Pajarito Mountain

The magnificent Valles Grande in the Valles Caldera super volcano – This 8,500′ plateau is in one of the largest calderas on Earth

19 JUNE 2021 W5N/SE-009

I was expecting this hike to be a bit of a trudge up some steep, off-season ski runs to a “technosummit” with an RF saturated environment. I had seen the radio towers from Cerro Grande the weekend before and on the drive up through Los Alamos just after dawn.

So it was a pleasant surprise to find a gently climbing trail through alternating bands of aspen and wildflowers to a wooded summit with a great view to the west and no radio towers anywhere in sight! I followed a cross country ski track called Half Aspen up from the end of Camp May. There was ample free parking there. This route added probably a mile or so, but I really didn’t mind as I am conditioning for the John Muir Trail in a few weeks. This route is 2.25 miles with about 1,000′ of elevation gain.

Half Aspen trail gently winds up the mountain

This trip was the first time I brought along my new 31′ fiberglass mast from Jackite. This telescoping mast is considerably heavier than my 21′ carbon fiber fishing pole from Goture, which I also brought along for my 2m Slim Jim. Altogether my pack was ridiculously heavy – probably about 30 pounds or more.

The first thing I discovered about this mast is that it is considerably harder to set up. It didn’t help that the spot I picked had a lot of deadfall from the Cerro Grande fire of May 2000. My brother Mark (the physicist) likes to say: “The perversity of inanimate objects tends to a maximum.” My late father (the artist) would say: “If a piece of string can get tangled, it will.” That was the theme of this activation’s setup. The AWG 20 wire of my doublet seemed to catch and snag on every branch within a 100′ radius. The unwieldy new 31′ mast seemed like a witching rod for any potential tangle. I’m usually pretty careful about laying out the wires and guys, but this activation defied all my careful prep. It probably took me an hour to set up the HF antenna.

The new 31′ fiberglass mast towers over my 21′ carbon fiber fishing pole with the slim jim. Note the monsoon cumulus starting to build.

The frustrations of setting up aside, it was a fun and fruitful activation with 24 QSOs on four bands, including 4 summit-to-summit contacts. I had a rough contact with Jon K6LDQ from back home, Gary K3TCU made it in through the QSB from Pennsylvania for the first time in a while, and my furthest S2S was with Richard K4AAE on Little Bald Knob in North Carolina. I also had the pleasure of meeting Bill, K8TE, the ARRL section manager for New Mexico, who sported a fine signal from his home in Rio Rancho on 2 meters. Cell coverage was full bars from Verizon.

The dead-fall that was deadly to the antenna setup

I was on the air for almost two hours when I noticed that the afternoon cumulus were starting to mass. The weather forecast called for a 60% chance of thundershowers, so I was not surprised to hear loud static crashes on the HF bands. With the first audible boom of thunder, I decided to beat a hasty retreat and big fat drops started to splash down on my logbook.

Fortunately the take-down went much smoother – in near-record time, in fact – as the thunder became more frequent. 😉

Walking rain out to the north on the descent over the dead trees from the Cerro Grande fire of 2000

I chose a bit more direct path down as the lightning got closer and I got wetter.

Columbine flowers abounded
The descent route across fields of wildflowers.

Published by wringmaster

I'm a graphic artist in the movie business. When I was a kid I got interested in astronomy. When it would get too cloudy to observe the heavens, my buddy and I would sit at the VFO of his Hallicrafters S 38c like safe crackers trying to coax faraway signals out of that humble radio. My love of astronomy and radio survive to this day fifty+ years later.

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