Monday, September 21, 2015

SOTA Activations of Robertson Mountain (W4V/SH-011), Stony Man (W4V/SH-002) and The Pinnacle (W4V/SH-005)

On 20 September 2015 I did a triple activation of Robertson Mountain (W4V/SH-011), Stony Man (W4V/SH-002), and The Pinnacle (W4V/SH-005).  Earlier in the week I posted a SOTA alert on SOTAWatch stating my intention to activate those three peaks, plus Pass Mountain (W4V/SH-013), but the XYL and I didn't finish with enough time.  We decided to end the day after activating The Pinnacle.

The overall plan was for my XYL and me to drive from our home in Northern Virginia to The Limberlost trail head, which is just a bit south of the Skyland Resort on Skyline Drive, the main thoroughfare that runs north-south through Shenandoah National Park.  From the Limberlost trail head we would hike to Robertson Mountain, activate it, and hike back to the jeep.  From there my XYL and I would split up, with me proceeding by jeep to the other trail heads, where I would do shorter hikes and activations, while the XYL would just hike the Appalachian Trail.  Given that the Appalachian Trail basically connected all of these peaks together, I was planning meeting up with her on the trail as she progressed and I activated.  It was a good, solid, executable plan.

We departed at about 0630 local time and made it to Limberlost trail head at about 0845.  Weather was nice--mostly cloudy at first and mid-50s Fahrenheit.  There were several apple trees at the trail head, which isn't surprising given that Shenandoah National Park, prior to the Park Service taking it over, was a cash-cropping area for apples.  Several varieties exist there.  The XYL particularly likes to find these, and she's been known to grab one or two for a taste (not sure about the legality of that, but whatever).  After a few minutes of fun by the trees, we suited up and started hiking.

XYL holding one of the apples.
We followed Old Rag Fire Road, a gravel road which connects Skyline Drive with Old Rag Mountain (W4V/SH-012), following that road for about 2 miles or so until reaching the Robertson Mountain Trail, a steeper path up to the summit

N0PCL hiking the Old Rag Fire Road.
Just prior to reaching the Robertson Mountain Trail I noticed a large shadowy object move across the--a bear!  My XYL was a bit behind me a this point so I called her forward and we continued to have a nice loud conversation so that we wouldn't startle the beast.  The foliage in was pretty thick along the edge of the Old Rag Fire Road.  We didn't see the bear until we were immediately passed by it--it was standing in the foliage maybe 10 feet into the forest.  It was probably an adolescent, but young enough that we were very concerned about any larger adult bears in the area.  It was maybe 3 or 4 feet tall, and it just looked at us.  We picked up the pace, continued the conversation, and then embarked up the trail to the summit.

N0PCL XYL hiking Old Rag Fire Road.
Hiking up the Robertson Mountain Trail.

Robertson Mountain Trail is moderately steep but not too bad.  Though the trail was heavily wooded, it became a bit more rocky near the top.  The top of the peak is crowned by some nice grassy ground, a few trees, and some large boulders--basically an ideal site to set up for SOTA.  I broke out my radios (Yaesu FT-817ND & Yaesu VX-8DR), accessories (auto-tuner, telescoping 2-meter antenna, Palm Mini paddles, hand mic), my antenna (home-made EARCHI matchbox, coax, 30 feet of wire, and a crappie fishing pole), and notepad and ARRL mini-log.  I bungee-corded the crappie pole to the tree, slung the wire from the tip of the pole through some trees to make a sloping vertical antenna, and then cabled up my portable station.

Sloping antenna off of telescoping crappie pole.  XYL photo.
Bungee cords are great for lashing antennas up!  XYL photo.

Robertson Mountain had a very pleasant summit area.  XYL photo.

Trying to work stations.  Cell phone provided spotting and was my clock.  XYL photo.
XYL snapped this photo from Robertson Mountain summit.
Cell signals were spotty (I use AT&T).  I generally prefer to self-spot using any of several methods available on the iPhone--for me it's more reliable than the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).  Cell service was good enough to spot using the SMS-to-SOTA gateway, so I did that.  Where I normally expect to get a moderate pileup of 5-10 stations, I got only single chasers today.  My normal activation policy, particularly on days with several activations, is to work four stations, or, if in the midst of a pileup, to work the pileup until it's gone.  No pileups today, though.

No pileups today!  40 minutes to get four stations.

Conditions were crummy, but I didn't know that until later.  I captured the propagation conditions later in the day.  Pretty bad, particularly the K index.:

 My inkling that propagation was bad was from a report kindly provided by NG6R on SOTAWatch:

I worked the necessary stations and then we continued back to the jeep.  On the hike back we noticed three more black bears--all small ones.  One of them was probably the one we saw earlier in the day.  They were all smallish, about the size of the first bear we saw.  These were further off the trail, and kept to themselves.  Sorry--no pictures of those critters.

After reaching the jeep we split up.  I headed up to Stony Man trailhead for a quick few-hundred feet of elevation gain.  Stony Man is one of the busier peaks in the Shenandoah National Park.  From the trail head near Skyland Resort it's a mere .6 miles to the summit, and only several hundred feet of elevation gain.  It's probably one of the easiest 10-point summits in the SOTA universe.

View from Stony Man looking directly west.  My XYL took this photo.
Views from the summit are spectacular.  Lots of people though.  As a military guy I have a pretty good appreciation of terrain, and it's interesting for me to look below into the Shenandoah Valley to look at the military significance of the terrain.  The valley is a breadbasket, with very fertile soil and many farms, but more importantly, it is a valley that is basically southwest-to-northeast in orientation, and it terminates in the north to the northwest of the suburbs of Washington DC and Pennsylvania.  This valley provided food as well as a well-protected route for Confederate cavalry and other units to sortie into the Union states during the American Civil War.
Many humans on Stony Man summit.  Too many, actually.
View looking south from Stony Man.
View looking north from Stony Man.  The clouds cleared up, but the temps stayed cool.
A woman offered to take my photo on the summit.  So I obliged.
After taking a moment to savor the views, I went into the treeline to get away from the crowds.  I don't mind operating in public, but sometimes onlookers can detract from the SOTA experience with their questions.  (My XYL does a great job explaining my strange subset of my strange hobby when she's around, but I was alone at this point.)  I slung my wire in the tree and started doing what I could to get my QSOs.  Again, pileups were not to be found.  I presume band conditions were bad.  AT&T cell phone coverage was very strong, though, as was APRS access, so there were numerous methods to self-spot, as well as observe the SOTAWatch spots.  I saw several stations operating on summits, including Gary--K6YOA, Frank & Lynn--K0JQZ and KC0YQF, and also N0AIS and AD5A.  No joy with them.
Again, no pileups.  51 minutes to get four QSOs.

In the middle of my activation I noticed my XYL hiking along the trail to Stony Man.  She joined me briefly and went on my way.  After getting the four QSOs I packed up and hiked back to the jeep.

Next up was The Pinnacle.  While the XYL continued to hike the AT, I drove up to Jewell Hollow Overlook.  To get to The Pinnacle, you basically hike down the hill from the Overlook to pick up Appalachian Trail, and then follow the AT north a little less than a mile to reach the summit.  Simple.  Well, not much to see at the top here.  A peak name like The Pinnacle might imply to you that it's a fairly dramatic summit.  Well, that's just not the case.  It's a very rounded summit with lots of brush, trees, shrubs, and basically no view, although my XYL did say that it opens up a bit if you continue to follow the AT over the summit for some distance.

View from Jewell Hollow Overlook.  Follow this trail down to pick up the AT.
I hiked off the AT a short distance and set up my shack.  Here's my logbook.

Pileups?  Not so much.  But a little DX with the EA2 station.
Just after working N6KZ, I again saw my XYL hiking north along the AT.  She came over and snapped a few photos doing my SOTA thing.  We decided at this point to cancel activating Pass Mountain.  I was going to finish my activation, hike down to the jeep, and drive to Thornton Gap, where I would pick up the XYL.

My shack:  A rock.  Not much of a view.
XYL snapped this photo of me working CW.
One of the pleasant things about this activation was working EA2IF.  I love working European DX.  My favorite SOTA DX worked have been Germany and Finland from Palomar Mountain and Middle Peak in Southern California.  But I'll take any DX I can get, particularly with the craptacular conditions.

After completing the activation I packed up, hiked back to the jeep, and met the XYL.  We drove home, had some chili (which was cooking in the Crock Pot) and watched the Packers pummel the Seahawks into submission.

So:  25 SOTA activation points, 3-4 bears, some fresh wild apples, three peaks, and a Packers victory.  Not a bad way to spend a weekend.


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