a better way to help me progress. It’s also a smart move in these parts where I imagine the holds are what it would be like to climb on coral.
We pull a few more lazy routes and soon our minds start shifting to one of my first loves – maneuvering high clearance roads. Ugh, I write that and admit, it seems so ecologically unsavvy but we’re always careful to stay on the (somewhat) beaten path and the purpose never boils down to speed and spinning tires, but usually how many wheels we can have off the ground at some stomach-defying angle. And as a frequent FJ passenger, not an owner, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to experience these occasions firsthand.
But the Buttermilks don’t lend too well to these sorts of adventures and after a few stream traverses and a circuitous route in search of the Hall of Mirrors we decide a hot springs soak is next on the agenda.
En route to Bishop, the Sierra Nevadas were framed in my passenger window moving quickly to the rear view mirror. If you have a chance to head back north and see the scene from a different angle, take it. I spent most of the 45 minute drive north toward Whitmore Hot Springs with my eyes rooted to the near vertical rise the range seemed to span. From 7,000 to 11,000 feet and from mid-80’s temperature to snowcapped peaks the scene is humbling in the least.
The hot springs are located at the northern edge of Lake Crowley. The directions we’ve inherited tell us to turn right at the green church (and, in fact, there is one), pass three cattle guards and take the immediate right. Indeed. A parking lot and a solidly constructed boardwalk lead us to the tiered springs. As the sun creeps toward the horizon we’re left to our lonesome and witness one of my favorite scenes thus far on the trip. Sunset over Owens Valley, framed by the western face of the Sierra Nevadas. As geese and seagulls ascend to the adjoining lake and the prairie browns turn to pink and gold, the water begins to pick up the high altitude and darkening blues of the eastern sky. I’m rooted for awhile, witnessing the scene, trying to widen my eyes to take in more but yet, in the end, appreciating the fact that the scene will close and the day shutter down, the birds left to nest and us to our truck in search of food and a place for our own little turtle tent.