Chumash Peak CC

Sat, May 12, 2012
Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

Chumash Peak is one of the Seven Morros, or Nine Sisters (though some counts go as high as twenty-one), the iconic set of volcanic plugs that line Hwy 1 between Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. Matthew and I had once tried on a whim to see if we could climb them all in a day with almost no beta, managing to find our way to the top of only four of them. Since then I have been back a number of times trying to find may way to the summits of the more difficult ones that lie on private property. Two of them, Cerro Romualdo and Chumash Peak we were told lie inside a military reservation and were off-limits since 9/11. It turns out this is not exactly true - they lie on the boundary of the reservation, but not inside. From the Google satellite view I had spotted an old jeep trail running up the east side of Chumash Peak from a saddle between it and Bishop Peak, the next Morro to the east. The easiest way to reach Chumash appears to be to start at the Bishop Peak Trail TH on the north side of Bishop Peak and with a combination of trail and cross-country, make it to Chumash Peak little more than a mile away.

My strategy was partially successful, though the outing was not very memorable. Thick coastal fog had reached inland overnight, bathing the San Luis Obispo area and all the Morros in a damp blanket of the stuff well into the afternoon. I started around 5a in the hopes that I wouldn't be spotted on the private property section early in the morning, but this meant the entire hike was in fog - absolutely no views whatsoever. To make things worse, the fog had left all the tall grass and brush wet with dew and my legs, boots and feet would be thoroughly soaked within a few minutes of leaving the trail. And if that isn't bad enough, poison oak is abundant at many points along the route, making one tread ever so carefully. In the oak understory on the north side of Bishop Peak where I followed the main trail to a junction, the poison oak hugs the turf as ground cover. Out in the grassy open areas, it pops up as a bush and comingles with other plants, sometimes quite deceptively.

10 minutes after starting out, headlamp ablaze, I reached a trail junction and took the Felman Loop fork to the right. I followed this through the fog for another ten minutes or so until the trail starts to head downhill after a turn to the right. Where I could see the barbed-wire fence a short distance to the left, I crossed through the grass, over the fence, and then made a slightly circuitous route towards the saddle between Bishop and Chumash Peaks. I used my GPS to navigate by - without it in the fog, even with a map, would have been much more difficult. I had to keep an eye close to the ground because there was just too much poison oak lurking about, trying to trip me up. When I reached the saddle or near to it, I used a waypoint I'd saved for the start of the old jeep trail up Chumash's East Slope. Heading to what I thought was a large white boulder, I passed by what turned out to be a decaying dead cow, perhaps several weeks old now. I soon found the old trail which helped nicely in getting through the chaparral that covers the upper slopes of the mountain.

It was 6:10a when I found myself at what I took to be the highpoint. The fog was too dense to see more than 30ft or so. It turns out I was on the southern of two points that have the same number of contours on the topo map. The southern point is the least interesting, completely covered in brush over head level, almost devoid of views even if there had been no fog. The northern point is rocky and more summit-looking from below, which I determined only later, so I never paid it a visit. It would certainly be worthwhile to do so in the future, but I think I will wait for a fog-free time. But it was good to know that there is a trail leading to the summit that avoids bushwhacking and most contact with poison oak.

I was back at the start before 7a, taking the same route on the return. The whole outing had taken less than two hours. It should make for a quick second visit the next time I come back this way...


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This page last updated: Tue May 15 16:44:41 2012
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