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

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

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

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

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

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

Cerro Negro Benchmark & Flint Peak


The Winter Solstice – 21 DECEMBER 2020. W6/CT-225 & 226

These two short hikes are easily done in a few hours. I picked the shortest day of the year to do them – The winter solstice. The Santa Ana winds had petered out and left the Los Angeles Basin sparklingly clear, calm and warm. That’s San Jacinto Peak and Santiago Peak in the sunrise photo above.

The hike up to the Cerro Negro benchmark starts at the Ridge Motorway right next to 2564 Flintridge Drive in Glendale. The hike is about a third of a mile and goes up about 200′

The hike up to Flint Peak starts on a trail next to 1001 Marengo Drive in Glendale. It would appear that there is a shorter hike from the end of Glenoaks Boulevard but there is a fence and “Private Property, No Trespassing” signs block that route. This hike is about .75 miles and climbs a mere 450′.

I easily made the required contacts on 2m FM very early on a Monday morning as the summits afford a wide view of the Los Angeles Basin.

Sunrise at Cerro Negro with Verdugo Mountain in the background. There is a nice bench to operate on
The Glendale neighborhood with downtown Los Angeles, Palos Verdes and Santa Catalina Island in the background
The view from Flint Peak
Operating on Flint
The Griffith Planetarium with Century City and Westwood Behind

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

Verdugo Mountain High Point


18 DECEMBER 2020 W6/CT-269

The last time I hiked up Verdugo Mountain my brother Mark and I approached the summit from La Tuna Canyon. Brian WA6JFK warned me that cars parked there have been getting broken into, so I decided to try a new route – from Whiting Woods Road in Verdugo City, next to Montrose. This route runs steeply up the east side of the mountain, so it affords a wonderful view of the eastern sky and would take full advantage of the dawn. In the photo above Mount Wilson is on the extreme left, San Jacinto Peak is in the middle and Santago Peak is on the right. Venus shines in the pre-dawn sky over the lights of La Cañada and Flintridge.

I started out at 5:15 AM in the dark, which is fortuitous because parking at the road head is limited to 5AM to 10PM. The hike is 3 miles and climbs 1,700′ to the high point. It is a steep fire road and the climb took me about an hour and twenty minutes. I hike pretty fast and I only stopped briefly to catch my breath a few times. The hike is a nice workout up through some mature chaparral that hasn’t burned in a while. There are a few pine trees along the way but little in the way of shade. Perhaps my only complaint is that the 210 Freeway below is LOUD for a lot of the hike – even before dawn

The top has decent cellular coverage via Verizon and wonderful 2m coverage of a wide range of Southern California. I made 13 2m FM contacts early on a Friday morning without trying too hard. Joe K7KCE in Mission Viejo turned down his radio to >1 Watt and was still a solid 54 into my rollup J-pole. My furthest contact was with K6GAS in Temecula. Brian WA6JFK helped me to find the actual summit. It had been 18 years since I was last up there.

The Santa Monica Mountains over the San Fernando Valley behind me. You can see Century City over the Santa Monicas
Downtown Los Angeles and the Los Angeles River along I5
Strange angle on Oat Mountain with Santa Paula and Hines Peaks behind it
Good views of the front range. Here is Strawberry Peak and Mount Lawlor
Sunrise over the Front Range of the San Gabriels with San Jacinto Peak in the distance
Trail head restrictions

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

Kagel Mountain


10 DECEMBER 2020 W6/CT-170

The hike to Kagel Mountain is 3 miles long and has modest 1,275 feet of elevation gain. As usual, I did this hike before the sun came up, but I can imagine it would be a hot one on a summer day. There is about 500 feet of elevation loss on the trip out which, of course, translates to 500′ of gain on the return trip. The route follows a good road that is used by parasailers that access Kagel Mountain and use it as a launching point. Brian WA6JFK says it looks like an outdoor yoga studio because of all the mats and pieces of carpet used by the hang gliders. There is a mast and a windsock that can be used as an antenna support along with a picnic table and metal bench that make for a very comfortable activation. Verizon cell coverage is excellent.

This mountain offers a terrific view of the Front Range of the San Gabriel Mountains. To the west is Oat Mountain, Hines Peak and Santa Paula Peak. To the north Magic Mountain dominates. Be sure to walk over to the west edge of this broad summit to catch a glimpse of Pacoima Reservoir. The full length of the Santa Monica Mountains line the southern horizon across the San Fernando Valley.

The summit offers a nice picnic table to work from. Saddle Peak is to the left of me inn this photo
The summit is the jumping off point for parasailers

My last visit to this summit was on the Fourth of July, 1995 when Cassie KG6MZR, our faithful dog Chauncey Gardner and I drove all the way out to the summit. The gate at Dillon Divide wasn’t locked back then. The whole place was covered in purple flowers and there was a rattlesnake under the trashcan

Sunrise over Mt. Lukens and the Front Range
Here’s a wider shot that includes Strawberry, Josephine and Lawlor off to the left

More information about the Summits on the Air program.



5 DECEMBER 2020 W6/CT-228

Santa Ana winds had been blowing all week triggering a red flag warning and that kept me near home. The winds died down Saturday morning and I decided t make a run for a local summit out near Westlake. It was 53º F in my driveway in Topanga when I left home about 5:15 AM. At the bottom of Topanga Canyon at Cheney Road it was 32º F – a 21º canyon inversion of the temperature gradient.

The hike is a very pleasant 1.1 miles up a well graded road that has reverted to a single track trail. There was nobody around on the way up – a good thing as the Covid Pandemic is getting worse. I only saw four people on the entire three hour excursion.

I was treated to a spectacular sunrise on the summit. At first I thought it might be hard to make the four qualifying contacts on 2m FM, but soon people woke up and I made contact with Glassel Park (Brian WA6JFK). I was a bit surprised when Jon K6LDQ made it 59 through Malibu Canyon from Torrance. My furthest contact was with W6TED in Carmel Valley near Del Mar in San Diego over the Santa Monica Mountains. I had three summit-to-summit contacts all with nearby Bodle Peak – 2,450 W6/SC-237.

Sunrise over Saddle Peak
Dawn on 1,821′ Looking back through Malibu Canyon
One of my favorite mountains: Cobblestone Peak
CQ SOTA CQ SOTA Hines Peak and Topatopa Ridge in the background
Simi Peak

More information about the Summits on the Air program.


Downtown Los Angeles, Palos Verdes Peninsula and Santa Catalina Island at sunrise


29 NOVEMBER 2020 W6/CT-150

The Sunday after Thanksgiving Brian WA6JFK and I decided to work off the mashed potatoes with another tandem activation – Brian on Hoyt Mountain and me on 4,202 right next door. The road head for 4,202 is the same as it is for Mt. Josephine – the junction of The Angeles Crest Highway and The Angeles Forest Highway at the Clear Creek Ranger Station.

The day was remarkably clear after a few rounds of Santa Ana winds had raked over the Los Angeles Basin on Thanksgiving. I left the car at about 6:15AM in the deep pre-dawn twilight. The hike is only .54 miles but climbs 612 feet in that short jaunt, so it gets somewhat steep in places. On the summit I was treated to a fantastic view of downtown Los Angeles, Palos Verdes Peninsula with Santa Catalina Island seen above.

Brian made it up to Hoyt Mountain a little after I did and we had a summit-to-summit contact. I took a telephoto shot of Hoyt Mountain and, upon blowing it up, could spot Brian and his mast!

Hoyt Mountain 1.1 miles away

I also had another summit-to-summit with David N6AN on Flint Peak as he was up early working the world on the CQ Worldwide CW Contest. Our contact was on 2m FM. I also made contact with several members of the Lake Balboa Emergency group. Scott WA9STI alerted me to the net at 17:00 UTC and the net control, Dan NR6V was nice enough to make an announcement on the net about my activation. Among the contacts with that group, I had a very pleasant QSO with George KJ6LA about hiking and radio gear.

Many of the usual suspects came booming in on 2m – Derek KM6UHU and Steve WB2WIK – and I think I even woke Jon K6LDQ up 😉

Mt. Josephine behind me and the set up – a 23′ carbon fiber “Crappie” fishing pole and a roll-up slim jim.
Close up of Josephine
Glendale and Century City with Verdugo Mountain and the terminus of the Santa Monica Mountains at Griffith Park
One of my favorite San Gabriel Mountains: Strawberry Peak behind me. My Nephew and I last year did the arete off to the left as pictured here

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

Frazier Mountain


25 NOVEMBER 2020 W6/CC-003

After hiking up Mount Pinos I drove over to Frazier Mountain to meet my friends Brian WA6JFK and Scott WA9STI. I last drove up this mountain on July 3rd, 1989. The road seemed rougher than I remembered it from 31 years ago and the abandoned fire lookout was more decrepit (see photo above)

Scott had set up his KX3 with a 100 watt amp and generously let me use it on 17m for my first SSB SOTA contacts. What a great set-up! Brian and I also used Scott’s 1.2 GHz radio and beam to make contact with Jon K6LDQ in Torrance. This was my first time on 1.2 GHz. Thank you Scott!

Scott, WA9STI at the operating position of his very cool setup operating his club’s call of WA6LE
Brian WA6JFK and his HF setup
Double and Tehachapi Mountain from Frazier Mountain

The Hundred Peaks Section climbing guide for Frazier Mountain.

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

Mount Pinos


25 NOVEMBER 2020 W6/CC-002

I’ve skied to this summit far more often than I have hiked it. It is fun terrain for cross country skis and at 8,848′ it has snow much the winter, on average. My first trip to this summit was on June 9th, 1974 – just before graduating from Palisades High School. I climbed Mt. Ritter in the Sierra Nevada a week later.

The sign at Chula Vista parking lot says 2 miles, but the SOTALAS track says 1.69 miles

The hike is a pleasant 1.69 miles with about 600′ of elevation gain through a shady forest. Simply park at the end of Mt. Pinos road in the Chula Vista Campground parking lot and follow the main dirt road up from there. The activation zone is quite large and I recommend the west side near the Condor Viewing Area

I made all my contacts on 2m, including a summit-to-summit with Brian WA6JFK and Scott WA9STI over on Frazier Mountain. Here’s a helpful note for 2m operation: there is a club frequency, 146.550, that a lot of people out to the north use. Jim KA6QLQ out in Bakersfield told me about this. I also worked Pete W6SV up in Walker Basin up by Lake Isabella on this frequency.

A bit of snow on the trail
Frazier Mountain and the San Gabriel Mountains behind me on the summit

The Hundred Peaks Section climbing guide for Mount Pinos.

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

This is Eagle Rest Peak (W6/SC-022) from Mt. Pinos. It was the 100th peak I climbed in the Hundred Peaks Section. I went with Cassie and Chauncey the dog. I had to lift Chauncey up some of those rock bands. I wish SOTA was around back then, it has never been activated.