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Desert Songs: A Photo Story of the Kings and Queens of the Buttermilks

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BISHOP IS ABOUT THE LIGHT, THE EXPANSE, THE CALIFORNIA SKY, the granite-ribbed backdrop of the High Sierra sitting there, smiling … and of course it’s about the climbing. America’s proudest erratics reside here, kings and queens of our bouldering universe.

Decades before the Stonemasters would leave their mark, the Buttermilks had long been a climber’s playground. Circa 1942, Smoke Blanchard arrived, coining the phrase “Buttermilking.” The massive granite eggs were ideal for the new thing—free climbing. Once word got out, successive waves of dirtbags arrived to pay homage, many of them migrating when the Valley got too cold.

Years after pioneering visionaries Doug Robinson, Galen Rowell and others left their mark, Dale Bard rolled in and set up camp in what is now Dale’s Camp, a beautiful hillside cluster. Over the decades various developers came and went, and there are too many names to mention—the roster includes just about every serious pebble wrestler.

A town of just under 4,000, Bishop, on the eastern Sierras, is where the western plains come to an end. It’s quiet, sleepy, and you can walk its length before you finish your cup of coffee. In the summer, the sun feels like an anvil, but in between fall and spring, the pump is primed for sending.

This past fall the boulders were the scene for Rock and Ice’s annual Photo Camp, a gathering of 16 serious photo aficionados. Under the tutelage of instructors John Evans, Jeff Rueppel, Christopher Beauchamp, and Jon Cardwell who doubled as a climber, they shot a gang of psyched pullers and delivered the stunning visuals you see on these and following pages. Support for the photo crew and athletes was generously provided by Adidas Outdoor and Five Ten.

—Francis Sanzaro