Top 5 Winter Climbing Spots in the Eastern Sierra

The thing about climbing in the Eastern Sierra is that it is a year-round sport. While the snow is flying in Mammoth, the sun may be shining on a crag just down the road. Whether it’s a warm winter afternoon or a cold and snowy day, there is always somewhere to go climbing within an hour or two of Mammoth Lakes.

We asked climbing guide and Mammoth local, April Mayhew of International Alpine Guides, her favorite spots for winter climbing. April has guided numerous international expeditions to South America’s Aconcagua and the Ecuador Volcanoes, Africa’s Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, and the Mexico volcanoes. In California, she has guided extensively throughout the Sierra Nevada including too many winter Mount Whitney ascents to count!

April offers beta and describes her favorite winter climbing spots in the Eastern Sierra.

Alabama Hills

Located just three hours north of Southern California and two hours south of Mammoth, this stunning and scenic climbing crag offers many moderate routes in a landscape reminiscent of Joshua Tree. With short approaches and surrounding views of Mt. Whitney, White Mountain, and Lone Pine Peak, you can’t beat the location.

Best Season: Late Fall, Winter, early Spring

Sun Exposure: All Day in places

Nearest town: Lone Pine

Climbing: Sport and Trad, Bouldering

Terrain: Granite

Difficulty: 5.6 to 5.12

Guidebook: Bishop Area Rock Climbs by Peter Croft and Marty Lewis

Owens River Gorge

The Owens River Gorge or “ORG” as the locals call it, is the most highly-concentrated climbing crag on the Eastside (maybe even in California) offering hundreds of routes with a variety of climbing styles and grades. At three points along the 10-mile stretch of canyon, a trailhead leads steeply down past chossy volcanic tuff into autochthonous rhyolite columns formed out of welded ash during the Long Valley Caldera eruption. Depending on the season, you may wish to chase the sun or shade, so be sure to pack enough layers to buffer a spectrum of outside conditions.

Best Season: Fall, Winter, Spring

Sun Exposure: All Day in places

Nearest town: Bishop

Climbing: Sport with some Trad

Terrain: Volcanic Tuff

Difficulty: 5.6 to 5.13+

Guidebook: Owens River Gorge Climbing by Marty Lewis, 10th Ed.

Buttermilks

The world-famous Buttermilks region offers major league, high-ball bouldering on massive glacial erratic formations formed out of classic Sierra granite. Situated on BLM land and surrounded by the dramatic eminence of Mt. Tom, Basin Mountain, and Mt. Emerson; this is one of the most stunning and impressive bouldering regions in the world.

Best Season: Fall, Winter, Spring

Sun Exposure: All Day in places

Nearest town: Bishop

Climbing: Bouldering and Trad

Terrain: Granite

Difficulty: V0 to V15

Guidebook: Bishop Bouldering by Wills Young, 2nd Ed.

Tablelands

Shallow slot canyons, red dirt and large boulders make up the unique and delicate landscape ecology of the Tablelands, a region located the northeast of the town of Bishop. Two main areas, the Happys, the Sads, offer a wide spectrum of problems, and the short approach and sun exposure make it a superb adventure location for cool, winter days. Visit the Paiute – Shoshone Indian Cultural Center on West Line Street in Bishop for historical information about these tribes and their unique petroglyphs located in the Tablelands.

Best Season: Fall, Winter, Spring

Sun Exposure: Varying

Nearest town: Bishop

Climbing: Bouldering

Terrain: Volcanic Tuff

Difficulty: V0 to V14

Guidebook: Bishop Bouldering by Wills Young, 2nd Ed.

Lee Vining Canyon

Lee Vining Canyon was the testing arena for Yvon Chouinard’s prototype equipment that helped advance ice climbing into a dynamic, gymnastic sport. Nestled above the picturesque town of Lee Vining, this box canyon is home to a perfect marriage of two unique aspects: superb waterfall ice climbing and California winter conditions. Each winter season, moderate to difficult routes form out of frozen falls, offering both single and multi-pitch ice adventuring. Be sure to pack layers, a foam pad and thermos!

Best Season: Winter

Sun Exposure: Shade all day

Nearest town: Lee Vining

Climbing: Ice, Mixed

Terrain: Waterfall

Difficulty: WI2 to WI5

Guidebook: No guidebook exists, but several online sources offer route beta and condition reports. See Mountain Trip: Lee Vining Canyon See Sierra Mountain Guides Ice Conditions Report

Monica Prelle

Monica Prelle is an outdoors, wine, and travel writer who would rather be running, climbing, or mountain biking. See more of Monica's posts here, read more of her work at monicaprelle.com and connect on twitter @monicaprelle

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