If it weren't for the pictures on the web site, I would have no idea what the Sutter Buttes look like. Nonetheless, I've been to the South Butte summit. From what I could understand, it didn't seem necessary to skulk around for this highpoint--just go up the gut. To minimize the potential of anyone working up there, as well as because I was out of vacation days, I picked the day after Thanksgiving for the attempt. As it turns out, God would further assist by making the weather terrible.
It was already dark when I arrived at the worst Days Inn in Northern California (Yuba City). I was coming from mostly sunny Cobb Mountain West. . .but by now the rain had started. The forecast for the next day was 90% chance of rain. "Good", I thought--less post-holiday people hanging around. At 5:30am, it was pouring, so I slept another half hour, took my sweet time gearing up for a wet hike, and got lost trying to find the correct entrance on Pass Road (my estimate of the coordinates for the "trailhead" were quite wrong). The view from the start was less than inspiring: couldn't see the Buttes at all due to the extremely low cloud line.
The good news was that it was only drizzling at the start, and it stopped pretty quickly. Everything was coming together nicely. As the steepness began along the paved "trail", I pulled out my digital camera to take a picture below the clouds. D'oh! No flash card! So I jogged back, snagged the card, and came back. Number of cars encountered: 0 (minutes wasted: 20). I felt untouchable--this was going to be cake! Then the rain started again.
Once in the cloud line, the visibility dropped to about 15 yards. The whole hike was essentially asphalt and white haze. About an hour from the second start, I reached the famous tram. The rain had stopped, so I pulled out my camera for a picture of the track disappearing into the clouds. Checked the GPS and saw it was only about a tenth of a mile to the summit. So close!
As I was putting away the camera, a truck drove up. Double D'oh--I didn't have any credentials (as the sign at the entrance mentions). Luckily, the guy and his wife were there to fix one of the transmitters. They weren't concerned that I was there, but didn't understand why anyone would hike up in the rain.
I asked the guy, "Hey, can I catch a ride on the tram?" I thought he agreed, so I waited around and talked to the two of them (the guy was nice; his wife was giving me the skunk eye). As they got in the tram, I asked a second time, and he said, "No, we can't do that for insurance reasons." Instead, he kindly informed me that it was about a quarter mile of steep, slippery hiking to the top. Since I couldn't see the top, all I could do was start trudging. Turns out that it is not
very far, not
very steep, and not
very slippery, even in the drizzle. I was up on the top deck before the glacially-slow tram reached the lowest deck. (There were no ninjas around; they must sleep during the day)
As mentioned in the summit logs, the summit marker is long gone. The only one left is a reference marker, which appears to point toward a nearby white-stained spire popular with the birds. The marker is behind the buildings on the top deck, at the end of the use trail, on the left. The views were non-existent, but any other day they are probably great. The trip back down was thankfully uneventful, and left just enough time to head up to Butte County's snow-covered HP.