Setting out for our Solstice celebration atop Montecito Peak, the evening is warm and slightly humid. As the sun sinks toward the west, a smudge of lavender washes across the pale sky.
As always, the pace is rapid, and by the time we reach the upper trail my breathing is slightly ragged.
This section of the trail is desert-like; rocky and dry. The scent of chamise and dust hangs heavy in the still air; it is almost completely silent except for the scrape and rattle of my shoes on the trail.
Around the high shoulder below the peak, the soft, rumpled hillsides beckon us onward in the fading light.
Not quite fast enough to gain the summit before the sun sets, I am climbing the last, extremely steep section as darkness falls.
Rounding the corner, the sweet, plaintive notes from a harmonica float across on the warm breeze. My heart contracts for a moment with a combination of joy and pain - and then it's laughter, champagne toasts, and an enormous, sherry soaked trifle that has been carried all the way up the mountain in a glass bowl.