Pine Creek Canyon Rock Climbing
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Although Pratt’s Crack Canyon was once the epicenter of Pine Creek and still boasts arguably the most easily accessed density and variety of routes, the development has now fanned out up and down Pine Creek Canyon. Pratt’s Crack Canyon is a great starting point, but the outlying areas are replete with fantastic climbs of every grade and style. Don’t miss out on exploring!
The best season is from late spring until the weather craps out in the late fall. Winter can be climbable in some locations or just plain brutal. Summer conditions can be pleasant, especially in mornings and evenings, as many routes are in the shade and a cool breeze often fans the canyon.
Most anchors you find will be a pair of “Mussy Hooks,” the standard anchor of the Eastside. Feel free to lower off of them, they are easily replaced and the Bishop climbing community is actively replacing anchors. Consider that most accidents in recent years involving roped-climbing have occurred as people were fussing around at the anchors. You can support local efforts by donating here: www.safeclimbing.org.
Most routes will require a 70 meter rope; some will require an 80 meter rope, so tie a knot in it and be safe out there!
Please pack out your waste, your dog’s waste, your bro’s waste, and any trash you find. Much of Pine Creek falls within the John Muir Wilderness Area. Please respect the environment, including all flora and fauna. A herd of Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis sierrae) frequent the area. The elusive Owens Valley web-toed salamander (Hydromantes platycephalus) is literally eking out a living in the creek just below Atomic Gecko. New route developers should be careful to not needlessly destroy vegetation or alter habitat. Tread carefully.
The newly released Pine Creek Climbing Guide by Tai Devore -- locally known as “The Toiler” for his ceaseless fervor for new route development -- is the definitive guide to the canyon. Support your local merchants or buy it here: toilerpress.com.
Information for the canyon can also be found in Peter Croft's and Marty Lewis’ excellent guide, Bishop Area Rock Climbs.
Pine Creek Canyon
A Bit of History (Pt 1): Way Back in the Day, by Tim Steele (December 2018)
The Generation following in Smoke’s footsteps would be the first to firmly establish climbing in a canyon that was at the time dominated by mining. In 1968, Yosemite hardmen, Chuck Pratt and Bob Swift, would tackle a striking and wide corner crack system in what was then known as Sheelite Canyon. Pratt’s Crack (5.9) would go on to become the first classic free climb of that canyon which is now eponymously named Pratt’s Crack Canyon in the new guide.
Beginning in the late 1960’s, a loose band of trippy-hippy climbers known as The Armadillos would arrive in the Bishop area and become the first wave of climbers on the Eastside. Known for their crazy antics, their ranks included Doug Robinson, John Fischer, Jay Jensen, “Crazy” Lester Robertson, and Gordan Wiltse, along with many others.
In 1970, Doug Robinson and Lester Robinson would establish the Regular Route (5.10a) on the Elderberry Buttress. The following year, John Fischer and Jay Jensen, on an “Armadillo-esque” alcohol and LSD fueled adventure, would tackle another prominent crack system merely fifty feet to the right of Pratt’s Crack. Still regarded as one of the best hand cracks in Pine Creek, Sheila (5.10a) instantly became THE test piece of the day and among the first of its grade on the Eastside. The climb was so stout that it has in fact been upgraded to 5.10b in recent years. The pair would go on to establish Armando’s Stilletto (5.9 A2) the following year.
In October of 1977 Rick Wheeler along with Mike Graber and Alan Bartlett established the first 5.11 in the Canyon, Joint Effort (5.11b) on the Elderberry Buttress. The following month, Alan Bartlett, James Wilson, and Paul Brown teamed up to produce In Dubious Battle (5.11a). A year later, Alan would team up with Tony Puppo and Ron Overholtz to produce Bwana Dik (5.11a) adding to the growing bevy of .11’s in the canyon.
The 1970s would round out with Kevin Leary and Bill Taylor teaming up to establish Rites of Spring (5.10d) in the summer of 1979. This four-pitch mega-classic is a must do and perennial Pine Creek “rite of passage.”
The 80’s would see continued interest in route development. Long-time local climber Bob Harrington would team up with Stone Master legend Dale Bard to produce likely the first 5.12 in the canyon, Another Summer (5.12a) on the Rites Buttress in 1983. Bob would go on to produce the immaculately smooth and seldom repeated Inyo Face (5.11c) in 1986. This obscure slab climb may be the first fully bolted climb in the canyon, albeit established ground up.
In 1989, Gary Slate and Dennis Jensen rounded out the Eighties by bolting and climbing the strikingly beautiful arête, Eclipsed (5.11d), ground up, of course. To this day the 2nd pitch remains run-out as a necessity of style. This route marked the introduction of modern sport climbing to the canyon, giving a nod to the proliferation of bolt-protected face climbing that was yet to come.
The 1990’s would see increased bolting as the sport climbing revolution took off around the country. In 1991, visionary sport climbing developer Tommy Herbert completed what is arguably one of the proudest and most iconic 5.13’s in the country with his seldom repeated masterpiece, Ecstasy (5.13b), a 100 foot laser-cut arête easily spotted from the road below. Gary Slate had attempted the line ground up, getting in a few bolts, and perhaps a piton. Tom Herbert eventually finished bolting the line, but kept the older fixed gear in place. Later the line was retro-bolted. It remains nestled between and juxtaposed against the test pieces of the previous generation, Pratt’s Crack (5.9) to its left and Sheila (5.10b) to its right.
As development continued, Gary Slate and Marty Lewis soon added the mega-classic, Wind in the Willows (5.12d) in 1993. That same year, Marty Lewis would also add Planetarium (5.12b) which was recently re-bolted with a new start (with permission) by Patrick O’Donnell who went on to add the extension, Planet X (5.13a), in 2014.
In 1994, the prolific and industrious Louie Anderson almost single-handedly turned Pine Creek Canyon into a sport crag with his systematic development of the Ministry Wall (a dense concentration of quality 5.11’s and 5.12’s) and the Gecko Wall. In his wake he left a bevy of fantastic climbs with his ultra-classic, Atomic Gecko (5.12b/c) getting the most traffic of any hard route in the area. It stands as a must do for the 5.12 climber. Other standouts include Effigy (5.11b), Burning Inside (11c), and New World Order (5.12a).
During this time, Jeff Schoen also contributed the thin and seldom repeated Aromatic (5.12d), perhaps the 2nd hardest route in the canyon at the time and one that will quickly transport modern suitors back to a bygone era of technical, sporty face climbing. Despite this brief boom in development, bolting would soon slow and Pine Creek would remain a quiet, virtually local’s only crag for much of the late 1990’s into the early 2000s.
A Bit of History (Pt 2): The Second Golden Age, by Tim Steele (December 2018)
The dynamic duo of Marty Lewis and Kevin Calder soon established a new classic down canyon from Pratt’s called Silverback (5.12a). According to Marty Lewis the name came from how he and Kevin had felt that they had "gotten old and gray and felt like gorillas on the layback.” News of the route quickly spread and the line became a popular diversion from Pratt’s Crack Canyon at the time. The following year, the duo really snapped into a furious pace as they developed Mustache Wall over the next several seasons, adding many beloved classics and setting it up to be one of the most visited and beloved walls in the canyon to this day. Standouts include, Becky Route (5.9) Coven (Seriously Though) (5.11a), Phenomena (5.11b), Window Shopper (5.11b), Double Dog Dare (5.11b), the three pitch Megaplex, (5.11c), and Stone Cold Fusion (5.11d) just to name a few.
2004 would arguably mark the beginning of a new “Golden Age” of development in Pine Creek. Other climbers soon began to notice the sheer quantity of rock in the canyon and numerous developers would roll in during the coming seasons. Rovana local, Rich McDade, soon contributed Dakota Street Bypass (5.12a) on the Mustache Wall, upping the growing count of 5.12’s in the canyon.
2004 was also the year that Jerry Oser, then living in Rovana, would wander further up Pratt’s Crack Canyon and discover a smooth green slab that would entice him to run back down to borrow a drill and return. His efforts resulted in the slab climber’s dream, S.A.T. (Slab Aptitude Test) (5.13a). This was the second 5.13 in the canyon and it marked the beginning of development in the upper Pratt’s Crack Canyon. Jerry introduced his friends Charlie Harnach, Shawn Rivet, Tim Steele, Justin Robbins, and others to the potential for climbing in the upper canyon and each would soon go on to contribute new routes.
2007 saw longtime local route developer, Urmas Franosch team up with Tai Devore to produce the excellent Hell Hound on My Trail (5.11a). Local strongman, Eric Sarvey, added the thin crack, Sarvey Line (5.12c) to the list of trad testpieces.
In 2009,Tim Steele established the 3rd 5.13 in the canyon, The Midget (5.13a), a four-bolt boulderer’s dream. The following season Tom Helvie added Hillbilly Hell (5.13a) as the pair developed The Trailer Park. Just days later, Tim added White Trash (5.13a), an overhanging, bouldery arête that even stays dry on rainy days. Tim and Tom would go on to develop a number of routes in upper Pratt’s Crack Canyon during the 2009 – 2010 season, while having that part of the canyon virtually to themselves. In The Octagon, Tom pioneered the standouts Enter the Octagon (5.11a), undoubtedly the steepest .11a in the canyon as well as the steep and powerful Superman Punch (5.12b). Down canyon, Tim added the testy Blue Note (5.12c), Pray Like a Mantis (5.11b), and Funky Monkey (5.11a), which requires unusual jessery for the grade down low. Tom would also add the likely unrepeated (as of this writing), Technicali (5.12d), as well as one of the best pitches of its grade around, the very popular G.E.D. (5.12a).
The prolific and long-time new-router, Tony Sartin, would arrive in 2009 to add a number of new classics to the Mustache Wall, including Boldly Departed (5.11b) and Remington Electric (5.11c). Early Pine Creek developer, Brian Ketron, would return that same year and team up with Tai Devore and Trevor Hobbs to add the photogenic, It’s Not the Wheat (5.12a) to the wall. Trevor would go on to add a bevy of routes throughout the canyon. In particular he would revitalize the Bavarian Tower and Far Side, helping to create a new zone in Pratts Crack Canyon. His When Cattle Talk (5.11b) Chubby Hubby (5.12a), and Inspector Wedget (5.12b) are not to be missed! Trevor would also team up with Dave Lane to establish the very fun and boulder, Chunky Monkey (5.12a).
Also during this time, Tai and Mary Devore along with friends Jeremy Freeman, Gregg Barnes and others would begin adding many new routes to the upper portion of Pratt’s Crack Canyon. Mary added the long and aesthetic multi-pitch, Hail to Hanuman (5.12b) to the growing list of classics in the canyon. Jeremy established the three pitch traditional classic, Cheap Thrills (5.11c) while Tai and Gregg climbed the neighboring, Birthday Boy (5.10a). Both Jeremy and Gregg would go on to bolt a bevy of new routes. Gregg practically built the trail up to PSOM while adding a number of routes to that area including the perennially popular three-pitch Racing Lizards (5.7).
In the midst of all the development, perhaps no one has been more enamored by Pine Creek than Tai Devore. Since about 2007, Tai has established so many routes in the canyon that even he has lost count. His influence and productivity is evident in every area of the canyon and he has been the most prolific developer by far. He has also been a vocal advocate for the canyon in his quest to catalogue the development in his long awaited guide book, Pine Creek Climbing Guide. His first ascent list is long and it’s hard to recommend only a few, but some of his best contributions certainly include: John Fischer Memorial Route (5.10c), The Toiler (5.12a), and Flight of Icarus (5.12a).
The 2010 season would see local crusher Vic Lawson aided by Paul Rasmussen and others, establish one of the most audacious and stunning multi-pitch routes in the canyon, the seven pitch Blindspot (5.11c) on the massive and imposing south facing buttress up Pratt’s Crack Canyon. This is a modern traditional classic not to be missed! Vic also got into the bolting game, adding the tricky and desperate Skynet (5.11d). 2010 would also see local living legend, Peter Croft, revitalize the Ministry Wall with a standout test-piece, The Mile High Club (5.13b).
In 2011, Tai teamed up with Greg Smith, Jeremy Freeman, and Trevor Hobbs to produce the spectacular ten pitch The Main Line (5.10b). 2011 saw widespread development up and down the canyon. Also in the trad arena, Austin Archer and Rick Ziegler’s four pitch Three-Hour Arête (5.10b) became an insta-classic. Austin’s Moment of Zen (5.11b) and Rick’s Workingman’s Arête (5.11d) are also excellent additions. Visiting climber Shaddow Ayala jumped in and added Queen of the Heartbreaks (5.11b) and Psychosexy (5.12b).
The 2012 season saw locals Brian Bowman and Sandra Horna, along with prolific Las Vegas hardman, Tom Moulin, developing the Bowling Alley. Tom likely upped the grade level of the canyon with his Bowl-a-Rama (5.13c). Tom would go on to really up the level when he climbed Ripple (5.13d R/X) two years later. This climb has become known as a difficult to protect, serious traditional “headpoint” that will likely remain unrepeated for some time…or at least until Alex Honnold decides to try it.
2012 would also see Urmas Franosch busy developing The Brownstone Buttress where he would again team up with Tai Devore to produce another spectacular multi-pitch, the eight pitch Mine in the Sky (5.11a A0). Amy Wicks and Todd Townsend would begin work on developing the Fashion Slabs, establishing a mighty serving of excellent moderates including Amy’s two-pitch Merman (5.7) and Todd’s Ferrari (5.11a).
In 2013, slab and face climbing wizard, Darell Hensel, would finish what is perhaps his finest line. Teaming up with a number of partners including Max Gibbons and local born hardman, Doug Tomczik, he completed the two-pitch Envy (5.13b). This stunning line tackles the improbably blank looking emerald green slab up the center of the Bighorn Wall. Darrel has gone on to add numerous testpieces to the canyon. Check out Meltdown (5.13a) and Isotopes Gone Wild (5.13b) at the Super Fun Spot, or the nearly blank face, Crimpanosis (5.13a) at the Cyanide Cliffs.
A Bit of History (Pt 3): A Coming of Age, by Tim Steele (December 2018)
Development has continued at a frenetic pace over the past several years. Some highlights include Chase Leary freeing a long-tried crux-variation pitch Blindspot, dubbing it Hindsight (5.13a). Milo Cagel, Austin Archer, and Rick Ziegler would kick it into high gear and create the fantastic G.O.T (Game of Thrones) crag adding almost too many classics to count. Everything at this crag is good. Some of the standouts include Austin’s Needle (5.10d), Kingslayer (5.11a), and The Reek (5.12a), one of the best of its grade. Milo added the outstanding The Gift (5.9) and Sunspear (5.9) as well as Long Claw (5.11b). Rick added The Faceless Men (5.11b). Mary and Tai Devore showed up in time to contribute Greyjoy (5.11d). Austin would also go on the establish the impressive Sunkist (5.12c) at the Gold Gully.
Down Canyon, Kyle Queener teamed up with Patrick O’Donnell to put down Come Around Sundown (5.12d), racking up another classic on Crack of Noon Buttress. Dave Lane added the instantly popular and fun Trailer Tramp (5.12c) to the Trailer Park. Local pro-climber Katie Lambert and her equally talented husband, and silent crusher, Ben Ditto, have added their mark to the canyon in recent years. The pair added the exceptional Spaceballs (5.13a) just to the right of the iconic arête Eclipse (5.11d). Ben established the bouldery and powerful Mule Skinner (5.13d), which Katie went on to bag the third ascent of. Both have gone on to redpoint Shart Attack (5.14a), making Katie the first woman to climb both .13+ and 14- in the canyon.
The future for Pine Creek is exciting. The sheer quantity of rock will continue to titillate and satisfy route developers for generations to come. Top climbers are now adding Pine Creek to their hotlist and visiting. Everything Karate (5.14d) has already seen five repeats in the year since it went up! Chris Sharma, who claimed an ascent last season, has already returned this past fall (October 2018) and gone on to clean up an old Todd Graham project on the Delta Wall, producing Great Brown Shark (5.14a) as well as bolting and sending another nearby test piece, Groovy (5.14b), now the second hardest in the canyon.
Classic Climbing Routes at Pine Creek Canyon
Days w Precip