Summer Cragging near Bishop

June 27-July 4, 2008 / 1 to 4 pitches long, 5.10a to 5.10d, sport & trad

We had spent a couple of weeks alpine climbing, skiing and soaking (yes, you can even do all 3 in a day here) in Bishop during our first bus trip, but we never got a chance to explore the good summer cragging that this area has to offer. Driving through Bishop late June was just the excuse we needed!

Pratt's Crack Buttress :

Pratt's Crack Buttress is located in Pine Creek canyon. It offers a few good trad lines with a 5 minutes approach (as well as a number of sport routes). "Sheila", a gorgeous 5.10a corner and "Rites of Spring" are two of the best.

The weather has been pretty hot these past few days. Climbing in the sun is not really an option. Despite a leisurely morning routine, we still arrive a bit too early: the sun is still baking the east-facing crag. We end up waiting for an hour for shade. The crag has two incredible, laser-cut dihedrals of super-clean granite. One has a wide (8") OW crack (the old-fashioned Pratt's Crack, 5.9), the other a much more civilized-looking hand crack ("Sheila", 5.10a). A bit further left is the longer multi-pitch route of "Rites of Spring", a pretty burly affair of corners and wide cracks on somewhat grainy rock.

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Camping at the Pinon Site, near the Owen River Gorge.
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Pratt's Crack Buttress is a small crag with a few good lines and a very short approach.
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Eric half-way up the incredible corner of "Sheila".
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Lucie following the pitch.
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Just before the crux.

We start with "Sheila" as the huge dihedral provides some early shade. Easy apron to the base of the corner, then a suprizingly long and sustained 5.9 finger and hand crack, to a tricky block (hard 10a) into a short chimney, and a 10' traverse on a small ledge to the right and chain anchors. Super long pitch. I recommend belaying at the top of the apron (two hangerless bolts). We didn't, and Lucie ended up having to simulclimb 10' so I could reach the chains. A 65m pitch. Fortunately, the steep rap reached the ground with a few feet to spare (with double 60m ropes) .

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A lizard enjoying the sun at the base.
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The first pitch (10a) of" Rites of Spring" is a bit crumbly but the climbing gets much better very quickly.
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Looking back at the classic offwidth (Pratt's Crack) from the belay.
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Eric starting pitch 2 (5.9).
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Higher on pitch 2.

After a quick lunch, we climb "Rites of Spring" (4p, 5.10d: 10a, 9, 10b, 10d) near the left end of the crag. Very good route, despite the somewhat crumbly granite. It feels like an old-fashioned burly crack climb for the most part. Lots of wide hands. Quite sustained and physical.

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Lucie following pitch 2...
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...and wishing she had bigger hands....
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Views of Pine Creek Canyon.
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The third pitch (10b) starts with a fun chimney.
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...then turns a roof.

The crux last pitch is very thin and super-fun. There is a fixed KB pin (bent, not looking too good), but also other good gear (small nuts, tiny black Alien). The crux is the two or three moves to and past the pin. After that, a short hand traverse on a good sharp edge (but no footholds) gets you to more tricky moves into another crack.

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Eric taking a break above the roof.
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Following pitch 3.
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Almost at the belay.
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Starting the last pitch (5.10d).
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Just past the crux.

Very good! Surprizingly long pitches - we expected short ones given that the descent is via two 200ft raps… We got worried that the raps wouldn't reach… but they do - just!

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Lucie following the crux pitch.
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Rapping down.
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Back on terra firma with "Pratt's Crack" looming behind.
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Cactus flowers on the short approach trail.
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Views of the valley as we're hiking back to the car.

 

Cardinal Pinnacle :

We get up early (6AM) to get to this west facing crag early enough to avoid crowds and heat. We get there around 9AM. Looks like clean rock from the road. A steep talus slope (huge boulders, fortunately quite stable) lead to the base of the rock. We debate doing the standard West Face route (5.10a) as it looks like the more striking line on the wall, but resisted the urge (don't want to chicken out of the 10c route). So, we climb "Crack Kingdom" 4p, 5.10c (10a, 10b, 10c, 10b), which goes up the very left side of the formation. Pretty good route, but the line is just not striking at all. Not as good as "Rites of Spring" (Pratt's Crack area), we thought, even though the granite is better here (Rites of Spring has some crumbly rock).

The starting pitch (common to both Crack Kingdom and the West face) is surprizingly tricky and thin, but good.

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Cardinal Pinnacle sits above a steep talus slope (pic taken on the hike out).
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Looking back at the valley on the approach.
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"Crack Kingdom" (10d, 4p) follows a series of cracks and corners on the left side of the prow.
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Eric starting pitch 1 (10a).
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Higer on pitch 1.

After moving the belay to the left along the ledge, the second pitch goes up cracks, chimneys behind a scary-looking free-standing flake, then up a 4" OW followed by a very awkward section over a bulge with side holds deep into an OW, then a long unpleasant low angle squeeze chimney/runnel to a great ledge at the base of a left-facing corner with a thin crack.

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Looking back at Lucie on the belay ledge atop pitch 1.
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Views from the belay ledge.
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Starting the second pitch (10b).
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Getting into the offwidth section.
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Lucie following pitch 2.

The next pitch is both the crux and the best pitch on the route: up the fun dihedral with very thin crack (5.9ish), to the roof. You turn the roof on the right on positive finger locks (physical, 5.10c), then follow a finger crack diagonally right past another thin section (5.10c) into a chimney of sorts. After two moves up the chimney, you go back left around the base of a prow and into a thin hand cracks (5.10a) to a good ledge (loose rock).

The final pitch is really only 3 bouldery moves up the RHS of a very thin flake (insecure 5.10b lieback) to a mantle move to the top of the flake. I get a green alien behind the flake for pro, which unfortunatley became fixed as it was a bit too large for the crack. Easy scrambling above this. Lucie fights with the stuck Alien for quite some time without success. I go back down to give it a try but can't get it out either… it is the price to pay.

It's a short 4th/easy 5th class scramble from the top of pitch 4, down to the start of the rap descent. Good, recent anchors with steel carabiners. Four raps and we are back at the base. Two ropes are required, although the raps are far from full length.

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Climbing the fun dihedral of pitch 3. The best pitch on the route.
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High on pitch 3 (sorry could not take many pics; had the sun in my face) .
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The thin flake of pitch 4 (and our now fixed green alien).
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Starting the 4 raps down.
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Unknown climber on the standard West Face route (5.10a), which looks really good too.

We have lunch at the base, then climb "V8" (5.10d, 1p), a striking lightning bolt crack that splits the small pinnacle just across the narrow gully. We had no info (other than the rating) about it but it just looked too good to pass. It looked like tight fingers to hands from across the gully but turned out to be ring jam size (green Camalot) to wide fists… The climb is very steep (dead vertical) and sustained. The start is the crux, with some difficult moves past the ring-jam section. Then a section of tight hands (red Camalot) into a wide hands section (yellow and blue Camalot). When that crack becomes OW, switch to the RHS crack (fingers) onto a cramped ledge, then up the final bulge (blue Camalot) to the top. Phhewww! I take a short whipper in the initial section after trying it as a diagonal hand traverse… I slip off (no feet), then make it just fine liebacking the edge of the offset crack on the next try. Really classic.

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Looking at the 5.12 line up the prow on he way down.
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Lucie rapping down.
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"V8" is the striking crack on the small pinnacle just across the gully from the base of Cardinal pinnacle.
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Eric leading the outstanding "V8" (10d, 1p).
 

We drive back to the bus afterward but stop in Bishop at the great mexican restaurant "Las Palmas" for dinner. We both have a huge Buffalo Burrito. Even better than we remembered from three years ago!

The Gong Show Crag :

Located in Rock Creek canyon, the Gong Show crag is another good quality crag. It is still in full sun when we get there late morning but the lone pine tree at the base provides some much needed shade. We wait for the wall to come into shade, but after an hour, we get tired of waiting and start with "Sideshow" (10a), which is still in the sun. Tricky route, quite sustained, very facy, and with not-so-positive holds. After a short break, and with the cliff now in the shade, we climb "He She" (5.10b). A very long, very good pitch, which felt sandbagged to both of us. Then again, we haven't done any face climbing in a while. This pitch is sustained, steep, technical, and really good.

Our next route is "Wages of Skin", the striking 10c lightning bolt crack. All goes well up to the crux… but I cannot find a way through it. I try at least 3 different ways, a total of 5 times, but fall off every time. Absolutely no footholds… brutal. Maybe I missed something? Got a good pump. Eventually, out of juice, I aided one move to reach the hand crack right above the crux… Lucie does much better, with just one hang. Sometimes having small fingers really does help (it makes a good excuse, anyway).

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The Gong Show crag from the road.
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"Sideshow" (10a) is a sustained face climb.
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"He She" (10b) is another very good pitch.
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"Wages of Skin" (10c) is the striking lightning bolt crack.
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Eric starting up the striking line.

We finish the day with "Eavesdropping", another long 10c, just left of "Wages of Skin". Both routes share the same start, but instead of traversing right, "Eavesdropping" goes straight up thin seams and flakes to a bulge with wide cracks. Semi-desperate climbing through this to easier cracks above and the anchor. Pheww! Long, sustained pitch again. After that, we call it a day and watch another party on another area classic, "Anything Goes" (second pitch, 11c).

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Just below the crux.
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"Eavesdropping" is another 10c, just left of "Wages of Skin".
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It goes straight up to the wide bulge above (crux).
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Unknown climber on another area classic, the second pitch (11c) of "Anything Goes".
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Hiking behind "square" people on the way back to the car. The Gong Show has a few popular boulders by the river.

 

Patricia Bowl :

Patricia Bowl is another high altitude crag near Bishop with a beautiful and not too long (30 minutes) approach. The bowl is a gorgeous place, with a clear blue alpine lake, scattered trees and white granite! No tourists around as there is no official trail into the basin. There are great camping spots on the other side of the lake, and enough great climbing here to spend at least two days (we didn't, but I almost wished we had).

We find two climbers on "Boi-oi-oi-ing", our first target. They are finishing the first pitch as we get there. We watch them start up the second pitch… they are having an epic. Too sustained for their leader. Rather than waiting at the base, we decide to do "Tommy Boy", a short laser-cut 10a corner at the base of the buttress. It's a short pitch up a corner crack to a bolted anchor. Really sweet, only too short.

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On the delightful approach hike (~ 30 minutes) to Patricia Bowl.
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Two climbers on of the area classic, "Boi-oi-oi-ing", a long, steep, and gorgeous 10a crack.
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Warming up on "Tommy Boy", another sweet 10a (only too short).
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Views of the Patricia Spires.
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Eric on the 10b start of "Boi-oi-oi-ing" (not recommended; the normal start, further right, is better).

We get ready for Boi' again, but have to wait for the pair to rap off. They rapped on the crack side (climber's left) of the buttress and have gotten their rope stuck… it takes them some time to figure out a way to get it unstuck, but they finally succeed. We cross the snow and get ready to climb. On the first pitch, I stay too far left, ending up on the 10b variation on gritty, flared, and slightly loose cracks. Not fun. Should have read the topo (duh!) and go right into the orange rock. The second pitch is amazing: 165ft of steep, continuous hand cracks on very good rock. Tons of fun. Bolted anchor at the top. The third pitch is described as loose, doesn't look any good, and has no fixed anchor. We just rap from the top of pitch 2. One long rap to the top of "High Expectations", then a 30m rap to the ground.

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Lucie following the pitch.
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Starting the gorgeous handcrack (10a)...
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...which just keeps going and going!
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looking down at Lucie.
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Pulling off the last moves to the belay anchor.

The 10d we just rapped ("High Expectations") looks really fun, so we climb it next. Three crux sections, about 10b, 10c, and 10d, with some easier climbing and decent rests in between. The upper crux is very thin an ends at a good jug right below the anchors. Really good! This takes a lot out of us (but no hangs!). We're also feeling the altitude a bit (10,600 ft). We scope other routes on the First Cliff (10d, 11a, and 11b routes with great reputations) on the way out but feel too tired to climb anymore .

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Views from high on the climb. White granite everywhere!
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Starting up "High Expectations" (10d).
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Higher up on the same pitch.
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Lucie following "High Expectations".
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Just below the thin cruxy section below the anchor.

Guidebooks: "The Good, The Great, and the Awesome" by Peter Croft has info on Cardinal Pinnacle and Pratt's Crack Buttress. This book also features some of the long classic Eastern Sierra alpine routes and a few classics in Tuolumne Meadows. For the Gong Show Crag and Patricia Bowl, check out "Mammoth Area Rock Climbs" by Marty Lewis and John Moynier.