Onyx Peak

Old Greyback as Mount San Gorgonio is sometimes called. More like Old Whiteback on this day

15 JANUARY 2022 W6/CT-044

I last hiked up Onyx Peak on March 28, 1997. At the time I was struck by the “nice little cedar camps. Looked like Bristlecone pines.” I’ve since discovered that these ancient trees are actually Western Juniper trees. This time I decided to go in the true winter season to claim the winter bonus. There was still quite a bit of snow on the ground after the big storm we had in December and I was glad to have brought my big winter boots and gaiters. The road to the summit is perhaps too well graded at 2.71 miles with only 684 feet of gain.

I’m not usually one to cut switchbacks due to the erosion this causes, but because of the snow, I did shorten the trip some — especially on the way down when sinking a heel into the deep snow made the descent a breeze. This cheating cuts out about a mile, but I would not do it if there was not deep snow present.

It was forecast to be a bit windy but it didn’t turn out to be so bad. The aforementioned Juniper trees and the broad summit plateau provided a decent wind break and good antenna supports. This was the Winter SOTAfest weekend and, while the HF band conditions weren’t great, I handed out 64 summit-to-summit points with other winter SOTAfest folks out in the Barstow area mostly. Thank you all! Especially the S2S folks: David N6AN, Lorene W6LOR, Mike K6STR, Bret K1BAA, Chris N1CLC, Kevin KN6FNY and Mike KN6EZE. You guys rock!

The station in the nice Western Juniper grove on the summit
Looking out to the Northeast and into the Mojave Desert. The Ord Mountains I believe are at the left.
The last time these boots saw action was on Mt. Shasta in June of 1999
Happy activator with Mount San Jacinto in the background

Lovejoy Buttes

Here’s the station on the summit of the actual highest of the intriguingly-named Lovejoy Buttes

9 JANUARY 2022 W6/ND-323

After doing Parker Mountain I was still feeling up for some hiking so I headed out to do the Lovejoy Buttes. This activation had been by fall-back plan if Parker was too windy. The NOAA forecast for this area was much more moderate.

A note of warning to anyone attempting to activate the Lovejoy Buttes. The plural “buttes” is the watchword. Gaia GPS and others mark the summit on a butte that is lower and about a mile to the east of the actual activation zone’s high point.

This erroneous summit does have a nice picnic table and gas grill (see photo below).

As billed the summit wasn’t as windy and I had a nice time activating with 3 S2S contacts.

This is the spot that the maps list as The Lovejoy Buttes. The actual highpoint is out above the picnic table
A blustery day, but I had a lot of fun

Parker Mountain

Another former fire lookout, all that remains is this foundation

9 JANUARY 2022 W6/CT-153

I had thought about attempting Parker Mountain several times before but had decided against it because of windy weather forecasts. This summit lies in the corridor that funnels the Antelope Valley airmass down through Newhall Pass (formerly Fremont Pass) into the San Fernando Valley and the coastal plain. This is the boundary between the Great Basin and the Pacific drainages.

This weekend also had a windy forecast but I really wanted to try my new Tacoma (Whitedog) out on these roads, so I went for it. I got to Acton just as it was getting light and the wind didn’t seem too bad. I had a bit of trouble finding Hughes Canyon road and the surrounding dirt roads seemed a little worse for the wear of our heavy December rainfall.

Desecration being the better part of valor, I decided to leave Whitedog a mile or so shy of the summit. I passed by two remote control model airplane enthusiasts who later took there vehicles to the summit. One was only a 2wd truck, so this summit is actually a drive-up for those so inclined. I’m just too new to four-wheeling.

As billed, the summit was very windy. I hunkered down behind the foundation of the former fire lookout and set up my Packtenna random wire end fed because it is so easy to deploy.

Propagation was decent on 20m and 4om and I quickly made the required 4 contacts.

On a side note the RC hobbyists purposely pick windy days to fly their gliders. These guys had their planes exceeding 300 mph. I later found out on the way home talking to Cliff (Callsign to come) that remote control devices legally should not exceed 100mph. These planes made a wicked sound when they would swoop by.

Here’s the station on the lee side of the old fire lookout foundation.
Whitedog parked at a prudent distance.

Summit 1,821 x3

Looking east to Saddle peak on the right and the San Gabriel Mountains on the left

5 JANUARY 2022 W6/CT-228

Hal N6JZT warns in the write-up of his January 30th 2021 ascent of 1,821 that the trail can be quite sticky when muddy after a rainstorm like only clay soil can be. We had a phenomenal rainstorm about a week ago that dropped over 5 inches of rain at my home in Topanga. Usually a week is enough time to allow the moisture to soak in and the mud factor to abate.

As I started out in full darkness, I could feel the trail was still a bit sticky. I had received a thoughtful Christmas gift from KG6MZR — a wool cap with a headlamp built in. It turns out this was a most fortuitous gift in that shortly after starting out I came across a large sinkhole that was not present on my first two ascents of this summit. I’m not sure I would have seen this hazard had I been traveling under ambient light, as I sometime do.

This was also an activation to try out my new Yaesu FT-5DR’s APRS capabilities. The radio performed very well and I made all my spots via APRS messaging. I like this in that it keeps all my contact with the outside world in the amateur radio spectrum.

I was treated to a glorious sunrise and very mild weather. Perhaps the biggest surprise was working S57S Aleksander in Slovenia along with many of my favorites.

The station with Simi Peak in the background
Looking northwest to Hines Peak and the Sespe-Topotopo wilderness area
The summit affords a nice bench. Sandstone Peak in the background
A deep sink hole in the trail. Recent rains produced several hazards that were avoided in the predawn hours with my new headlamp beanie.

Summit 4,020′ Zulu New Year

The big sky country looking northeast off the summit of 4,020′

31 DECEMBER 2021 / 1 JANUARY 2022 W6/CT-158

It was Scott WA9STI that first alerted me to the “Zulu New Year” phenomenon last year. This is one of those great SOTA events when there is a lot of summit-to-summit activity and this year’s event was no exception. Unlike last year’s drought, this year the New Year came one day after a huge rainstorm blew through the Southland. My Davis Instruments Vantage Pro registered 5.64″ of rain in one 24 hour period so I expected any activation was going to be muddy with mountain roads a little sloppy.

I had no idea if the Santa Clara Truck Trail up to Contractors Point and Fire Camp 9 was going to be open as the Angeles National Forest ranger stations didn’t seem to be picking up the phone on New Year’s Eve Day.

I drove up Placerita Canyon to Sand Canyon Road and everything seemed to be freshly plowed of mud and rock. The gate was open and the truck trail was all clear. David N6AN had warned me that the gate closes at 6pm and care must be taken on Zulu New Year to get back to Bear Divide by that time to avoid being locked in overnight.

I got to this near drive-up about 22:00 and parked a few hundred feet from the site where I set up. There were big fluffy cumulus clouds flirting with the summit and the surrounding countryside was dappled with the cloud’s shadows. It was a gloriously fresh and clear day after the rain.

As I expected the activation was a delightful chaos of rapid-fire logging with cold hands. This event is really a lot of fun and I managed 18 summit-to-summit contacts. I tried to fit in as many chasers as I could but I did need to give myself plenty of time to retreat to that gate at Bear Divide by 6pm. Besides, siting for almost three hours I got pretty cold in the fresh wind blowing out of the southwest. Thank you all activators and chasers!

Here’s the station in the clouds – the 40m half wave doublet and the rollup slimjim
messy logbook due to cold hands!
The San Fernando Valley
The sun sets on New Year’s Even from Contractor’s Point.

Summit 1,428

Fresh snow on the San Gabriel Mountains from the trail head.

Finally a series of storms had broken the horrendous drought that has plagued Southern California in the 2020-2021 rain year. This is tremendous news for the chaparral but had put a bit of a damper on my SOTA activity recently. The day after Christmas was forecast to be if not dry, at least free of rain. I picked summit 1,428′ in the La Puente Hills just because it appeared from the satellite imagery to have a paved road to the summit. This, I thought, might mitigate the mud.

The trailhead is easy to find at the end of Vantage Pointe Drive in Rowland Heights

The hike is a short half mile up the paved road to the substantial radio facility on the summit. There are PRIVATE PROPERTY NO TRESPASSING signs but everybody in the neighborhood seems to walk their dogs up there. While the paved road did reach the activation area, the site I chose to set up was just to the east of the actual summit. There was one fence to climb over and cattle are run on the other side. I saw some longhorns and heard them lowing while I set up. The field I set up in was thick with a squishy adobe mud from the rains and care was needed to avoid the numerous cow pies.

The San Gabriel Mountains were wreathed in cumulus clouds, but the very snowy summits of Mount San Antonio and others poked through the top. The cloud layer built during the activation as the next storm impulse made its way down from the Gulf of Alaska.

Radio conditions were pretty poor. With the preamp on the KX2 my noise level was about S9 on 20m, so I had to turn it off after a while. I forgot to repack my Kenwood TH-F6A on this trip, so no UHF/VHF. Sorry local chasers!

The Station looking south.
The road up from the trail head
Cumulus clouds building behind the “Techno-Summit” infrastructue.

San Juan Hill

A collage of textures in the Chino Hills just after sunrise. All the big San Gabriels in the background.

18 DECEMBER 2021 W6/CT-230

I had planned to activate Parker Mountain out in the Acton/Crown Valley area, but a formidable forecast of high winds sent me to a lower summit further to the south. I thought about taking the mountain bike and it turns out that this would be an excellent summit for a mountain bike. The hike is just over three miles and has about a thousand feet of elevation gain. The hike is a bit of an up-and-down roller coaster. I don’t think the Gaia GPS tracks below handle the elevation loss well. The elevation loss is certainly more than the nine feet listed in the ascent track. I got going just before sunrise and was treated to a fantastic view of the length of the San Gabriel Mountain. The sun rose over Santiago Peak.

Interestingly it took me longer to descend:

Conditions on HF were very good and I hung out for over an hour making 35 contacts. Thank you chasers for helping to make this an enjoyable activation

Cell coverage from Verizon was spotty and I had to move around a bit to get SOTAgoat to work. It was fairly windy but I was able to avoid the biggest blasts over the crest of the hill. There is a benchmark that has an 1896 date on it that provides a good built-in table.

If you would like to hear how you sounded on my end, here are the audio files recorded of the QSOs above:

The station with the San Gabriel Mountains in the background
The 1896 benchmark
The carbon fiber fishing pole doing double duty with the slim jim and Packtenna antennas.
Cucamonga Peak in the San Gabriels on the left and San Gorgonio and the San Bernardins on the right
Santa Catalina Island over San Pedro Bay
Sunrise over Pleasats Peak and Santiago Peak
Sign at the trail head. No E bikes.

Black Butte

Whitedog – my brand new SOTA machine.

11 DECEMBER 2021 W6/ND-311

After activating Table Mountain I got a chance to put Whitedog, my new Toyota Tachoma SR5, through his paces out in the Mojave desert. I left Highway 18 at Avenue 293 and switched into four wheel drive on the dirt. The approach is pretty level but goes over a few bumps and through some deep sand. My old Audi would not have been happy.

When I got to the east side of the base of Black Butte I discovered that there were two parties of target shooters squeezing off all manner of ordinance. After thinking about it for a while, I got back in Whtedog and drove around to the west side. I could still hear semiautomatic and fully automatic gunfire in the distance, but there was no target shooting debris where I parked, so I decided to chance it.

My hike went straight up the side of Black Butte and quickly left the sandy floor of the Antelope Valley and my way became littered with the characteristic black basalt that gives this Butte it’s name.

The hike is about a half mile and goes up about 500′. It took me a half hour. I had summit-to-summit contacts with Mark N6XZN on Onyx Peak and with a group on 9,465′ next door to Onyx. Thanks to all chasers and S2Sers!

There is excellent cell coverage from Verizon on the summit.

While I was operating an ultralight aircraft came overhead and flew within a couple of dozen feet of my mast knocking it over. This was waaaaay closer than the 500′ that the FAA dictates pilots maintain.

One note: besides a lot of target shooters, I passed a lot of what appeared to be clandestine marijuana grow operations. Next time I do this summit I think I will plan on being here very early in the morning and hopefully avoid any contact with any of the general lawlessness that seems to be endemic to the area.

The station with the low end of the Packtenna
Looking west toward the Lovejoy and Saddleback Buttes over the high end of the Packtenna
Obligatory selfie
Looking south to the San Gabriel Mountains

Table Mountain

Mount Baden-Powell from Table Mountain on a crisp winter morning.

11 DECEMBER 2021 W6/CT-067

After buying a new Toyota Tundra — christened Whitedog –the previous week, I was ready to try him out on a SOTA activation. While I wanted to get Whitedog in the dirt to properly exercise the 4×4 capabilities, I also wanted to score some winter bonus points before the big storm was forecast to drop a lot of snow on the higher elevations. My compromise was to set out and do two activations — One; to return to Table Mountain and activate it from a postion I have learned would not draw the attention of the NASA/JPL security guard, and, Two; one of the buttes out in the Antelope Valley that would provide an ample dirt road approach.

My last time up Table Mountain I was asked to leave by a JPL/NASA security guard before I could activate. After doing a bit of research and talking with some of the guys on the SoCalSOTA reflector, I found out that as long as you stay on the Mountain High property and go up to the left of the restaurant, you are good. I spoke with a Mountain High employee and he asked visitors to stop by if the restaurant is open to sign a liability release before going up to the summit. This seems entirely reasonable to me.

The “hike” is about a third of a mile and gains about 200′. I did it in 7 minutes.

Cell coverage from Verizon is excellent but UHF/VHF coverage into the Los Angeles Basin is very limited by the San Gabriel Mountain crest – notably Blue Ridge and Mount Baden Powell. I did lens a summit-to-summit contact over the crest with Hal N6JZT on Workman Hill and Mike KI6SLA came in loud and clear from Cerritos but others tried and said they could not hear me.

The station safely out of sight of the JPL/NASA security guard overlooking the Antelope Valley
Activator selfie
Whitedog and Mount Baden-Powell

Cerro Noroestre

Kern, Ventura and Santa Barbara Wilderness. This is the upper Cuyama River watershed off Cerro Noroestre

4 DECEMBER 2021 W6/SC-001

Recovering from some health issues, I decided to do a couple of what I thought would be easy ones — Cerro Noroeste and San Emidigo Peak. As I started the old Audi at 4:30 AM a warning light came on – low coolant level. Back in ancient times when I learned about cars, one always filled the radiator directly with the engine running. Without actually reading the warning message on the dash, this is what I did. Turns out the newer reservoirs want the engine off when filling the car with coolant. This mistake resulted in several refills during the course of this misadventure. Moreover, I miscalculated the amount of gas I needed so when I reached the summit of Cerro Noroeste, another warning light went off.

At this point I decided to scrub San Emidigo and just enjoy this nice drive-up. It was pretty cold – 21ºF in Cuddy Valley on the way up. I broke out the winter gear and had fun making 34 contacts including 5 summit-to-summit contacts.

There was good cell coverage from Verizon on the top of this drive-up.

I limped down the mountain, free-wheeling it most of the way to save gas. This was my Audi’s last SOTA activation. I sold Pfeffernusse on December 8th to CarMax and bought an almost-new Toyota Tundra SR5 4X4 — Whitedog. I’ll miss the Audi’s great road performance and all-out fun mountain road handling, just now her low clearance.

The station
A cold sunrise on Cerro Noroeste