Sandstone Peak


6 OCTOBER 2020 W6/CC-056

Sunrise from Sandstone Peak. Lake Sherwood reflecting the dawn left center

At 3,111 feet, Sandstone Peak is the highest of the Santa Monica Mountains. I first hiked to the summit on December 12, 1974. Back then all of Boney Mountain was part of the Boy Scouts’ Circle X Ranch and it was jealously guarded by the cantankerous caretaker, Max Jones. Over the years my friends and I had many run-ins with Mr. Jones as we would sneak in to enjoy this lovely area. Now the entire area is overseen by the Conservancy. In many ways I miss those old days, dodging Max. We seldom saw anybody up there. Now, I’m afraid we are loving this place to death. In the last few years it must’ve made some online “Best Hikes” list because it is packed most days.

Because of the crowds, I left my car at 5:30 AM and made my way up the trail by the cloud-shrouded moonlight. The hike is 1.57 miles and about 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The trail is deeply eroded from so much foot traffic and the Woolsey fire.

The plan was for my friend Brian (WA6JFK) to hike up Flint Peak (CT-225) so we could do a little summit-to-summit. I set up my roll-up J-pole at the end of my new telescoping carbon fiber fishing pole. I could hear Brian clearly but he could not hear me at all. I did make contact with John (W6FE) in Chula Vista. I also had a QSO with Mike (KN6HTX) in San Marcos. Mike was only running 7 watts. I had several QSOs from the Ventura/Point Hueneme area, including a nice, armchair QSO with Bruce (KM6ZJK) in Ventura. As usual, I heard from Derek (KM6UHU) in Altadena and Jon (K6LDQ) in Torrance.

The new carbon fiber mast supporting my home-brew roll-up J-pole

The Echo Rock rock climbing area with Lake Sherwood in the background.

I’ve been rock climbing in this area for many years – long before it became very popular. In fact, I believe my friends and I were the first to climb Balance Rock back in the ’80’s

Fun fact: Sandstone Peak is a misnomer. The peak composed of igneous rock – mostly breccia.

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

Triunfo Lookout


29 SEPTEMBER 2020 W6/SC-219

After helping my friend Brian (WA6JFK) activate his first summit a week ago, we decided to try doing separate summits, Brian on 4020′ in the San Gabriel Mountains and me on Triunfo Lookout. I had not been on Triunfo since February 12, 1974 when I first hiked it with my old friend, Allan Gardner back when we were in high school.

The hike follows an old access road that is grown over with mountain lilac (ceanothus) and redshanks. The first half of the trail escaped the Woolsey fire and the lilac grows overhead and makes a nice canopy. The trail is .77 miles to the summit with a modest 500′ of elevation gain.

The summit affords a nice view of Sandstone Peak and Boney Ridge with Santa Cruz Island off the left side. Hines Peak and the Sespe/Topotopo mountains are off the right side and a view of Balance Rock and the Sandstone Peak rock climbing areas are plainly visible. Santa Catalina and Palos Verdes are visible to the south. The concrete foundation of the old lookout tower remain and look like some kind of ancient Greek cabana.

Santa Cruz Island is visible just behind the ladder line of my fold-able J-pole.

I immediately made contact with Brian, summit-to-summit and both my signal and reception was improved by using the roll-up J-pole I made. He was 59, full quieting. We both proceeded to make and share contacts all over the LA basin. Our furthest contact was with John, W6FE in Chula Vista. John joked that I should homestead the location because it was such a great radio site. He was armchair copy.

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

Chatsworth Peak

Sunrise over the San Gabriel Mountains from the trail up to Chatsworth Peak


2 SEPTEMBER 2020 W6/CT-036

For my ninth activation I set my sights on a peak I had never been to. I’ve looked at Chatsworth Peak for years but have never hiked it. Following the advice of Ron, K6RIN, I made my way up Lilac Lane to the private road, Mesa Drive. Unlike Ron, however, I found Mesa Drive in good condition up to the turn off on the right. I parked my sedan under a large power pole at the 4-way intersection in front of Sedona West.

K6RIN’s activation report is here.

The hike is short and steep, .46 miles and 400′ of elevation gain. After I passed the large water tank the road turns to a single-track trail that goes through fragrant Yerba Santa and California Buckwheat. I recommend a walking stick or trekking poles to let any potential rattlesnakes know that you are coming in the places where you can’t see your feet. This area has large sandstone boulders everywhere and it perfect snake habitat.

Just before the top the use trail takes you past two 150′ towers that suspend a large 1 megawatt shortwave antenna for radio station KVOH – The Voice of Hope. The antenna was erected in 1985.

The summit itself is a large sedimentary boulder with a large white X painted on the top that is plainly visible in Google Earth’s satellite imagery. The peak has fantastic views of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Santa Monica Mountains, the Santa Susanna Mountains and the Sespe/Topo Topo mountains to the northwest. Unlike K6RIN, I only saw a few bees.

I started calling CQ and was immediately met with a response from KI6UCN, Hart in Yucaipa Valley almost 100 miles away. Not bad for 5 watts and the glorified rubber duck. I did not detect any intermod or desensitization from the radio facility.

I also made contact with Cassie (KG6MZR) at home in Topanga. Brian (WA6JFK) in Glassell Park was next to respond. Brian was thinking about joining me, but after reading K6RIN’s report he said “No bees.” 🙂 I also had a nice QSO with Mountain Goat Scott (WA9STI) in Granada Hills among others. Another friend, Steve (WA6FGW), was over in Santa Monica and while I heard him briefly, we didn’t make contact over the Santa Monica Mountains on 2m.

Sunrise on Chatsworth Peak with Hines Peak above the bay laurel in the background

One thing to consider if you plan on activating this summit is that it lies on private property once you enter Mesa Drive. I suggest leaving early in the morning and keeping a low profile. I usually pick up a large bag of trash I find on the trail as a way to mollify any irate landowners I might come across. This tactic has worked wonders in the past. I didn’t see anybody on this early morning trip.

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

Waterman Mountain

Just before sunrise on the trail to Waterman Mountain


29 AUGUST 2020 W6/CT-012

It’s been almost a month now since my first activation and my happy discovery of the joys of Summits on the Air. I’d activated 7 summits and was aiming for 8.

One thing this brief experience has taught me: getting an HF rig will be an imperative. However, in this uncertain time of the corona virus pandemic, such an expenditure probably isn’t in this household’s immediate future.

So how best to use the 2m FM equipment I do have?

I had some 450Ω window line lying around that I had trimmed off my multi-band doublet, so it was relatively easy to make a roll-up J-pole to go with my Icom IC-T7H. The feedline might be a little long and I suspect the RG174 might be a bit lossy on 2 meters, but I wanted to test it out.

The finished roll-up J-pole on my workbench

Now what peak to test it on? There was a VHF sprint planned by the Conejo Valley Amateur Radio Club for the upcoming weekend and they were talking about activating the local peaks, so a peak high above the entire area seemed like a good match for the new J-pole test.

There are several ways up Waterman Mountain. I decided on route 1 from the Hundred Peaks Section.

This is about 3 miles to the summit and 1,200′ up. It is a beautiful, shady, well graded trail with several nice views along the way. There are several gigantic incense cedars on the trail up that bear deep scars from long-ago fires, but they have completely recovered into well-shaped, mature trees. I did most of the trip up before sunrise and didn’t see another soul. I had the summit to myself for an hour or so.

The roll-up J-pole was quickly deployed in a pine tree near the summit and immediately produced the needed four contacts, including one full-scale with my friend Brian WA6JFK in Glassel Park and one with W6FE in Chula Vista near the Mexican border. In a side-by-side comparison with the rubber duck on my Kenwood TH-F6A, the J-pole clearly out-performed on receive. Perhaps the best advantage is the ability to find a more comfortable operating position enabled by the feed line. The HT itself does not need to be held high.

The roll-up J-pole is deployed behind me.

The wisdom of choosing a weekend of the Camarillo ARC VHF sprint, though, was doubtful. There were a lot of green operators on the air that probably could not hear all the traffic on 146.520 MHz. Even all the usual simplex frequencies were busy. Early on it was not hard to get my 4 contacts on 146.580 MHz, but later trying to make summit-to-summit contacts on the national calling frequency was extremely trying. I only made 6 S2S contacts with three different 1 point mountain tops. All in all, 20 2m FM contacts were made.

Trail sign at the junction of the Waterman Mountain trail and the Twin Peaks turn-off.

Soon many people were enjoying the park-like pines surrounding the summit boulders. There was enough room for good social distancing.

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

Castro Peak Attempt

As a kid growing up in the Santa Monica Mountains I visited Castro Peak many times. When I first hiked up the summit on May 27, 1973 it was a beautiful summit with a stand of pine trees and an abandoned fire lookout tower. The tower was open and still contained some rainfall records from the final years of operation.

Over the years a communications site was established and expanded. There was even a local FM radio station, KBU (‘BU as in MaliBU) as I recall. It all burned in the Dayton Canyon Fire on October 9, 1982 – a fire that nearly destroyed my family’s home. I listened to KBU go off the air that day as we fought the fire.

I know that the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department has a facility there now.

I was surprised to see that Castro Peak has never been activated. This morning I explored a few different possible routes and was met with resounding failure. Everywhere I looked I found a lot of NO TRESPASSING/PRIVATE PROPERTY signs.

Mystery of why Castro Peak has never been activated solved.

I might ask a few friends who work with the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department if permission might be granted, but I’m not holding out a lot of hope.

Ah for the good old days!

The gate on Castro Mountain Motorway was open, but I heeded the signs. As Don Henley said “This ain’t no Shangri-La.”

More information about why Castro Peak is closed.

Throop Peak & Mount Lewis


22 AUGUST 2020 W6/CT-005

Another 4 am start from Topanga in an effort to beat wearing a mask on the way up the mountain due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I arrived at Dawson Saddle about 6am and there was only one other hiker getting ready. The smoke from the Apple fire was somewhat abated but the air was heavy with monsoon moisture. The hike is a beautiful, easy stroll up a forested, well-graded trail. It’s about 2 miles and 1200′ to the summit from Dawson Saddle. I was met with a brief rain shower on the trip up – just enough to wet the ground and cool me off.

Check out the Hundred Peaks Section guide to Throop Peak.

On the summit several people stopped by and I explained what the Summits on the Air program was all about. Jacob, originally from Texas, had spent the night on Baden-Powell and was headed back to Dawson Saddle. Catherine was a beautiful young woman from San Diego who was headed up to Baden-Powell on her own. Good for her! These young soloists had a palpable love of the mountains that did my heart well to see their knowledge and enthusiasm in these strange days.

Baden-Powell and San Antonio from intersection of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Dawson Saddle Trail

I made 11 contacts on 2m FM including 6 summit-to-summit!

Happy Activator


Mount Lewis 22 August 2020 W6/CT-246

I wasn’t really sure where I was going to go from Throop. I had been thinking about Mount Baden-Powell, but I was already starting to see a lot of people. The thought of hiking uphill with a mask on in the muggy, monsoon air was not appealing, but I wasn’t feeling done for the day so I decided on the short steep trip up Mount Lewis. I figured I would see fewer people there.

As easy the grade is on the Throop trail, the Mt. Lewis trail is as steep. It is only about a third of a mile and 500′ up. Jeffery Pines provided the shade for my stops to catch my 64-year-old breath. The top is pleasantly forested as well and would make a fun overnight camp spot.

Check out the Hundred Peaks Section guide to Mount Lewis.

Got it made in the shade on the summit of Mount Lewis. Will Thrall Peak and Pallatt Mountain in the background.

I made 6 contacts including 2 summit-to-summits with K6TNT and KK6USY booming in from over on Kratka Ridge. All-in-all a very successful day with 16 activator points and 21 S2S points.

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

Josephine Peak

Waning crescent moon over Strawberry Peak (W6/CT-018)


16 AUGUST 2020 – W6/CT-025

It had been hot the day before. 101.5ºF at home in Topanga Canyon. I wanted to get a really early start before attempting the south-facing switchbacks of Josephine Peak. I’d done this hike in 1985 with my Mom, Linnea Gardner and Patty Fox. But that was in March, not in the dog days of summer. I reached the intersection of the Angeles Crest Highway and the Angeles Forest Highway at 5 am. It was still dark and 84ºF already.

The hike is moderate – 4 miles up and 1,900′ of elevation gain. There was a waning crescent moon that didn’t cast much light, but the route is a wide fire road and after my eyes adapted to the dark it was pretty easy to hike without the help of what the English would call a torch. If you plan on doing this peak in the summer bring extra water, a hat and sunscreen.

The Hundred Peaks Section guide to Josephine Peak.

I’m glad it was a wide fire road because I saw several very wide snake tracks crossing the decomposed granite of the roadbed. Good to see where you are putting your feet. Bats flitted about in the predawn skies. Periodically on the trip up I would be washed over by a wave of cool air as I crossed the ravines that steeply fall of the south face of Josephine. These are called canyon inversions. Why? Because the normal temperature gradient places the warmest temperature at ground level. Usually the temperature drops as one gains altitude. The canyon inversion is an inverted gradient where cold air runs down mountain slopes and follows the path that water would take down the mountain’s topography. These rivers of cool air are quite common in the mountains of southern California before dawn and I welcomed the refreshing break from the hot air along the ridges

I arrived at the summit shortly after sunrise and got on the air at 7am. There once was a fire lookout tower there but it burned in the fire of 1976 so I never got a chance to see it.

There is an odd standing bookcase deal on the top that was filled with cryptic mementos from other hikers. It made a good logging table even if there was no shade.

I made 15 contacts all on 2m FM. Among them one summit-to-summit with David, N6AN on Flint Peak (W6/CT-225), with Cassie (KG6MZR) back home in Topanga and with Scott, WA9STI. My furthest contact was with W6FE in Chula Vista, who was full scale on my radio but only gave me a 51.5 🙂 I also made contact with Phil K6PNJ in West Los Angeles who was full scale at 5 watts with his Comet GP-9.

The hike down was as hot as feared and the smoke from several fires was pretty bad but I was glad to be descending. The thermometer in the car read 106ºF.

Strawberry Peak above the switchbacks on the Josephine fire road.

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

Ladyface Mountain


14 AUGUST 2020 W6/SC-285

After a great weekend in the San Gabriel Mountains, I was inspired to hit the road again before it was light and head out to the Agoura Hills to activate a mountain I have not visited for over 40 years. Ladyface (2036′) is a prominent peak of igneous rock south of Highway 101 just off the Kanan/Dume road.

I was treated to a spectacular sunrise colored by the recent Lake Hughes fire. Smoke hung like ground fog in the valleys. The hike is a short steep jaunt up the rocky ridge. A few third class section are easily scrambled over. It’s about 1,200 feet in a little in under a mile, so it’s a pretty good cardio workout.

The summit blocks are of the same breccia and afford a nice view of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Sespe/Topotopo region of the Las Padres, a view of the Palos Verdes peninsula through Malibu Canyon and, of course, a superb view of the Santa Monica Mountains – Sandstone Peak, Triunfo Lookout, Castro Peak, Saddle Peak, Calabasas Peak, High Peak and even a nice view of Lake Sherwood.

I made contacts in Altadena, Burbank, Woodland Hills and for my confirming fourth contact I heard from KG6MZR at home in Topanga Canyon. Thanks Cassie! 73 & 88 KG6MZS

That’s Ladyface (2036′) on the right and Sandstone Peak (3,111) on the left

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

Mount Islip & Kratka Ridge

Early morning on Mount Islip. Santiago Peak in the background


8 AUGUST 2020 W6/CT-010 & W6/CT-012

Another predawn drive, this time I was headed through the city and on up into the San Gabriel Mountains. I’d first been up Mt. Islip on February 6, 1982 with my childhood friend, Jon Bucci. I made a second trip with my brother Mark on January 16, 1999.

The hike is a short one, 1.25 miles with a 1000′ of elevation gain. I figured at age 64, I’d ease back into peak bagging on a regular basis. The roadhead is unmarked at 41.6 miles up the Angeles Crest Highway from the 210. It follows a well established use trail up a gully and joins several trails at Windy Gap.

The hike up was pleasant and cool in the clean, pine-scented air. On top there is the remains of a fire lookout tower and a stone cabin that has been burned out. Someone was camped in the stone cabin and sleeping, so I moved off to the south side and quietly made 9 contacts – 6 on 2m FM and 3 on 70cm FM – including 2 summit-to-summit contacts. One was with the Mountain Goat himself, NA6MG Dan over on nearby Mt. Lewis and the other was with N6AN David out on Black Butte in the Antelope Valley.

Mt. Islip is named after George Islip who settled in the Angeles Forest in 1880.

Check out the Hundred Peaks Section guide to Mt. Islip.

I left the summit and encountered a lot of people on the trip down. Mt. Islip is a very popular hike in the San Gabriel Mountains.

From the roadhead I backtracked down Highway 2 looking for the roadhead for Kratka Ridge. Even though I had been up to this mountain before on July 30, 1995 I had trouble locating the parking spot. Part of the problem is that the Vista Picnic Area is no longer marked or maintained. After a few false starts I found the old logging road that leads to the top of one of the defunct ski lifts of the old Snowcrest ski area. The hike is very short and easy – .75 miles and 700′ of elevation gain. Although the Vista Picnic Area is unmarked, two boarded-up outhouses are visible south from Highway 2 and the route joins a saddle in the ridge only about 200 yards from your car. This is the key to finding the roadhead.

The route goes right by the main ski lift and it is pretty derelict. The summit is pleasant with tall pine trees and an expansive view of the Los Angeles basin. I made 18 contacts including 3 summit-to-summit contacts. I got Dan again on Mt. Lewis and David had moved over to Lovejoy Butte out there in the Antelope Valley. Lastly I heard from N3XUL way down in San Diego County on Iron Mountain (W6/SC-214) 109 miles away!

Here’s the Hundred Peaks Section guide to Kratka Ridge.

Santaigo Peak and Palomar Mountain in the background

I was back home in Topanga about 1pm after my most successful SOTA outing yet!

More information about the Summits on the Air program.

Saddle Peak

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


5 AUGUST 2020 W6/CT-274

After my first activation on the previous weekend, I was excited about the prospect of activating another mountain soon. Just up the hill from where we live is Saddle Peak so Wednesday before it was light I made my way up the mountain through a dense marine layer of fog. At times I could barely see past the hood of my car.

There were no cars at the roadhead and I had the quiet trail to myself. The hike is a short one: about .8 miles and 600′ of elevation gain. The Backbone Trail wends it’s way through sedimentary rock formations and a forest of Coast Live Oak. I heard the distinctive spiraling song of the Canyon Wren in the foggy dawn.

Soon I broke out of the fog and I was floating on a chaparral raft in a sea of fleecy white clouds. I made contact with 13 people, again all on 2m FM due to my limited gear. Among those contacts were several people I know including Scott – WA9STI – an experienced Mountain Goat who shared some invaluable tips and tricks with me on summit activation.

I also managed a QSO with another hiker over on Brown Mountain – Brian – WA6JFK. I first met Brian shakily calling CQ for the first time when I first got my license in 2002. He was my very first contact on amateur radio!

The waning gibbous moon setting over Saddle Peak just before dawn

More information about the Summits on the Air program.