Temescal Peak II

A glorious sunrise over the Los Angeles Basin and the San Gabriel Mountains

16 FEBRUARY 2021 W6/CT-218

On this outing I forgot two key elements of my antenna system, but I managed to MacGyver a solution – necessity is truly the mother of invention. I did this hike last year on October 9th with only a UHF/VHF handitalkie.

It had been very windy over last weekend, so I had scrubbed my plans to do an inaugural activation of Ortega Peak and, instead, built an new 20m doublet made from AGW 20 zip cord. I was excited about giving this new antenna a whirl. However, in my excitement to get going on this hike, I removed a PL-259 to BNC adapter off my my balun to use on my antenna analyzer and failed to return this critical component to my SOTA kit. To make matters worse, I forgot to repack the 24′ carbon fiber fishing pole that I was using to test the new antenna at home.

Fortunately I had my PackTenna Mini Random Wire antenna in the KX2’s bag. I also had a rather long hiking stick I had fashioned from the fallen branch of a sycamore tree I’ve grown from a sapling here at home in Topanga Canyon. Using a couple of fallen yucca spears to hold up the ends, I managed to get on the air.

The jerry-rigged station using my hiking stick and a yucca spear.

Success! This worked remarkably well. Perhaps the propagation gods were smiling on me, but I got a 57 from Chris F4WBN in France and similar reports from a dozen or so stations stateside. Martha and Gary W0ERI and W0MNA reported that they had seen the thermometer drop to -18ºF overnight in Kansas. Martha cheerfully said that the temperature was now up to 0ºF. And I thought I was cold sitting in the predawn wind. 🙂

All told, I made 32 contacts on 40m, 20m and 2m FM. 20 meters was the most active band.

It was 41ºF in Topanga When I left the car. Brrr. 😉

All and all it was a great hike. There was tendrils of ground fog in upper Topanga Canyon and Trippet Ranch when I started out in the starlight. Here is my track:

Eagle Rock (No, not that Eagle Rock) near Eagle Springs in Topanga State Park
Sun coming up over Downtown Los Angeles

Tecuya Mountain

Sunrise over the stratus of the marine layer covering the Los Angeles Basin

6 FEBRUARY 2021 W6/SC-004

My last trip to this mountain was on June 15, 1995. I drove to the summit in Cassie’s Mom’s Blazer. With all the mountain roads closed, I selected a route that starts at the end of West End Drive in Frazier Park. I left the car just before 6:00AM in the dark and made my way up the road. This is a heavily eroded route due to it being open to motorcycles and ATVs in the non-winter months. At about the 1.2 mile point (red dot on the map below), I foolishly decided to take a trail that follows the ravine up thinking this might save some elevation loss. Turns out it just added a half mile and was tricky picking a way cross country to the ridge. I recommend staying on the trail. I came back that way and there is no elevation loss.

The hike (if you stay on route) is 2.3 miles with a healthy 2,100 feet of elevation gain.

The Hundred Peaks Section climbing guide for Tecuya Mountain.

The trail was pretty snowy on the north side of things and completely clear on the south. I didn’t have traction control spikes or gaiters, but didn’t really need them. Conditions are what I would expect for the winter months. Perhaps the best thing was that I didn’t see anybody else on the entire trip until I was almost back in Frazier Park. Since I haven’t received my first Covid vaccine, this was a two-fold blessing.

Trail conditions on the north side of things

The summit has good cell coverage from Verizon, in fact I made a note in my climbing log that I made a call back in 1995 to wish my friend’s daughter a happy first birthday. She is now 27, but that was back when a mobile phone was a new novelty and I often called people from summits.

The bands weren’t in the best of shape for a QRP station, but I did manage 16 contacts including Vermont, New Hampshire, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Montana and others. I had two Parks on the Air contacts including one with Liz K6LIZ on the Corrizo Plane. I also had a Summit-to-Summit with Chris N1CLC who was down on a summit in San Diego County: Viejas Mountain. I only made one 2 meter contact with Sean WD6FOX out in Canyon Country. I heard a lot of VHF stations but they couldn’t hear me. It might be a tough peak for VHF only.

The speaker wire doublet with Mount Pinos in the background
The station. Next time not in the shade. It was cold when the wind blew.

Conejo Mountain

Sunrise over the stratus of the marine layer covering the Los Angeles Basin

3 FEBRUARY 2021 – My Mom’s 90th Birthday – W6/SC-318

The last time I hiked up Conejo Mountain it was 38 years ago and I went with my good friend, Allan Gardner. The Conejo Valley has been vastly developed since that time with the sprawling bedroom community of Newberry Park. Back then it was all open range land with more than a few barbed wire fences to negotiate. This morning before dawn I parked on the suburban street of Via Ricardo and made my way up the trails of the Dos Vientos Open Space.

The hike follows an old Edison Road and large power towers up through the eponymous Conejo Volcanic rock. The hike is a pleasant 2.24 miles with about 875 feet of elevation gain. It took me about an hour to make the summit from my car without many stops.

I did the hike in the dark, keeping my flashlight shining behind me. There was a third-quarter moon that was bright enough to light my way. The flashlight shinning backwards was to discourage a mountain lion attack. I’ve only seen mountain lions twice in all the years I’ve been hiking. I’ve heard them many times and seen their tracks but I believe they are generally not interested in humans for breakfast. As long as a careful hiker doesn’t act like prey (i.e. fleeing), they will leave you alone. The rear-shinning flashlight was just a precaution to avoid any confusion.

Sunrise over Calabasas Peak, Ladyface and Saddle Peak

I made 9 contacts – 6 on 20 meters and 3 on 2 meters. Gary and Martha sounded good from Kansas. They are fast becoming reliable chasers. Thank you guys! I also made contact with Tennessee and Georgia and had one POTA contact: WA7BAM in Texas.

I had no luck on 40m or 17m.

Jon K6LDQ was 59 knife-edging over the crest of the Santa Monica Mountain on 2 meters from Torrance and Derek KM6UHU checked in from Altadena. Perhaps my furthest 2m contact was KE6MAK in Gardena.

Round Mountain in the foreground with Anacapa Island left and Yellow Banks and Santa Cruz Island on the right

Slide Mountain

The Slide Mountain fire lookout tower is one of the very few that is still maintained

30 JANUARY 2021 W6/SC-057

After last weekend’s lark up Liebre Mountain I was raring to go for another winter activation. I decided at the last minute to go for a close neighbor to Liebre: Slide Mountain. My last trip up this mountain was 27 years ago with my faithful mountain dog, Chauncey Gardener.

It’s a funny start to this trip in that you drive up a section of old Highway 5 to Frenchmen’s Flat where the decrepit four lane highway is gated. Parking here, the route follows the old highway for the first 1.65 miles. Here is a bit about the history of the highway. Before Europeans arrived in California, this track was the obvious trading route between the Tongva people of the Los Angeles Basin and the Yokuts of the Great Central Valley. The first real road was the notoriously twisty “Ridge Route” and Grapevine. That crazy road can still be found up on the eastern ridge of Piru Gorge. The next major incarnation if the road was the four lane highway on this route to Slide Mountain. This was the road the my family followed pulling a rented house trailer for our yearly vacations to Yosemite Valley in the late 50’s. For this reason, this old thoroughfare is sweetly nostalgic and evocative to me, as artifacts can be. The old road now runs smack into Pyramid Lake and dam that was built in 1972 and is now largely underwater.

Today the I-5 is a massive 10 lane monument to earth-moving that makes the torturous trek the Jobes made in “The Grapes of Wrath” in days into a half-hour jaunt at 80 mph.

Moonset over old Highway 5 and the mountain gate that now impounds Pyramid Lake

The hike is now a healthy 5.3 miles to the summit with about 2,800 feet of elevation gain on a well-graded trail. The new road closure adds about 3 miles to the round trip since my last visit in 1994. There is good cell service on the summit. The hike took me about two and a half hours without many stops.

I used the well-maintained fire lookout as a support for my home-brewed speaker wire doublet and roll-up j-pole to make 29 contacts on 2m, 17m, 20m and 40m. I even worked Chris F4WBN in France again. Other regulars included Gary and Martha (W0MNA and W0ERI) in Kansas, John KI6EAB working his remote base in Florida from Capitola, California, Jerry NG6R in Palos Verdes, Brian WA6JFK, Scott WA9STI, Todd W6TLY, Jon K6LDQ and Cassie KG6MZR back home in Topanga.

Contacts made from Slide Mountain
Operating position on Slide Mountain out of the wind. The arrows point to my homemade doublet
Frazier Mountain in the background
Pyramid Lake and Dam
Old Highway 5

Liebre Mountain

A dazzlingly beautiful day on Liebre Mountain between the storms

This was perhaps the most fun I’ve had on a SOTA activation to date – and I almost didn’t go! The winds had been blowing for much of January and the I-5 corridor is notorious for taking the worst of it. Some rain finally fell on Saturday and Sunday morning was forecast to be clear, but possibly windy before the next storm moved into the Southern California. When I got up at 3:30AM it was pretty windy in Topanga. I mulled it over and decided to go for it anyway. I could always turn back. It was 43ºF in my driveway but 32ºF in the bottom of Topanga Canyon. Watching for ice on the road I made my way up 1-5 to the 138 cutoff to Lancaster.

It was also 32ºF at the road head but no wind! I got underway just as it was getting light. There were only a few spots of snow at the car, but soon I was walking in a winter wonderland of glittery, dry powdery snow. The hike affords spectacular views of the Antelope Valley

The Tehachapi Mountains beyond the Antelope Valley after yesterday’s storm

My pack weighed 24.5 pounds, down from the usual 28 pounds or so. I jettisoned the big SLR camera and tripod in favor of saving space for bulky winter clothing. I had enough to be able to bivouac the night in an emergency.

Frazier Mountain at sunrise

The hike is 3.5 miles one way and has an elevation gain of about 2,000 feet. The route follows the Pacific Crest Trail and is a well graded trail.

The mountain top is large, flat and park-like with large oaks trees everywhere. The activation zone is huge, in fact the Sierra Club’s Hundred Peaks section considers the summit where the register is indicated on the map above. There is good cell service from Verizon. The summit does not have great UHF/VHF coverage into the Los Angeles basin.

I made contact with New Hampshire, Georgia, West Virginia, Kansas and two POTA stations on 20m. One sobering discovery on an otherwise giddy activation: my old cell phone died and after that I found it was very hard to make HF contacts without a spot on SOTAwatch3. Since I plan to do some remote peaks with no cell coverage I need to develop a strategy to get the necessary 4 contacts to qualify the activation. The two POTA contacts might point in that direction.

Palos Verdes between the San Gabriel Mountains and the Santa Susana Mountains
My table and chair came in very handy!
Winter wonderland

Saddle Peak 4

My brand-new KX2 on its second activation with the Bioenno 3ah external battery and groovy WA6JFK cable

11 JANUARY 2021 W6/CT-274

As the Santa Ana winds raged over the weekend I built a 20m speaker wire doublet/dipole. By the end of the weekend it was tuned up and ready to go. The winds abated Sunday night and I was up at the crack of dawn to drive to my neighborhood peak – Saddle Peak.

A thin waning crescent moon and Venus hung over the wind-cleared Los Angeles basin.

The Moon and Venus over the Santa Monica Bay and Santiago Peak

The new home-brewed antenna was a resounding success! I had a mini-pileup and worked stations is France, Spain, Quebec, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas, Montana, Tennessee and one California station that couldn’t hear me, so he fired up a remote station in Florida and came booming in. I also worked Brian WA6JFK on an HT in downtown Los Angeles for old time’s sake 😉 Scott WA9STI, who has been so helpful and supportive in getting me on the HF airwaves chimed in on 20m too.

HF contacts with the zip cord 20m doublet.
28 pounds of gear this morning on Saddle Peak. The new speaker wire doublet deployed.
Container ships backed up in San Pedro Bay due to the pandemic, Santa Monica Bay in the foreground.
Downtown Los Angeles and Century City from the operating position.
20m Doublet. The antenna also tunes on 40m and 15m using the feedline as a radiator

The link to my previous activation of Saddle Peak and the route description can be found HERE.

Triunfo Lookout 2

7 JANUARY 2021 W6/SC-219

It took several months, but my new Elecraft KX2 Finally arrived! I was so thrilled to finally have an HF radio, I decided to revisit Triunfo Lookout to try it out. I also purchased a Packtenna end-fed random wire to go with the KX2.

The Santa Ana winds had been blowing but I decided to give it a shot anyway. I was on the summit well before sunrise and the wind picked up quite a bit. Not the best conditions to deploy an HF antenna. As it was, the antenna blew down three times. In my excitement I had forgotten to pack my windbreaker or even a heavy pile jacket, so I was left shivering in a hoodie. I made 8 contacts on single sidband – one in France – and then beat a hasty retreat. The learning curve is pretty high on the KX2. It is a very different radio than my K3. I’ll need to spend some time with the rig. However, I am thrilled to finally be on HF on my SOTA adventures.

The end-fed Packtenna can be seen here on the edge of the old fire lookout’s foundation. I picked up quite a bit of common mode current with the coax running up to the feed point. Clearly I need to work on that.

Sunrise over Buzzard’s Roost (W6/SC-229) with Santiago Peak in the background.

The link to my previous activation of Triunfo Lookout and the route description can be found HERE.

Strawberry Peak & Mount Lawlor

Sunrise over the stratus of the marine layer covering the Los Angeles Basin

My old friend Bill Smith proposed to a bunch of us old rock and mountain people that we all should attempt to do the entire John Muir Trail starting this coming summer. It’s an audacious plan for a group of sixtysomethings, but the idea has taken hold. It’s going to take a lot of preparation and conditioning.

The SOTA bug bit me last year in August and I managed 35 activations last year. That should give me a good head start on the conditioning, but, even still, I’ll need to step it up.

With this in mind, I decided to do a twofer and carry a 25 pound pack in the process. To do Strawberry and Lawlor the hike is about 8 miles round trip and has about 2,400′ of gain. I did shorten it by descending Mount Lawlor down a ridiculously steep firebreak. I did it because there was a lot of slick snow on the ridge and I didn’t have spikes for my shoes. I don’t recommend it. It is steep and there is a lot of loose rock.

I left Red Box in the moonlight at 5AM. The hike up to Lawlor Saddle is a delightful, well-graded trail. Expanding vistas await the hiker around every corner as the trail traverses the steep southern flank of Mount Lawlor. There was no snow on the south and east exposures, but there was still quite a bit on the north and west sides.

Once the hiker leaves Lawlor Saddle, the trail becomes narrower and steeper heading up to either Strawberry or Lawlor along the ridge-line.

Heading up to Strawberry before dawn

I made it to Strawberry just after sunrise, about 7AM. Brian WA6JFK was my first contact from Mt. Glassell.

The ridge up to Strawberry

I had the summit of Strawberry to myself for about an hour. As I was packing, up a nice guy arrived and we chatted a bit. Will gave me a cool sticker and I bid him farewell and descended. Now the crowds were ascending in earnest.

Ghost City from Strawberry
Mt. Wilson with Santiago Peak in the distance
Nice shot of Josephine with Lukens, Yerba Buena Ridge, Oat Mountain and Santa Paula Peak up in the right corner

Once I left Lawlor Saddle and headed up the ridgeline to Mount Lawlor, the snow became a bit of a problem. It wasn’t bad where I could kick steps, but the parts that had been tracked down were pretty icy and slick. I proceeded as Norman Clyde suggested, always being ready to turn back if it was too dangerous. However nobody seemed to be going up Lawlor, so I had the route to myself.

The summit of Lawlor was pretty ugly. It had been freshly bulldozed and the wreckage of burned out telephone poles gave off a heavy air of nasty creosote. I did get a pretty good pile-up on 2 meters and worked stations from San Diego to Santa Barbara.

Radio station KG6MZS/P on Mount Lawlor with my new Big Boss chair from REI

From here I headed down the previously mentioned “death firebreak”. Again: not recommended. All and all, it was a terrific day, loads of fun

Clark’s Peak 2020 and 2021

The Anacapa Islands and Santa Cruz Island with a container ship from Clark’s Peak

31 DECEMBER 2020 – 1 JANUARY 2021 W6/SC-292

Scott WA9STI had let me know about the Zulu New Year in SOTA – or the phenomena that an operator could get credit for two activations by operating from a summit on the changeover from 23:00 hours UTC to 00:00 hours at 4pm local time. Brian WA6JFK planned on activating Cerro Negro Benchmark, while Scott went for 1,838′ (W6/SC-311). I chose nearby Clark’s Peak because I knew it was virtually a drive up. My last trip up to Clark’s Peak was October 1st 1999 with Cassie KG6MZR, big brother Mark and Chanucey the dog.

I’m not doing a map on this one because there is no real hike – just a short scramble up a fire break. Drive up Yerba Buena Canyon and take Cotharin Road past where it turns to dirt. Park in front of the “End” sign. There are also “Private Property No Trespassing” signs here. Parking is very limited and make sure you park so that the locals can get by your vehicle. Scramble up the hill on the left to the obvious summit.

The last day of 2020 was a very clear and windy day. I was pleasantly surprised to find the wind abated and a beautifully clear late afternoon atop the mountain. I spotted a roadrunner and a gopher snake on the way up. A large hawk kept me company on the summit.

Santa Catalina Island in the distance. Note my new “Big Boss” portable chair from REI

Scott’s strategy was a great success. I worked 6 contacts in 2020, 6 contacts in 2021 and 6 summit-to-summit contacts. I got Scott and Brian in both years. It probably would’ve been tough to scare up the required 4 contacts on 2m FM, but there were a lot of people out to cover the Zulu New Year.

Boney Ridge and Hines Peak off to the left
Sandstone Peak and Triunfo Lookout
Watching the sun set on 2020

Yerba Buena Ridge

The Front Range of the San Gabriel Mountains. Condor Peak and Fox Benchmark dominate the left side with Waterman Mountain, Twin Peak and Mount San Antonio (Baldy) in the background. Then Strawberry Peak and Mount Lawlor just right of center, San Gabriel Peak, the tell-tale flat-top of Mt. Lowe and Mount Lukens on the far right.

26 DECEMBER 2020 W6/CT-163

The day after Christmas I treated myself to this very enjoyable hike. It is a good hike for a cool winter day. I left the car at 5:45 AM and made the summit just before 8 AM with only a few stops to catch my breath, take a sip of water or snap a quick photo. I saw no one on the entire trip up – rare in the San Gabriel Mountains on a Saturday – and only a few groups on the way down. They mostly seemed to be headed for Oak Springs at the 1.4 mile mark with few venturing further.

The hike is a little over 4 miles and has an elevation gain of about 2,600′ with about 450′ of loss.

It was so pleasant on the summit, I spent a few hours making 26 2m FM contacts with a lot of the usual suspects, and including one with John W6FE in Chula Vista. I had two summit-to-summit contacts, one with W9SSN on Iron Mt. (SC-214) and another with Bret K1BAA on Townsend Peak (SC-161)

Oak Springs Trail meets the forest road 3N30 a bit past half way. Oat Mountain in the background
Verdugo Mountain, Cahuenga Peak and Saddle Peak

There is a very large activation area and I chose a spot well to the south of the actual summit that had a good view of the San Fernando Valley. The ridge is well named as it is covered with the fragrant Yerba Buena shrub. The Tongva and Chumash used this plant medicinally to treat a variety of ailments. There is some Yerba Buena below my pack in the photo above.

Oak Springs
The Spring was actually running in this very dry year that we’ve had so far