Peak 9,691′

Looking north off of Peak 9,691′. That’s Idaho Lake down below off the steep north side of the mountain.

7 JULY 2021 W6/SS-269

I had a few days to acclimatize before meeting up with a group of my old climbing buddies to undertake our first section of the John Muir Trail. I scoped out the SOTA qualifiers in the area, leaning heavily toward summits that had never been activated. There were likely candidates on either side of Kaiser Pass and I opted for the easier one to the west so I could get to Edison Lake in time to meet up with the gang.

I left my hotel in Clovis before first light about 4 AM. The road is very good up until just a few miles from Kaiser Pass when the road narrows and potholes began to appear. I saw quite a few deer browsing so I had to keep my speed down as a few bolted across the road.

I left the car at Kaiser Pass (ample parking) at 6:18 AM

The hike is pretty easy at a mile and a half with about 500′ of elevation gain. The ridgeline is open with cattle/snowmobile/dirt bike tracks and the second two of three false summits are avoided by traversing along the south side of the ridge line. It took me about an hour.

There is good cell coverage from Verizon on the summit.

There is a double summit and I chose the east summit because it was a little more open with better views. I made 12 contacts including faithful chasers Martha and Gary in Kansas and Eric in Montana. My longest contact was with AC1Z in New Hampshire. I had one summit-to-summit contact to Colorado. Thank you all who chased me and help to activate this summit for the first time!

Here’s the station looking south
Looking east to the Sierra Crest. This view includes Mount Hooper – a mountain that I will activate in a few days.
One of several meadows the route crosses
Mountain Lillies
Indian Paintbrush

Mount San Antonio

Fitting to find Old Glory on the summit of Mount San Antonio on the Fourth of July Weekend. Photo by Greg Jones

My old climbing buddy, Greg Jones wanted to do a conditioning hike in preparation for the John Muir Trail starting the following week. He suggested doing “Baldy” via the Sierra Club Ski Hut trail – a route on this mountain I’d never done. My first trip up Mount San Antonio was on October 17, 1978 – 43 years ago! That trip was with my old friends Allan Gardner and Jon Bucci. I returned some years later and did it with my faithful mountain dog, Chauncy Gardener. Both those excursions were via the Backbone Trail.

We met at Greg’s house at 5AM and were at the roadhead and ready to go at 6:30AM. This hike is short – only 4 miles – but unremittingly uphill. This trail gains almost 4,000′ of elevation from Manker Flat. We did it in 4 hours moving at a fairly consistent pace. This is a heavily trafficked trail and we encountered a lot of people going up and on the summit on this holiday weekend Saturday.

I decided to cut the pack weight down for this trip and the usual 25-30 pound pack was reduced to 18 pounds. I only brought the Kenwood TH-F6A and the roll-up Slim Jim for this trip.

2 meter coverage from the highest of the San Gabriel Mountains is spectacular. I made clear contacts from San Diego to Tehachapi during two short sessions. These contacts included two summit-to-summit contacts and a whole slew of regular chasers. I shared 146.580 with a very courteous POTA operator at Cabrillo Park on Point Loma in San Diego. W4ID/6 Tom was very cool about returning the “SOTA frequency” to me after a short stint in which he collected his requisite 10 contacts. I was even able to offer a park-to-park from the Angeles National Forest.

I also received encouragement from Mike KI6SLA who has done the John Muir Trail twice!

Looking west out to the Santa Monica Mountain and the Sespe/Topotopo Wilderness. No table and chair on this stripped-down activation. Photo by Greg Jones
The Sierra Club’s ski hut about half way up this arduous trail
Greg summiting with Ettiwanda, Cucamonga and Ontario in the immediate background. San Jacinto and Santiago on the horizon
This is not what I would call a wilderness experience. 😉
Greg with Throop and Baden-Powell in the background. The Antelope Valley and the Tehachapi Mountains beyond
Hiking down past some spectacular Spanish Dagger yuccas in bloom. Photo Greg Jones.
San Antonio Falls

Wheeler Peak

Bighorn sheep strike a majestic pose above me on my descent.

23 JUNE 2021 W5N/SS-001

I was 33 years old when my new girlfriend brought me to New Mexico for the first time to show me around her haunts. We both climbed Wheeler Peak on July 3rd, 1989. Now I’ve been Cassie KG6MZR’s husband for 28 years and we have returned to the Land of Enchantment. Back in 1989 the Williams Lake route hadn’t been built yet and we did Bull of the Woods, Walter, Frazier, Wheeler, Simpson and Old Mike in a marathon of peak bagging via the old, long trail.

This time the new Lake Williams route took me a little over 4 hours to reach the summit. This route is a little longer than indicated on various maps. My track recorded about 4.5 miles with about 3,000 feet of elevation gain. I left the car at 4:45 AM as it was just getting light three days after the summer solstice. The trail cruises along until just after the Williams Lake turnoff and then it begins to climb in earnest. I saw a couple of marmots and pikas on the way up. One pika was very close to me industriously chewing off stems of the alpine grass to make her nest.

There was good cell coverage from Verizon most of the way up and on the summit thanks to the Taos Ski Valley I’m guessing.

I got set up fairly quickly and had a lot of fun making 30 contacts in about an hour. I barely pulled in Chris F4WBN in France for my longest contact. My big regret was hearing Dan NA6MG about 52 but not getting the contact. The QSB was fierce and made working the pile-up difficult. Being a newbie to this kind of thing didn’t help my management. I heard some summit-to-summit and European stations that I let slip away in the fading.

I had my first chaser from Mexico, XE1MYO. Thank you Mayolo!

It was really good to hear a lot of faithful chasers in there. I hung out longer than planned trying to work everybody. A booming thank you to all chasers!

Here’s the station. That Walter Peak with the snow in the background. A nice lady from Texas took this picture for me.

This trail is a heavily traveled route. I saw many nice people and the summit had quite a crowd. For the most part people were quite curious about SOTA and I handed out this website on little torn-off pieces of my logbook. I should follow SOTA Goat and Elmer Scott WA9STI’s lead and have SOTA cards made up to hand out.

Williams Lake and Lake Fork Peak (W5N-SS-004) on the trip up.
Lake Fork Peak (W5N-SS-004) on the ascent
Pueblo Peak (W5N/SS-008) and Vallecito Mountain (W5N/SS-007) with three locals
Marmot sunning himself with Taos Ski Valley in the background
Wildflowers looking down on the lower switchbacks

It took me over three hours to descend and by the time I got back to the car, I was pretty tired — more tired than I was 33 years ago after climbing 5 summits and hiking much further.

Not only is Wheeler Peak the high point of New Mexico, it was the high point of this trip to New Mexico. I managed three summits: Cerro Grande, Pajarito Mountain and Wheeler Peak. I look forward to our next trip to the Land of Enchantment!

Pajarito Mountain

The magnificent Valles Grande in the Valles Caldera super volcano – This 8,500′ plateau is in one of the largest calderas on Earth

19 JUNE 2021 W5N/SE-009

I was expecting this hike to be a bit of a trudge up some steep, off-season ski runs to a “technosummit” with an RF saturated environment. I had seen the radio towers from Cerro Grande the weekend before and on the drive up through Los Alamos just after dawn.

So it was a pleasant surprise to find a gently climbing trail through alternating bands of aspen and wildflowers to a wooded summit with a great view to the west and no radio towers anywhere in sight! I followed a cross country ski track called Half Aspen up from the end of Camp May. There was ample free parking there. This route added probably a mile or so, but I really didn’t mind as I am conditioning for the John Muir Trail in a few weeks. This route is 2.25 miles with about 1,000′ of elevation gain.

Half Aspen trail gently winds up the mountain

This trip was the first time I brought along my new 31′ fiberglass mast from Jackite. This telescoping mast is considerably heavier than my 21′ carbon fiber fishing pole from Goture, which I also brought along for my 2m Slim Jim. Altogether my pack was ridiculously heavy – probably about 30 pounds or more.

The first thing I discovered about this mast is that it is considerably harder to set up. It didn’t help that the spot I picked had a lot of deadfall from the Cerro Grande fire of May 2000. My brother Mark (the physicist) likes to say: “The perversity of inanimate objects tends to a maximum.” My late father (the artist) would say: “If a piece of string can get tangled, it will.” That was the theme of this activation’s setup. The AWG 20 wire of my doublet seemed to catch and snag on every branch within a 100′ radius. The unwieldy new 31′ mast seemed like a witching rod for any potential tangle. I’m usually pretty careful about laying out the wires and guys, but this activation defied all my careful prep. It probably took me an hour to set up the HF antenna.

The new 31′ fiberglass mast towers over my 21′ carbon fiber fishing pole with the slim jim. Note the monsoon cumulus starting to build.

The frustrations of setting up aside, it was a fun and fruitful activation with 24 QSOs on four bands, including 4 summit-to-summit contacts. I had a rough contact with Jon K6LDQ from back home, Gary K3TCU made it in through the QSB from Pennsylvania for the first time in a while, and my furthest S2S was with Richard K4AAE on Little Bald Knob in North Carolina. I also had the pleasure of meeting Bill, K8TE, the ARRL section manager for New Mexico, who sported a fine signal from his home in Rio Rancho on 2 meters. Cell coverage was full bars from Verizon.

The dead-fall that was deadly to the antenna setup

I was on the air for almost two hours when I noticed that the afternoon cumulus were starting to mass. The weather forecast called for a 60% chance of thundershowers, so I was not surprised to hear loud static crashes on the HF bands. With the first audible boom of thunder, I decided to beat a hasty retreat and big fat drops started to splash down on my logbook.

Fortunately the take-down went much smoother – in near-record time, in fact – as the thunder became more frequent. 😉

Walking rain out to the north on the descent over the dead trees from the Cerro Grande fire of 2000

I chose a bit more direct path down as the lightning got closer and I got wetter.

Columbine flowers abounded
The descent route across fields of wildflowers.

Cerro Grande

Cassie KG6MMZR and her old friend David make their way up the upper slopes of Cerro Grande. The magnificent Valle Grande and the rest of the Valles Caldera in the background, including the never-activated Redondo Peak (11,253 – W5N/SE-002)

12 JUNE 2021 W5N/SE-011

Satellite image of the Valles Caldera. The arrow points to Cerro Grande

Cerro Grande is part of the massive Valles Caldera – one of the largest young calderas on Earth. It was formed by a series of super-volcano eruptions about a million years ago. I have never been up in this area above Los Alamos and was looking forward to exploring this interesting region. Cassie (KG6MZR) and her old friend David Cunningham joined me on this fun activation.

The hike is about 2 miles to the summit on a well-graded trail with an elevation gain of just over 1,000′. This is one of the few peaks in New Mexico that you can park the car just off paved road at the trailhead. The summit is over 10,000′ high and the thin air was noticeable on the ascent

The activation was wildly successful with 18 contacts including 5 summit-to-summit contacts in North Carolina, Nevada, Arizona, California and New Mexico. I even managed to eke out a contact with Jon K6LDQ from Torrance. I heard Brian WA6JFK but unfortunately he could not hear me.

On the hike up with David
David taking in Vallis Grande. Redondo Peak is the large mountain on the other side
Cassie KG6MZR and David on the summit. Monsoon clouds building over Trucas Peak and the Sangre de Christo mountains to the east
The happy trio as Cassie KG6MZS takes the selfe
From the far distance the alpine meadows look colorless but up close they were blooming with wildflowers
Lilies everywhere
Cassie and David on the descent
Of course we had to stop by El Parasol in Española for their excellent tacos and pisole!

Fortynine Hill

Looking across the Encantada at Fortynine Hill. An Encantada, or “enchanted place,” are fossil lakes found in the deep American southwest and Baja California in the coniferous zones.

6 JUNE 2021 W7A/CS-023

Cassie and I spent a few days in Flagstaff, Arizona and thought about activating Elden Mountain and Bill Williams Mountain but settled on Fortynine Hill off an old, disused section of Route 66 that is now called Brannigan Park Road.

The hike we did up initially followed the fence line at the border of the public and private land, but upon returning, the jeep track that is just to the west of the cattle guard that marks the boundary of public and private lands is a better route. This leads up to a saddle between Fortynine Hill and the bump off to the west. From there follow the use/game trail up the ridge to the summit.

The hike is .8 miles and about 500′ of elevation gain. It gets a little steep in places if you can’t find the use trail, which is hard to follow as the thick forest of lodgepole pines makes getting your bearings tough.

Band conditions were poor. I only made 7 contacts all on 20m. Cell service from Verizon is excellent, as I would expect because this summit is just above I-40. We heard a lot of freight trains along the parallel path.

View from the top is limited by the thick forest of Lodge Pole Pines
KG6MZR takes this snap of me working 20m
Being a gentleman, I let KG6MZR have the REI Camp Boss chair and sat on a log to activate.
Mount Humphries, the highest point in Arizona, in the distance behind the road head parking
Some signs along the cross-country section of the route
The benchmark on the summit.

1821 Westlake 2

The view went from intensely colorful to perfectly colorless on this “May Gray” visit to 1,821′

14 MAY 2021 W6/CT-228

I left my house in Topanga at a quarter past five AM on a drizzly morning. The last time I headed for 1,821′, there had been a 21ºF gradient in Topanga Canyon. This time the deep marine layer kept the temperature within 2 degrees through the length and depth of Topanga Canyon. The sunrise was equally contrasted: last trip was a wild pallet of color, this trip was flat “May Gray.”

20 meters was in good shape, but I had no luck on the other bands. Florida was my furthest contact with John KI6EAB/W4, who was in California, but needed his remote station in Florida to hear me.

The lack of a view on this activation left me with taking shots of my station set up

Here is a wide view of the station. A bench on the summit made a fine table and mast support
It was pretty wet.
mast support
With the doublet the feedline needs to be elevated above ground and kept away from metal objects

Reyes Peak

Snow Flower (Sarcodes sanguinea) just starting to bloom on Reyes Peak

8 MAY 2021 W6/CC-005

I’d tried to hike up Reyes Peak late last year only to find that Pine Mountain Road was closed. This year it opened a bit early, so my brother Mark and I had a foggy mid-morning start up Highway 1 around Point Mugu. We left the marine layer stratus behind as we climbed Highway 33 out of Ojai.

The hike is short – just under a mile – with a little over 500′ of elevation gain. I had good reception from Verizon, but my brother did not have any reception with the same carrier. That one had us scratching our heads.

Radio conditions were pretty tough, but I did manage 11 contacts – including one summit-to-summit with N3BZ on Squaw Mountain in Arizona and a park-to-park with W0YES in North Dakota.

I first climbed Reyes Peak on April 25, 1981. I went back and did it again on the way to Haddock Mountain with Cassie KG6MZR and my faithful mountain dog, Chauncey Gardner. On this trip, the view of the Cuyama River Valley and Mount Pinos/Sawmill/Cerro Noestre to the north was quite clear. It was hazy to the south but there were great views of Hines Peak and the Topotopo Ridge, Ortega Peak and even breakers south of Ventura and Diablo Peak on Santa Cruz Island. Haddock Peak dominates the east with a nice view of Cobblestone Mountain just peeking through the trees.

This was a former fire lookout – circa 1925 – a 14′ x 14′ wooden structure that burned in the “rampaging Matilija Fire in September of 1932.” Very little remains.

The Reyes Peak Lookout

A bit of history from the Hundred Peaks Section:

“Named for Rafael Reyes (ca.1834-1890), who settled with his family at the mouth of Reyes Creek (1854). Drought forced them to move from their Rancho Triunfo (2 miles southeast of Thousand Oaks) to the Cuyama Valley in search of better grazing conditions. They managed to transfer 2000 cattle and 1000 horses through the Tejon Pass.

He is also remembered for his odd insistence that his was the property that once contained the fabulous Lost Padres Mine! But alas, he swore that its (imaginary?) deposits of limitless silver and gold dropped before his very eyes into cavernous fissures that opened and closed during a series of earthquakes before he could exploit his find.

Jacinto Reyes, his son, was almost as legendary as USFS District Ranger of the old Santa Barbara National Forest (1901-32). He became known as the “Dean of California Rangers”. In those days it sometimes took ten days for messages to get through to his remote post in Cuyama, but Reyes and his famous mule (who would work for no other), were frequently at the center of daring rescues and famous manhunts. In 1910 alone he almost single-handedly planted 163 acres with Jeffrey Pine in the Lockwood and Piru areas.”

The station looking south.
The rocky peak down the ridge is Haddock Mountain. The Topotopo Ridge and Hines Peak are to the right and you can just see Cobblestone Mountain to the left through the trees
Evidence of Scott’s WA9STI SOTA activation last year. The registers went back to 2016.
Cuyama Peak and Caliente Mountain in the distance to the northwest.

Grass Mountain

Jupiter Mountain (W6/CT-140) from Grass Mountain and the San Gabriel Mountains in the background

1 MAY 2021 W6/CT-130

My brother and I set out to take a historic trip up the original Ridge Route and activate Bald Mountain (W6/CT-122), however an asphalt spill had the I-5 completely shut down and we circled back and went up San Francisquito Canyon to head to Grass Mountain instead. I wasn’t sure the Audi A4 could do the dirt road, but we found the road to be in great shape and had no trouble. It is a narrow road and meeting another vehicle going the other way could require a lengthy reverse, so keep that in mind if you intend to attempt this road in a passenger vehicle.

Even though we had three bars of Verizon service, I was unable to get a spot out via SOTAGoat or via an SMS text. This made getting contacts pretty difficult. Fortunately I made contact with Jon K6LDQ in Torrance on 2 meters and he got the word out. Thank you Jon!

My brother Mark and I at the station

Because of the traffic jam on I-5, we took another historic route – El Camino Viejo – the Old Road. This route had been used for centuries by the Tongva, Chumash and Yokut Indians as trade route between the Los Angeles Basin and the Central Valley. When the Spanish arrived, they also used this practical route as in inland alternative to the more famous El Camino Real. El Camino Viejo is longer than the Ridge Route that was established in 1910 because it needed to follow reliable sources of water. After going through San Francisquito Pass, El Camino Viejo followed the San Andreas Fault Zone up past Gorman and into the Cuddy Valley. There it went north of Mount Pinos and down San Emigdio Canyon into the Central Valley.

Another tragic piece of history in this area is the Saint Francis Dam failure of 1928 – the largest civil engineering failure in US history. Because the Owens Valley aqueduct was regularly dynamited, the Municipal Water District needed to impound large amounts of water on the LA side of the aqueduct. Perhaps this contributed to high levels of water in this reservoir. Nobody knows how many lives were lost when a 140 foot high flood wave swept down the canyon through Saugus, Newhall, Piru, Fillmore, Santa Paula and Ventura

Saint Francis Dam 1927

Power Plant #2 was all but swept away, only a single turbine remained.

The rebuilt Power Plant #2
Power Plant #2 before and after the disaster
Grass Mountain Summit
The Antelope Valley and the Tehachapi Mountains from the summit
Pfeffernuse the Audi on the road with Bridges Penstemon
Bridges Penstemon and Tree Poppy
Ceanothus or Mountain Liliac.

Mount Pinos 2

View to the west and south of the beautiful wilderness in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. That’s the Cuyama River center and Madulce and Big Pine Mountain to the right.

24 APRIL 2021 W6/CC-002

Cassie KG6MZR packed a delicious picnic lunch and my brother Mark joined us for a pleasant stroll back to Mount Pinos – the highest point in Ventura County. I last activated this summit in November of last year.

This day started of as cloudy back down at home in Topanga, however as we climbed the grade on I-5 out of Castaic, we cleared the deck of stratus and made our way into the bright, pine-scented air of Mt. Pinos. The lookout tower on Slide Mountain was partially veiled in the last wisps of cloud.

This time we went over to the condor viewing area on the west side of the mountain. This area lies in the activation zone and offers good pine trees for antenna support and some space away from other hikers enjoying the views on this Saturday afternoon. There is good cell phone coverage from Verizon and I was able to make all my spots via SOTA Goat.

20 meters was OK with considerable QSB. I did manage to work Gary K3TCU in Pennsylvania among other faithful chasers. Thank you all. I had one summit-to-summit with George KX0R on Thunder Butte in Colorado.

Cassie KG6MZR
The station
Happy hikers