Buttermilk & Ramen Noodles: First impressions of California

Have you ever noticed how many songs there are about the state of California?


There is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to them. Knowing how much music and poetry this state had inspired over the ages, I resolved as a child to one day visit the promised land and see its riches for myself.

Well, I’m finally here! Currently enthroned on a mass of sleeping bags in the back of Evan’s van. He’s been living out of it for a few months, and I got to join him on Monday. After three flights, a little turbulence, and one spilled beer, I reached Mammoth Lakes in time to end the day in a hot spring, watching my first California sunset. The next day, we headed to Way Lake for my first boulder of the West.

The approach to Way Lake is, it turns out, an actual hike. In the South, 20 minutes of mild steepness is a trek, but apparently 30 or 40 minutes up a mountain is NBD out here. We hiked up and up and up and ugh. It probably took us even longer than the average climber to reach the lake itself because a. we don’t hike and b. we kept stopping to look at all the pretty things!

imageEmerald Lake, a very pretty thing.

I can’t believe how beautiful it is out here. Also big. My Western experience so far: everything is beautiful, and everything is big. The word that comes to mind is “magnificent.” And I’m blown away by the diversity of California’s landscapes. It’s crazy to think that people actually live in this fantastical place.

We finally made it up to Way Lake, which is currently a sad gray circle of dirt and rocks, but by the time we found our boulder and actually started climbing, the sun was pretty low in the sky.

imageDefiant tiny plant in the drought-stricken Way Lake.

We had oodles of fun on the Way Lake boulder as the sun began to set. I had just gotten the crux of a V5 called Beareagle when darkness hit, and after a few more burns we decided to call it quits. We maybe should have left sooner though, because trekking crash pads down a dark and unfamiliar trail in bear country with one dying headlamp and a cell phone light wasn’t really the original plan. We made it out though, obvi, and had a high-class dinner of rotini alla Ragu.

imageStream-side camping in Mammoth.

The next day, we headed to Rock Creek, a magical fairyland of water and rocks and gray logs that appear to have fallen ~*just so*~. There were aspen trees everywhere, and their rustling leaves were bright yellow and orange. Magical fairyland, y’all.

imageThis smartphone photo does no justice.

In the morning, we climbed with our new friends Melanie and Danny. I found them on Instagram a few weeks ago (follow Danny here and Mel here!), and it was great to meet the people behind the feeds. They are total crushers, full of beta and psych. I worked a V4 called Groovin’ Arête for forever, and while I never sent, I definitely learned some much-needed foot technique.

The climbing out here is really different from the stuff back home. Problems in general seem to require less power but are challenging in techy ways. I have been learning some strange-to-me toe stuff, and my biggest battle is trusting the feet.

So I never got the four, but it was a lot of fun to work. Our new pals left in the afternoon, but our ex-Athenian-now-Yosemitan Philip showed up with his friend Beth.

We had some fun on the Campground boulder and made friends with two older guys. Paul is roadtripping around the West at age 65. He chatted with us for a while about the history of Rock Creek and our generation’s duty as stewards of nature. Then he gave us beer. I didn’t catch the other man’s name, but he is British and a mountain biker. He was really into our climbing and watched for a long time, asking lots of questions and contributing psych.

Thursday was our rest day, and we ran into our Insta-friends at the Looney Bean coffee shop in Bishop. I guess there are only so many places in town for greasy folks in need of wifi. Oh hey! If you haven’t read my RootsRated review of Little River Canyon, get to it!

Today we climbed at the Buttermilks with Evan’s dirtbag friend Jeff. Jeff is six months into a one-year stay in Bishop. He wasn’t climbing but was nice enough to offer pads, beta, and a spot. He got us on some easy classics that were techy and painful but awesome. I’m learning to love crimpy highballs… one V2 project at a time.

imageThis one’s actually a zero, Robinson’s Rubber Tester. Photo cred to Evan!

Our skin was shot after a few hours; it hadn’t really healed from Wednesday. The rock out here is way smoother than the slopey sandstone we’re used to, but it’s still really textured and can definitely hurt. It doesn’t help when you are slapping and slipping and sliding around instead of trusting whatever tiny nonsense you have managed to smear your shoe onto… I have a lot to learn.

#Vanlife is fun so far. It would be nice to have a hot shower, but I am loving the ungodly amounts of Ramen. And pretty much everything else. ❤



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