Despite sore fingers and daily low temperatures in the single digits over the past week, the climbing continues apace here east of the Sierra Nevada. The weather has been greatly improved over the past couple of days by a high pressure system. Highs are nearing 60, which is actually almost too warm for hard boulder problems. It was hard to complain too much today, however: I happily wore a tee shirt all day as I shredded my fingertips on the sharp granite in the afternoon heat.

 It might be snowy, but it's still about 50 degrees out

 My favorite thing about the Buttermilks aside from the view is the size of the boulders: even some of the warmups and easier problems are extremely tall. The beautiful north face of the Grandma Peabody boulder...

...is probably about 40 feet tall. The great thing about this boulder is that there are at least a dozen lines ranging from V4ish to V14 on the colorful face, but almost all the hard sections end where the lichen does and the slab topout is much easier.

The Drifter boulder

It's pretty easy to put together a nice fitness circuit in the 'milks, depending on how well one knows the problems. My favorites are High Plains Drifter, Change of Heart and Saigon, as well as the tall but really nice NW Arete of the Grandma Peabody. Soulslinger and its variations have almost become daily destinations; even Stained Glass lured me back to complete the sit start (and erase an egregious two-foot-long rookie stripe at the top) but the tiny edges didn't do my fingers any favors and that one won't be on the 'casual lap list' anytime soon. I've been trying to wrap my brain around bouldering again as it's actually somewhat of a difficult transition from two whole seasons of mostly traditional climbing. I get worked pretty fast from doing boulder problems, especially in the Buttermilks. Why? Part of the answer is: skin! The rock here is so sharp that it's pretty easy to just shred right through your fingertips in mere minutes depending on the problem. For me, obviously, avoiding finger injuries is another major issue. The trick is to build up finger strength slowly by doing lots of volume. Unfortunately, I always end up wanting to try harder problems...
 The quintessential hard boulder problem in Bishop: The Mandala

 Many of the lines that are at the top of my to-do list (like the Mandala) are not for short people with weak joints. Some of these will probably have to be filed in the 'long-term' goal category, if such a thing exists for me. I did get to watch strongman Joel Zerr gun down the stand start yesterday. He made it look about as easy as it can look and it still didn't look that easy. I can establish on the starting holds and try to pull a move but that's about it. A slightly more reasonable pursuit for me right now is to try some of the taller but relatively easier problems around here. I was pretty excited to do one of them the other day, although in retrospect I really wish I'd checked it out on a toprope first.

 Transporter Room more or less follows the green line. The Karate person is probably pretty near to proper scale: the Grandpa Peabody boulder is about 45 feet tall at its highest (edit: I looked again and the karate person is maybe a bit on the small side. Think of him/her as being the size of a large dog)

Transporter Room, a Dale Bard problem from the '80s, is the original Buttermilks 'highball' problem. Being in general a stubborn fool, I sought the purity of a 'ground-up' ascent. I watched a couple of videos of someone else climbing it (or maybe it was the same video twice) and decided it didn't look so bad. It really isn't (V5, crux in the first 15 feet) but the rating belies the overall seriousness of the endeavor: you must not fall off the ending slab! I didn't want to fall at all. After a couple of false starts up to (and careful retreats down from) the hueco at around 20 feet (where the green line jogs diagonally up and left), I finally stood up and gained a large edge above. I manteled onto this hold and committed myself to the final 20 feet of lower angle climbing. The next section was a bit harder than I expected, but the biggest problem was that the rock quality was anything but great: at the 25-30 foot mark I found myself absolutely committed to weighting some holds that inspired little confidence in their structural integrity. After a tense moment, the holds thankfully disappeared and the 5.9 friction climbing above seemed much more secure. Next time I'm bringing the rope up first: questionable rock adds a lot more to these challenges of mental fortitude than I sometimes care to take on.

When the sun dips down behind the Sierra, the temperature drops about 20 degrees almost instantly. Aesthetically, however, it may be the best part of the day: shadows lengthen, outlines soften; color eventually shoots across the sky and alpenglow lights the mountain peaks. Hard projects start to feel easier, or, if it's already been a full day of climbing, fingers begin their telltale ache and damaged skin contracts as the temperatures fall. It's no small wonder this special area is so popular but on a sunny weekday I can think of few better places to be.

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