A view up Santa Paula Canyon of another of my favorite mountains, Hines Peak.
KG6MZS SUMMIT ACTIVATION
18 MARCH 2021 W6/SC-452
In trying to complete all the Santa Monica Mountains and summits adjacent, I set my sights on an unnamed elevation that I have never visited, Peak 1,370 out in the Conejo Valley.
The start of this hike is a little funny because you can’t park near the obvious closest roadhead at Via Bonita and Rancho Dos Vientos Drive. There is parking at Via Ricardo and Rancho Dos Vientos Drive.
The hike is about 1.5 miles with about 450 feet of elevation gain. Both Peak 1,370 and Conejo Mountain are outside the Dos Vientos Open Space and are on private property. Southern California Edison has posted NO TRESPASSING signs at the second gate where, technically, the private property begins.
I got to the summit about sunrise. There was a small, flat area to set up the station and a Toyon bush to tie the mast to. I made 12 contacts including Chris F4WBN in France and Lars SA4BLM in Sweden – a SOTA first for me. I had one summit-to-summit with David N6AN over on Flint Peak. That was the closest in the skip went. Nobody else in California and nobody on UHF/VHF FM. Regulars Gary and Martha (W0MNA and W0ERI) checked in along with Eric N0WAE in Montana. I also heard from Gary K6TCU in Pennsylvania among others who are fast becoming regular chasers. Thank you all.
On the way down I took another route by the “Two Ponds” on the map. Both were drained I suspect because of the avian salmonellosis. It is recommended to empty birdbaths and feeders until May.
Looking out over the San Rafael Wilderness from Figueroa Mountain
KG6MZS SUMMIT ACTIVATION
14 MARCH 2021 W6/CC-028
Cassie, KG6MZR wanted to get away for a picnic and we both love the Santa Barbara backcountry, so we left Topanga at a leisurely 10am or so. The drive up Figueroa Mountain Road out of Los Olivos is steep, narrow and absolutely gorgeous. The spring grass was finally starting to appear after the rains finally started to show up this season. We lusted after all the beautiful ranches we passed.
The hike is a nice casual stroll – a little over 2 miles up about 900 feet along a perfectly graded road. The oak and pine forest seems remarkably healthy and offers great shade along the way. This hike marked the first time Cassie has joined me on a SOTA excursion. Rather than get on the air immediately, we broke out the picnic basket and feasted on tomato soup and tuna sandwiches first. It was a delightful day with patches of snow on the ground and a sea of fog over Santa Ynez Valley.
This might’ve been the first SOTA activation where I made no UHF/VHF contacts. That’s a bit of a shame because it would’ve been nice to get Cassie her first activation as a Technician. She wasn’t heartbroken. 😉 As it was, I made 18 contacts on 40m, 20m and 17m. 40m was working close in and I had a summit-to-summit with Paul K6PVZ on Simi Peak. Also worked faithful chasers Jon K6LDQ and Jerry NG6N among others close by. Martha W0ERI, Gary W0MNA and Eric N0WAE were my faithful chasers to check in from Kansas, Kansas and Montana respectively. I had 19 total contacts.
Vintage photo c. 1963 with the author (about 7 years old) and Phyllis Sterk on the summit of Saddleback Butte shortly after it was made into a state park in 1960
KG6MZS SUMMIT ACTIVATION
13 MARCH 2021 W6/ND-308
I originally planned to try Circle Mountain out of Wrightwood, and, in fact, drove up to Wrightwood at dawn. It had snowed all the way down to Topanga Canyon the day before and the little town of Wrightwood was freshly blanketed with snow. The problem was I could find no place to park anywhere near where Lone Pine Canyon Road was closed in Wrightwood. It seems that the locals are sick and tired of city folk coming up to their town for snow play and clogging the streets of their little town and threatening NO PARKING signs are everywhere.
So rather than risk getting towed by parking in a market parking lot or some such, I opted to try another summit.
I just headed out across the high desert and migrated toward Saddleback Butte. The distinctive saddle shape of this mountain is visible all over the Antelope Valley and I just pointed the Audi at it and drove.
Parking in the campground parking lot ($5 day use fee for seniors, $6 regular), I enjoyed a leisurely 1.9 mile stroll to the summit. The 950 feet of elevation gain and it took me about an hour.
So much of that initial hike long ago came floating back to me as I hiked up the butte and I drifted on pleasant waves of nostalgia. I really am so very fortunate to have been exposed to so many great outdoor adventures as a kid. Thanks Mom and Dad.
My very first contact was a summit to summit from AC1Z on Blackrock Peak in Georgia! Great way to start the day. I made 13 contacts with many regular chasers. Thank you all. It was a bit breezy and the doublet’s feed line does not suffer contact with metal, carbon fiber or the ground very well. It was a bit of a chore to keep the feed line in free space.
I had the summit to myself for about an hour and then a fairly steady stream of hikers started to appear. This is a moderately-traveled summit – especially on a cool winter Saturday.
Saddleback Butte holds a special place in my heart as it was the first named elevation I ever climbed with my family and our good friends, the Sterks, back in the early ’60’s. They had five kids and my parents had three, so all twelve of us made the summit back then. On my descent I passed a large family party on the way down and informed a 10 year old young lady (soon to be 11!) that I did this mountain when I was only seven years old. She was profoundly unimpressed. 🙂
I love this shot of Ortega Peak. That’s the summit about a mile away. You can see how bushy the cross-country section is. Before the Thomas Fire that burned from December 2017 – March 2018 the route was virtually impassable due to thick chaparral. That’s Cobblestone Mountain (W6/SC-009) just to the left and Hines Peak (W6/SC-010) and the Topotopo Ridge to the right.
KG6MZS SUMMIT ACTIVATION
6 MARCH 2021 W6/SC-027
My brother Mark and I tried to climb Ortega Peak on December 27th, 1997 and we were met with an impenetrable wall of 12 foot chaparral. The Sierra Club’s Hundred Peaks Section de-listed this summit in 2001 because of “heavy brush and shooting area.” Indeed there was a lot of target shooting going on when my brother and I tried it long ago. However, the area has been closed to shooting for a number of years now – and largely cleaned up due to a lot of volunteer’s hard work.
Then the epic Thomas Fire burned through so much of the area from December 4th 2017 through March 27, 2018. After that the area was closed for a long time. I was glad to see that these mountains have largely recovered and the route is once again passable. I read a review by Valerie Norton of her hike just after the area was opened in 2018 and emailed her. She told me the shooting area had been closed. This is what encouraged me to try this summit again.
The hike is 4.7 miles long that follows Cherry Creek up a gently climbing road for about 3 miles. I started about 6AM and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the early morning. I heard the distinctive descending trill of the Canyon Wren and the quiet burbling of Cherry Creek. At about the 3.82 mile mark things get a bit serious. There was a duck, or small cairn of rocks to mark the point and a faint use trail angles steeply up the slope to the left. The route is bushy and steep in places, but passable. Total elevation gain is about 1,700′ and it took me about three hours moving right along.
There is currently a lot of Poodle Dog Bush (Eriodictyon parryi) in spots along the trail. The seeds to this plant can remain dormant in the soil for decades. It sprouts after a fire and is known to be a skin irritant. It doesn’t bother me much but your mileage my vary.
I made 24 contacts on 40m, 20m, 17m, 15m and 2m. I had 5 summit-to-summit contacts in California (thanks Neil K6KWI), Washington, Arizona and Colorado including Richard’s KJ7RTO first S2S. Chris F4WBN checked in from France first. I barely pulled Cassie KG6MZR out on 2m from home and, of course, no activation is complete without Jon K6LDQ from Torrance. UHF/VHF only would be tough from this peak. Cell coverage from Verizon was in and out, but I managed to get spots out via SOTAGoat.
The summit register went all the way back to May 27, 1997 and only had a couple of dozen names in it. This is a seldom-visited peak. I was the first to sign in this year. The last party was in November of last year. I only saw two other people the entire day, a young couple backpacking through to Matilija Creek. I thoroughly enjoyed this activation, but it is not one for everybody. I came back with my clothes and backpack covered in charcoal. Shooters and brush out of the way, my main concern on the descent was rattlesnakes and ticks. Rattlesnakes are often very active in the first warm days of March and with all the brush it can be hard to see where you are putting your feet. I had trekking poles to probe ahead of my steps.
Ticks often have blooms after the first rains of winter. I expected to see a lot, but saw none. Perhaps this is because it has been such a dry year. I did see a lot of Western Fence Lizards. Fun fact: Western Fence Lizards are naturally immune to Lyme disease. Not only that, they tend to immunize ticks that bite them. This is perhaps why we see fewer cases of Lyme disease in Western Fence Lizard habitat.
Sunrise over the San Gabriel Mountains from Peak 4,020
KG6MZS SUMMIT ACTIVATION
2 MARCH 2021 W6/CT263
I left our house in Topanga Canyon shortly after 4 am. It was 51ºF in our driveway and just a few short miles later at Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Cheney Drive the Audi’s thermometer read 33ºF. Another steep canyon temperature inversion this morning.
The hike starts at the Verdugo Oaks Boy Scout Camp off old Highway 5 near Templin Highway. The trail is 1.81 miles long and has a stout 1,155′ of gain. It looks like the trail has not been maintained in a while as is a little bit brushy, but not too bad. It is steep in places and has a number of wooden stairs. There are numerous benches and trashcans along the trail.
My way was lit by a waning gibbous moon and the light cirrus cloud cover gave way to a colorful sunrise as I made the ridge. The activation zone is huge and I found a nice wind-sheltered nook to set up my station. The summit has good cell phone coverage from Verizon. Perhaps the best part is that I didn’t see another person on the entire hike!
I managed only 11 contacts under poor band conditions. I did make contact twice with Chris F4WBN in France and he was loud and clear at 57 and 59. Gary W0MNA and Martha W0ERI were also very clear from Kansas. I only made one 2m contact, Jon K6LDQ, of course. This might be a tough activation with only a UHF/VHF HT.
I tried to contact Scott WA9STI on Circle Mountain over near Wrightwood o 2m, but we could only communicate via the PAPA repeater system. Likewise with my friend Keith K9TPR in Topanga Canyon. VHF is tough on this one.
Looking south across the Santa Clara River Valley. Saddle Peak and Sandstone Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains are visible
KG6MZS SUMMIT ACTIVATION
23 FEBRUARY 2021 W6/CT-140
I got a late start for me on this one. I didn’t pull out of the driveway in Topanga until about 5:30 AM. At home it was a balmy 56ºF, but by the time I got to the bottom of Topanga Canyon, it was 36ºF. This was a pretty steep canyon inversion layer caused by a very mild offshore, or Santa Ana, wind condition that was relatively high up. Cold air ran down the hillsides and pooled up in the wind-protected canyons and valleys.
As others have noted there are two ways up this mountain. The firebreak that follows the ridge line is steep and there is a lot of elevation loss – it is a roller-coaster ride. I suggest the trail that snakes off to the right of the road/firebreak. There is a lot of dirtbike erosion on the trail.
This route is 1.85 miles and has about 1000 feet of elevation gain that includes over 100 feet of elevation loss. It looks like there was once a trail that avoided some of the loss that continued on the north side of the ridge line, but only about half of the trail now remains.
The top is a broad summit that has recently been scraped of brush. Fortunately there was a manzanita bush in full flower that made an excellent anchor for my Goture 24′ carbon fiber fishing pole mast. When I got there a humming bird was ravaging the nectar from the flowers and was not too thrilled to have company. She kept buzzing my head as I called CQ.
I made 31 contacts on 40m, 20m, 17m and 2m. Chris F4WBN was loud and clear 58 from France on 20m. It was warm and breezy so I hung out for two hours and had a very enjoyable SOTA outing. Many of the usual chasers were out. Thanks to you all. My Verizon coverage was in and out, from no service to full bars. I was able to self-spot. I don’t really consider that cheating.
Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands over Boney Ridge. Some interesting features in this photo, if you look closely. Just where Anacapa goes behind Boney Ridge you can just make out the white buildings of the ranger and lighthouse keeper. Similarly, just in frame at the bottom right is the radar facility on Laguna Peak for Point Mugu Navel Air Base.
KG6MZS SUMMIT ACTIVATION
19 FEBRUARY 2021 W6/CC-056
I left the car about 5am and started hiking with the predawn stars of summer overhead. I witnessed something I’ve never seen in all my years of observing the heavens. I stopped to rest and looked up at the stars. There was a straight, glowing line in the sky with maybe 12- 20 bright, sparkly points evenly spaced along this cosmic contrail. It was like a diamond tennis bracelet stretched out in the sky. Then it all slowly faded.
I think it was what is called a persistent train – or the path of a meteor I had just missed seeing. Usually persistent trains just look like a luminescent contrail that fades over a few seconds. I’ve seen those many times. What I’ve never seen is all the bright points evenly spaced along one. If I had to guess I’d say this was the result was an artificial meteor – or a piece space junk that had broken up while burning up in the atmosphere.
This trip went so much smoother than the trip to Temescal Peak a few days ago. I had all the components and got to try out my new, lightweight 20m doublet. While propagation wasn’t as good, I still managed to work Chris F4WBN in France and VE1PVH in Nova Scotia along with stations in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Georgia and others. I had two summit-to-summit contacts including my very first S2S on HF with WA7JTM on a 10-pointer in Arizona, and with Hal N6JZT right next door on Buzzard’s Roost (W6/SC-229). Thanks guys!
All is all I made 23 contacts on 40m, 20m 17m and 2m. I was pleased that the doublet tunes up on 40 and 17.
I had the summit to myself for about an hour around sunrise. This summit can get very crowded, but there is a nice place to set up to the east of the actual summit that is off the trail up to the top. This allows people hike up and to sign in the register without tripping over the radio gear.
I was soon joined by three nice young ladies and Kobe the dog and explained the SOTA program to them. That got several “Cool!”s 🙂 Eya took some photos and promised to send them along. I hope she does and I will post them here.
A glorious sunrise over the Los Angeles Basin and the San Gabriel Mountains
KG6MZS SUMMIT ACTIVATION
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.
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.
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:
The sun rose shortly after I got to the activation zone. My Verizon cell coverage was in and out. I had no luck on 40m at all. Zero contacts. While my 20m doublet tunes on 40m, I don’t think it radiates very efficiently on that band. I’m thinking about making a 40m doublet out of lighter wire.
20 meters was much more fun. I made 14 contacts including Quebec, Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Texas, Montana and Washington State.
On 2 meters I had a summit-to-summit with Dan, NA6MG over on Flint Peak and, of course, Jon K6LDQ was crystal clear from Torrance,
Sunrise over the stratus of the marine layer covering the Los Angeles Basin
KG6MZS SUMMIT ACTIVATION
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 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.
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.