Distance: 3.9 miles round trip on trail and use trail
Summit Elevation: 1546'
Elevation Gain: 1210'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.96
Round trip time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 42 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Highland Drive
Difficulty: Moderate (Class 5.6 summit block)
Bishop Peak was the first stop on what turned out to be a 19.5 hour marathon day (counting drive time) to hit three peaks on the Lower Peaks List in the San Luis Obispo area. The official Sierra Club guide for Bishop Peak recommends stopping at the class 3 east summit, which offers fantastic views. It also specifically recommends against climbing the class 5.6 summit block: Do not attempt to climb to the actual high point. Of course, I wanted to climb both, but needed a climbing partner. Adam Walker (gimpilator) graciously agreed to climb with me and we started early to avoid LA and Santa Barbara traffic. At 4+ hours one way, this was my longest day hike drive to date.
We arrived about 7:00 AM and started up the trail into a thick marine layer that mostly burned off later in the day. The popular east summit was visible through the trees and fog. It was a short hike through a forested area with plenty of poison oak along the sides of the trail. A few long switchbacks later, we were at a bench with "End of Trail" etched into it, just below the east summit. A memorial plaque was mounted on a boulder there. Unfortunately, a lot of people get hurt or killed on Bishop Peak. We continued on, completing the fun class 3 scramble to the east summit. Sunlight reflected off the marine layer creating an eerie setting. From there, we got a good view of the true summit not far away. There was no benchmark or register at either summit.
We followed a good use trail around some large boulders and more poison oak to the base of the 35' summit block. The miter shaped block was apparently the inspiration of the name "Bishop Peak". Adam was by far a stronger climber and agreed to lead the 4-bolt sport route up the block. We unpacked the rope, got our harnesses and rock shoes on, and geared up. Adam did not bring a helmet on this trip, but I brought mine. We spent some time double checking each other's knots and gear, and I made a few adjustments. The rope was flaked out on the boulder behind me. I sat down and braced my feet against the bottom of the summit block for belay. The first bolt was about 10' up. Adam made a couple of moves and placed the first quickdraw. The second bolt was only 5' above the first, and the final two were spaced more evenly. At the last bolt, Adam moved left, finding better holds that way instead of straight up. Once on top, he built an anchor and clipped himself in place to belay me from above. It was my turn to climb. I shouted "On belay", Adam answered "belay on" and I took my first tentative step onto the rock. As the second climber, I had an additional responsibility to clean the route on the way. I had to remove the quickdraws on each bolt as I passed it. Still a novice climber, the holds looked tiny to me. Many were quarter or half inch flakes or small indentations. I was laser focused on finding the next hold, or the next step, and made a common beginner mistake of climbing past the first bolt. I had to stop, reach down, remove the quickdraw and place it on my harness. Facing the rock again, I reached a solid one inch hold about half way up. I didn't bother to look down once, concerned only about moving up. At the third bolt, I repeated my earlier mistake of climbing past it. I didn't feel stable reaching down to get it, but I managed to clean it without falling. At the fourth bolt, I made the same traverse left as Adam on a series of small ledges. From there, I was able to grab the top and make a final step up to the summit. The top of the block only has room for about three people. It was only a mid-fifth class slab, but was the most difficult climb I had ever attempted. It was a rush to stand on the true summit. At least a dozen other hikers were milling around the lower east summit, but no one ventured near us. After brief congratulations, we sat back and took a few photos, enjoying the moment. There were two bolts at the top with quicklinks. We attached a piece of webbing and rigged the rope for rappel. I was the first to head down, while Adam snapped some nice photos of my descent. When I was down, Adam collected the anchor gear and came down. While I was removing gear, I dropped my belay device and it skittered under the summit boulder into a crack. Exploring below revealed a small cave between the giant boulders. Adam retrieved the device, then I crawled out to the end of the cave for a look. Bishop had the most interesting and fun summit of any on the Lower Peaks List. We packed up and returned to the car with the hardest peak of the day in the bag. Next up was Cerro Alto.