Friday, October 16, 2015

Pilot Knob (W6/SD-435) Activation Report and WLB-817 Battery Pack Review

I activated Pilot Knob (W6/SD-435) back on 11 October..  It's a lowly one-point peak near where the California, Arizona, and Mexican borders meet.  I described a bit about the mountain here.

Some great information on accessing the peak is in this PDF document.

Getting there:  As described on pages 66-68 of the above PDF document.

On a previous activation attempt, I tried to climb using the more direct route along edge of the quarry on the north side of the mountain, but I lost the trail and I ran out of time due to other commitments later in the day.  I decided to instead make an attempt climbing the western slope of the mountain, attempting to use the loop trail described in the book, except I would do an out-and-back hike instead of a loop in order to shorten the hike.  I entered the location of the trail head into my Garmin and went there.
Overexposed pic of trailhead.  Lat/Long:  N32 44.065" W114 45.450, looking east.  Sun was rising, hence the overexposure.

At that location I noticed two trails:  One of the left/north, and one of the right/south.  Given that I was going to do the out-and-back route, I selected the left trail and started climbing.  The climb was steep but the well-defined trail made the route simpler, until I reached the crest of the first ridgeline.  Here the trail disappeared.  I ended up shifting to the left (north) a bit, and ultimately found a draw which led to a false summit.  This false summit was at the far end of the east-west ridge which makes up crest of the mountain.  From this spot the going was a bit easier, with numerous trails visible and with the summit in view.
The mountain was made of a mixture of sharp granite and a softer conglomerate (I think).  The softer rock eroded away in places, leaving holes and small caves.  Bats, which I had noticed on my first attempted climb, probably live in many of these small caves.
This cairn was located at the false summit.  My APRS capable handheld's packets were first picked up at this point.
The ridge from the location of the false summit, leading to the peak.  Yuma, Arizona can be seen beyond the mountain.
The hike on the ridge was a good bit easier.  Less steep, and the ground was a firmer granite than the softer rock leading to the false summit.
Getting closer to the summit.  A Gipfelkreuz!--although not as ornate as those in the Old World.
The Summit Cross was made of wood, and appears to be installed into the foundation of the old KIVA television transmitting tower.

Having reached the summit, I quickly deployed my end-fed wire antenna and commenced making contacts using the FT-817ND and the VX-8DR.  Propagation was actually not too bad, given the conditions.
Even with conditions only so-so, I commenced making numerous contacts throughout the US, using both SSB and CW.  I also attempted contacts on 50, 144, and 222 MHz, but no takers.  I did make contact with a ham in Yuma on 446.0 (K7ACS), who also ran an APRS digipeater that received my packets.
My Pilot Knob activation log on SOTAData.

As for my spotting technique, I self-spotted using the web browser on my phone.  I could have easily self-spotted using APRS, SMS, SOTA Goat, and likely the Reverse Beacon Network.  AT&T cell signals were plentiful, and APRS coverage, once on the summit and out of the draws, was fine:
My APRS breadcrumbs from the false summit leading to the summit.
At the false summit, by APRS packets were received by the BAJA digipeater, perhaps 50 miles away.  I am N0PCL-7.
At the summit, my APRS packets were received at the K7ACS digipeater.  I worked K7ACS on 446.0 during the activation as well.
The view into Mexico from the summit.  The US-Mexican border is very visible.
Having completed the activation, I started my hike down.  Having more of a bird's eye view while on the summit made route selection a bit easier.  I simply picked a prominent trail that headed west down the mountain.  Given how easy the descent was, I recommend that future activators use the following coordinates as your trail head:  N 32 44.050", W114 44.090".  That will place you approximately one draw to the north of the trailhead I used for this activation, and it will make navigation to the summit much easier!  Simply go to those coordinates and hike up the well-defined and well-ducked trail.

A few other notes for a future activation:
  • You are operating very close to the Mexican border.  The place is crawling with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers.  I recommend you carry identification on your person in order or alleviate suspicions that might ruin your activation attempt.
  • It's a short hike, and not too strenuous, but I still recommend you bring a good amount of water.  On the day I hiked this peak, it was in the mid-80s before the sun came up, and there's not much shade (no shade, actually).
Lastly, I promised a review of the WLB-817 battery pack that I had installed in my FT-817ND.  The battery performed marvelously.  Battery voltage barely dropped, even when transmitting a full 5 watts of power on CW during the five long "dahs" of the "0" in my callsign.  I suspect that there's power for several more activations in a single battery charge.  I'm very happy with this purchase.

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