La Jolla Peak

Sunrise over Boney Mountain and Sandstone Peak (W6/CC-056)

4 SEPTEMBER 2021 W6/SC-337

This was a strange and wonderful trip — it was my first mountain bike summit in many years — it was a trip to a summit that I am sure I have done sometime before in the last 40 years, but I mysteriously have no record of it — It was hard to find any summits to activate that are not affected by the statewide closure of national forests due to the lack of firefighting personal already engaged in fighting other fires — this ascent marked my final SOTA summit in the Santa Monica Mountain and the adjacent areas to activate — …and finally this ascent was both easy and hard.

My neighbor Chris generously gave me his mountain bike when he heard I was interested in activating summits via the pedals. This was this amazing gift’s maiden voyage and she performed excellently.

I got to Sycamore Canyon Campground at about 5:30 AM. The State Parks website said that the park was open for day use from 8AM to sunset. I didn’t figure that the parking lot gates would be locked until 8AM. It turns out you can park from 5AM to 10PM along the coast just around the point to the west by the big sand dune. From there it is a short trip back to the mouth of Sycamore Canyon.

When I said the trip was both easy and hard, I meant that the ride from the start to the junction of Guadalasca Trail and Wood Canyon fire road is a breeze. One of those rides that feels like downhill both ways. You actually go up about 450 feet in that 4.75 miles but it is all good, wide fireroad. The Guadalasca Trail is another story. I am not a mountain biker with a lot of skill. I generally don’t like single-track. Your skill level is most likely better than mine and this trail is probably no big deal. I saw a lot of guys and gals riding it. If I were to do this again, I would probably continue up the Wood Canyon fire road and follow Sierra Vista fire road to Rosewood fire road on to the summit. Longer by quite a bit and I’m not sure how well-used that route is.

At any rate the Guadalasca Trail never actually joins the Rosewood fire road and the two trails that bridge that gap are pretty overgrown and disused trails. I did one on the way up and the other on the way down. These segments are unmaintained and brushy. No fun.

The fire road gets pretty steep above where the jump-over trail joins up. I walked both up and down that section. Also – I was attacked by a swarm of mosquitos at this point. Very weird for the Santa Monica Mountains – especially in such a dry year. They abated on the summit where a nice breeze was blowing.

There is good cell coverage from Verizon.

I had a great day on the radio making 16 QSOs on 40m, 20m and 2m including 3 summit-to-summits with California, Utah and Colorado. Thank you all for chasing – especially good to get so many regulars.

There is a aircraft locator on the actual summit. I set up off to the east. No table and chair to keep the pack light
Cobblestone, Conejo and Oat Mountains, to name a few
My new bike on the way up.
Nice view of Round Mountain (W6/SC-381) down in the midground. Hines Peak and others in the Sespe/Topotopo area.

I saw a roadrunner on the way down. First one in a long, long time in the Santa Monica Mountains. Also saw a lot of quail and rabbits.

Peak 1,338′

Looking north past the station on a cloudy dawn.

1 SEPTEMBER 2021 W6/SC-354

We got the news yesterday that essentially all national forests in California are closed for two weeks due to fire-fighting resources being spread too thin on existing fires. This has most of us scrambling to find summits that are still open. Since I’m trying to do all the local peaks here in the Santa Monica Mountains and areas adjacent, I picked this little local unnamed peak for a cloudy Wednesday morning hike.

This hike is short and pretty steep. In fact there is a third-class section right below the summit. There is a trail that circumvents this outcropping of igneous breccia, but I decided to climb up it on the way up. I went around on the way down.

The hike is about a third of a mile and climbs up 500 feet.

Cell coverage from Verizon is excellent, as one might expect being so close to the Ventura Freeway.

I made 9 contacts on 40m, 20m and 2m including one summit-to-summit with David N6AN over on Flint Peak on 20m. Thanks David for getting up as early as I do! It was also good to hear from Gary W0MNA in Kansas and Eric N0WAE in Montana among other faithful chasers. Thank you all who chase.

The third class section goes right up the center of this photo. It’s steeper that it looks here
Sandstone Peak (W6/CC-056) over Newberry Park. You can see my white Audi parked in the lower right.
Conejo Mountain (W6/SC-318)
Looking north. I like to see all this open space.

Pacifico Mountain

Looking northeast across the Antelope Valley. Telescope Peak (W6/CD-003) was visible on this clear day.

28 AUGUST 2021 W6/CT-015

My last trip to Pacifico Mountain was on June 29, 1980 – over 40 years ago! My friend Jon Fredland drove his 1960 Chevy Impala and as I recall the 6 mile road up from Mill Creek Summit was pretty good and the Impala had no trouble. After last weekend’s discovery that the Alamo Mountain road had deteriorated over the intervening years, I was glad that Brian WA6JFK offered to drive in his Honda Element. The road was a bit rough in places and I was happy not to be in the Audi.

Our SOTA day was wildly successful. I had my biggest day ever with 34 contacts, including 16 summit-to-summits! Thank you Brian for driving. We had a blast on the radios and a nice picnic to boot!

View from the station. Nice to have a built-in picnic table

Round Mountain

Sunrise over Conejo Mountain (W6/SC-318), Peak 1,370′ (W6/SC-452) and Sandstone Peak (W6/CC-056) just off to the right

26 AUGUST 2021 W6/SC-381

This wasn’t a really well thought-out activation. Round Mountain rises above Channel Islands College — or what used to be the state mental hospital in Camarillo. I first hiked up Round Mountain on January 3, 1993 with Cassie, my late sister and her future husband, Don Crenshaw. I’d heard that the college is opening a trail to the summit but I wasn’t sure if it was actually open.

I parked just a little way down Portrero Road and just hiked up the hillside. I immediately came across some evidence of a prehistoric Chumash midden – shells and bones all over the ground. This area was once heavily populated by the Chumash for thousands of years.

I was distressed to find a lot of trash on the summit which I bagged up and carried down.

I only had my Kenwood TH-F6A with me and only made two contacts – Dave W3DRE mobile up in Santa Barbara and Doug K6DSB at his home in Santa Barbara. There is good cell coverage from Verizon.

The hike is a half mile long and goes up 500 feet. It starts up some deer trails to the notch between Round Mountain and a little bump to the west. From there it joins the trail that switchbacks up the mountain.

Alamo Mountain

The summit block on Alamo Mountain with Frazier Peak in the background

21 AUGUST 2021 W6/CC-008

On September 28, 1997 I drove my old Volvo sedan up the Alamo Mountain road to the south side of the mountain. I remember the road as being a pretty good road and the hike being an easy stroll though the pine trees to the summit, so it seemed like a perfect fit for my brother. He is down for a week or so visiting from his home in Alaska.

The road is in considerably worse shape than it was 24 years ago and we only managed to make it half way up the mountain with my old Audi A4. Given that the summit has only been activated 4 times previously – and the last time was in 2014 – I should’ve guessed that the road was in bad shape. It is still not difficult for a high clearance, 4 wheel drive vehicle.

Because of the limitations of the Audi – and we probably drove it further than we should’ve – the easy half mile jaunt of a couple hundred feet became a four and a half mile hike up 2,200 feet of elevation gain!

To top it off, my brother’s hiking boot failed and we had to tie it together with some paracord. To shorten the trip to the summit I did a steep cross-country section from the road junction on the north side of the mountain. This proved to be too much for Mark and he waited there for me to ascend and activate the summit.

I made 10 quick QSOs on 2 meters and descended to rejoin my brother. I didn’t bother with HF, the KX2, the table and chair, just lofting the carbon fiber fishing pole with the roll-up slimjim. I used the cool summit block as table and chair. Just 5 watts with my aging Kenwood TH-F6A.

I didn’t actually use the phone, but I believe cell coverage by Verizon is good up the mountain.

Mark on the long hike up with Frazier Mountain and the Tehacapi Range behind him.
My brother’s fancy footware.

Castro Peak

Sunrise over the San Gabriel Mountains an a monsoon sky. The bright spot below is Malibu Lake.

11 AUGUST 2021 W6/CC-057

After being discouraged by all the threatening private property signs last year, I decided to call the number listed on the signs and ask permission to activate the summit. After explaining the SOTA program, permission was readily granted.

I first ascended Castro Peak May 27, 1973, when I was 17 years old. It was a charming summit with a stand of pine trees and an abandoned fire lookout tower. I did this hike a dozen or so times back in the ’70’s and watched as the summit was slowly developed into the massive communications site it is today. Now there is quite a bit of trash and other detritus from the various fires that have swept over the summit. Most notably the Dayton Canyon Fire in 1982 and, more recently, the Woolsey Fire in 2018. Now the summit is rather unlovely. A lot of fences, cameras and razor wire.

Although I could’ve driven to the summit, I decided to park my car at the lower gate and hike up in the spirit of SOTA and for the exercise. From the lower gate the hike is less than a mile with about 600′ of gain.

Band conditions weren’t great – my furthest contact was Gary W0MNA in Kansas. I did manage a summit-to-summit with Hal N6JZT and Dan NA6MG over on Mount Islip.

Cell coverage by Verizon is excellent.

Buzzard’s Roost (W6/SC-229) center with the trees on top above Newton Canyon. Sandstone Peak (W6/CC-056) peeking out on the right.
The San Gabriel Mountains left with Saddle Peak (W6/CT-274) center and the Santa Monica Bay behind the microwave and radio towers.
Sandstone Peak and points west near Santa Barbara and Ventura. Conejo Mountain (W6/SC-318) in the sun next to Sandstone.

Lookout Mountain

The Sierra Crest from Lookout Mountain

31 JULY 2021 W6/ND-037

It was kind of a last minute thing, this activation. I realized a had a leisurely day driving from the El Rancho Motel in Bishop to Tuolumme Meadows campground. So I looked around and, sure enough, there was an easy one just off of Highway 395 around Deadman Summit. The only hitch was that other activators warned of volcanic glass — obsidian — on the dirt road up to the summit. My poor, battered Audi had suffered a great deal on the rough road to Lake Edison on the first segment of the John Muir Trail, but I decided to go for it. With only one of those goofy, undersized spare tires in the trunk, I slowly made my way up the dirt road.

As advertised there was obsidian everywhere and some pretty deep ruts and rocks. I drove pretty slowly and tried to stay in the tracks where others had gone before and the glass was well crushed. The approach road takes off of 395 opposite the Mammoth Scenic Route road. The drive is about 3 miles and goes up 800 feet.

I walked a few hundred feet to an old concrete foundation presumably from the former lookout that gives this mountain its name. This made a nice place to set up the station. Cumulus clouds were starting to build over the Sierra Crest in typical summer monsoon fashion.

I made 22 contacts including 2 summit-to-summit contacts with KF6HP and K7ZZQ on Yellowstone Mesa in Arizona. Thanks guys! Little did I realize at the time but Lookout Mountain is considered a desert summit and, as such, awarded me summer desert bonus points. Easiest bonus points yet.

Cell coverage by Verizon is excellent.

I also discovered later that two other activations of this summit occurred later on the same day. Apparently all three of us were unaware of the others!

Close up of the station
Poor Pfeffernusse the Audi suffered the sharp obsidian road.
The Station with Mammoth Mountain in the background
Looking north

Mount Lukens

The Verdugo Mountains with Saddle Peak at the extreme right.

24 JULY 2021 W6/CT-030

In preparation for our second leg of the John Muir Trail next week I decided to push myself a little by attempting the Stone Canyon Trail up Mount Lukens. I left the Wildwood Picnic area up Big Tujunga Canyon a little after 5 AM, just as it was starting to get light. This trail is relentlessly uphill. Some of the steepest parts are just before the top with a lot of loose rock “ball bearings” to slip on. In places the trail is very narrow with steep drop-offs below. This isn’t a trail for everyone. At the base there is a sign that warns there is little shade, no water and no cell coverage. Only in the city of Los Angeles County are you warned of a dangerous lack of cell coverage. 😉 Mount Lukens is the highest point in the City of Los Angeles.

As I started up the trail I noticed a light bouncing along way up the trail. This was strange because there were no cars parked at the trailhead. The mystery was solved when I came across a guy about a third of the way up as he was coming down. “Mr. Lukens” I dubbed him because it turns out he was just fetching some trail-building tools. He told me he had climbed Mount Lukens 1,074 times! The trail was in great shape (short of one washout under repair) and it is obvious that this steep, brushy trail needs a LOT of maintenance.

Another word of warning: while the trail was well maintained, there was quite a bit of poison oak on either side of the trail. Some care needs to be taken to avoid it – especially near some tempting rocks to sit on and rest on the way up. Remember: “Leaves of three, let it be.”

Thank you “Mr. Lukens”! Turns out he had parked his car at the end of Upper Stoneyvale Road that is accessible via Vogel Flats Road. This might be a better, safer roadhead.

The hike took me three hours and is 4 miles long with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain. This distance is made little longer to the nice activation area on the east side of the summit, away from all the communications installations and under a shady grove of pine trees that survived the Station Fire. The Sierra Club usually has a register around here, but I didn’t find it on this trip.

Cell service from Verizon was non-existent, as warned, on the way up. I did get one text out on the summit but nothing else. Could not access SOTAGoat so all spots were via Iridium Satellite.

This was my third trip to Mount Lukens. Both of the previous trips were done from Highway 2. The first on February 3, 1996, the second on a mountain bike in 2000.

I brought 3 liters of water and drank all of it on this trip. It wasn’t especially hot – mid 80s – but I still required a lot of water. This peak is best done in the winter.

I made 20 contacts on 40m, 20m and 2m. Most of my usual chasers checked in. Thank you everybody. The furthest contact was with Gary K3TCU in Pennsylvania. I had two summit-to-summit contacts with K6EL and KN6FNY.

Here’s the station at the eastern edge of the activation zone. Pines provided some much needed shade.
Sunrise between Fox on the left and Josephine on the right.
All the big Santa Monica Mountains. From the left, Saddle Peak, Castro Peak and Sandstone Peak. Oat Mountain on the far right.

Mount Gleason and Summit 6,020′

Looking south from Mount Gleason Strawberry Peak and San Gabriel Peak are almost perfectly in line. Some large Jeffrey pines on the summit of Mount Gleason survived the Station Fire to provide shade for hot SOTA operators.

17 JULY 2021 W6/CT-017 and W6/CT-087

I felt like doing a couple of easy activations after spending a week in the High Sierra Nevada. Mount Gleason and Summit 6,020′ have been long walks or mountain bike rides from Mill Creek Summit, where the gate has been locked for years. Chatter on the SoCalSOTA i/o group alerted me to the fact that the gate was now open this summer, so I gave these two summits a whirl.

Part of me wanted to make up for the 10 points I didn’t get on Mount Hooper because I only had one legitimate contact. Enough to activate the summit, but no points

The “hike” to Gleason is about a half mile from the locked gate across mostly level ground. I found I could not post my spot to SOTA Goat even though I had some cell service from Verizon. This was true of both summits. For these activations I used the Garmin InReach Mini largely because I wanted to test that method out for the first time. It worked flawlessly.

Here’s the station on Mount Gleason. Nice to see the pines recovering from the Station Fire

Between both peaks I had 33 contacts, including 3 different summit-to-summit contacts with KN6FNY. Kevin did 5 mountains this day. I had 6 total S2S contacts including two with N6AN on “David’s Summit” (formerly Flint Peak). My furthest contact was Chris F4WBN in France.

Looking west over the ominously-named Lightning Point to Sandstone Peak and the Santa Monica Mountain and the Sespe/Topotopo area.
Some Jeffrey Pines survived the Station Fire
Trusty Pfeffernusse at the gate to Mount Gleason with Josephine Hoyt and Lukins in the background
Summit 6,020′ has no shade and was quite hot by midday. That’s Pacifico Peak to the right.

Mount Hooper

The impressive summit block of Mount Hooper

11 JULY 2021 W6/SS-140

In the midst of the pandemic, my old friend and climbing buddy Bill Smith hatched this crazy scheme of doing the entire John Muir Trail. We’d all done segments, but Bill envisioned doing the whole thing, albeit out of order, as the permits and schedules allowed. As the plan took shape, the segment from Edison Lake to Florence Lake became our first leg. Short enough and easy enough to see if Bill’s idea was just an insane, cabin-fever dream for us sixty-somethings or not.

In addition to Bill and me, our party was joined by our old friend, Steve Tennent, a retired fireman and EMT. Steve is the fastest of the group – a trait that has earned him the nickname “Smokin’ Joe” — because he burns up the trail. Next, in terms of speed, is Greg Jones. Greg and I did Mount San Antonio the week before to get in shape and he left me in his wake the entire trip. Another old-time Palisadian, Bill Neilsen joined us traveling down from his current home near Portland, Oregon. This group has been doing mountain trips together since at least high school 40 years ago and it is such a treat to get the gang back together for a new epic adventure. Lastly we were joined by a newcomer and welcome addition, Big Al from Sonoma.

Getting to Marie Lake was fraught with all kinds of obstacles and peril that I will recount in the John Muir Trail story elsewhere. For now I’ll just say it took two days to get to Marie Lake where I started off solo at first light on July 11, 2021.

Marie Lake and Seven Gables the evening before my climb up Mount Hooper.

I hiked in the predawn light up to Selden Pass (10,840′). This was further than I needed to go and actually had to hike back down a way as I contoured around the ridge.

Marie Lake at sunrise over Seven Gables on the way up Mount Hooper

If I did it again I’d follow the descent track to about the halfway point and pick up the ascent track from there. Traveling alone, I was very cautious. There is a lot of loose rock and tricky boulders. While there are a lot of people on the John Muir Trail, not many venture this way.

The previous register entry was from June 2020 – over a year ago!

The hike up took me 4 hours. It is 2.5 miles with about 1,800′ of gain. The air gets noticeably thin. The summit block is magnificent and apparently not difficult to climb around the left (west) side. I was happy to stay at the register and avoid the exposure as I’d encountered some really big, loose rock. That summit block sits atop two very steep faces of 1000′ or more like on the prow of a ship.

Little did I know that my struggle had just begun.

I set up the KX2 and the Packtenna Mini Endfed. Soon I discovered that I had left my carbon fiber fishing pole back at camp so I pressed my trekking pole into service. Although my phone showed 4 bars at times, there was no service. No 3G or even 1x connection listed from Verizon. I attempted to post a spot via my Garmin InReach Mini, but I had messed up the protocol somehow and it soon became obvious I was going to have to make my contacts honestly.

After an hour of fruitlessly calling CQ, I tried to answer some POTA calls with a “Park to Park.” Mount Hooper is in the Sierra National Forest (K-44660). This approach came tantalizingly close a few times with ops getting my prefix or suffix before giving up and telling me I was just too weak.

Finally after almost two hours I knew I would need to descend. The thundershowers had been building each afternoon and I did not want to be on the summit when the lightning started flying.

Then I heard some really loud stations on 40 meters. This was obviously a big net that was concluding and several stations were getting ready to sign off. I politely asked for a break and Stu W7FE in Las Vegas came back to me! My heart leapt! However, my hopes were soon dashed when Stu said that he could not hear me at home but rather on the Northern Utah WebSDR. My heart sank. Not a valid contact. Ken W6BQZ in Carlsbad also reported the same. However, then John K6IR near Seattle, Washington came on and said he could hear me! Eureka! I didn’t care about the 10 points anymore — I just wanted to activate Mount Hooper for the first time.

Thank you Stu, Ken and John. You are all a credit to the hobby!

The pared-down station for an extended backpack
Marie Lake and Seven Gables from the summit of Mount Hooper
Looking off the northwest scarp to Hooper and Crazy Lakes. You can just see the Packtenna antenna wire.
Back down in Selden Pass with the thundershowers beginning over Marie Lake

After returning home I contacted Andy MM0FMF and he has been very gracious and extremely generous with his time helping me sort out my syntax for the Garmin InReach Mini. This will be invaluable for my next activation on the John Muir Trail. Thank you Andy!