Infinite Spur Alaska Grade 6, 5.9, M5, AI 4
Trip ReportButtermilk Bigwall Bouldering Expedition
I will admit that at times I have been accused of making fun of the small (very small) but growing subculture of the grand sport of climbing known as bouldering.
Recently however I felt it might finally be time to reconsider my position on this perhaps noble pursuit of the diminutive. Might I be overlooking some great if at first squint incomprehensible epic adventure? Had I been missing out?
My good friend and climbing partner of twenty years with whom I had shared countless Alaskan adventures in some of the larger climbing objectives available just happened to be on a roadtrip and would be in Bishop soon.
Each discipline in climbing has it's great Mecca, for some it is Yosemite and El Capitan, For others it might be the Himalaya's and Kangchenjunga or K2. Countless are the epic stories and legends these massive stuctures have inspired.
Online research indicated that among this fringe group of the fringe known as climbers, Bishop California was in close proximity to one of boulderings great destinations. The Buttermilks. This I thought to myself would be a good place to find the beauty and awe that must be inherent in this school of discipline.
Plans were made and eventually the great day came. After long minutes of planning and deep logistical strategery we were about to tread on hallowed ground.
Years of climbing on every terrain imaginable had come to this moment. We were as prepared as we could be. Trembling slightly at the sight before us we hoped it would be enough. The fact was we were intimidated, one should not be embarrassed to say they are humbled when beholding climbs of legendary status. Even if you almost drove past them oblivious due to the actual mountains in the background. Fortunatly the road is severely washborded and made us drive slowly so we didn't miss them.
We wondered if we had enough gear for this expedition. After two carries however we felt we might have enough for the seige effort. Had we brought enough rope? Food , water, fuel, wands? Much thought was given to the fact that we had left behind the orange sleds and portaledges. Would this be the fatal misjudgement that doomed the whole effort?
Second Carry from Advanced Base
Vast numbers of walls of rock stood before us.. so many that at first our greatest difficulty would be picking our line amongst so many possibilities.
Great care must be taken when choosing a line. It should be aesthetic and inspiring but also within the abilities of the team. We settled on a likely looking but hopefully moderate route choice. No sense getting over our head on our first effort. We simply could not decipher the strange rating system involved. A local indicated that our choice could be as much as V0 or possibly a walkup .. he wasn't sure, but it was certainly "highball". We felt that the highball asterisk should make this a worthy objective.
We brought to bear all of our vast climbing experience and a wealth of techniques and equipment on the problem confronting us.
Old School Sit Start
Matt drew the short straw and got the first lead.
As an experienced belayer I always choose my technique based on the objective hazards involved.
We hoped we brought enough rack.
I begged the leader to "sew it up" I've never lost a partner yet and I wasn't about to begin today.
Matt had to dig deep and came up with little known and questionable protection schemes. If the hook didn't hold perhaps enough tape would? Clearly an advanced bouldering technique for desperate times.
Matt struggled on as the seconds dragged on like years
After long desperate tribulations under the threatening clear blue skies Matt managed to make it to the summit. Expedition Buttermilk Bigwall Bouldering was a success.. we called our sponsors to share this great victory.
As Expedition photographer I was constantly confronted with the conflicting needs between my duties as belayer and the need for the best angle. I comforted myself with the idea that sagebrush might make for an excellent autobelay device due to it's inherent ability to snag ropes.
Now it was my turn to follow and clean the route.
One should always check their harness and knots before committing to the unforgiving force of gravity.
Please do not fear for the author. I have years of experience and I developed this knot as an advance speed technique for just this type of demanding application. It is properly tied and I assure you that it is perfectly adequate for the demands of the task.
As I approached the summit I inspected our anchor. I was relieved that Matt had not tied into it and had not attached the rope to it. Had I fallen we might have lost him and our precious equipment. Perhaps the risk was somewhat alleviated due to my new revolutionary bouldering tie in knot. Fortunately this remained untested.
I must say I have gained a new-found respect for this arcane and great discipline called bouldering.
Later that day I had time to observe the locals at work. I noticed they never seem to check their harness or knots before venturing off the ground. The are however not completely without climbing savvy even if they are a bit light on equipment. We looked at them and they looked at us.. Worlds apart in the same place. Or is it the other way around.. I'm confused now.. which style of climbing is more absurd? What I can tell you is that the buttermilks are astounding formations and like any great climb they compel you to do so on first sight.
I still believe ropes are superior to those huge square things they lug around to avoid the body mangling effects of groundfall. But to each their own.
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