The Inside Scoop: Bishop

Nocturnal bouldering the the famous Bishop rock climbing area

If you’re like most climbers, you pore over guidebooks for weeks or even months when planning a climbing trip. You educate yourself on routes, descents, gear, and camping. But what about the local ethics, issues, and challenges at your destination crag? Part of being a responsible climber is knowing how to tread lightly—both socially and environmentally. In the Inside Scoop series, we connect you with local climbing access leaders at some of the country’s top climbing destinations for valuable insight into local ethics and issues.

Destination: BISHOP, CA

What is the biggest challenge facing the Bishop climbing community now?
Our biggest challenge is the increasing number of climbers visiting each year. Bishop is a very
fragile high desert environment, and increased traffic (compounded by an ongoing drought) makes it hard for the desert to recover from the impacts of recreation.

How are you addressing this overcrowding issue?
We are working to educate climbers about best practices and ways they can help. We are rolling this out through climbing gyms and other places where people new to climbing can learn what it means to tread lightly and keep things sustainable and open.

How is the relationship between climbers and the land managers?
They are good and getting better. The vast majority of the Bishop’s climbing is on public land, so it’s important that the climbing community stays engaged and works with land managers and the broader community to create positive relationships and care for our climbing areas. Local climbers, the BACC, and other community members have been really engaged with land managers (many of whom are also climbers), and we have a great ongoing dialogue.

Are there currently any threats to climbing access?
There are no imminent access threats, but the impacts caused by increased visitation could have future repercussions. More climbers means more cars, more dogs, more need for campsites, more human waste, and more cumulative impacts.

What is the best way to dispose of human waste at Bishop?
Use the available toilets or pack it out. The three largest areas—the Buttermilks, the Happies, and Owens River Gorge—all have toilet facilities. If you have to go and you are in any of those areas, please use the toilets, even if you have to walk a ways to do it. Human waste and toilet paper do not break down adequately in fragile desert soil, so if you have to go in the wild, pack it out.

Isn’t Bishop home to archeological resources?
Yes. The Eastern Sierra and the Owens Valley have been home to humans for thousands of years. Native peoples and later settlers left their legacy in the form of artifacts, petroglyphs, pictographs, and other archeological resources. Federal law protects all of these things. As climbers, we need to recognize that some boulders shouldn’t be climbed, artifacts need to stay where they are, and we should look but not touch when we find petroglyphs or pictographs. It would be a drag to lose access to an area because of the actions of a few.

So what’s the ethic that visiting climbers should follow?
Respect others and remember that if it looks or feels wrong, it probably is.

  • Stay on the roads and trails.
  • Park and camp in designated spots.
  • Respect land managers, other users, and regulations.
  • Keep control of and pick up after your dog.
  • Don’t crush the brush.
  • Be mindful of archeological resources.
  • Pick up trash even if it isn't yours.

Most important, if you have a question, call one of the local land management agencies, or ask in one of the local shops, at the Black Sheep, or the Mountain Rambler—someone will be able to direct you to an answer. Any final words of wisdom? Climbing in Bishop is a privilege. Respect it and leave it better than you found it. The climbing community is small, and we need to look after each other and our climbing areas as the sport continues to grow in popularity.

Learn more about BACC
Facebook: facebook.com/BishopAreaClimbersCoalition

Photo: © R. Tyler Gross