The unprecedented snowfall in the Sierra Nevadas has created problems for individuals looking to climb popular routes in California. Although the nearly 700 inches of snow that the Northern and Central California ski resorts have seen has been a welcoming sight for skiers and snowboarders, the climbing community of the area is unfortunately not as happy.
Major road and campsite closures near the climbing mecca of Bishop have made access to major climbs impossible. Floods have shut down Chalk Bluff Road (used to access the Happys and Sads), Lower Rock Creek Road (used to access Rock Creek bouldering), as well as Buttermilk Road. In addition to all of these closures, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power also eliminated all access to the Owens River Gorge for the time being. The area has long been considered an ideal destination for spring break climbing with temperatures averaging in the high 60s this time of year in town, but if you haven’t noticed already, the 2023 spring has been anything but average for the western mountain regions.
Despite these closures and pleas from local agencies to not further strain emergency operations, climbers have still attempted to access the flooded roads, with several recreators getting stuck. The hashtag #TurnAroundDontDrown has been circulating to prevent further health and environmental hazards from taking place, as well as to avoid straining emergency response operations even further. Some roads have received major structural damages and have become entirely impassable, leading some motorists to attempt to drive around them using off-road vehicles and damaging sensitive desert fauna as a result. It’s abundantly clear at this point that attempting to travel to these popular crags outside of Bishop is a foolish idea, despite the actions of eager climbers.
These closures also come on the heels of the popular Flash Foxy climbing festival, which took place March 17-19. Festival organizers opted not to cancel the festival despite the inability to engage in outdoor climbing, citing the emphasis of the festivities on community, education, and fun. While this turn of events was certainly a disappointment for those attending the annual festival, the spring weather in the Eastern Sierras has not relented, and including outdoor climbing in annual the event was ultimately too big of a challenge to overcome in the end.
Despite the late start to the Sierra Nevada climbing season this year, the massive amount of snow that has fallen has created several positive outcomes for the state. The impact this barrage of storms has had on drought conditions that have plagued California for years cannot be understated. Reservoirs have been filled, crops have been rejuvenated, and snowpack has accumulated in a manner that has not been seen in decades. Although the climbing mecca of Bishop has experienced an unfortunate turn to its climbing season, the sacrifice has not gone to waste.