Grade Valley Road, AKA Mutau Flats Road. Still close to 100F. Must go higher.

On the 2019 solstice, aka World Nude Hiking Day, it was a 103 at my home. Hiking is not an option in that weather. I drove up to one of my favorites, Grade Valley, off Lockwood Valley Road, SW of Frazier Park. Much to my dismay, it was still too hot at 5000 ft.

In most parts of the world that, last day of spring is not representative of later summer. In Southern California, spring as a season really ended a month ago. Occasionally, we’ll get a strong onshore flow and the cool moist air from the Pacific will create what we call, “June Gloom.” Other than that, June is only technically “spring” because of the dates.

On my way, I stopped by the new multi-million-dollar Ranger Station to buy a Forest Service Adventure Pass. Alas, they were closed. They couldn’t even get a volunteer for the front desk. But I did see them training “hotshots” for helicopter insertion. Glad that hasn’t run out of money.

Training hotshots

The road to Mt. Piños climbs to 8300 ft elevation before becoming a parking lot. There is a Nordic base there for x-country skiers. It still wasn’t cool but at least it wasn’t oppressively hot.

The road beyond that to the top (8900+ ft) has been gated for many years. It is a great place for altitude conditioning. About 28 years ago I was able to drive all the way to the top with my wife.

This road is not going away as are many other gated roads out here. There is a microwave

USAF radio relay station.

relay station for the Air Force at the top and they periodically drive up to maintain it. It is also heavily used by mountain bikers and equestrians. Other than that, the entire top of the mountain has been declared a special Botanical Study Area. No vehicles allowed.

This is a huge parking lot. The area has miles and miles of cross-country ski trails, most of which never see any traffic in the off-season. During the snowy season, the lot is full of sledders. People get lost here all year round and finding them is a frequent requirement of the local Search and Rescue folks in summer and Ski Patrol in winter.

Look closely and you can see the Tumawaite Trailhead to the far left. To the right and above it is the relay station.  My trail to Inspiration Point is a mile to the right of this picture.

If you want to camp, there is a walk-in camp (Chula Vista) nearby.

Every weekend the parking lot is full of amateur astronomers breaking out their very expensive telescopes with computer tracking and digital imaging. I took our kids up once when Mars was close to view it with my cheap little telescope. Talk about lens envy! It is also a great place to watch meteor showers.

Heading up the trail I hung a right at a rock formation and headed off trail. It looked like a little bit of trailishness, so I followed it until it ended in the most amazing outlook. It was a good thing there were blue diamonds tacked onto trees intermittently, otherwise, I’d have had to go by compass. Cross-country skis don’t create a footpath.

Once out of sight of Condor Summit Trail, I was free to celebrate the solstice with my preferred lack of clothing. (Be aware of the high level of UV at altitude if you try this.)

Inspiration Point had the most incredible 180-degree panoramic view of the San Joaquin Valley. In the distance, I could see the Tehachapi range but even more amazing was how far off I could see the Sierras. They were hundreds of miles off with clouds decorating their tops. I tried a panoramic photo of the sight but it isn’t as good as I wanted.

Back to the main trail and clothing. This road was once paved. There is a parking lot at the very top. Unused spur roads branch off, only kept from totally disappearing by occasional hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians. The Vincent Tumawait trail continues off from here deep into the Chumash Wilderness. From here you can get to three other 8000 footers in just a few hours, Sawmill Mountain, Grouse Mountain and Cerro Noroeste. I’ve done that a couple times but it isn’t something I’m going to try with a mid-afternoon start.

I stayed up there, studying the misshapen trees and watching the butterflies and bees until the air took on a chill. Heading up I hadn’t seen a soul but heading down I saw seven people and a deer. The people had come up here after work for relief from the heat. The deer didn’t say what it was doing.


Back at the Nordic base, there is a meadow full of irises, still in bloom this late. I know where there is another meadow of irises, unvisited and much more intimate. I found it by simply heading off-trail to explore the land between trails. I won’t tell you where. It is MY secret.