San Luis Obispo County High Point Trip Report

Caliente Mountain - Wasioja route

Date: November 30, 2003
Author: Tom Hill

Paved Wasioja Road meets Highway 166 at a signed junction a few miles west of New Cuyama, slightly less than two miles east of the JP Oil Refinery. Due north of this junction, on the far banks of the Cuyama River in the Caliente foothills, the topo map shows a jeep road heading north up-canyon for 2+ miles into a broad amphitheater surrounded by the Caliente uplift. We toured the public portions of this jeep road and amphitheater in the good company of Lilly Fukui, Val Saubhayana, Zobeida Molina, and Larry Campbell. Weather was perfect, non-windy, unlimited visibility, 50-60 degrees under patchy high clouds.

The topo shows two windmills guarding the north bend of the Cuyama River in this area. Neither one was evident. Fortunately, the jeep road itself is well-constructed and its footprint is easily visible from the highway a short distance west past the Wasioja junction. From the public lands boundary on the north bank of the Cuyama, demarcated by a sturdy barbed wire cattle-drift fence, our hiking route proceeded north into the foothills following the long-abandoned jeep road. The road follows the east side of a small canyon, ending only one eagle-mile yet 2,400 feet below Caliente Summit. Here there was a choice of spur ridge lines to exit the box canyon. One headed steeply due east to a citadel of rocks at 4040+; the other choice ascended with apparent reasonableness northwest to meet the complex of ridge lines forming the "standard" route from JP Oil.

We chose the northwest spur and found it quite pleasant to ascend. This choice also gained us excellent views of the eastern ridge spur. It appears that the upper reaches of that ridge are not as blocked as low- angle viewing had indicated, which would provide access to the unknown wonders of Caliente's main South Ridge. We were also quite happy with our own route, which went well to the "standard" junction and completely avoided the ups and downs of that alternate route, including the 250 foot drop to cross a canyon at the landmark "Frog Rock."

So it was whoop to the summit and lunch time about 12:30 PM. Sadly the inner HPS register can was too large for its container and could not be extracted. One resourceful individual knife-bladed our names into the can's paint in tasteful graffiti style. Meanwhile two colorful roadrunners provided company, more-or-less oblivious to our presence, and an eagle (or very large hawk) exhibited 3D stationary positions high off the Grand-Canyonesque south rim of the summit. And did I mention fossils? We had a person enormously adept at finding those not seen by the leader (despite constant vigilance). Shells and snails predominated. And, symmetrically coiled into just the right place for a much-needed footrest, was a juvenile rattlesnake snoozing in one of the numerous rocky strata crossings on the return.