December 23, 2009 George Foster

Those were the weeks that were: Bishop and Duchess’ Demise

Fast forward the first month in Bishop and you’ll probably find yourself sat in the Looney Bean, again, teasing out another of those precious rest days, hiding away in your usual corner, hoping against hope that you won’t get the Redneck Inquisition after you for not buying anything more than a small tea since you first arrived half an hour before opening time. As i’ve said before, and will keep saying till the day i die, there is NOTHING to do in Bishop when not climbing other than sit in a coffee shop (of which there are roughly 2 that could be classified as such), cluelessly spectate at a high school football match (see below – we stank to high heaven by the way) or simply stagnate.

So it comes as a welcome surprise to be dragged from such stagnation with the knowledge that the friends you expected tomorrow have actually driven through the night and are due to arrive…well…! OMG (‘Oh My God’ – ? – buy a phone) they can’t see me like this, i smell like plug hair and have a beard the size of Oprah’s ass. But wait……it’s Dom and Micah (a.k.a. Tha Crusha from Russia and The Claw), THEY smell of plug hair and have beards the size of Oprah’s ass too – except Micah, he has no hair, but whatever! Anyway, they arrived, we hugged in that awkward ‘beer, women, football’ kind of way that guys that have known eachother for a long time but who do men things like play rugby, climb mountains and bull-fight do, and went a-boulder huntin’.

So now i’d been there for around a month by that time and often found myself drenched in ‘beta-spray’, unable to stem the tide, awash with the tirade that spewed from the cavernous rooms that the majority of male, American climbers call their mouths. Also, i’m not one to pass-up on knowledge, no matter how mediocre, in spite of the maxim i lived by at university – ‘the more we know, the more we know we don’t know’ – and so to this end, coupled with the excitement of seeing friends again, i was unashamedly forthcoming in my regurgatation of accumulated beta as and when the situation demanded. All that is a long-winded way of saying that i quickly learnt that i was able to spray with the best of them.

First to get hosed was the gem of the trip, Seven Spanish Angels (taking this sentence out of context could be the making of a very good porn film – shotgun) a classic that somehow sneaks under the radar judging by it’s apparent lack of popularity. The Claw gave it growl and coolly dispatched on his second go and Dom flashed it – actually wait, that’s wrong, no he didn’t flash it but got it 4th or 5th go, yes that’s right. Hang on a sec, where were Dave and Ben during all this?? Oh they were about alright………aiding (G forgive them) on some chossy piece of shit across the ‘road’…… of the Yosemite Valley missionary’s must have poisoned them, the swine! We were no longer concerned with this as other testpieces beckoned, namely Cave Route, a short, punchy V6 in the main area that somehow always draws a crowd even though it’s actually not all that good. Go figure. I’d told Dom that it was piss easy and he’d flash it no bother…..turns out it only feels piss easy if you’re more on my side of tall rather than his and it ended up being rather more protracted a battle than either of us first thought. It was then that something magical happened…

We had first met the Messiah in Tuolomne Meadows. I was perched, gargoyle in body, blubbering infant in mind, within a shallow scoop wide enough for just a single ass-cheek somehow remaining solid, as only granite seems to allow. Scampering up, to share my small island amongst the near frictionless swathes of granite, came the Messiah. Comically feline in both movement and appearance i was perhaps forgiven, though definitely foolish, to think ‘Oh here we go….why me?’. After a brief explosion of energy that would power a small city, what you may also call a conversation, in which my tiny stance became chokingly claustrophobic he left, near sprinting up the remainder of the slab, seemingly out of my life forever. It was with joy untethered that i saw him approaching our small band at the Cave boulder all those weeks later, we got to talking, as is the Western style, and i asked him how he’d got on in Yosemite and Tuolomne after we’d left. Turns out he’s a fuckin beast! Look away now if you don’t like reading random lists of names and numbers: Cosmic Debris 5.13b onsight, Phoenix 5.13a 2nd go, Tales of Power 5.12b onsight, Bachar-Yerian 5.11c X took a 20ft lob breaking two knobs and dislodging two ribs landing below the seconf belay! HARDCORE! The numbers aren’t cutting edge necessarily but he’s knocking on the door of 50 and onsighting YOSEMITE 8a/+ cracks. RESTEC-P!!

Of course i was now left in the enviable position of being able to watch as Dom and Micah tried to process the excitement bomb that was exploding before their eyes. They seemed to take it pretty well when i invited him to climb with us the next day at least. Ah who are we kidding…..they loved him!! The Messiah (in action above) soon became a mascot, or reincarnation of G(askins) if you will, and as such we protected him like one, always spotting, always having a mat down and, only ever referring to him by his ‘Earth name’…..Alan.

That evening, sat around a campfire after our daily jaunt to the Looney Bean and a delicious Thanksgiving dinner at a local church where we were the guest’s of honour (i wish i was joking), we introduced Micah to some good, old fashioned British piss-taking, a trend that would feature for the remainder of his visit. In short, we bullied him. He took it well enough, like a Brit in fact, not the turncoat Yank revolutionary who should have been content with his lot and stayed a part of the British Empire (Goooorrd bless it), like you would perhaps have imagined him to be. It was really good fun chatting shit with those guys again, if only to have some new people to talk to for a prolonged period of time, as i’m sure Dave and Ben would agree!

The next day we decided to have a look at the slightly more skin friendly bouldering over onthe volcanic tablelands a.k.a the Happy’s and the not so happy Sad’s. Climbing here is very different from that at the Buttermilks, the holds are generally a lot more on the skin friendly side of things, although you’d be wise to watch out for those sharp pockets! Yowza’s! It’s not quite as aesthetically pleasing as those pretty little things on the hillside a few miles away… put it another way the Happy’s are no prize pig and the Sad’s are like that ugly girl you’d take the piss out of your mates for shagging……but then if you got hammered and she was there, well, you would, wouldn’t you? And so it is with the volcanics. You mock your mates for suggesting it as a venue but you’ll always lower your standards to have a cheeky flirt with it. Digression aside we made it there and took advantage of its relative lack of popularity to cherry pick all the plum (talking of fruits….look at the peach we found below) lines that would usually be busier than the dole office (topical).

After the alpine starts of the previous couple of days, more to do with the drop in temperature than any sense of psyche, team UK decided to revert to type and met up with Dom and Micah at the more leisurely time of midday-ish. We had recommended a quality V6 to start the day on called The Clapper, tucked away on the hillside as soon as you enter the canyon. This may have been another slight sandbag from yours truly (it’s good for you Dom) as the ‘light work’ i had anticipated for the boys from Washington had turned into a siege. After a quick warm-up retro-flash of the problem (ahhhhhhh excuse me a moment while i have a quick chest rub and get these fingernails polished) in order to show (off) them the beta, normal service was resumed with an all-abroad sending train ploughing through….hell even Dave put his camera down and gave it the most casual of boar. 

Did i mention sharp pockets?? Maybe it’s about time to. The Happy’s and Sad’s are actually the same place you see, what distinguishes them in the eyes of climbers are whether or not you like sharp pockets…..if you do it’s Happy, if you don’t it’s Sad. Simple? See you’re not as thick as they said after all. Alas a good pocket problem to try (in spite of it only really having the one pocket) is Rene, it’s ever so slightly highball, needs good footwork and some beastin’ fingers/a high pain threshold. We had got on it before, i think in our first week in Bishop, and it had felt Hard – deserving of that capital ‘H’ at least – but like i may have said (or did i just think it?) you can’t come to Bishop and NOT get strong. Second time round and it felt easy, i managed it first go of the day and The Crusha From Russia (TCFR) flashed it!!! Holy shit fuck Batman! Impressive, well we thought so but then we hadn’t counted on the crrrrrazzy beta that our mate the Messiah would conjure up. I should perhaps explain that not only is a The Messiah a total beast, it’s not just that he’s knocking on the door of 50, nor is it that he’s just an allround nice guy……the REAL reason that we would all, without hesitation, have married that man, was his impeccable technique. It’s like nothing i’ve ever seen before, perfect in every sense of the word. It was Rene that opened our eyes to the miracles that ‘Alan’ is capable of and it was then that we became his disciples. Awestruck, and with wee now flowing untempered from our eyes, we marvelled at how ‘Alan’ contorted this way and that to dispatch the problem with consumate ease in a way that would make any proud Frenchman utter a defeated ‘Merde’ and hang up his onions.

My sport climbing ability is embarrassing and a source of great frustration so the next day is a bit of a blur of anguished tears and fussing over the ladder i’d managed to get in my tights by being such a poncey little girl. I’m gonna try and sum up the day (down at Owens River Gorge in case you hadn’t guessed….and why would you have i suppose) in a single breath so if i start to tail off or it’s incomplete i’ve either lost consciousness or had to take a breath in which case if i haven’t got to the end of the description…..tough titties. ‘Alan’ climbed a 5.12b through a roof second or third go, TCFR nearly flashed it but got it second go, i failed on it, so did Ben, however he did manage a 5.11d second go, i failed on that too, Dave didn’t climb, Micah did, we ended the day with……Phew!! Haha it’s actually probably best i did end it there as the end of the day is one of those ‘best forgotten’ moments, kind of like being caught with a blow up sex doll on your birthday….i’d imagine. Oh go on then i’ll tell you, not because you really want to know, but because you really NEED to know. Myself, Dom and Micah went to go and watch a film in Bishop’s quaint little cinema. That film was ‘The Men Who Stare At Goats’ and it is the worst film i have ever seen. Yes worse than that ‘Specimen’ SHITE you made Chuck Fryberger – i know Chuck, you’re as bewildered as me that anything could get worse but trust me it has. HOW did that film ever get the money to be made?? Bishop cineplex, or whatever you’re called, i still have my ticket stub, is it too late for a refund???

It took a little longer than you might think to get over the shell shock of getting visually raped by previously well respected actors…..Clooney, MacGregor how dare you? Spacey….well we kind of knew this kind of thing would happen with you eventually. A trip to a new area was on hand to help us with the healing process. The Druid Stone’s (easily my favourite area in Bishop) unfairly get a measly little section at the back of the guidebook (maybe they took the piss out of Mick Ryans mum??), which is a shame as, ignoring the whore of a walk-in, they’re amazing (come on Micky it was probably only a joke)! I realise that their very appeal comes from the fact that no one goes up there or that people are, until now, wholly ignorant of the potential to be found, so it is with a solemn promise from yourself that you won’t tell anyone else and make sure you either burn your poo or carry it out with you that i’ll tell you about them. Ready? There’s boulders EVERYWHERE and the guide book covers about 10% of them (the ones in eyesight at least!!) and if you can be arsed there’s a shit ton of developing to go on up there, as there is at most of the areas around the Buttermilks i suppose. The name Druid Stone’s is very apt, blurring the boundaries of past and present with a real ‘otherworldly’ feel to it sitting as it does about 9 million feet up the side of Mount bastard Doom. If you can tear yourself away from the established bouldering there then, as i say, there’s a LOT of new stuff to clean up and get done….if getting your name in a book is your thing of course………YES PLEASE. The stuff that is there is excellent, at least the things we got on. There’s an incredible little face evocatively titled the ‘Thunder Wall’ (duh duh duuuuuhhhhh) which has some brilliant crimpy testpeices going up, and it’s obviously popular with someone given the amount of chalk on it, either that or Micky Ryan was homesick for Dover!? We got treated to a masterclass in technique from the Messiah on a powerful V6 called Skye Dance, on the appropriately named ‘Skye Boulder’, a mazy hueco linker that took the rest of us at least 4 moves less than Mr. Twist 2006.

Unfortunately the trauma experienced both in the cinema and death-marching halfway up Everest was so deep that no manner of pebble-wrestling could save us and we failed miserably on most things tried, but then Checkerboard (the best problem in Bishop hmm??) and Solitaire (the most one dimensional problem in Bishop??) aren’t quite the easiest things to be getting on of a morning. We sacked it over to the Pollen Grains, a little further up the hill from the main area of the Milks, for a round on Jedi Mind Tricks (ultra-classic highball) complete with it’s famous echoing flake and for a shot on the ultra-highball classic The Beekeeper, which Callum coolly destroyed, opting for the full experience, along with having to downclimb a neighbouring V4 (the only way down, short of the not-so-common Eddie the Eagle approach). Not much else really went on so it’s best to stop it there. Oh no hold on…………Micah – “The Claw” – fell off the LAST MOVE of High Plains Drifter. I have no qualms with highlighting this point as no doubt if Micah had been reading this he would have long ago stopped as he clearly lacks any form of commitment…….ZING! 
Small consolation was the discovery of Bishops real 4-star problem fittingly called A Birthing Experience…..can you guess what you have to do? Probably not actually as it doesn’t really involve crawling out through a granite womb, but close. Starting sat/perched/lying/fumbling in a belly-shaped recess you simply squeeze your way out through a contorted serious of shuffles until good jugs (hehe) arrive. Only gets V1 but don’t let it’s diminutive grade of stature throw you, it’s both FUN and TRICKY.

With tails between our legs we retired for the day…… a motel for what was Dom and Micah’s night. The cold temps (in spite of the freestyle dancing – below) when sleeping up at a whopping 6,500ft (WOW!) had taken their toll on the city slickers from Olympia and so a ‘treat’ was in store. Now, five guys in a motel room thousands of miles from home could be seen as a bit, well, strange. Alcohol comes into it’s own in such a situation, bear with me, as by plying ourselves with as much alcohol as we could we were able to pass out in an inebriated state and conveniently ignore the potential awkwardness of the situation.

We woke hungover, tired, confused (cos we thought sleep was meant to rid you of the previous symptom) and hungover. After a quick breakfast at McShit for them not me….i’m an athlete….we headed up into the deep, dark hills to explore a place called Rock Creek. It’s very similar to Yosemite granite, apparently, but we wouldn’t know cos we could barely pull on anything and got ryally spanked. Still though it was in a beautiful setting high up in a rocky creek, which is where they got the name from i guess. Following a brief group van-tag session, which produced the largest comedy penis i’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing, it was time for some rather emotional goodbyes. Dom put his hand on my ass which took away some of the warmth in the handshake and produced a rather reluctant hug on my behalf…..we’re still friends though.

For us, too, it was time to bid farewell to Bishop. It was rather less emotional than saying ‘taraa’ to old friends but i’m sure we’ll all miss certain aspects of life there. We certainly met some strange and interesting people – artists (though if you’d seen his work you’d have thought his choice of profession rather questionable), volley ball captains, redneck cops and sexual predators. It was only right that we stopped off at the Looney Bean (i hope i’m getting commission for this by the way…) for one last white hot chocolate before hitting the road, bound for San Francisco, an airport and Ben’s date with destiny, quite why he wanted to leave the US is beyond me.  

That final week in Bishop was a perfect microcosm for my time spent in the good old US and A……..minus the shit going wrong. It was possibly the funnest weeks’ climbing i’ve EVER had (in Bishop at least….which says a lot cos Bishop is nothing if not fun!?), on a par with other such legendary exploits as that time i nearly froze to death at Burbage or when we spent half the summer in Squamish. Wow really?? Yup. Get yourself over there, be wary of ORG cos in the words of William James it’s “the perfection of rottenness” worth a visit if you fancy a change from bouldering but to be fair nothing to go skipping down the lane about.

One passenger, $120 and still no fuel lighter we arrived down in Santa Barbara. We’d stopped off in Santa Cruz on the way down to pay a visit to Shannon and fix the flat tyre we’d picked up somewhere back in Bishop. The van was beasting it, running smooth as can be and it all looked good. A boozy night in I.V. and we were on our way to Indian Creek, Utah, via LA to pick up Dave’s laptop.

The van died, the transmission having ‘fell apart’, and an epic ensued. If details are patchy it’s because i’ve erased the events from my memory. 

We got $75 for it and watched as it got towed away. The Duchess gone from our lives….forever. My tear stained screen not doing justice to the pain i’m still feeling. GOODBYEEEEEEEEEE DUCHESS!!!!!!!!!! There’s only one thing you can do in such a situation and when we finally got back to our friends in I.V. we got royally hammered. I stacked it on a single speed cruiser and totally ate shit, in front of a house FULL of partying people, proving once and for all that half a dozen beers and 2 gallons of rum does not a Lance Armstrong make. Next day we were sat outside the Santa Barbara bus station, which had closed 4 hours previously, waiting for the ride that would dump us in the middle of San Francisco 9 hours later at 9am for our flight home. Quite a week.

So i’ve had time to reflect on what, at first seemed a massive, crushing disappointment. In retrospect we did get just over 2 months of travel in one of the most amazing places on Earth, met some mucho (that’s for my hombres [and again] out there) cool-o people, nay acquaintances (i think they’ve earned that title!), did a touch of climbering and really i guess we have little to complain about. Except one thing…………..i never did get to marry Katie Brown….Katie, can you wait another year? I’ll be back my sweet – i promise. 

Ah shoot i can’t very well end this on a negative note so….umm…….Happy Christmas!

Comments (4)

  1. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz awww oh… sorry george i nodded off….Haha Jokes good read have a good christmas mate, maybe you should just get it off your chest and marry “the guy approaching 50”
    I decided to comment just to make you aware that not everyone hates you and we do read your blog…..when there’s absolutly nothing eles to do of course.

  2. Oh hey George, happy holidays or whatever it is you heathens say over there, you sacrilegious bastards.
    Geez, why don’t you just put all of the photos from my blog on your blog, and then change the name to oh I don’t know maybe No Skin Left? Then you can start balding and wearing glasses and sleeping with tons of hot girls. I’ll need at least $50 for each photo, money orders work well, or if you have a paypal account I accept those too.
    Hope all is well, god save the queen and all that.

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