Words and Photos by Charllotte Anderson
When people ask where I grew up, I give an answer that varies depending on how familiar the person is with the area. If they are from out of state, I say “between LA and Las Vegas.” If they are from California, I say “Bakersfield.” But if they climb or camp, I say “near Lone Pine”, because they will almost certainly know it as the portal to Mt. Whitney and Alabama Hills. This treasure in my own backyard not only feeds the climber in my soul but also holds a fascinating history.
It hadn’t occurred to me that the West was established as the Civil War boiled on the East Coast. Lone Pine locals named Alabama Hills for the CSS Alabama, a Confederate Naval vessel used to raid Union ships. As repartee, Union-sympathizing residents in Independence named their local mine after the USS Kearsarge, which sank and ended the Alabama’s raiding career.
Since the 1920s, filmmakers have utilized the Hills as a backdrop for Westerns and other movies with rugged environments, including Iron Man. Even as we were visiting the other day, a film crew was working on some kind of project.
The Hills offer hikes and horseback riding in an otherworldly landscape. I loved the winding trail to Mobius Arch, and wished I had come just slightly later in the season – the Beavertail cacti were just about ready to bloom.
The climbing feels like the gritty kitty-litter routes in Joshua Tree. It resembles the Buttermilks near Bishop, except it is bigger in every way – the boulders and walls span up to 100 ft tall, and the backdrop is Mt. Whitney instead of Mt. Tom. From the iconic Shark Fin Arete, one can survey the whole area, crags and RV campers and all. The piles of boulders hide the menagerie of fun and varied bouldering, sport, and trad climbing.
While free camping is permitted in Alabama Hills, the local land management has requested that larger parties consider using other local campsites, which are as cheap as $5 a night – easily affordable for the large groups I observed throughout the hills. The higher level of traffic this area is seeing is starting to impact the flora as well as degrade the experience of new visitors. There’s nothing like exploring a boulder field, only to find a wad of toilet paper in plain sight (true story). In the measure that we enjoy our wild places, let us love and protect them.
Anytime you happen to be rolling through my neighborhood, come on by!
Check out more climbing routes in the area: