Piñon Hills

Here’s the station on this first-ever activation of W0C/RG-154 and my first Colorado Summit

12 FEBRUARY 2022 W0C/RG-154

It had snowed the night before in the Taos Valley and the roads in the area were a bit slick before dawn. I left for Colorado across the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and headed up Highway 285 as the sun was coming up. There was very little traffic and hardly any snow as I made my way north. I saw a bald eagle in a lone pine tree just after Tres Piedras.

The BLM dirt road off of Colorado Highway 142 is excellent and a passenger vehicle could easily make it to the roadhead. There are markers at this point that motor vehicles are no longer allowed.

The trail follows an old 4×4 track around and up a ravine. There are several places where I chose to avoid elevation loss and contour around to the right. The bushwacking isn’t too bad among the piñon forest that gives this mountain its name.

The hike is over two and a half miles and gains about 1,400 feet. There was over a foot of snow by the time I made the summit ridge. The various odd-shaped volcanic detritus buried in this snow made each step an adventure.

The summit has a spectacular view of the San Luis Valley and the Sangre de Christo Mountains. The register went back to November 10, 2005. The last entry was November 19, 2021.

There was solid service from Verizon

For reference here is roughly the 4×4 route follows

After calling my first CQ I heard my most faithful chaser, Jon K6LDQ. Unfortunately he couldn’t seem to hear me. I did get a call from AE1MS and AE1JS on Marsen Knob in Georgia. I also heard from my home QTH and a POTA caller KD6NFD in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

The station looking west toward the San Juan Mountains
Flattop (W0C/RG-1560 and the Sangre de Christo Mountains in the Blanca Peak (W0C/SL-001) area.
The benchmark on the summit in the igneous rock characteristic of the area
I had a lot of fun!

Scooter Peak

The dramatic Valles Grande through the burned-out trees by the Cerro Grande Fire of 2000

6 FEBRUARY 2022 W5N/SE-021

After all my years of mountaineering using ice axes, ice screws, crampons, cross country skis, chocks, cams, ropes and despite all that; I had never actually strapped on a pair of snowshoes. Over a foot of snow fell on Cassie’s little adobe on the 2nd and 3rd, so any activating was going to be in some pretty deep snow. This afforded me the opportunity to address my lack of snowshoe experience.

I rented a pair from Jason at Adventure Ski Shop Norte in Taos. Jason was very friendly and helpful and I would definitely recommend Adventure Ski. They let me pick them up on Saturday and return them on Monday and I was only charged for Sunday.

I left around 6:30AM from the casita in 9°F weather with partly cloudy skies. There was a chance of snow, so this was truly going to be a winter ascent. I was surprised to see ice forming on the Rio Grande River as I made my way south through the gorge. I drove around Los Alamos on Highway 4 through White Rock, a route that is longer but avoids the checkpoints in Los Alamos.

Traffic was light and there was only one car parked at the Coyote Call Trailhead. The snowshoes were pretty easy to figure out and soon I was happily clomping along a well established trail that had been tramped down. After about the one mile mark the tracks curved back around on other trails and I was breaking a trail up the slope.

Given all of the deadfall from the massive Cerro Grande fire in 2000, the route on snowshoes soon became very difficult. I finally took them off and left them at a marked waypoint along with my 20′ Jackite mast that was frequently getting stuck on the deadfall. In retrospect I wish I had fastened the snowshoes on to my pack because once the falled trees abaited, the snow was still knee-deep.

As I labored up the slope slowly I began to wonder if it was prudent to continue. The weather was looking like snow and one of the first principles of mountaineering is knowing when to turn around. I decided that I would give myself until noon. That would give me plenty of daylight to retreat if the weather really turned bad.

I made the summit about 11:40 after starting at about 9:30. While over two hours would be ridiculously slow in other conditions to do about two and a half miles, this is what it took me in deep snow.

The summit is a lovely SOTA summit with plenty of trees and a nice activation zone. I set up the Packtenna quickly expecting to make my four qualifying contacts and beating a hasty retreat. Cell service from Verizon was okay after initially showing 4 bars but no mode of service.

My idea of a quick activation was met with a huge pile-up on 20m. I hung around longer than I otherwise might’ve to try and meet the pack’s demand. I apologize if I didn’t get to you. Thank you all who chased me.

I had no summit-to-summit contacts but I did get a cool call from NS6OI aboard the USS Dolphin. A WWII diesel submarine. My late father Wayne served on a similar sub in the late 40’s.

The station looking east back toward Cerro Grande

On the trip down I decided to try a little different route. The middle trail looked a little longer, but it looked like it had less elevation gain on the return. I would say it is only a modest amount of saving that is probably not worth the extra distance. It was a lovely hike anyway as the snow flurries increased. It was snowing pretty hard by the time I got back to Whitedog.

Valles Grande from the trail junction of the middle and lower trails
Looking southwest from the trail down at some of the deadfall I had to cross. It took a lot longer than I expected.
Back at the Coyote Call Trailhead as the snow started in ernest.

Sandia Crest

The Kiwanis Hut in the activation zone south of the RF maelstrom that is the actual crest

29 JANUARY 2022 W5N/SI-001

Back in 1989 my then-girlfriend wanted to show me her little Adobe in north-central New Mexico. As we drove through Albuquerque for my first time, I looked up to the majestic Sandia Crest and realized I wanted to go there. On the many subsequent trips with my now-wife to her little casita we never seemed to find the time to make the trip. This winter we decided to make an extended stay in the Land of Enchantment and it seemed the perfect time to make my long standing dream come true with a 10 point activation plus winter bonus.

The Sandia Crest is a number of sedimentary layers of rock sitting on a granite batholith that was uplifted in the Rio Grande Rift over the last 10 million years. The top rimrock is characteristically slick limestone.

There was quite a bit of snow on the way up Sandia Crest Road off Highway 14 but the road had been plowed. There was a sign that said chains were required past the Sandia Park downhill ski area. I had just purchased a new pair and I keep them in the truck.

The hike from the Ellis trailhead is only about a half mile and only about 300′ of elevation gain.

The summit is very broad with many trees suitable for antenna supports. There is a hut — the Kiwanis Hut that sits on the edge of the western scarp. The views over Albuquerque are absolutely breathtaking.

Many others have warned about the RF saturated environment and how this phenomenon overloads the front ends of some radios. My Yaesu FT-5DR had very spotty APRS coverage but my cell phone had good coverage from Verizon.

As usual, I forgot something. This time it was a pretty critical gear bag that contained my logbook, pens, pencils and a bunch of antenna stuff. I had to MacGiver a feedline from the Packtenna and use my cell phone’s recorder to log contacts. Apologies to all the faithful chasers for a somewhat discombobulated activation. Thank you all for chasing!

The Albuquerque Trailheads — a local hiking group at the Kiwanis Hut
The station was socially distanced in the trees on the east side
The station
The spectacular view south along the western scarp
Albuquerque and the Rio Grande River valley

Montoso Peak

Looking west toward the massive Valles Caldera

22 JANUARY 2022 W5N/SE-040

Energized by hiking up Ortiz Mountain and meeting 8x SOTA Goat Alan NM5S and Eugene AF9O, I hurried back to Whitedog and flipped on the mobile rig. Alan said he would try and wait for me to hike up Montoso for the summit-to-summit. He guided my over that way on roads that were becoming muddier and more rutted by the mile. I was glad to have the 4wd.

I parked where I figured the closest point to the summit was and headed out across the high desert. I had to climb under a barbed-wire fence after a few hundred feet and then headed straight up the slope dodging a lot of cacti and juniper. The hike is .9 miles and has about 500′ of elevation gain.

Alan called me on 146.580 MHz as I neared the summit and said they were getting cold and needed to start down soon. I told him that was fine, no need to get hypothermia for some abstract points. NM5S called me again and said they were just at the edge on the activation zone and I replied that I wasn’t sure if I was in the activation zone of Montoso yet. Alan told me about a neat feature of the app SOTAGoat – the GPS tells you when you are in the activation zone of a given peak. Sure enough, I was and the S2S was made with the venerable NM5S!

Cell service from Verizon was good, as was APRS coverage, as might be expected.

This esteemed S2S kicked off a series of really cool summit-to-summits: including some of my friends David N6AN, Mike K6STR and Lorene W6LOR. The intrepid Lorene and Mike were at about 8,000′ in the White Mountain of eastern California. David was on his beloved “home shack” Flint Peak. I also had S2S contacts with Alberta, Canada, Utah and Washington.

I was somewhat surprised to discover once I got back to the casita that these two summits had a winter bonus considering how easy they are. Very different than the W6 Association.

The station: the Packtenna is deployed between my 20′ Jackite fiberglass pole and the Goture carbon fiber fishing pole.
Caja benchmark
Looking southwest
Looking southeast toward the Sandia Crest and Albuqurque

Ortiz Mountain

I had the good fortune to meet Eugene AF90 & Alan NM5S on the summit. That is Chacoma Mountain and the Valles Caldera in the background.

22 JANUARY 2022 W5N/SE-043

After returning to The Land of Enchantment this winter I wanted to start off easy. I haven’t done a whole lot of driving in the snow or on back roads in 4wd so I thought I should ease into it.

West of Santa Fe and east of the Rio Grande is an interesting volcanic area called the Caja Del Rio Plateau. There are a handful of SOTA summits peppering the area that all looked pretty easy. I decided to start with Ortiz Mountain known by locals as the Pankey Benchmark. I started out from the Taos Valley about 5am and made my way down the Rio Grande Gorge. the sunrise over Santa Fe was spectacular but I was too amped up to stop and take a picture.

Out past the Marty Sanchez Links on Caja Del Rio Road is the turnoff to Forest Service Road 24. This road starts off pretty good for just about any vehicle. It is an easy drive to just past the corral and Eleven Hundred Well where I parked Whitedog. The road gets pretty treacherous after that. Just after the coral and the Eleven Hundred Well I startled a herd of elk and they ran off into the juniper.

Cell coverage from Verizon was good, as was APRS coverage.

The hike is a short .77 miles with about 500′ of elevation gain. The roads on the map seem to be a little off the actual position. There is a lot of igneous debris and cacti to dodge. On the summit is a nice plank that serves as a bench. There is a makeshift register at the Pankey Benchmark.

Conditions were pretty good and I managed a summit-to-summit contact at the end.

The real treat was as I was just finishing packing up, Alan NM5S and Eugene AF9O appeared. Alan is one of the top SOTA goats in New Mexico and it was fun to pick his brain on the area. I decided to head on over to Montoso Peak and those guys said they would listen for me on 2 meters.

Whitedog parked where the road got really bad.
The plank that served as a bench for the station. Looking east toward Truchas Peak area and Santa Fe
Looking north toward Wheeler Peak and the Taos Valley. I think some peaks in Colorado are barely visible.
The summit looking south.
Photo of the author thanks to Eugene AF9O.

Onyx Peak

Old Greyback as Mount San Gorgonio is sometimes called. More like Old Whiteback on this day

15 JANUARY 2022 W6/CT-044

I last hiked up Onyx Peak on March 28, 1997. At the time I was struck by the “nice little cedar camps. Looked like Bristlecone pines.” I’ve since discovered that these ancient trees are actually Western Juniper trees. This time I decided to go in the true winter season to claim the winter bonus. There was still quite a bit of snow on the ground after the big storm we had in December and I was glad to have brought my big winter boots and gaiters. The road to the summit is perhaps too well graded at 2.71 miles with only 684 feet of gain.

I’m not usually one to cut switchbacks due to the erosion this causes, but because of the snow, I did shorten the trip some — especially on the way down when sinking a heel into the deep snow made the descent a breeze. This cheating cuts out about a mile, but I would not do it if there was not deep snow present.

It was forecast to be a bit windy but it didn’t turn out to be so bad. The aforementioned Juniper trees and the broad summit plateau provided a decent wind break and good antenna supports. This was the Winter SOTAfest weekend and, while the HF band conditions weren’t great, I handed out 64 summit-to-summit points with other winter SOTAfest folks out in the Barstow area mostly. Thank you all! Especially the S2S folks: David N6AN, Lorene W6LOR, Mike K6STR, Bret K1BAA, Chris N1CLC, Kevin KN6FNY and Mike KN6EZE. You guys rock!

The station in the nice Western Juniper grove on the summit
Looking out to the Northeast and into the Mojave Desert. The Ord Mountains I believe are at the left.
The last time these boots saw action was on Mt. Shasta in June of 1999
Happy activator with Mount San Jacinto in the background

Lovejoy Buttes

Here’s the station on the summit of the actual highest of the intriguingly-named Lovejoy Buttes

9 JANUARY 2022 W6/ND-323

After doing Parker Mountain I was still feeling up for some hiking so I headed out to do the Lovejoy Buttes. This activation had been by fall-back plan if Parker was too windy. The NOAA forecast for this area was much more moderate.

A note of warning to anyone attempting to activate the Lovejoy Buttes. The plural “buttes” is the watchword. Gaia GPS and others mark the summit on a butte that is lower and about a mile to the east of the actual activation zone’s high point.

This erroneous summit does have a nice picnic table and gas grill (see photo below).

As billed the summit wasn’t as windy and I had a nice time activating with 3 S2S contacts.

This is the spot that the maps list as The Lovejoy Buttes. The actual highpoint is out above the picnic table
A blustery day, but I had a lot of fun

Parker Mountain

Another former fire lookout, all that remains is this foundation

9 JANUARY 2022 W6/CT-153

I had thought about attempting Parker Mountain several times before but had decided against it because of windy weather forecasts. This summit lies in the corridor that funnels the Antelope Valley airmass down through Newhall Pass (formerly Fremont Pass) into the San Fernando Valley and the coastal plain. This is the boundary between the Great Basin and the Pacific drainages.

This weekend also had a windy forecast but I really wanted to try my new Tacoma (Whitedog) out on these roads, so I went for it. I got to Acton just as it was getting light and the wind didn’t seem too bad. I had a bit of trouble finding Hughes Canyon road and the surrounding dirt roads seemed a little worse for the wear of our heavy December rainfall.

Desecration being the better part of valor, I decided to leave Whitedog a mile or so shy of the summit. I passed by two remote control model airplane enthusiasts who later took there vehicles to the summit. One was only a 2wd truck, so this summit is actually a drive-up for those so inclined. I’m just too new to four-wheeling.

As billed, the summit was very windy. I hunkered down behind the foundation of the former fire lookout and set up my Packtenna random wire end fed because it is so easy to deploy.

Propagation was decent on 20m and 4om and I quickly made the required 4 contacts.

On a side note the RC hobbyists purposely pick windy days to fly their gliders. These guys had their planes exceeding 300 mph. I later found out on the way home talking to Cliff (Callsign to come) that remote control devices legally should not exceed 100mph. These planes made a wicked sound when they would swoop by.

Here’s the station on the lee side of the old fire lookout foundation.
Whitedog parked at a prudent distance.

Summit 1,821 x3

Looking east to Saddle peak on the right and the San Gabriel Mountains on the left

5 JANUARY 2022 W6/CT-228

Hal N6JZT warns in the write-up of his January 30th 2021 ascent of 1,821 that the trail can be quite sticky when muddy after a rainstorm like only clay soil can be. We had a phenomenal rainstorm about a week ago that dropped over 5 inches of rain at my home in Topanga. Usually a week is enough time to allow the moisture to soak in and the mud factor to abate.

As I started out in full darkness, I could feel the trail was still a bit sticky. I had received a thoughtful Christmas gift from KG6MZR — a wool cap with a headlamp built in. It turns out this was a most fortuitous gift in that shortly after starting out I came across a large sinkhole that was not present on my first two ascents of this summit. I’m not sure I would have seen this hazard had I been traveling under ambient light, as I sometime do.

This was also an activation to try out my new Yaesu FT-5DR’s APRS capabilities. The radio performed very well and I made all my spots via APRS messaging. I like this in that it keeps all my contact with the outside world in the amateur radio spectrum.

I was treated to a glorious sunrise and very mild weather. Perhaps the biggest surprise was working S57S Aleksander in Slovenia along with many of my favorites.

The station with Simi Peak in the background
Looking northwest to Hines Peak and the Sespe-Topotopo wilderness area
The summit affords a nice bench. Sandstone Peak in the background
A deep sink hole in the trail. Recent rains produced several hazards that were avoided in the predawn hours with my new headlamp beanie.

Summit 4,020′ Zulu New Year

The big sky country looking northeast off the summit of 4,020′

31 DECEMBER 2021 / 1 JANUARY 2022 W6/CT-158

It was Scott WA9STI that first alerted me to the “Zulu New Year” phenomenon last year. This is one of those great SOTA events when there is a lot of summit-to-summit activity and this year’s event was no exception. Unlike last year’s drought, this year the New Year came one day after a huge rainstorm blew through the Southland. My Davis Instruments Vantage Pro registered 5.64″ of rain in one 24 hour period so I expected any activation was going to be muddy with mountain roads a little sloppy.

I had no idea if the Santa Clara Truck Trail up to Contractors Point and Fire Camp 9 was going to be open as the Angeles National Forest ranger stations didn’t seem to be picking up the phone on New Year’s Eve Day.

I drove up Placerita Canyon to Sand Canyon Road and everything seemed to be freshly plowed of mud and rock. The gate was open and the truck trail was all clear. David N6AN had warned me that the gate closes at 6pm and care must be taken on Zulu New Year to get back to Bear Divide by that time to avoid being locked in overnight.

I got to this near drive-up about 22:00 and parked a few hundred feet from the site where I set up. There were big fluffy cumulus clouds flirting with the summit and the surrounding countryside was dappled with the cloud’s shadows. It was a gloriously fresh and clear day after the rain.

As I expected the activation was a delightful chaos of rapid-fire logging with cold hands. This event is really a lot of fun and I managed 18 summit-to-summit contacts. I tried to fit in as many chasers as I could but I did need to give myself plenty of time to retreat to that gate at Bear Divide by 6pm. Besides, siting for almost three hours I got pretty cold in the fresh wind blowing out of the southwest. Thank you all activators and chasers!

Here’s the station in the clouds – the 40m half wave doublet and the rollup slimjim
messy logbook due to cold hands!
The San Fernando Valley
The sun sets on New Year’s Even from Contractor’s Point.