I inherited this page from Misha and The Chief November 2, 2011. I would like to thank Misha for creating this page and The Chief for adding the Ethics section.
The Alabama Hills is a unique desert area in Owens Valley near the town of Lone Pine along Highway 395 in California. It is known to the world as a popular movie location with a long, rich history. The list includes hundreds of westerns, Gunga Din, Disney's Dinosaur, Tremors, Star Trek, G.I. Jane, The Shadow, Maverick, Gladiator, and many others. You may wonder what has attracted Hollywood location scouts to this place. Take a look at the photos or, better yet, visit it and you will get your answer instantly. It looks out of this world with desert vegetation and patinated rounded boulders scattered over the area. The massive backdrop of Eastern Sierra Nevada includes peaks that rise nearly eleven thousand feet from the valley floor. Majestic Lone Pine Peak dominates the foreground and Mount Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states, lords over the back country.
If you like climbing in Joshua Tree, you will LOVE climbing in the Alabama Hills. Sun-burnt, coarse granite, an abundance of established routes, ease of access, seemingly endless first ascent possibilities (even now!), and fantastic weather make this a great cragging destination. There is something there for (almost) every climber: moderate faces, cracks, chimneys, desperate holdless sport problems, boulders, top-ropes, bumper-belays and even occasional run-outs. If you don't own a trad rack, don't get discouraged; there are many bolted routes that need only a set of quickdraws. However, if you despise single pitch routes, this place may not be for you. Most of the climbs are 100 or less feet tall.
Ratings are rather inconsistent with climbs within one rating feeling easy or hard for the grade. So take ratings with a grain of salt and trust your instincts. The rock quality is relatively good, although less popular routes may feature loose holds and choss. Knocking on potential holds to make sure they are secure and wearing a helmet at all times are just a couple of suggestions that you may want to consider while climbing in the area.
The Alabama Hills are located in the Lone Pine vicinity. To get to Lone Pine, take the "Eastern Sierra autobahn", US-395, which stretches from Reno, Nevada to the outskirts of L.A. Once you are in Lone Pine, take Whitney Portal Road west. Soon you will reach the unpaved Movie Flat Road. You can turn right (north) here. Many formations are located near this road; just take any of the side roads when you see something interesting! A lot of popular climbing formations have small parking areas next to them. If you don't find a parking spot, please take some extra time to locate one instead of parking your beast on the fragile desert vegetation, and walk to your crag of choice!
Alabama Hills seen from Rattlesnake Mountain.
Most of the Hills are located on BLM land. This means that access is free (for now) and with minimal restrictions. However, some of the formations (i.e. Diaz Dome) or their approaches may be located on private property. Please be courteous to local residents. Don't tresspass, leave your boombox at home, and treat this wonderful place as the wilderness gem it is; zero impact and carry out trash when you see it. Let's keep this place pristine and beautiful!
When To Climb
The climbing season in the Hills lasts for almost the entire year. It is a great fall through spring destination, similar to Joshua Tree. It is also climbable in the summer if you get up early and finish before its too hot to do anything but drink cold beer or get your desert tan.
Camping & Lodging
Eye of Alabama Hills Arch
Technically, you can camp anywhere you like as long as it is not on private property. However, if you do so, you need to strictly maintain zero impact rules and carry out everything including your feces. The last part doesn't sound like fun, does it? It is much more preferred that you stay in the established Tuttle Creek Campground. To make it attractive to visiting climbers, BLM folks recently decided to keep it open for the entire year. It is also free (for now). You can find out more about this place on BLM's web-site. Their page is informative although slightly outdated.
Of course, if you prefer to sleep in comfort, the town of Lone Pine is just around the corner. I can recommend Dow Villa Motel for their quality and reasonable prices. Other motels I stayed at seem a bit overpriced.
Where to Eat in Lone Pine?
The town of Lone Pine offers some excellent eateries. So if you're tired of your freeze-dried food and want to chow in style, you may want to stop by one of these joints:
High Sierra Cafe for hearty breakfasts
Seasons for a fancier meal and a glass of wine
Bonanza for some excellent Mexican food and beer
Fun Facts and Obscurities
Lone Pine Peak
A natural question comes to mind: why would there be the Alabama Hills in California? From BLM's website:
The Alabama Hills gather their name from a Confederate warship responsible for wreaking havoc to northern shipping during the Civil War. Prospectors sympathetic to the Confederate cause named their mining claims after the Alabama and eventually the name stuck to these unique hills.
The fame of the C.S.S Alabama was both brilliant and short lived. Yankee warships finally cornered the Alabama off the coast of Normandy. There, in a running gun battle with the Northern steamsailer, U.S.S. Kearsarge, she was sunk in the summer of 1864. This event provided northern sympathetic miners to indulge in the art of "one-upmanship," by naming a whole mining district, mountain pass, a peak and a town, "Kearsarge".
Once in a while Lone Pine hosts a film festival. You can find more information about it and other nuances about the Lone Pine film history on the website of the Lone Pine Movie History Museum.
If you have information about this area that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.
New routes in already congested areas are NOT RECOMMENDED! In the past couple of years, the practice of GRID BOLTING & SQUEEZE JOBS, has led the local Land Managers to be concerned at the proliferation of bolts. If you plan on establishing new routes, please do so in areas that have yet to be climbed and as far away from the established roads as possible. Also, use well CAMOUFLAGED Hanger's, SS Bolts and Anchors. Mussy Hooks are the new wave preferred Anchors that will last far longer than any other.
DO NOT TOP ROPE DIRECTLY OFF THE ESTABLISHED ANCHORS. This practice only reduces and compromises the life of the Anchor. Myself, The Chief, and Jamie B spent over 20 days in the early Spring of 2010 rebolting well over 86 bolts and 45 Anchors. So, please be considerate and when Top Roping, establish your own TR Anchor and when finished, rap off the established Anchor in order to minimize wear. Thanks.