Bishop Peak

4 a.m. came very early, but if I wanted to get past Los Angeles on Labor Day, this was the price I had to pay. The goal for the next few days was to camp at Montaña de Oro State Park and climb several of the peaks that are on the inaugural Central Coast Six Pack of Peaks Challenge. The freeways were fairly empty as I made my way northward, taking a short break along the way for some more coffee. As I neared Santa Barbara, my navigation app had me take Hwy. 154 over the mountains and past Lake Cachuma. Initially, this was a little surprising, but it had been years since I had driven through here, so why not? One of the peaks on the challenge has its trailhead off this highway, so refreshing my memory of the road would be another benefit. I cruised past the very full lake until I rejoined Hwy. 101 and continued on toward San Luis Obispo. The first peak that I was attempting was Bishop Peak. This peak is a 1,546-foot volcanic plug that is right in town. It is the tallest of the Morros or “Nine Sisters”, a chain of similar peaks stretching to toward Morro Bay. I opted to start my hike from the Highland trailhead, as it was the shortest. There is no parking lot, so I had to find some street parking a bit down the road. This was starting to remind me of Cowles Mountain. After grabbing my gear, and electing to use my new smaller pack for this hike, I trodded up the road. Several nice homes lined the east side of the street. The trailhead had the basic safety information and leashes you could borrow for your dog. That was a nice touch. Sadly, all the dogs I did encounter were unleashed. The trail works its way around the back of a couple of the homes, and under some lovely oaks before beginning to climb toward the summit.

The area around the peak was turned into a preserve by some of the early residents of the area, and their efforts were memorialized on two plaques alongside the trail. The trail worked its way southward, still mostly under the shade from the oaks. Some poison oak did line the side of the trail, and I made sure to mention that to an SLO student hiking with her parents. Bishop Peak offers some rock climbing opportunities, so there were a few spur trails to climbing areas that were marked by signposts, but I continued along the summit trail.

The trail arcs around and heads northward. It is here that you start to get some great views of the town, Cerro San Luis Obispo to the south (another one of the plugs), and Laguna Lake. This is also where you start to actually gain some elevation. As I climbed, the hikers that I passed reminded me more and more of the ones I encountered on Cowles. Thankfully, no one was sharing their “killer” tunes as I made my way up the switchbacks. I wasn’t racing toward the summit, knowing I had another longer hike planned in the afternoon, and my longest hike to date planned for the next day. But, soon, the pair of benches that serve as the informal summit came into view. The true summit actually requires climbing gear, so for most, this is our summit. I took a moment or two to take some photos and enjoy some shade next to some rocks. A memorial plaque was affixed nearby for a hiker who had fallen to his death. I was starting to get a little hungry, so I started back down the trail. Back at the car, I headed into town for my planned lunch of some delicious BBQ tri-tip. For those who don’t know, tri-tip is to SLO as fish tacos are to San Diego. With my belly now full, I made the 30-minute drive to Islay Campground, with a quick stop at the Ralphs for some last-minute provisions. The hike was 3.1 miles round-trip and had an elevation gain of 956 feet. 

I am an avid peak bagger, sometimes backpacker, and former sea kayaker living in San Diego. In 2019, I became the third person to complete the San Diego 100 Peak Challenge. Not stopping with that accomplishment, I set my sights on the harder San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list, which I completed in 2021. In addition, I have conquered several Six-Pack of Peaks challenges (SoCal, San Diego, Central Coast, and Arizona-Winter). Beyond attempting the San Diego Sierra Club 100 Peak list a second time, I am looking forward to exploring new summits and new adventures across the southwest. 

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