Trip of the Month: Leslie Nuckoles Returns to Bishop, a Climbing Home Away From Home

One September morning a year ago: Leslie Nuckoles is rousted from her sleep by a cold wind, funneling through sliding-glass panels on the side of her ‘03 Tacoma truck-bed shell. The wind is resolute and uncaring, blowing over a seemingly endless expanse of granite and volcanic tuff.  Leslie sits up from her Luno Life Air Mattress, sheds a neon-orange sleeping bag and slips out to greet the morning and her three compatriots, Patrick, Milly, and Mitch. The four of them decided to finish an epic season whitewater raft-guiding the Kern River with a climbing trip in Bishop, California, which made their first stop after a long drive an obvious choice: the Pit.

For some, the Pit is a dry, dusty, sunken acreage of earth just up highway 395 from Bishop. It’s not the most comfortable campsite, but it’s a good stopover, offering something of a break to weary travelers. For climbers like Leslie, however, the Pit is the destination. A cheap, accessible campground, the Pit is a great starting point for those who want to tackle some of California’s best climbing routes.

Though Milly and Mitch’s fall classes technically started the day before, the gang decided to spend three days climbing in the Bishop area. They figured it beats working through a reading list of 20th-century American literature. They arrived to the Pit late in the night and immediately hit the sack. The three of them in bags on tarps over cracked ground have not fared as easily as Leslie, under steel cover, upon raised frame and lush support of a bed custom fit to her vehicle and her lifestyle. You won’t find a tent in her quiver of outdoor equipment.

Leslie has always been fond of stopping and starting in quick succession. If a beam of light could follow her tracks, the country would be alight with zigzags from her home in White Salmon, Washington, down through the heart of California, along the great rivers of Idaho - Salmon and Snake - and back again in a ceaseless circuit. Her passion for river guiding propels her here and there, and her pursuit of a degree in psychology has grown her roots in southern Oregon.  

But despite all of that, Leslie’s love for climbing keeps bringing her back to Bishop. As she pulls out of the Pit, kicking up a storm of dust, Leslie smiles and quietly realizes this wonderful place is a waypoint in most of her ventures. They turn on to the 395 and Leslie’s face goes serious. It’s time to climb.

The road winds up and up, to Pine Creek Canyon, home to some of Bishop’s best climbing routes. Cragging and other alpine adventures wind through the veins of this ancient escape. Leslie and her friends will spend the day in the canyon, bounding gleefully up and down plentiful sport routes on the Mustache Wall.  

Not only does this famous crag offer a handful of fun climbing routes, gradually ascending in difficulty, it is also covered in shade nearly all day. These happy hooligans can climb their hearts out here, taking turns working up and down the wall throughout the afternoon, and when night falls Leslie will park her bed by the banks of Pine Creek. Maybe tomorrow to some corner of Owens River Gorge? Some other place with shade, no doubt. And then what?  

From here the ties to her friends will loosen, for now at least. Patrick will stretch towards home in Montana, Milly and Mitch to start their classes (late) in Santa Barbara. And Leslie? She’ll be off  to Texas, Terlingua to be exact. The promise of work guiding scenic river trips on the Rio Grande draws her towards the bottom of the country and further from home than she’s ever lived. But a dependable truck and a comforting Luno Life Air Mattress make the uncertainty of a new place all the less daunting.  

And Bishop will be here, waiting resolute as always for her return.  Leslie is not sure where work and play will bring her as another year unfolds, but she is certain of two things: she will rest easy on a Luno Life Air Mattress, and she can leave her tent at home.  

Photography by Milly Chi

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