Cerro San Luis Obispo P900 CC
Bishop Peak P1K CC / LPC
Black Hill P500 CC
Cerro Cabrillo P500 CC
Cerro Alto P300 LPC / CC

Sun, Nov 13, 2005

With: Matthew Holliman

Black Hill
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3 4 5
Bishop Peak later climbed Mon, Dec 19, 2005


While driving to Porterville and eating fast food at the Motel 6 in town, Matthew and I racked our brains trying to figure out what to do on our third day of what was shaping up to be the Most Boring Weekend of 2005. As a last-ditch suggestion, we came up with the Seven Morros, a string of ancient volcanic plugs near San Luis Obispo that we had both considered a mediocre climbng objective when we had a free day. The highest is little more than 1,500ft, hugely popular with the local community, but little-known outside of the area. The idea that caught our attention was to see if we could climb all seven in a day, which seemed like it could make for a fun little adventure. Our problem was that we had no beta with us, no Internet access, and only vague memories from cursory online inquiries in the past. We didn't know which of the peaks were publicly accessible or where any of the trailheads were. That seemed to add a bit to the adventure - the on-sight flash of the Morros. In hindsight, it was a dumb idea with little chance of success.

Part of the problem is that there is no fixed number of Morros, or Sisters as they are alternatively named. This chain of peaklets stretches some 20 miles from Morro Rock on the Pacific Coast, heading inland to San Luis Obispo along SR1. The major bumps are named on the USGS maps, but many other minor ones are not. The most common numbers are seven and nine, and after reviewing the online info surrounding these, I would have to agree with nine: Morro Rock, Black Hill, Cerro Cabrillo, Hollister Peak, Cerro Ramualdo, Cerro Chumash, Bishop Peak, Cerro San Luis Obispo, and Islay Hill. Five of these are open to the public, one is on a military base and open with permission (Ramualdo), two are on private property (Hollister and Chumash), and one is a bird santuary (Morro Rock) completely closed to humans. Climbing all of these would entail trespassing on land that is well-signed threatening prosecution as well as ethical trespassing on a shorebird nesting site. We ended up climbing four of the Morros, and one of those we failed to reach the highpoint - not exactly the outing we had in mind. Following a three hour drive from Porterville, we arrived in San Luis Obispo around 8a on a Sunday morning.

We pulled off the first exit north of the first Morro we came to just west of US101. I assumed it was Bishop Peak, but later we figured out it was Cerro San Luis Obispo. Not finding an access point in the vicinity, we got back on the freeway and off at the next exit. We drove to the end of a residential street that opened to the east side of the peak and headed up from there. A large "M" made from white paint on concrete adorns the east side of the peak. One local referred to this peak as "Mt. Madonna", presumably for the Madonna Inn, a semi-famous nearby landmark. However, that is an egregious error; in fact the "M" is for Mission High School put up by the class of 1964, not unlike the Cal Poly "P". Our route took us up the east side, across the "M", under some oak trees on the north side (and some poison oak as well, we found out later), and eventually on an actual trail that took us to the popular summit. There were half a dozen other hikers taking in the fine view of the city from the top which we quickly realized wasn't the highest of the Morros as we had guessed. We scoped out the higher peak to the west, could see what looked like parts of a trail adorning the hillside, and eyed a likely starting point along its east side.

An hour after starting out we were back at the car, then drove around the north side of Cerro San Luis Obispo to the east side of Bishop Peak. We parked in another residential area, accessing the peak through an undeveloped lot in an otherwise typical upper middle class suburban neighborhood. It took us a half hour to reach the top mostly on good trail after a short stint through private property near the bottom (other all-public routes are available, but we were clueless where to find them). Aside from being the highest, Bishop Peak had the most interesting summit of the peaks we visited. There are three main summits, the middle being the highpoint. We first climbed the lower east summit via easy class 3 rock. Heading over to the middle summit, we found a twisty route through caves and crevasses in the rocks (what looked to be party sites for the local teens), before coming upon the decidedly more difficult summit rocks. With some tricky route-finding we climbed to the top of one class 3 block we thought to be the highest only to find another more difficult block a few yards to the east was a few feet higher. The east side of that block looked to be class 5.7 (or so) friction. With a rope tossed over the block it would be easy enough to belay it, but we had no rope and just tennis shoes, and neither of us were going to try and solo it. Rats. Down we went.

We spent some time driving around the south side of Chumash and Ramualdo, coming eventually to a locked gate at the military base. We drove up to a Benedictine Monastary on the west side of Ramualdo, but upon further inspection decided the "Vistors Welcome" sign referred to an invitation to join church services (which were then in progress), not to trespass. We backtracked along our road, took the Los Osos Valley Rd to on the south side of the Morros through the town of Los Osos, then drove north to Morro Bay State Park, aiming for a short, rounded knob that I vaguely recalled being one of the Morros (Black Hill, it turned out). We parked just before the golf course entrance, and on one of our more bizarre routes we've taken, followed a use trail along the edge of the golf course and on to the summit of Black Hill. 25 minutes into our hike and five minutes before the summit we passed by the parking lot serviced by a paved public road. Oh well. Black Hill had the nicest views of the peaks we visited, with a grand view of Morro Bay and the estuary making up most of the state park. Morro Rock lay to the west, Cabrillo and Hollister to the east. We could also see a parking lot below that looked to access Cabrillo (also on state park property as it turned out).

After descending Black Hill, we drove out to the parking lot, perused the map at the trailhead kiosk (confirming a trail to the top) and headed out for Cerro Cabrillo. After the first easy 3/4 mile, the trail grew steep on eroding sandstone, and I had difficulty maintaining my footing, prompting jokes about my chances of making the summit. But summit we did, and as on the previous three peaks we found others already at the top. We struck up a conversation to glean information on Hollister Peak, and to our dismay were told it was indeed on private property, patrolled twice a day by the determined landowner who had recently purchased it from the previous lax owner. What sane multi-millionaire buys his own mountain and spends his time partolling it? It seemed utterly ludicrous. We also found out about Chumash being on the military base. Our optimism plummeted and we called a halt to our quest. Four would have to do until we could devise a full-moon plan to conquer them in a better-planned effort.

As it was just after 1p when we returned to the car, we both noted we had lots of time left since we had only a three hour drive home. I gave Matthew the job of finding suitable additional peaks from the atlas while I commandeered the vehicle in the direction of home. Matthew hit upon nearby Cerro Alto in the Los Padres National Forest along SR41. Barely 2,600ft high, it was nonetheless one of the highest peaks in the vicinity and we hoped it might have a commanding view of the Morros to the south for picture taking purposes. The hike turned out to be the least interesting one of the entire weekend, a bland walk along blandly named trails such as Canyon Trail, AT&T Trail, and Summit Trail. We climbed about 1,500ft in two miles along chaparral-lined roads laid down by AT&T during its cable-laying heydays at the closing of the last century. It seemed suddenly obvious why AT&T had nearly gone belly up in the aftermath. The views from the summit were interesting but not so great for pictures due to haze, poor sun position, and the partial blocking of our view by a nearby ridge and the higher Tassajera Peak. I weakly tried to get Matthew to continue the few extra miles to Tassajera, but at this point Matthew put his foot down and called a halt to all that was bland and tasteless. It was the first strong opinion that Matthew offered all weekend, and there was no doubt in his reply at all. It was time to head home.

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