It’s like an underwater mountaintop, a rock spire reaching from the depths to within 25 feet of the surface. The top is barely the size of a two-car garage. The ocean side is a vertical rock face, plunging to over 130 feet and then steeply thereafter. Fish swirl about the monolith seemingly unaware of the magnitude of their underwater home. The Window Pane Pinnacle at San Clemente Island is one of the most spectacular dives in all the Channel Islands.
The front side of San Clemente Island has the most consistently clear waters of anywhere in the Channel Islands. Visibility is rarely below 60 feet and very often over 100. On my last dive at the Pinnacle, it was easily 130 feet and that was with overcast skies! The site name, Window Pane, was probably derived from the water being as clear as glass. With such excellent visibility you can back away from the pinnacle and take in its entire grandeur.
This is a two-part pinnacle. The main spire tops out about 25 feet from the surface. A second high spot is just to the south at a minimum depth of 38 feet. I suggest you start exploring from here. Currents are common at this site and the gap will allow you a measure of protection between the two peaks. There is a large ledge at 74 feet below the gap on the ocean side. An entire dive can be spent here, observing three worlds: the shallow, sunlit world on the rock faces above, the deeper world of muted light and large dark shadowy creatures, and the vast blue of the open ocean.
All around the middle and base of the rock tower are beautiful red gorgonians. In the crevices and rock piles are lobster, although most are small. Lots of tiny gobies, in a number of varieties, also inhabit the rocks. Other spots on San Clemente have more marine life, but few can compete with the variety of color. Bright orange garibaldi, amber kelpfish, yellow and black striped treefish abound here.
Anchoring up on this site can be difficult. It’s not hard to find with GPS and a depth finder but getting the hook on it just right can be tough with such a small target and swirling currents. Remember, the ocean side of the pinnacle is well beyond safe diving depths and even the inside is nearly 100 feet. Anchor placement must be exact; your best bet is to join a professional dive charter that has been to the site before.
Depths and frequent currents make this an intermediate to advanced dive. With low current velocity and supervision, however, a beginner can descend to the tops and into the gap.
There are so many different kinds of underwater experiences one can have at the Channel Islands. Why not enjoy diving a mountain pinnacle at Window Pane?
Location: Southern portion of the mainland side of San Clemente Island. GPS N32° 50.176′, W118° 21.858. Top of reef is small. Use a depth finder to pinpoint site.
Access: Boat only. Waters usually calm but with currents.
Skill Level: Intermediate to advanced.
Depths: 25 feet to beyond safe diving limits. Typical average depth for a dive here is 85 feet, although it’s very easy to get into 130 feet or more.
Visibility: Excellent, best in Channel Islands. 60 to 80 feet average with 100+ not unusual.
Snorkeling: Too deep although top of pinnacle can be seen from surface.
Hunting: A few lobsters, mostly short. Good yellowtail spearfishing spot.
Photography: Excellent wide-angle, good macro.
Hazards: Depths, currents.