On the solstice, aka World Nude Hiking Day, it was a 103 at my home. Hiking was 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.
On my way, I stopped by the new multi-million-dollar Ranger Station to buy a Forest Service Adventure Pass. Alas, they were closed. 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.
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. About 28 years ago I drove all the way to the top with my wife. This road is not going away as many other gated roads out here. There is a microwave relay station for the Air Force at the top and they will periodically drive up to maintain it. Other than that, the entire top of the mountain has been declared a special Botanical Study Area.
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.
If you want to camp, there is a walk-in camp (Chula Vista) nearby.
Every weekend the 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 see 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. The trail was not really there at times. Cross-country skis don’t create a dirt path. 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.