Hoyt Mountain


I had one of the strangest experiences of my mountaineering career climbing Hoyt Mountain on Halloween 2020. The hike up was mostly in the dark before dawn to avoid the hiking crowds in these days of the Covid Pandemic, and to avoid the heat that was forecast. A setting full Moon popped in and out as I made my way up the fireroad. Shortly after leaving the fireroad and ascending the steep firebreak, I came across a skunk lumbering along the trail up ahead. I made a little noise and the animal moved off into the underbrush. So far, so much like every other encounter I’ve ever had with skunks. Shortly after that the skunk reappeared and was walking straight toward me. I clapped my hands and raised my voice and the little guy did a somersault, butt in the air and gave me a “warning shot” of scent, and then ran further up the trail. I picked up a few rocks and lobbed them into the bushes. A little way further up, the skunk inexplicably reappeared up ahead and scurried down the trail directly toward me again! I yelled MR. SKUNK! loudly and clapped my hands and the creature finally somersaulted again and gave me a much bigger cloud of that thing skunks are famous for. Fortunately I was still 20 feet away or so and the only thing sprayed was the air between us. I’ve never has anything like this happen in a lifetime of hiking and climbing mountains. I figure I must’ve been near her den with some young uns in it. Brian (WA6JFK) suggested rabies when I made radio contact on the summit.

Sunrise over Mt. Deception in the Front Range of the San Gabriels from Hoyt Mountain

The hike is 2.25 miles and has 1,700′ of elevation gain. NOTE: some hikers may find the firebreak section to be too steep. Please be forewarned. The summit had spotty cell coverage with Verizon. To find the roadhead, drive 6.1 miles up the Angeles Crest Highway past the 210 Freeway. There is ample parking where the fireroad leaves from the left.

The summit offers a terrific view of Mt. Josephine, Strawberry Peak and Mt. Lawlor along with Mt. Lukens. You can see Hines Peak and Santa Paula Peak way off in the west. Downtown Los Angeles, Palos Verdes and Catalina are also very visible on a clear day.

Josephine, Strawberry and Lawlor behind me

I made 16 contacts on 2m FM – one with Cam WA6VVC in Rosamond out in the Antelope Valley using his remote base WA6CAM in Tehachapi – not a legal contact, but fun anyway. Brian WA6JFK sounded like he was standing right next to me from his home in Glassell Park.

Downtown Los Angeles, Palos Verdes and Santa Catalina Island.
There is a nice stand of pine on the steep north side of Hoyt Mountain. Santa Paula Peak and Hines Peak in Ventura County are upper left
Powerlines and the Edison Road that is the route I took

Sunset Peak

24 OCTOBER 2020 W6/CT-022

Last weekend my friend Brian (WA6JFK) hiked up this mountain while I did Timber Mountain. I decided to follow his activation with my own. My last trip up Sunset Peak was 26 years ago and it looked much the same. The old fire lookout was originally built in 1915 for a complete cost of $2,500. It was struck by lightning in October of 1928 while occupied by Mr. & Mrs. Charles E. Horn. They decided to leave and it was subsequently struck again and completely destroyed. Their decision to leave could well have saved their lives. As mountaineer Norman Clyde used to say “The mountains will be here tomorrow. I reckon to be able to say the same about myself.”

The tower was rebuilt and served until 1974 when it was dismantled due to the air pollution in the Los Angeles basin hampering the effectiveness of fire lookouts.

The Sunset Peak fire lookout in July 1940

Today all that remains is the ruins of the corrugated iron rain catcher and cistern tank.

More about the history of Sunset Peak’s fire lookout.

There are two major routes up the mountain: a fireroad and a firebreak. The road is a very gentle – the grade perhaps too gentle – is 3.7 miles long. The firebreak is only about 1.25 miles long and somewhat steep in places. Nothing too tough for an experienced mountaineer – and much shorter. The elevation gain is about 1,300 feet. I opted to go up the fireroad because it was dark all the way up except the last switchback, on which I scrambled up the firebreak. That saved .3 miles. I descended the firebreak because it wasn’t hard in the daylight and the fire road was getting quite a few maskless hikers in these days of the pandemic. The fire road is well shaded with fine canopy tall pines and oaks.

Here is the Hundred Peaks Section climbing guide.

The summit affords great UHF/VHF coverage of southern California and cell service is available. I made 26 contacts – 24 on 2m and 2 on 70cm. That included 3 summit-to-summit contacts with Cuyamaca Peak and 2 on Jamul Mountains.

The coastal plains were covered with a think deck of marine stratus
Santiago Peak floats above the stratus at dawn
Just before sunrise
Descending along the firebreak
The start of the fireroad from Cow Canyon Saddle.
View west back toward the front range – Mt Wilson, San Gabriel Peak, Strawberry and Lawlor and Twin Peak.

2,450′ – Bodle Peak

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Westlake Reservoir from Bodle Peak

A little history about this summit – in 1930 a fire lookout tower was moved from Blue Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains to this location. County forester Spence D. Turner said the move was intended to protect “…a highly hazardous mountain area where there are many summer homes and valuable properties” as was reported in The Forrest Worker in September 1932.

The lookout only lasted 4 years before it was dismantled and moved to Triunfo Peak a few miles west. The foundations for this lookout remain today. Those “summer homes” today are now mega-mansion, wineries, equestrian centers and gentleman farms. The Woolsey fire burned the area on November 8th, 2018.

The hike is pretty easy: only .8 miles and 675′ of elevation gain. The beginning is actually the very rough driveway of 32701 Mulholland Highway. As of this writing there were no “Private Property” or “No Trespassing” signs posted. The driveway ends at a level spot on the ridge where a trailer and a truck are parked. I skirted around them to the right before sunrise and saw no one around. A short way above the trailer the track joins the old Bodle Peak Motorway. This is the long disused access to the fire lookout. It is obviously very seldom traveled. I wore shorts, but anymore brush and I would’ve wanted long pants.

The summit is a nice mountain top with good cell phone coverage and great 2 meter range. I made 2 meter contacts in Yucaipa (Riverside County), San Marcos (San Diego County) and Temecula for a total of 16 contacts, all on 2 meters in the dawn hours. Perhaps the best QSO of all was the last one. I worked Gary, KN6LIY in Thousand Oaks. This was Gary’s first contact on amateur radio as he had just achieved his Technician license 9 days ago! As is would happen I also worked Brian, WA6JFK who was MY first amateur radio contact back in 2002! I just love the symmetry of that.

Not sure why my iPhone took such a weird shot, but it is my only selfie

While I was working the radio, an owl kept flying overhead, lower and lower until I finally had to shine my flashlight at her just to let her know I wasn’t a kangaroo mouse.

Home brew roll-up J-pole
Using an rock climber’s trick of looping protruding rock to save on hardware

The rock formations in the area are all composed of igneous rock – breccia mostly – or rock and gravel that has been cemented together by molten rock.

Saddle Rock in the distance

This was only the third activation of this summit. It is a very nice peak, I’m somewhat surprised. Perhaps people have been scared of by the private property post on the SOTA database.

1,470′ Calabasas

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Start of the Phantom Trail off Mulholland Highway at Malibu Creek State Park

Early on Tuesday morning I made my way through a dense marine layer to Malibu Canyon. The drizzle was enough to need the windshield wipers. There was nobody at the Cistern/Phantom trail head a few miles west of Las Virigines/Malibu Canyon road on Mulholland Highway.

The hike is short and easy – about .9 miles and 600′ of elevation gain. The summit is the second bump passed the benchmark. A small rock cairn marks the actual summit

This summit does not have good UHF/VHF coverage into the more populated areas of Los Angeles. I had trouble scaring up 5 contacts on 2 meters early on a Tuesday morning. I probably should’ve waited until I can manage to by some HF gear before attempting this one. I heard several stations that could not hear me. One highlight was working my friend Steve WA6FGW who was mobile on Pacific Coast Highway. We barely eked out a QSO, but that was pretty amazing clear over the Santa Monica Mountains like that. Brian WA6JFK said my signal was “horrible” in Glassell Park. I did work three 59 signals: WB2WIK Steve in Winnetka, WA9STI Scott in Granada Hills and WB6MIO Charles in Simi Valley.

Deep drizzle and fog on the summit
This benchmark is two bumps short of the summit

Timber Mountain

17 OCTOBER 2020 W6/CT-052

You can see why they call it Timber Mountain. About a quarter mile from the summit

Brian (WA6JFK) and I were planning another pair of tandem activations. Sunset Peak was a good choice for a moderate hike, but what other juicy peak was nearby? I had climbed Timber Mountain twice before – once in 1981 and once in the winter of 1999. At 10 miles round trip and over 3,300′ of elevation gain, it poses a challenge to my current level of conditioning. I decided that’s a good thing!

Here is the Hundred Peaks climbing guide.

Since I haven’t been up Icehouse Canyon this century, I was shocked to find a packed roadhead parking lot at 5am with many groups getting ready to hike. This is a heavily traveled area. Starting up the trail in the dark, a flashlight is absolutely essential. The trail is very rocky and, in places, narrow with steep drop-offs. I managed to pass a few slow parties and be passed by some faster ones. I only needed to don the Covid 19 mask at these few times on the way up. This is good because the trail climbs steeply in the thin air and the mask is uncomfortable.

Getting close

On the summit there were three guys who spent the night. They had the banda music playing merrily away while I got set up. This is not a wilderness experience. Soon several other large parties joined us. When I say “parties” I mean that more ways than one. Soon “Happy Birthday” banners were hung and tequila shots were poured. I explained to the revelers what Summits on the Air was all about and got several “cool!”s out of it. One guy said he was studying for the Technician license.

Just before the crowds arrived

The activation was a success with 18 contacts all on 2m, including 3 summit to summit contacts with Brian (WA6JFK) over on Sunset Peak, W5EAL at The Pinnacles over in the San Bernardino Mountains and with W6MDE who was acting as fire lookout on Morton Peak.

Home brew roll-up J-pole on a 20′ carbon fiber fishing pole

The hike down was actually harder with many rock and wood stairs to step down. I have to work the muscles hard to protect my 65 year old knees. I had to wear the mask almost all the way down as numerous groups where ascending the trail. I got back to the car exactly at noon.

The water that comes out of the springs in Icehouse Canyon has percolated through thousands of feet of granite. It is so clear the sun seems to shine directly on the rock and sand
This Incense Cedar has seen over a hundred years of fire, rain and snow
A surprising amount of water in Icehouse Canyon for October

Simi Peak

13 OCTOBER 2020. W6/CT-207

Venus and the waning crescent Moon before dawn on Simi Peak with the San Gabriel Mountains.

Once again my friend Brian (WA6JFK) and I were scheming about doing tandem activations early Tuesday morning to beat the heat that was forecast to be near triple digits. I picked Simi Peak and Brian decided to try Kagel Mountain over in the San Gabriels. I started hiking about 5:30 AM from the top of King James Place in Oak Park. The trail follows an old fire road that is deeply eroded. Waking in the ambient light is usually no problem, but the uneven footing made a flashlight necessary. Along the trail I saw dozens of Kangaroo Mice scurrying around feeding in the cool, pre-dawn air. The winter stars glittered overhead, Orion, Canis Major, Taurus. In the west, Mars shone brightly as it is at opposition to Earth and very close. In the east Venus and the waning crescent Moon dominated the sunrise. As I made the ridge, I even spotted Canopus – the second brightest star in the sky. Canopus is normally a Southern Hemisphere star. It can only be seen in these northern latitudes for a few hours a night in the fall and winter very low in the southern sky.

The hike is 5 miles round trip with 1,250′ of elevation gain. There is 250′ of gain on the return. The trail is heavily traveled most days and while I saw no one going up or on the summit at dawn, there were quite a few people starting out as I descended

Unlike the part of the Santa Monica Mountains just to the south, Simi Peak is all sedimentary rock. The trail takes the hiker through China Flat – a lovely live oak grove set in meadows behind the steep south scarp. This is where Little House on the Prairie was filmed.

Looking east before sunrise

I made 9 contacts on 2m. Brian made it up to Kagel Mountain about 7AM and we got our summit-to-summit in. We also made contact with our friend Steve (WA6FGW) who was on his way to work in Santa Monica. I first heard him as he came out of the MacClure Tunnel over the crest of the Santa Monica Mountain. By the time he got to Cloverfield he was 59. I also heard from faithful chasers Derek (KM6UHU) in Altadena, Steve (WB2WIK) in Winnetka, Ira (KI6TPX) in Glendale among others.

Sunrise over the San Gabriel Mountains
Looking northwest past Moorpark up to Hines Peak in the Sespe/Topotopo wilderness
The trail through China Flat
China Flat – where they filmed LIttle House on the Prairie and others
Deeply eroded trail up. Saddle Peak in the background.

Temescal Peak

9 OCTOBER 2020 W6/CT-218

Temescal Peak aka “Dog Bonker” Peak

The first time I hiked up Temescal Peak I was about 12 years old. My buddy Allan Gardner and I had seen the enticingly-named Eagle Springs on the topographical quad and it beckoned. Having no idea how long it would take, we left the quiet streets of Pacific Palisades at 2:30 AM. Our canvas Yucca Packs were ridiculously heavy — packed with all kinds of outlandish gear found in our suburban garages.

It was a long, strange odyssey. Using Al’s dad’s humongous SCUBA diving light, we saw a weasel raiding a large bird’s aerie for eggs in Temescal Canyon. As we made our way up to Temescal ridge in the dark, we kept hearing something strange whistling through the air over our heads. Much later we heard the report of a rifle and then the whistling sound, so we started yelling our heads off. A guy appeared over the edge of the firebreak above us on horseback brandishing a rifle. He told us “Don’t worry about it.” Yeah, right.

A little while later we came around a corner and in front of us was a large pack of wild dogs. They were mostly pretty scraggly looking, but the leader was a large shepherd mix. Al grabbed a machete out of his Yucca Pack and I picked up a huge stick with a large burl on the end. We stared the dogs down and they eventually ran off down into upper Santa Ynez Canyon.

When we arrived on 2,126′ (it wasn’t called Temescal Peak back then) I stuck the “dog bonker” stick in the pole that still graces the summit. For years after that you could see that stick for miles around. We called the summit Dog Bonker Peak for years.

In our pre-teen minds we were like Lewis and Clark in the wild west.

There are a lot of ways to hike up to Temescal Peak. I’ve done most of them. But for old time’s sake I left Trippet Ranch in Topanga State Park well before dawn. It was a nostalgic hike for me. The marine layer was in at about 2,500′ blocking out the waning moonlight, but the light LA and the San Fernando Valley provided enough illumination on the underside of the stratus to see well enough, once my eyes adapted to the dark.

The hike from Trippet Ranch is 3.7 miles, one way, with 1200 feet of elevation gain on well-graded fireroads. The turn-off is where the Backbone Trail leaves the Temescal Fireroad. You can see it in the photo above. The trail contours around the south side of the peak and you make your way to the summit via a small use trail on the east side.

My first contact was with Brian (WA6JFK) over on Cerro Negro Benchmark (CT-226) for a nice summit-to-summit contact. Unlike last week, Brian heard me loud and clear. He was 59 armchair copy. I made 19 contacts – 17 on 2 meters and 2 on 70cm. Cassie (KG6MZR) called me from home.

The pole that once held the Dog Bonker is still there and repurposed here for my carbon fiber fishing pole supporting my home brewed roll-up J-pole

The hike from Topanga State Park takes you by Eagle Springs and right under the strangly sculpted Eagle Rock.

Eagle Rock
Eagle Rock with Chaparral Buckwheat in the foreground.

Sandstone Peak

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Sunrise from Sandstone Peak. Lake Sherwood reflecting the dawn left center

At 3,111 feet, Sandstone Peak is the highest of the Santa Monica Mountains. I first hiked to the summit on December 12, 1974. Back then all of Boney Mountain was part of the Boy Scouts’ Circle X Ranch and it was jealously guarded by the cantankerous caretaker, Max Jones. Over the years my friends and I had many run-ins with Mr. Jones as we would sneak in to enjoy this lovely area. Now the entire area is overseen by the Conservancy. In many ways I miss those old days, dodging Max. We seldom saw anybody up there. Now, I’m afraid we are loving this place to death. In the last few years it must’ve made some online “Best Hikes” list because it is packed most days.

Because of the crowds, I left my car at 5:30 AM and made my way up the trail by the cloud-shrouded moonlight. The hike is 1.57 miles and about 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The trail is deeply eroded from so much foot traffic and the Woolsey fire.

The plan was for my friend Brian (WA6JFK) to hike up Flint Peak (CT-225) so we could do a little summit-to-summit. I set up my roll-up J-pole at the end of my new telescoping carbon fiber fishing pole. I could hear Brian clearly but he could not hear me at all. I did make contact with John (W6FE) in Chula Vista. I also had a QSO with Mike (KN6HTX) in San Marcos. Mike was only running 7 watts. I had several QSOs from the Ventura/Point Hueneme area, including a nice, armchair QSO with Bruce (KM6ZJK) in Ventura. As usual, I heard from Derek (KM6UHU) in Altadena and Jon (K6LDQ) in Torrance.

The new carbon fiber mast supporting my home-brew roll-up J-pole

The Echo Rock rock climbing area with Lake Sherwood in the background.

I’ve been rock climbing in this area for many years – long before it became very popular. In fact, I believe my friends and I were the first to climb Balance Rock back in the ’80’s

Fun fact: Sandstone Peak is a misnomer. The peak composed of igneous rock – mostly breccia.

Triunfo Lookout

29 SEPTEMBER 2020 W6/SC-219

After helping my friend Brian (WA6JFK) activate his first summit a week ago, we decided to try doing separate summits, Brian on 4020′ in the San Gabriel Mountains and me on Triunfo Lookout. I had not been on Triunfo since February 12, 1974 when I first hiked it with my old friend, Allan Gardner back when we were in high school.

The hike follows an old access road that is grown over with mountain lilac (ceanothus) and redshanks. The first half of the trail escaped the Woolsey fire and the lilac grows overhead and makes a nice canopy. The trail is .77 miles to the summit with a modest 500′ of elevation gain.

The summit affords a nice view of Sandstone Peak and Boney Ridge with Santa Cruz Island off the left side. Hines Peak and the Sespe/Topotopo mountains are off the right side and a view of Balance Rock and the Sandstone Peak rock climbing areas are plainly visible. Santa Catalina and Palos Verdes are visible to the south. The concrete foundation of the old lookout tower remain and look like some kind of ancient Greek cabana.

Santa Cruz Island is visible just behind the ladder line of my fold-able J-pole.

I immediately made contact with Brian, summit-to-summit and both my signal and reception was improved by using the roll-up J-pole I made. He was 59, full quieting. We both proceeded to make and share contacts all over the LA basin. Our furthest contact was with John, W6FE in Chula Vista. John joked that I should homestead the location because it was such a great radio site. He was armchair copy.

Chatsworth Peak

Sunrise over the San Gabriel Mountains from the trail up to Chatsworth Peak

2 SEPTEMBER 2020 W6/CT-036

For my ninth activation I set my sights on a peak I had never been to. I’ve looked at Chatsworth Peak for years but have never hiked it. Following the advice of Ron, K6RIN, I made my way up Lilac Lane to the private road, Mesa Drive. Unlike Ron, however, I found Mesa Drive in good condition up to the turn off on the right. I parked my sedan under a large power pole at the 4-way intersection in front of Sedona West.

K6RIN’s activation report is here.

The hike is short and steep, .46 miles and 400′ of elevation gain. After I passed the large water tank the road turns to a single-track trail that goes through fragrant Yerba Santa and California Buckwheat. I recommend a walking stick or trekking poles to let any potential rattlesnakes know that you are coming in the places where you can’t see your feet. This area has large sandstone boulders everywhere and it perfect snake habitat.

Just before the top the use trail takes you past two 150′ towers that suspend a large 1 megawatt shortwave antenna for radio station KVOH – The Voice of Hope. The antenna was erected in 1985.

The summit itself is a large sedimentary boulder with a large white X painted on the top that is plainly visible in Google Earth’s satellite imagery. The peak has fantastic views of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Santa Monica Mountains, the Santa Susanna Mountains and the Sespe/Topo Topo mountains to the northwest. Unlike K6RIN, I only saw a few bees.

I started calling CQ and was immediately met with a response from KI6UCN, Hart in Yucaipa Valley almost 100 miles away. Not bad for 5 watts and the glorified rubber duck. I did not detect any intermod or desensitization from the radio facility.

I also made contact with Cassie (KG6MZR) at home in Topanga. Brian (WA6JFK) in Glassell Park was next to respond. Brian was thinking about joining me, but after reading K6RIN’s report he said “No bees.” 🙂 I also had a nice QSO with Mountain Goat Scott (WA9STI) in Granada Hills among others. Another friend, Steve (WA6FGW), was over in Santa Monica and while I heard him briefly, we didn’t make contact over the Santa Monica Mountains on 2m.

Sunrise on Chatsworth Peak with Hines Peak above the bay laurel in the background

One thing to consider if you plan on activating this summit is that it lies on private property once you enter Mesa Drive. I suggest leaving early in the morning and keeping a low profile. I usually pick up a large bag of trash I find on the trail as a way to mollify any irate landowners I might come across. This tactic has worked wonders in the past. I didn’t see anybody on this early morning trip.