Ortega Peak

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.


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.

Here’s the station on Ortega Peak

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 Reyes Peak on the way up from Cherry Creek
Hines Peak and Topotopo Ridge above upper Sespe Creek
Steep scree slopes typical of the area. Some parts of the route go dangerously close to these. Be very careful
That’s Santa Cruz Island above the Santa Barbara Front range in the background.
Not sure what the faint peak is right next to the dead tree. Mount San Antonio? I could see Santiago Peak early in the day.
Sandstone Peak and the Santa Monica Mountains
Anacapa Island and Santa Cruz Island over the Santa Barbara Front Range

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Peak 4,020

Sunrise over the San Gabriel Mountains from Peak 4,020


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!

Sunrise on Hines Peak and Topotopo Mountain
Slide Mountain, Frazier Mountain and Pyramid Lake at sunrise

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.

I found a nice wind-sheltered spot to set up the station.
A nice day on the mountain
A great way to start the day

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Jupiter Mountain

Looking south across the Santa Clara River Valley. Saddle Peak and Sandstone Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains are visible


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.

The station and the manzanita bush. Looking northeast toward the Antelope Valley

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.

Bouquet Reservoir and the San Gabriel Mountains. I believe the high point there is Mount Gleason.
The view west with Cobblestone and Hines Peak particularly notable
Here’s a blow-up

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Sandstone Peak II

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.


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.

Sunrise over Saddle Peak (W6/CT-274) with 10,000′ Mount San Jacinto (W6/CT-002) in the distance. Castro Peak and Santiago on the right.

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.

The station
The area still bears the scars from the Woolsey Fire
Here’s what I use for an end insulator for the new 20m doublet. It’s just a plastic strip cut from a large water bottle.

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Temescal Peak II

A glorious sunrise over the Los Angeles Basin and the San Gabriel Mountains


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.

The jerry-rigged station using my hiking stick and a yucca spear.

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.

It was 41ºF in Topanga When I left the car. Brrr. 😉

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:

Eagle Rock (No, not that Eagle Rock) near Eagle Springs in Topanga State Park
Sun coming up over Downtown Los Angeles

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Tecuya Mountain

Sunrise over the stratus of the marine layer covering the Los Angeles Basin


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 Hundred Peaks Section climbing guide for Tecuya Mountain.

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.

Trail conditions on the north side of things

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.

The speaker wire doublet with Mount Pinos in the background
The station. Next time not in the shade. It was cold when the wind blew.

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Conejo Mountain

Sunrise over the stratus of the marine layer covering the Los Angeles Basin

3 FEBRUARY 2021 – My Mom’s 90th Birthday – W6/SC-318

The last time I hiked up Conejo Mountain it was 38 years ago and I went with my good friend, Allan Gardner. The Conejo Valley has been vastly developed since that time with the sprawling bedroom community of Newberry Park. Back then it was all open range land with more than a few barbed wire fences to negotiate. This morning before dawn I parked on the suburban street of Via Ricardo and made my way up the trails of the Dos Vientos Open Space.

The hike follows an old Edison Road and large power towers up through the eponymous Conejo Volcanic rock. The hike is a pleasant 2.24 miles with about 875 feet of elevation gain. It took me about an hour to make the summit from my car without many stops.

I did the hike in the dark, keeping my flashlight shining behind me. There was a third-quarter moon that was bright enough to light my way. The flashlight shinning backwards was to discourage a mountain lion attack. I’ve only seen mountain lions twice in all the years I’ve been hiking. I’ve heard them many times and seen their tracks but I believe they are generally not interested in humans for breakfast. As long as a careful hiker doesn’t act like prey (i.e. fleeing), they will leave you alone. The rear-shinning flashlight was just a precaution to avoid any confusion.

Sunrise over Calabasas Peak, Ladyface and Saddle Peak

I made 9 contacts – 6 on 20 meters and 3 on 2 meters. Gary and Martha sounded good from Kansas. They are fast becoming reliable chasers. Thank you guys! I also made contact with Tennessee and Georgia and had one POTA contact: WA7BAM in Texas.

I had no luck on 40m or 17m.

Jon K6LDQ was 59 knife-edging over the crest of the Santa Monica Mountain on 2 meters from Torrance and Derek KM6UHU checked in from Altadena. Perhaps my furthest 2m contact was KE6MAK in Gardena.

Round Mountain in the foreground with Anacapa Island left and Yellow Banks and Santa Cruz Island on the right

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Slide Mountain

The Slide Mountain fire lookout tower is one of the very few that is still maintained


30 JANUARY 2021 W6/SC-057

After last weekend’s lark up Liebre Mountain I was raring to go for another winter activation. I decided at the last minute to go for a close neighbor to Liebre: Slide Mountain. My last trip up this mountain was 27 years ago with my faithful mountain dog, Chauncey Gardener.

It’s a funny start to this trip in that you drive up a section of old Highway 5 to Frenchmen’s Flat where the decrepit four lane highway is gated. Parking here, the route follows the old highway for the first 1.65 miles. Here is a bit about the history of the highway. Before Europeans arrived in California, this track was the obvious trading route between the Tongva people of the Los Angeles Basin and the Yokuts of the Great Central Valley. The first real road was the notoriously twisty “Ridge Route” and Grapevine. That crazy road can still be found up on the eastern ridge of Piru Gorge. The next major incarnation if the road was the four lane highway on this route to Slide Mountain. This was the road the my family followed pulling a rented house trailer for our yearly vacations to Yosemite Valley in the late 50’s. For this reason, this old thoroughfare is sweetly nostalgic and evocative to me, as artifacts can be. The old road now runs smack into Pyramid Lake and dam that was built in 1972 and is now largely underwater.

Today the I-5 is a massive 10 lane monument to earth-moving that makes the torturous trek the Jobes made in “The Grapes of Wrath” in days into a half-hour jaunt at 80 mph.

Moonset over old Highway 5 and the mountain gate that now impounds Pyramid Lake

The hike is now a healthy 5.3 miles to the summit with about 2,800 feet of elevation gain on a well-graded trail. The new road closure adds about 3 miles to the round trip since my last visit in 1994. There is good cell service on the summit. The hike took me about two and a half hours without many stops.

I used the well-maintained fire lookout as a support for my home-brewed speaker wire doublet and roll-up j-pole to make 29 contacts on 2m, 17m, 20m and 40m. I even worked Chris F4WBN in France again. Other regulars included Gary and Martha (W0MNA and W0ERI) in Kansas, John KI6EAB working his remote base in Florida from Capitola, California, Jerry NG6R in Palos Verdes, Brian WA6JFK, Scott WA9STI, Todd W6TLY, Jon K6LDQ and Cassie KG6MZR back home in Topanga.

Contacts made from Slide Mountain
Operating position on Slide Mountain out of the wind. The arrows point to my homemade doublet
Frazier Mountain in the background
Pyramid Lake and Dam
Old Highway 5

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Liebre Mountain

A dazzlingly beautiful day on Liebre Mountain between the storms


This was perhaps the most fun I’ve had on a SOTA activation to date – and I almost didn’t go! The winds had been blowing for much of January and the I-5 corridor is notorious for taking the worst of it. Some rain finally fell on Saturday and Sunday morning was forecast to be clear, but possibly windy before the next storm moved into the Southern California. When I got up at 3:30AM it was pretty windy in Topanga. I mulled it over and decided to go for it anyway. I could always turn back. It was 43ºF in my driveway but 32ºF in the bottom of Topanga Canyon. Watching for ice on the road I made my way up 1-5 to the 138 cutoff to Lancaster.

It was also 32ºF at the road head but no wind! I got underway just as it was getting light. There were only a few spots of snow at the car, but soon I was walking in a winter wonderland of glittery, dry powdery snow. The hike affords spectacular views of the Antelope Valley

The Tehachapi Mountains beyond the Antelope Valley after yesterday’s storm

My pack weighed 24.5 pounds, down from the usual 28 pounds or so. I jettisoned the big SLR camera and tripod in favor of saving space for bulky winter clothing. I had enough to be able to bivouac the night in an emergency.

Frazier Mountain at sunrise

The hike is 3.5 miles one way and has an elevation gain of about 2,000 feet. The route follows the Pacific Crest Trail and is a well graded trail.

The mountain top is large, flat and park-like with large oaks trees everywhere. The activation zone is huge, in fact the Sierra Club’s Hundred Peaks section considers the summit where the register is indicated on the map above. There is good cell service from Verizon. The summit does not have great UHF/VHF coverage into the Los Angeles basin.

I made contact with New Hampshire, Georgia, West Virginia, Kansas and two POTA stations on 20m. One sobering discovery on an otherwise giddy activation: my old cell phone died and after that I found it was very hard to make HF contacts without a spot on SOTAwatch3. Since I plan to do some remote peaks with no cell coverage I need to develop a strategy to get the necessary 4 contacts to qualify the activation. The two POTA contacts might point in that direction.

Palos Verdes between the San Gabriel Mountains and the Santa Susana Mountains
My table and chair came in very handy!
Winter wonderland

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Saddle Peak 4

My brand-new KX2 on its second activation with the Bioenno 3ah external battery and groovy WA6JFK cable


11 JANUARY 2021 W6/CT-274

As the Santa Ana winds raged over the weekend I built a 20m speaker wire doublet/dipole. By the end of the weekend it was tuned up and ready to go. The winds abated Sunday night and I was up at the crack of dawn to drive to my neighborhood peak – Saddle Peak.

A thin waning crescent moon and Venus hung over the wind-cleared Los Angeles basin.

The Moon and Venus over the Santa Monica Bay and Santiago Peak

The new home-brewed antenna was a resounding success! I had a mini-pileup and worked stations is France, Spain, Quebec, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas, Montana, Tennessee and one California station that couldn’t hear me, so he fired up a remote station in Florida and came booming in. I also worked Brian WA6JFK on an HT in downtown Los Angeles for old time’s sake 😉 Scott WA9STI, who has been so helpful and supportive in getting me on the HF airwaves chimed in on 20m too.

HF contacts with the zip cord 20m doublet.
28 pounds of gear this morning on Saddle Peak. The new speaker wire doublet deployed.
Container ships backed up in San Pedro Bay due to the pandemic, Santa Monica Bay in the foreground.
Downtown Los Angeles and Century City from the operating position.
20m Doublet. The antenna also tunes on 40m and 15m using the feedline as a radiator

The link to my previous activation of Saddle Peak and the route description can be found HERE.

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