Ever since we arrived at camp, we’ve been working and existing in the shadow of the ever-looming mountain range on our doorstep. The mighty snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Buttes stand at 8,591ft and display with pride their sheer dominance over everything else in the landscape. One day, during a weekend off, a group of us decided it was time to take the test. We raided the pantry for granola bars, fruit and iced water before setting off in the minivan for the base of the climb. At around half past one in the heavy heat of the afternoon, we began our ascent. Now the thing is, no-one warns you that climbing a mountain in California, in the height of summer, is going to be hard. They don’t tell you that within mere minutes of beginning, your throat will dry and begin to close up, black spots will appear in amongst your vision and your quad muscles will be screaming at you to STOP! this torture.
We had every reason to give up during that first half hour. However, being camp people, we knew that a little motivation would go a long way. The people up ahead would shout words of encouragement to the people behind, we tried our hardest to sing some camp songs despite slowly running out of oxygen and we all pretended that we didn’t feel like we were about to throw up. As we emerged from the dense mass of trees we’d been struggling through, we got our first reward of the hike. Nearing the edge of the trail, we gazed across the landscape at the forest and lakes below. Even though we were only half way up the mountain, we had climbed higher than any other point on the horizon. Below us was an almost vertical drop of craggy rock and tough, brambly plants; the only ones that could survive such harsh conditions on the mountainside. We stopped for a moment and munched some granola bars and trail mix to replenish our steadily depleting energy before continuing along the trail. We’d reached a relatively flat section which took us along the ridge between the two peaks, so were able to enjoy the views available to us.
Upon reaching the next patch of trees, we came across something so out of place that it merited having a little fun with. Summer comes late in the mountains, and during the winter they get incredible amounts of snow. It’s packed solid and ices over every night, meaning that it’s almost impossible for it to melt completely, even over the summer months. So when Otter, Flex and I came across a heap lying in the shade, we instantly leapt upon it, cooling off our sweaty backs and dirt-encrusted legs. Once we were sufficiently chilled, we each collected up a handful of snow and lay in wait for the other three to round the corner. Soon enough our unsuspecting victims reached the firing zone and we pelted them with snow. Not many people can say that they had a snowball fight in California in July.
As the sun began its descent of the sky, we caught sight of our destination. Sat right on the top peak of the Sierra Buttes is a fire lookout, where a warden would be stationed during peak forest fire season. Leading up to the top is a narrow, precarious-looking metal staircase which sways in the stiff winds accompanying such a height. Knuckles turning white with the effort of holding on, I ascended the staircase, the wind whipping my hair into such a frenzy that I could barely see where I was putting my feet. I scaled the stairs without once taking my eyes off of my dusty brown trainers for fear of putting a foot through one of the gaps in the metal. I’m not someone who is afraid of heights, but the combination of the wind and exposure made for a nervous climb.
Finally we reached the top of the stairs. We had made it. Making our way around to the far side of the lookout hut to try and shelter from the gales, we stare speechless over the side of the summit. We are in the clouds. I feel as if I could reach into the air and grab a handful of fluffy white matter. We can see for miles and miles in every direction, forests, lakes, mountains, desert plains. Our little camp is lost somewhere in amongst the scenery, and I realise just what a small part of the world we are. I feel like I am on top of the world, and yet in reality I can’t even see the nearest city.
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert