Sunday, November 15, 2015

Activation Report for Mt. Baden-Powell (W6/CT-004) and Table Mountain (W6/CT-067)

With my work-related trip in California continuing, every weekend brings another opportunity to activate another SOTA peak or two.  This weekend has been no exception.  So, yesterday I activated Mt. Baden-Powell (W6/CT-004) and Table Mountain (W6/CT-067), both located in the Angeles National Forest.

A side note:  Hwy 2, the Angeles Crest Highway, has been closed for some time between Vincent Gap and Islip Saddle due to a rock slide.  I had previously climbed Baden-Powell and Throop Peak from Dawson Saddle, a point which is no longer reachable by automobile.  So this time I made the climb up Baden-Powell from Vincent Gap, an 8-mile round trip hike with about 2800' of elevation gain and loss.  The peak reaches an elevation of about 9,400' above mean sea level.  Wikipedia article is here.

Additionally, both hikes require either a National Forest Adventure Pass or an Interagency Pass to park a vehicle.  APRS coverage and AT&T 3G data coverage were plentiful at both summits.

Sign at Vincent Gap.

The weather couldn't have been more beautiful:  Mid-50s, very light winds, and sunny.  The Vincent Gap hike is also a lovely approach, with a 41 switchbacks and a very steady 700' per mile gradient.  The trail is actually the PCT for most of the hike, and it is very well-marked.

There were sections of the hike which contained small amounts of snow and a bit of ice, but as long as you're careful, there's no reason to slip.
The snow started to appear at about switchback #13 of 41.  I counted the switchbacks as I climbed.  One of the things I really like about the Angeles National Forest is the lack of underbrush.  I think this is due to the acidity of the soil.
The trail is on the north-facing slope, and it's well-shaded providing a cool climbing environment.  Though the switchbacks seemed tedious, they are helpful, as the pitch of the north slope is pretty steep.
View looking west at switchback #25.  It's steep.
After switchback #38 you reach a section that's pretty flat.  The destination is the hill straight ahead.  The PCT splits off just ahead and continues down to the right.
There were few other hikers out.  I saw perhaps a dozen other climbers.

Mt. Baden-Powell is, of course, named for Lieutenant General Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, OM GCMG GCVO KCB.  Or you can just call him Lord Baden-Powell.  He was a Lieutenant General in the British Army, a writer, and founder of the Scout Movement.

At the summit you will find an obelisk dedicated to Baden-Powell and a USGS survey marker.
View looking north.  I would have hated to be the mule that carried all that concrete up the mountain.
One of the plaques on the obelisk.
Another plaque.
Another another plaque.
Another another another plaque.
Not another plaque.  This is the survey marker.  My XYL loves to find these.
I signed the register and, in the register, I dedicated this SOTA activation to the victims of the recent violence perpetrated by Daesh in Paris.  I know it won't help to aleviate the suffering, nor will it rid the world of Daesh, but hell, every one of the victims deserves a bit of a remembrance.  And Daesh delenda est.
I found an area with some trees on the summit and set up for SOTA work.  The bands weren't in great shape, nor were they awful.  They were just fine.  The A index was a touch high at 14.  K index was 2.
My setup just before deploying my antenna.  My homemade UNUN is in the black box to the immediate left of the FT-817ND.  PB sandwich at the ready, too.
It was a good activation.  I used several HF bands, using both SSB and CW.  I then switched over to 50.2 MHz SSB and made a contact (almost two, actually.  KK6QMS tried to make it work.  I could hear him, but he couldn't hear me.)  I then switched to 223.5 MHz and 446.0 MHz and made contacts on each of those bands too.  It's fun to use some of the lesser-used real estate in our allocations.
My SOTA logbook from the Baden-Powell activation.
After packing up I contemplated heading to Throop Peak (W6/CT-005), but given the amount of daylight left, I decided against that.  Instead I headed back down to Vincent Gap.

After reaching Vincent Gap I headed back toward the town of Wrightwood, outside which is the Table Mountain camping and ski area.  Table Mountain (W6/CT-067) is essentially a drive-up peak, but government installation precludes making the final approach by any means except by foot.
The sign which keeps SOTA activators honest.
The road to the summit.
It was about 1600 local time, which meant that it was actually 0000z, when I started operating.  Indeed, a new day had dawned!
My operating position at Table Mountain.
This time I put out extra radials and slung my wire as vertically as possible into a tree.  I was trying to make the antenna as good as possible to increase the likelihood that I would be able to get it to load up on 80 or 75 meters.

The sun was setting and there was a definite chill in the air.  I put on a fleece cap and started to operate.

I managed to get the antenna to work on 75 meter SSB, but 80 meters proved to be too much for my little tuner to handle.
Thanks, NG6R.
I then packed up and drove back to the hotel.

Overall it was a great day.  I earned another 16 activation points, experienced a great deal of beautiful California scenery, and put some miles under my feet.  I also made some contacts on some unusual bands, which is always a bit of a joy.

I appreciate all the help, chasers.  73.  And Vive la France!

Activation of Thomas Mountain (W6/CT-016) and Failed Activation of Lookout Mountain (W6/CT-104)

This past Veterans Day I took the occasion to try to activate some peaks.  Of all the efforts, the only one that panned out was Thomas Mountain (W6/CT-016).

Here's the story.

Left the hotel in Carlsbad in the morning and drove to Thomas Mountain.  This peak can be done as largely a drive-up, or it can be climbed via the Ramona Trail.  I drove up due to time constraints.

Getting there is easy.  Get to the intersection of highway 74 and Forest Route 5S13.  You'll see a nice sign directing you toward Thomas Mountain.  Follow the signs to a dirt road, and follow it up.  I've driven the road in my jeep in years past, and it was obviously just fine.  This time I drove it with a rental car, and it did OK, but it required a some careful driving to ensure that the bottom of the vehicle didn't make contact with the ground in some rougher stretches of road.

Once you get to Thomas Mountain Campground, you should notice a dirt road heading up and to the left.  This road leads to additional camp sites and the summit.  I recommend parking you car here and hiking up in order to make the activation legal (as the final approach to the summit must be on foot).

It was a bit chilly at the top, perhaps 40 degrees Fahrenheit with a stiff wind from the north.  After taking a quick survey of the summit for a location to set up and to sling my wire antenna, I got to operating.  I found a large boulder near the summit which provided some shelter from the wind.  I unpacked by backpack and started operating.
My operating position near the boulder in the midst of setting up.  It was much colder than it looks here.
Ice had formed on the pine trees on the summit, but it was warm enough and windy enough that these icicles would fall every so often.  So watch your head.  Also, one of the things I love about California peaks is how blue the sky can be.
It was a good day for SOTA, although was told over by other stations that propagation conditions were poor.  They weren't poor to me!  10 Meters hasn't been good in a long time but I still managed to make a couple contacts there.
Thomas Mountain Logbook.  21 QSOs in 70 minutes.
As usual, I also attempted to make contacts on 6 meters, 1.25 meters, and 70 centimeters.  And as usual, no takers there.  It's always worth a shot, though, and I like to use some of the lesser-used real estate on the band plan.

Thomas Mountain really is a beautiful area.  The crisp smells, the trees, and the views all mix to make just a lovely spot on the earth.  I think it could actually make a really interesting Field Day site, too.
View looking North.  The mountain range in the distance is the San Jacinto range.  Mt. San Jacinto and Tahquitz Peak are two 8-pointers there.
View looking south.  This was the view that I was looking at as I was operating.  The peak in the foreground is Cahuilla Mountain.  The Palomar range is behind it.

More about Thomas Mountain:  It's named for one of the 49ers.  More here.  Also:  APRS coverage is plentiful, as is AT&T 3G data services.  A National Forest Adventure Pass or an Interagency Pass is required to park a vehicle on Thomas Mountain.  The camp site at the summit is great too, with a fire pit, ample space for parking a vehicle, and plenty of room for tents.

After operating I packed up and headed back to the car for the drive toward Lookout Mountain (W6/CT-104).

I used the traditional Lookout Mountain approach, which is via the PCT.  Simply park the car at the intersection of the PCT and highway 74, and start hiking south until you reach the first ridgeline.  Turn east, and climb up.  There is a well-defined trail, but it can be brushy at time.  Anyways, following the trail, you now come across this sign:
As a German once said:  Scheisse!
So, it appears that Lookout Mountain is now off-limits per SOTA rules, unless you somehow get permission from the land owner.  Needless to say, I didn't notice KD7WPJ's warning on the SOTA page for Lookout Mountain.

It was still a very good activation day, and a great way to spend a Veterans day.  As a veteran myself, it's great to be able to experience such a beautiful country--a country that's worth fighting for.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Double Activation Report: Pt 5764 (W6/SD-026) and Middle Peak (W6/SC-024)

I'll be spending a large amount of November and December in Southern California doing work-related things.  I'd be a fool if I didn't use these work trips as an opportunity to activate a few mountains in SoCal!  So, on 7 November (last Saturday), I activated a couple peaks.

First on the list:  Point 5764 (W6/SD-026), an unnamed hill along Sunrise Highway in the Cleveland National Forest on the way to the Laguna Meadows.

I had never activated this peak before, but a few others have.  A Google Map study revealed that there was a nearby parking area (the Pioneer Mail parking area) which would be ideal.  Oleh, KD7WPJ's, report said that there was no trail to the summit, though.  Gary, ex-KK6GXD (now K6YOA)'s report indicated likewise.  But a very close look at the highest-resolution imagery seemed to indicate a slight trail along the spine of the ridge which forms 5764.
Sign by the parking area.
Cross the Sunrise Highway from the parking area to the Pine Mountain Trail.
Sign marking the Pine Mountain trail.  Watch out for mountain bikers!

My strategy to hike 5764 would therefore be to basically follow KD7WPJ's instructions, but instead of hiking directly to the top, I would hike to the spine of the ridge and then follow the crest of the ridge up.  That's precisely what I did.

Once I hit the spine of the ridge, I noticed a well-worn path leading to the summit, making access much easier.  Later, I would follow this path down.

The summit is marked by an engineer stake pounded into the ground.
The summit.  This view is looking generally East.  You can see Sunrise Highway snaking along in the background.
The views from the summit were actually much grander than I expected.  To the north you could easily make out Santa Rosa, the San Gabriel, the San Jacinto, and San Bernardino mountain ranges.  To the northwest you could see the Palomar Range with its astronomical optical telescopes.  To the immediate west you could see the Cuyamaca Range (North Peak, Middle Peak, Cuyamaca Peak, and Stonewall Peak).  You could also see the environs of San Diego and the Pacific Ocean.  To the south lies several lower peaks (Viejas among them).  And to the east you could see mountains of the Lagunas (Laguna Mountain, Sheephead, etc.)  To the northeast lies the Salton Sea, Whale Peak, and Granite Peak, and the town of Borrego Springs within radio line-of-sight.
View looking West.  The highest peak in the distance is Cuyamaca Peak (W6/CC-014).  The two summits to the right of Cuyamaca are Stonewall Peak (W6/SC-029) and Middle Peak (W6/SC-024).
View looking generally North.  Numerous mountains can be seen, especially the Santa Rosa range.
View looking South.
View looking East.  Notice Sunrise Highway and the Pioneer Mail parking area.  The Pacific Crest Trail can also be seen leading from the parking area to the left (north).

It was a bit windy on the summit, with temperatures in the 40s, so I hunkered down an an area a bit south of the actual summit that was sheltered from the wind.  I bungee-corded my crappie pole to the engineer stake and slung my EARCHI wire antenna as a sloping wire toward my operating position, and I proceeded to make contacts starting on 20 meters SSB, and then shifting to CW on 20 and 40 meters.  Later, I broke out my HT and made contacts on 2 meters FM.  I also tried to make contacts on 223.5 MHz and 446.0 FM, but not takes, as is usual in this area.  I had one summit-to-summit contact with Peter, WA7JTM, who was activating another unnamed peak in Arizona.
Bungee-corded fishing pole atop the engineer stake.  Antenna is an end-fed wire leading from the pole to my operating position.
The radio.  Somehow when I'm using it, there doesn't seem to be so many wires.

Overall, it was a good activation.  27 total QSOs in under an hour, pretty good for a SOTA activation.
My SOTA log from Pt. 5764 (W6/SD-026).

Ok...for the hike down:  I simply followed the trail along the spine of the ridge south.  This trail intersected the Pine Mountain trail, which is a charted, maintained, and groomed trail.  I built a cairn at the intersection to mark the intersection for follow-on SOTA activators.  I turned left at the intersection and followed the Pine Mountain trail back to Sunrise Highway and the parking area.
Use trail leading from the groomed Pine Mountain Trail up to Pt. 5764.  Notice the small cairn I built to mark the trail.

I highly recommend taking the route described here.  It's much less brushy and navigation is much easier.  The extra distance covered is negligible, too.

Beware of mountain bikers on the Pine Mountain trail.  Two of them came upon me at high speed from behind.  I was lucky to have stepped out of the way in time.  They apologized and continued on their way.  One things about people in California:  Everyone is always in a great mood and very friendly!

After having completed the hike, I did some additional research on Peak 5764.  A previous hiker had evidently summitted the peak while carrying a Garmin using the route I described.  The route is shown here. profile for the peak is here.

Additional notes:  Peak 5764 has plentiful AT&T 3G access, SMS access, and APRS digipeater coverage.  Parking at Pioneer Mail parking area requires a National Forest Adventure Pass or Interagency Pass.  This peak has a summer seasonal bonus for being a desert peak, but given its elevation, I think it would be an easy bonus to get if you were to hike it in the summer.

After activating 5764 I decided to head to Middle Peak (W6/SC-024), the peak to the immediate north of Cuyamaca Peak.  It was perhaps a 15 minute drive to the Middle Peak trail head.  I won't belabor writing a description of Middle Peak or explain its navigation since it's basically a hike up a dirt fire road and is well-described here.  I will say that the peak's vegetation was destroyed in a fire back in 2003, and consequently it's dominated by burned-out timbers and very thick thorny bushes.  These bushes have grown a good deal in the last couple of years.  The final 200 vertical feet of the ascent requires bushwhacking through this nasty stuff.

Well, I bushwhacked.  And bushwhacked some more.  While there is a reforestation effort on Middle Peak, and some efforts to try to hold back the brush, the thorn bushes at the summit proved too thick to climb through.  I got to withing 45 vertical feet of the summit though, and that's in the activation cone.  Satisfied with my effort, and also satisfied that I had activated this peak from the summit in years past, I decided to set up my station on a rock on the western side of the mountain.
The road near the summit of Middle Peak.  That wall next to the road is thick thorny bushes, easily 7' tall.  Nasty stuff.

One of the trees planted as part of the reforestation effort.
My operating position.  What a mess.  But it worked!
This activation also went well.  I activated on 30, 20, 12, 10, and 2 meters, mostly CW.  I completed about 29 QSOs, with one summit-to-summit QSO.  I also attempted to make contacts on 223.5 and 446.0 FM, with no takers.  (You might think it's futile to make contacts on these bands, but believe it or not, I have made SOTA contacts on them.  This only happens very rarely.)  K6HPX chased me on 30 meter CW while mobile, which is notable too.
Middle Peak activation log.
After about 1.5 hours on the summit I came down.  The hike back was unremarkable save for the fact that I saw a small herd of deer on the way down.
Two deer, with Stonewall Peak in the background.
Additional notes:  AT&T 3G data, SMS, cell phone, and APRS coverage are all reliable.

It was a good activation day.  Two six-point peaks activated, with two summit-to-summit QSOs.  I was happy to work so many stations.  As always, thanks chasers!  73.