Eastern Sierra Weekend

Who: Greyson, Matt and Adam

What: Eastern Sierra hikes and Bishop bouldering

Where: Mono Lake, Convict Lake, Bishop, Buttermilk Country

When: June 18 and 19, 2011

Gear: Bishop Bouldering Guidebook for route finding and directions (really helpful), Deuter Pace 30 backpack (perfect for day hikes and carrying climbing gear), a Nemo Fillo camping pillow (so comfy I’m going for the full luxury treatment next time, picking up a Nemo Astro Insulated and a Pillowtop) and plenty of Mammoth Brewing Company beer.

I’m in awe of the entire Sierra Nevada, but a certain sage-lined, 14,000-foot-peak-toothed aspect has captured my devotion over the last few years. Adam, Matt and I settled on last weekend to make our first non snow-centric trip down the Eastern Sierra of the season, and with a car packed to the gills with camping and climbing gear, we took off from the shores of Lake Tahoe Friday after work.

The pale western sky turned orange and pink over the Sawtooths as we headed south, and we were submerged in darkness as we passed Lee Vining.

Three hours after leaving Lake Tahoe, we wedged ourselves in between big rumbling RVs and trailers somewhere north of Mammoth late Friday night, and woke up for an early start and some exploration around Mono Lake, east of Yosemite National Park.

The tufas are the result of built-up minerals around springs that were once under the saline waters of Mono Lake, now left standing along the receded shores. Alkali flies made dark-swirling clouds on the water’s edge, and white gulls dotted the water, bobbing on the surface.

After an unusually long winter here in the Sierra, the lizards were taking advantage of the warm weather, darting along the porous rock.

Next we circum-ambulated (walked around) Convict Lake. Another easy hike, but we had another motive behind our slow progress south: letting the temperature in Bishop – our destination for climbing – drop from the mid-day high up in the 90s. A high overcast started to dominate the sky, but none of the forecasted thunderstorms came to fruition.

The stands of aspen on the west end of Convict Lake were inundated with runoff from all the snow still melting in the High Sierra (over 200 percent is some places!). Not quite ready for swimming!

After a quick trip into the heat of downtown Bishop for bread from the famous Erick Schat’s Bakkery, we headed up into the mountains to stake out a campsite at a cooler elevation, and then on to our primary goal: bouldering in the world-renown Buttermilks.

There’s a reason why the Buttermilks get so much attention; the climbing is amazing and the scenery is incredible. Every time you top out you’re looking at over sage-dappled slopes that give way to pine forests, then finally snow-capped 13,000-foot peaks along the Sierra Crest. The granite is great – courser than Yosemite or Donner Summit stone, but easier on the fingers than full-on volcanic rock. I can’t recommend the Bishop Bouldering Guidebook enough (listed above in gear) because the number of boulders and routes is almost overwhelming, and you’re navigating mostly unmarked dirt roads to get to them.

After our fingers were worn, toes toasted and arms stiff, we headed back up to camp along the South Fork of Bishop Creek, rushing down the mountain at full tilt, swollen with snow melt. We stood around the campfire until a cool wind following the stream’s course chased us into our sleeping bags.

Of course, no trip to the Eastern Sierra would be complete without a stop at the Whoa Nellie Deli in Lee Vining, where we had lunch on our way back to Lake Tahoe on Sunday. You find an interesting collection of people there – kind of like a Serengeti watering hole attracting everything from foreign tourists to local ski bums. It sits right below Tioga Pass, Yosemite’s eastern entrance, who’s siren song was almost enough to steer us off course. Next time …