It’s 14°C (57°F) in Bishop this week, with clear skies and warm temps making the rock optimal for climbing. Despite stay-at-home orders due to Covid-19, the area remains open, with visitors arriving from California, the surrounding states, and Canada. They come to sample the volcanic tuff sport routes of Owens River Gorge, the quartz monzonite knobs in the Buttermilks and the volcanic pockets in the Tablelands.
Bishop Climbing Rangers Alexa Flower and Jimmy Capangpangan educate visiting climbers on how to tread lightly and how to protect the delicate desert landscape. This includes showing proper crash pad use – away from the brush, so it doesn’t get crushed — and the importance of packing out everything they pack in. “Our job is to contact people and help them be aware,” says Flower.
Before becoming a Climbing Ranger, Capangpangan worked for two seasons for Yosemite’s concession and three seasons as a law enforcement ranger in Devils Tower, Wyoming. He’s also worked as a Climbing Ranger in Joshua Tree.
From Vail, Colorado, Alexa Flower also worked for the Yosemite concession before joining the Park Service as a Yosemite Climbing Ranger and joining the Search and Rescue team. She called Yosemite home for six years before moving to Bishop.
“Most people who come to Bishop want to do the right thing, but they don’t know their impact,” says Flower. “And there are some people who come from out of town who don’t know the etiquette. Problems we encounter are people not using pit toilets or not cleaning up after their dog, and people putting their crash pads on the brush.” Additional issues include overcrowding in parking areas.
Flower and Capangpangan’s additional duties include trail work projects, trash pick-up and monitoring the number of cars at the parking lots. They also post to social media (@bishopclimbingrangers) with lessons from the field to encourage people to follow them and ask questions. Additionally, they post county protocol updates.
Capangpangan talks about the importance of treading lightly in the fragile desert landscape, “If you learn to take care of the land in this way, it will be open for you all the time and for your kids, and for other user groups who want to enjoy it.” He encourages users to stay on existing trails to avoid crushing plant life. Due to minimal yearly rainfall, the brush is slow to regenerate after being damaged.
He continues, “The goal for the climbing community is to keep each other in check, instead of accusing someone of parking over brush. When approaching someone to educate them, we need to have a positive contact. All the contacts Alexa and I have had with the public have been positive.”
Even though the Climbing Ranger program closed Last March due to Covid, it restarted in November. Pre-Covid, the two rangers held weekly Climber Coffee get-together events where upwards of 50 people would show up to learn about low impact climbing in the area. The two rangers also traveled to California gyms to spread the word of Leave No Trace etiquette by hosting Gym-to-Crag events. They also organized clean-up events.
Since starting back up in November, Flower and Capangpangan wear masks while on duty and encourage others to do the same. Climber Coffee, travel to gyms, and clean-up events are on hold for now. Instead, the Climbing Rangers, in addition to their regular duties, encourage visitors to practice social distancing and not climb in big groups while at the crags and boulders.
The Climbing Rangers are possible by a partnership with Inyo National Forest, Bureau of Land Management Bishop Office, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association, Friends of the Inyo, Bishop Area Climbers Coalition, and Bishop Chamber of Commerce. “It was these partners that recognized the need to create the Bishop Climbing Ranger positions,” says Jeff Gabriel from Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association.