Sat, May 7, 2011
We passed through a shady oak grove before emerging onto more open slopes on the northeast side of the peak where we could see half a dozen climbers on the large rock face on the north side of the summit. Nathan was fairly excited at this point, wanting to know if that's where we were going to be climbing. He was somewhat deflated as I explained that we would be doing something far less dramatic, but still exciting. The obvious dangers of taking unpracticed kids on multi-pitch rock climbs were completely lost on him and his disappointment was evident.
The trail was very popular on a Saturday afternoon, more than I've ever seen on three previous visits as we shared the trail with perhaps a hundred others that day. Most of them appeared to be college kids from nearby Cal Poly, SLO. While a group of five of these paused to let us pass by, one of our party commented to a conspicuously shirtless gentleman to be careful because of all the poison oak in the area. He shrugged it off, replying that they hadn't seen any so far. As I went by I noted that he was standing in it where he had taken a stance off the side of trail. It was a disregard that seemed fairly common throughout the hike as most of the hikers seemed unaware of its ubiquity in the area.
Though the weather was in general fairly pleasant for a hike, when the trail moved to the sunnier south side, the lack of a breeze and the intimidating switchbacks rising to the summit began to dampen some of the earlier enthusiasm. We took a short break halfway up to recharge our batteries and then, fueled by sibling rivalry and the nearness of the summit, made the remaining distance in good form.
At the saddle between the two summits we paused to formulate a plan of action for tackling the summit. The highest point, which requires a rope for the inexperienced, is off to the west via a thin and overgrown use trail. The easier summit to the east which still requires a non-trivial scramble, is far more popular and there were half a dozen folks milling about the top. The other adults on the trip were in favor of forgoing the higher summit, but the kids would have none of this. Though I was on their side, I could not argue forcibly against the nervous concerns of their parents. It would also have been difficult for me to conduct a safe outing to the higher summit without the participation and help from the other adults. I suggested that we first tackle the easier summit as a way to see how they reacted to the scrambling and perhaps to allay some of the parental anxiety if they did well. While the ladies opted to hang out at the saddle and chat, Bill and I guided the others to the east summit through a series of one-at-a-time steps that we spotted from below where most critical. The final move onto the summit block was aided with a boost, and eventually we all managed to the summit. Even before we could get them all safely back down, the youngest were already clamoring for the higher summit and jockeying for position in who goes first on the rope.
The west summit proved more difficult that I expected due to the rampant growth of poison oak along the use trail. With perhaps one child I might have been able to safely negotiate the trail, but it proved unworkable with our larger group, even with the help of the other adults. Annie began to grow anxious about the poison oak as some moves required hand placements on nearby rocks within inches of the noxious plant leaves. I paused the group to scout ahead where I noticed half a dozen other hikers - more college-aged adults - making their way along the trail, both coming and going. I could see several brush past the poison oak, oblivious to it, while a few seemed cognizant and were proceding more carefully. I made the executive decision to abandon the effort as it seemed impossible that our large party would come out of this unscathed. Not surprisingly, there was relief expressed by the parents and disappointment by the children, but as they all recognized the real threat from the poison oak, their disappointment was not strong and only short-lived.
The descent was slightly more exhilarating than the ascent due to the slickness of the dust-covered boulders that line parts of the trail. There were several minor falls by the adults in the back of the pack who had sneakers that lacked meaningful tread (myself among them), while most of the kids were fighting parental restraint trying to hold them back from running down the trail. Semi-chaos resulted when it was finally decided that a fall would probably not be fatal (though there was a striking counterexample in the form of a memorial plaque we found near the summit) but would certainly become a life lesson not easily forgotten. No serious falls resulted and no life lessons were learned before we got back to the cars around 2:30p. Whew - we'd survived and escaped unscathed. A rousing success, in my book!
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Bishop Peak
This page last updated: Wed May 11 09:07:53 2011
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