GTFO: UC Riverside’s “Big C”

It’s no secret that Irvine is a pretty tough place to be a college student. The only bar in the vicinity of campus is closed on weekends and doesn’t serve cocktails (though the beer is superior), the entire city is cookie-cutter to the point of lacking a soul and the closest Albertsons is criminally overpriced. Seriously, shop anywhere else.

Courtesy of Max Richter

Courtesy of Max Richter

My point is that every now and then it is vital for the UC Irvine student to get out of town and experience the surrounding environment, taking in what beautiful Southern California has to offer. This week, I checked out a tradition practiced at a nearby UC: the UC Riverside rite of passage that is the hike to the “Big C.”

Anyone who has driven through Riverside down highway 60 or 91 has likely noticed the massive letter “C” embedded in face of the Box Springs Mountain range, but few are aware of its origins. According to UCR’s website, construction of the “C” began during the 1954-55 school year and was specifically designed by UCR students to be larger than UC Berkeley’s “C” that rests on a hillside overlooking the campus.

Today the “C” represents different things to different people. A long-standing tradition exists in which students hike to the giant 132’ by 70’ concrete letter during dead week for good luck on finals. Some students even chip off a small piece of the yellow paint to take with them.

“People are always up here around finals,” UC Riverside student Alfred Piña said, “but especially during winter quarter. Probably because the weather isn’t terrible.”

Courtesy of Max Richter

Courtesy of Max Richter


I decided to make the trek up to the “C” in April, and terrible the weather was indeed. The Inland Empire sun is unforgiving, and the lack of the Irvine ocean breeze combines with the total absence of trees on the hiking path to provide some of the worst heat in Riverside (not related to a music festival). The hike itself is very steep, the path is non-existent at times, and there are moments when hikers will need to scramble up precarious rock formations.

In addition to hikers, lizards will often be seen scrambling around the rocks, along with a few more sinister reptiles. The rattlesnake warning at the trailhead should absolutely be taken seriously, as within minutes of beginning my hike I nearly stepped on a pair of rattlesnakes before running away in a completely embarrassing fashion.

I really don’t like snakes.

It is a challenging climb, but not impossible by any means and the sights are well worth it. From the “C,” hikers can see Riverside in its entirety and admire the landscape for its natural desert beauty. (This is the only time I will use ‘Riverside’ and ‘beauty’ in the same sentence.) The surfaces of various rocks along the way to the top act as canvases for local students’ graffiti art. It varies in quality, but some of the work is impressive and I don’t see it being painted over any time soon.

The “C” has also been implemented into more grand exhibitions of art. During past finals weeks, a yellow minus sign has been placed adjacent to the letter, making it read “C-”  and an equal sign was placed in the same location during May 2012 to promote equal rights to education.

The “C” itself is covered in graffiti, ranging from stencil art to the token giant penis. One written message read, “Want football team like real school,” to which Irvine students can relate.

Members of the Riverside community have spoken out against the “C,” saying that its presence encourages students to vandalize the trail and disrupt the natural environment, and there is even an online petition to get rid of the “C” altogether.

In my opinion, it is an off-campus symbol of university culture, and should absolutely remain. The view from the top is definitely worth seeing, and despite some of the less-refined contributions to the collection of graffiti on the trail, the “C” is truly by the students, for the students and acts as a reflection of the students. Whether that reflection shows a powerful piece of public art or a giant sexual organ all depends on where you’re standing.