The view is extraordinary from the top of our claim: breathtaking. But for a few trees in the way, a panorama of hills and valleys stretches for miles. The day I first made it all the way, the sky was a beautiful blue with clouds spread throughout.
The climb was unanticipated and hellish but my anger and exhaustion faded as I looked around. My husband had been promising me it was worth it and he wasn’t lying.
We bought the place in January and he made it to the peak through the snow on our first trip there while I flailed through the drifts near the road with my metal detector. Until recently, I’d only seen the top from a distance and it had taken on an air of mystery to me.
The mine, at an elevation of 4,140 feet is already a horrible hike but to reach the apex of the small mountain at 4,284 feet, is to experience purgatory. As intriguing as the place in the clouds was, I was in no hurry for the hike.
We were there that day to explore a possible route up the southeast side of the mountain for a four-wheel-drive road. No regular vehicle would ever be able to make it up despite what the real estate ad said so we showed up with stakes and red tape and started up.
Our plan was to follow the boundary as it skirted the peak in hopes it was passable but we discovered two boundary markers at the bottom thus throwing things into confusion from the start.
We used our radio maps to navigate but it soon became apparent this wasn’t going to work. The map showed us way off course but we kept finding survey markers we believed might be the right way.
The slope became steeper and steeper as we climbed until we threw in the towel on any hope of marking a road. The decision turned to whether or not to continue to the top.
We went up.
I became so exhausted I practically collapsed every ten or so feet. We would crest what looked like the top only to discover more ahead. Then my husband yelled “There it is!”
About a hundred yards to go. I wasn’t happy.
I needed coaching from that point on. I was pissed. My husband stood on a rocky outcropping, having beaten me up, and encouraged me while I swore to myself and took twenty more breaks.
Then I was there. Still gasping for breath, I snapped a bunch of pictures before taking a look around.
A mound of rocks that resembled a lonely grave had been placed there; most likely as a survey monument. A single tree stood resolute, charred from a fire long ago. Simple in form, it reminded me of a sculpture.
Wildflowers dotted the grassy hillsides in contrast to the skeletal remains of ancient forest that lay strewn about. The day was brilliant and filled with color and solitude. I forgot the tortuous journey up – almost.
From there, we made our way down to the tailings piles at the entrance to the California Mine and looked for specimens of high grade ore the miners may have left behind. In the swing of things at the turn of the century, they pulled an average of two to five ounces per ton out of the bedrock.
Another man’s trash…
We packed up after posting several No Trespassing signs and made our way to our car. The hike down is difficult because of the steep grade and we’re always glad to see the road.
We’d gone there that day to look for a way around the far side of the mountain to the mine and instead, ended up at the top. I’d say I wouldn’t trade it for the world but I’d certainly trade it for a different route. Never again.
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