Bishop Climbing Ethics & Etiquette

Every year, Cal Climbing makes a trip to Bishop in the Eastern Sierras for Thanksgiving. Though I unfortunately won’t be able to make the annual pilgrimage to the East Side this year, I felt compelled to write up a little primer on ethics & etiquette for the psyched crew of crushers heading to the Buttermilks and the Tablelands, and I thought I’d share it here.


If you ask anyone who’s climbed in Bishop before to describe it in a word, you may hear things like “rad”, “dope”, “amazing”, “special”, and “magical”. Those last two words are how I would describe Bishop. It’s a truly special place, and most people I know would agree with that.




As climbing has become more popular (which is an awesome thing), there have been more climbers than ever before heading outside. And here in California, Bishop is one of the most popular destinations, and the number of visitors to the area has increased rapidly and drastically in recent years. While it’s great that people are getting outside, not everyone is doing it in the most sustainable or respectful way – and that puts a major burden on the area.


This is not a good thing. Bishop and the climbing areas that comprise it are part of a very delicate and fragile desert ecosystem in the Eastern Sierras, and increased human activity can have damaging and lasting effects that may permanently alter its landscape – and threaten access for climbers.


As climbers, we have a responsibility to practice good habits when we’re outside and to be good environmental stewards. The places that we love and enjoy climbing in are fragile, and they’re very susceptible to human impact. By being diligent now, we can help ensure that our generation and future generations can enjoy crushing some sick boulders just like we do now.


Not everyone may adhere to proper ethics and etiquette, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t. Set a good example out there, form good habits. It will make everyone’s experience more enjoyable. So much of this just comes down to common sense. Be nice, be friendly, be patient.


Whether you’ve never climbed outside before or you’ve been crushing for a million years, it’s always good to get a bit of a refresher on climbing ethics & etiquette. We’ve all made mistakes before, and we’re pretty likely to make a few more in the future. I’ve talked with veteran climbers who have spent years climbing in Bishop to get their take on what we can do to help conserve and protect the area while maintaining our ability to climb there. So here are some things to keep in mind while climbing in Bishop.


Climbing Ethics
Stay on the Trail

As I mentioned, the ecosystem is delicate. There are trails all throughout the Buttermilks and Tablelands to make boulders accessible. Stay on them. Don’t take a shortcut through the landscape. Take the extra minute to stay on the trail. The American Alpine Club/Access Fund just did trail work and trail building two weeks ago, and the trails are already in shambles. Don’t be the people that go off trail.



Pack Out Trash
Don’t leave any trash, not even a little piece of tape. Pack everything out, and better yet, pick up some trash if you see it lying around! Don’t get attacked by a gorilla!.

Use Established Toilets
There’s an awesome pit toilet right by the parking lot in the Buttermilks. Bring your own toilet paper (seriously, there’s a good chance there won’t be any in the stall) and use it. No one wants to walk around a boulder to find someone’s (literal) crap sitting there. Plus, human waste doesn’t decompose in the desert like it does in a forest. So take the time to walk to the pit toilets – that’s why they were built! Plus, you get some added privacy. And if you’re in the Happys, use the port-a-potty by the parking lot before hiking up.

Try to limit the number of cars that will be going to the Buttermilks and the Tablelands (especially the Sads). I heard there were upwards of 100 cars in the Buttermilks parking lot yesterday morning – before 9am. That’s outrageous, so let’s do our best to limit our impact there. Here’s a handy little flowchart to help with your parking needs.




Control Your Stuff
Be aware of where you’re throwing down your pads below the boulders, as well as your packs and gear around the area. Again, delicate ecosystem. Try to keep things condensed wherever you are, and don’t leave it strewn all throughout the paths. Do your best to limit the yardsale!


Climbing Etiquette
No-Fly Zone
No drones, please. I know you wanna get some sick footie for your latest insta-edit, but drones are very disruptive to other climbers and are generally not appreciated by the vast majority of people at the crag.


Turn Down For What
Don’t blast loud music. If you must have music, use headphones. An exception could be if every last person in an area agrees, but even then, it’s often considered bad form.
Take a Chill Pill
Try to avoid wobblers (defined as: a screaming, shivering fit of frustration usually incidental to a failure to send). Everyone gets frustrated when they punt on their project, but try to avoid yelling obscenities at the top of your lungs, throwing shoes or other objects, or damaging nearby flora. Don’t be someone Andrew Bisharat writes about.


Don’t Spray Me, Bro
Not everyone appreciates having beta yelled at them while they’re on the wall (or even while they’re on the ground). This is especially true of people you may not know. If you have some beta to offer, politely ask the person if they’d like it. If not, don’t force the issue. For some people, figuring out the beta is the most fun part of climbing – don’t rob them of that.


Wait Your Turn
If there are 20 other people waiting to give “The Hulk” a burn, be patient and not a jerk – respect the queue, and don’t cut the line. Don’t rapid-fire burns while others may be waiting for a shot, too. Be mindful of others.




Keep Your Hands to Yourself
If you’re not working a problem, it’s greatly appreciated if you don’t grab/fondle the holds. Someone may have just spent time and energy brushing and chalking a problem for a send-go. And if you absolutely must touch the holds, chalk up first – that way, you won’t be leaving them all greasy.


I Got You, Fam
Spot, spot, and spot some more. The outdoors is a little more hazardous than the gym. Help out your fellow climbers and lend a spot. Make sure pads are properly placed, and definitely never ever move pads out from under somebody who’s climbing. Along the same lines, don’t sit under a climb or in a fall zone – no matter how comfy that pad may be. Oh and remember, make sure you spot (and have a spotter).




Avoid getting ticked off
If you tick a hold, make sure to clean/brush it off before you leave the problem. Keep ticks to a minimum, and don’t make them huge. Don’t be whoever did this on Ironman Traverse. Check out this link from the Access Fund for more (and this too!).


Feel the Love, Dude.
We all love climbing, so keep the vibes positive. No one owns a problem or an area, so be inviting and welcoming – you’d expect and appreciate the same from others. It’s not a competition – check your egos at the door. The climbing community has always prided itself on its openness and willingness to help others. Own that and live it out there at the crag!



2 responses to “Bishop Climbing Ethics & Etiquette

  1. Great stuff and so apropos for how crowded the boulders are this week. One I’d add: reduce dust by slowing down on dirt roads.

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