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Danile Woods on The Swarm.Photo by Steve Woods – woodsfamilyclimbs.com
The term Buttermilk comes from old maps naming the whole region Buttermilk Country. It refers to the lush cow pasture that comes from the zone’s many springs and leads to high-butterfat milk. Bishop, in fact, was founded in 1861 as a cattle-raising settlement to provide beef to nearby Aurora, NV, a booming mining town.Despite its name, the 30-foot highball Sketchpad, a famed V1 established at Sherman Acres in the late 1980s, was not named for the Kinnaloa Sketchpad, the first commercial crashpad, developed versa 1992 by John Sherman. Sherman, in fact, dubbed it such because he thought he’d be sketching up high on the problem, though it turned out the crux was the first move and that Sherman never even used a pad. Its locale Grouse Mountain, later dubbed Sherman Acres (not by Sherman) — was also called “Grouch Mountain” by Neil Kaptain and a few others, who thought that Sherman, spending much time alone at Grouse camping and climbing, was being antisocial. “Actually, I was very happy up there,” he says. Sherman also recalls that there were very few serious boulderers in Bishop at the time, and that unless he lured someone up to the Acres he was the only one there.The volcanic tablelands, home to the Happies, Sads, and other boulders, started seeing higher climber usage in 1999 — a year after current restrictions came into place at Hueco Tanks — then a sharp increase in use in 2003-2004, with about 50,000 recreationists, a good percentage of them being climbers. Since then, the numbers have begun to decline, with around 25,000 to 30,000 annually. Bill Dunkelberger, field manager with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), speculates that heavy snows over the last two years have kept visitors away. Dunkelberger recalls the early days of the bouldering boom when, with no designated climber campground, people camped all over the Tableland, posing a threat to archaeological sites and sensitive flora. As a solution, the BLM opened up a seasonally active gravel pit as a climbers’ camp, with some 20,000 campers a season. It costs only $2 per night to stay there.Often overlooked due to the V13/14 fracas up at the Buttermilks (Mandala Sit Start, The Swarm, Evilution, Spectre) is the Happy Boulders’ V13/14 Goldfish Trombone, established by the Tasmanian Sam Edwards over a few weeks in 2000. The powerful, roofy line has had few ascents; the visiting Italian Christian Core, who ticked Spectre, called Goldfish Trombone the hardest problem in Bishop after his repeat ascent.Because the weathered, granitic soil at the Buttermilk Boulders is so packed down, many of the modern highballs required heroic padding efforts. For example, Matt Wilder on the 2006 FA of his “physical, techy, and wacky” Haroun and the Sea of Stories (V12), at the Birthday Boulders, used roughly 10 pads to ameliorate the blocky, uneven landing. And Kehl, on the FA of Evilution, loaded up the landing with 12 pads. (The 20-foot fall off the crux has claimed one victim: Daniel Dulac, who snapped his leg bombing off the lip.) By contrast, Wilder, on the FA of the fearsome This Side of Paradise (V9 X), aka the Bardini Arete, a 45-foot scarefest with a technical heel-hook crux at 19 feet, sent alone and with only four crashpads and no spotters.