It’s no wonder I love diving on mountains in the sea. I love earthly mountains. For fun, if I’m not diving I’m knocking about the Sierra Nevada. While I’m not a mountain climber, I do enjoy gazing at them and enjoy communing with the beautiful nature that lies at their bases and on the slopes. With diving, there are some very famous spots around the Channel Islands that make mountain diving worthwhile — but with these mountains you don’t climb, you start at the top and work your way down. Some of the more famous local ocean mountains are Ship Rock off Catalina Island, Begg Rock of San Nicolas Island and my personal favorite—Wilson Rock of San Miguel Island.
Rising 19 feet above the waterline, the underwater rock face plunges downward in a series of small plateaus. Pinnacles and other submerged smaller peaks surround the larger main monolith. There are valleys, gouges, deep crevices, overhangs and ledges. The main ledges are at 35 and 65 feet and a few more much deeper. You can, as a matter of fact, get very deep here. The face of the reef drops off to well over 150 feet. Use caution in your exploration.
And everything is covered with life. It is so thick in some places it seems to be double layered. Parts look like a fancy pastry wedding cake decorated by a madman. There are anemones — lots of them. Snow-white Metridium senile anemones dominate some sections of the rock faces. Patchwork blankets of lavender, pink and red Corynactis are prevalent in other areas. Dotted among all this are numerous white-spotted rose anemones, some the largest I have ever seen.
Rich blue cobalt sponges, red volcano sponges, and the subdued gray moon provide sponges additional variety of hues and colors. Some of the specimens of gray moon sponges here are enormous. Another contributor of color is small patches of California hydrocoral. Not a true coral, these simple animals form pink and purple skeletons at an extremely low rate. Do not touch or disturb.
As you are beginning to tell, this is invertebrate heaven. Brightly colored blood, rainbow, and pisaster stars dot the reef. Chestnut cowries compete for space. You’ll likely see a minimum of two-dozen nudibranchs on every dive in a wide variety of types. While a macro photographer will go berserk here, you’ll do more than okay with wide-angle also with the radical reef profile, beautiful large red gorgonians, and frequent visits from sea lions. Water clarity is usually quite good, averaging 40 to 60 feet but can drop to lower with plankton blooms.
As you gaze upward to view the assault of sea lions, also gaze out into the open water. Passing blue sharks have been reported here. I once saw a trio of molas swimming in formation. And there always seems to be a jelly or two drifting by in the current.
Undersea seafood hunters will do well here also. The main event here is the exceptionally large rock scallops. While not as numerous as in years past, down deep you will still find numerous scallops the size of small dinner plates. For the spearfisher, there are sheephead, lingcod and a smattering of rockfish. Watch your size restrictions, however, as many of these species are small.
Water conditions here are variable and only for the experienced diver. Besides the precipitous drop to beyond the depths of safe recreational diving, this is an open ocean dive site with the nearest landfall 2.2 miles away at Harris Point on San Miguel Island. Current is always present, often strong. Surge is also powerful so avoid the shallows. This is a dive site best left for the professional dive charter operation. They will best know how to anchor in this difficult location and experienced divemasters will direct you to a safe path for reaching your underwater goals.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: 2.2 miles northwest of Harris Point on San Miguel Island.
Access: Boat only (professional dive charter operator strong advised; see below)
Depths: Surface to beyond safe recreational diving limits. Stay clear of shallows due to strong surge.
Skill Level: Advanced
Visibility: Variable. Usually around 40 to 60 feet but can drop with plankton blooms.
Photography: Excellent macro with a wide variety of numerous subjects. Wide-angle good over varied stunning reef structure.
Hunting: Good for rock scallops. Fair for spearfishing. No lobster.
Hazards: Extreme depths. Currents and surge can be strong.