Mount Pinos

25 NOVEMBER 2020 W6/CC-002

I’ve skied to this summit far more often than I have hiked it. It is fun terrain for cross country skis and at 8,848′ it has snow much the winter, on average. My first trip to this summit was on June 9th, 1974 – just before graduating from Palisades High School. I climbed Mt. Ritter in the Sierra Nevada a week later.

The sign at Chula Vista parking lot says 2 miles, but the SOTALAS track says 1.69 miles

The hike is a pleasant 1.69 miles with about 600′ of elevation gain through a shady forest. Simply park at the end of Mt. Pinos road in the Chula Vista Campground parking lot and follow the main dirt road up from there. The activation zone is quite large and I recommend the west side near the Condor Viewing Area

I made all my contacts on 2m, including a summit-to-summit with Brian WA6JFK and Scott WA9STI over on Frazier Mountain. Here’s a helpful note for 2m operation: there is a club frequency, 146.550, that a lot of people out to the north use. Jim KA6QLQ out in Bakersfield told me about this. I also worked Pete W6SV up in Walker Basin up by Lake Isabella on this frequency.

A bit of snow on the trail
Frazier Mountain and the San Gabriel Mountains behind me on the summit

The Hundred Peaks Section climbing guide for Mount Pinos.

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This is Eagle Rest Peak (W6/SC-022) from Mt. Pinos. It was the 100th peak I climbed in the Hundred Peaks Section. I went with Cassie and Chauncey the dog. I had to lift Chauncey up some of those rock bands. I wish SOTA was around back then, it has never been activated.

Oat Mountain


I can see Oat Mountain from the window of my radio shack window here in Topanga. It’s easy for me work repeaters on Oat with 500 mW and a rubber duck. My last hike up there was 24 years ago back when it was all private property. Now there is a route up Brown’s Canyon through the Joughin Ranch at Antonovich Park that is on Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) land. This is at the north end of DeSoto in the San Fernanado Valley. The actual summit is privately owned but there are accessible spots in the activation zone.

The hike is 3.13 miles and has an elevation gain of about 1,860′.

Once again I left before it was light under a “fingernail” crescent Moon. I saw two coyotes and 5 deer on the paved road to the summit. It is unremittingly steep. The road passes through some longhorn cattle range. There are steer, bulls, cows and calves wandering around in this range. They are easily shooed off the road with a few “Yah, giddyups!”

I made 26 contacts all on 2m FM – from San Diego to Santa Barbara including one summit-to-summit with David KM3A on Mount Russell (W6/CT-188) in Riverside County.

Perhaps coolest of all was my contact with WD8CIK Steve in Porter Ranch. Porter Ranch is right at the base of Oat Mountain, so, you might ask, what’s the great whoop? Well Steve works for the CBS affiliate KCAL 9. Steve had given me a tour of the television studio in Hollywood when I was a new ham and helped me by adjusting my brand new radio’s internal mic gain. Great guy and solid elmer. Anyway, we are talking on the radio and he says oh, by the way, I am headed up there now. 30 minutes later he pulls up in his blue truck festooned with the KCAL graphics and we have our first eyeball QSO (with Covid masks) that we have had in at least 10 years!

KCAL 9’s Dopler Radar on the actual summit of Oat Mountain
The San Gabriel Mountains from Oat Mountain
Santa Paula Peak, Hines Peak and points west from Oat Mountain

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Cahuenga Peak

8 NOVEMBER 2020 W6/CT-037

Cahuenga is one of the few surviving Tongva place names we have in southern California. My last trip to the summit was February 20th 1984. Once again, I left before dawn figuring it would be pretty crowded later on a nice clear Sunday after the rain. This was my third activation in as many days. I was on a roll.

My friend Brian WA6JFK had activated this summit recently and he told me where to park. When I got to Lake Hollywood Drive I discovered there are parking restriction before 6 AM that forced me to park a mile further away and add over 200′ to the climb.

The after 6AM hike is short and steep – 1.25 miles and about 800′ of gain up a deeply eroded trail. When I hiked up Cahuenga Peak 36 years ago, we came in from the east on the Mt. Lee access road. A longer hike with less elevation gain.

Cahuenga Peak offers a tremendous view of downtown Los Angeles, Century City, Westwood and Santa Monica. It was still pretty cloudy at first from yesterday’s rain, but soon the sun broke through and cast glorious rays of light over Los Angeles and Glendale.

Sun shining on Glendale from Cahuenga Peak

Brian WA6JFK was over on CT-150 and we had armchair summit-to-summit copy. We both tag-teamed a bunch of contacts on 2m. My furthest contact was with KN6JPZ in Ramona. We also both worked K6RIN over on Oat Mountain for another summit-to-summit.

Me and downtown Los Angeles
The station
The gear

There were surprisingly few people on the trail down and I discovered a LA Parks & Rec ranger at the road head. He told me that the area was closed. I was pretty surprised to hear that as it had just rained and everywhere else in the Santa Monica Mountains was open as far as I knew. Anyway, he was very nice about it and let me go with a warning.

Lake Hollywood with Century City, Westwood and Santa Monica in the distance

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7 NOVEMBER 2020 W6/CT-158

There isn’t much to say about the “hike” up this summit. You can park in the activation zone. A short walk past the locked gate to the right brings you up to a large level area with some burnt wooden poles that make good mast anchors. I chose a day when it was forecast to rain – the first winter storm of the year. The weather was cold, wet and miserable as expected. I made 5 contacts as my hands froze in a driving rain that was turning sleety. One was with Glenn KK6KEA in Green Valley who was surprised to hear anybody. He said they don’t even have cell service. Cell service from Verizon was good on this summit. Brian WA6JFK made contact just as I was bailing.

Windy wet and cold

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Hoyt Mountain


I had one of the strangest experiences of my mountaineering career climbing Hoyt Mountain on Halloween 2020. The hike up was mostly in the dark before dawn to avoid the hiking crowds in these days of the Covid Pandemic, and to avoid the heat that was forecast. A setting full Moon popped in and out as I made my way up the fireroad. Shortly after leaving the fireroad and ascending the steep firebreak, I came across a skunk lumbering along the trail up ahead. I made a little noise and the animal moved off into the underbrush. So far, so much like every other encounter I’ve ever had with skunks. Shortly after that the skunk reappeared and was walking straight toward me. I clapped my hands and raised my voice and the little guy did a somersault, butt in the air and gave me a “warning shot” of scent, and then ran further up the trail. I picked up a few rocks and lobbed them into the bushes. A little way further up, the skunk inexplicably reappeared up ahead and scurried down the trail directly toward me again! I yelled MR. SKUNK! loudly and clapped my hands and the creature finally somersaulted again and gave me a much bigger cloud of that thing skunks are famous for. Fortunately I was still 20 feet away or so and the only thing sprayed was the air between us. I’ve never has anything like this happen in a lifetime of hiking and climbing mountains. I figure I must’ve been near her den with some young uns in it. Brian (WA6JFK) suggested rabies when I made radio contact on the summit.

Sunrise over Mt. Deception in the Front Range of the San Gabriels from Hoyt Mountain

The hike is 2.25 miles and has 1,700′ of elevation gain. The summit had spotty cell coverage with Verizon. To find the roadhead, drive 6.1 miles up the Angeles Crest Highway past the 210 Freeway. There is ample parking where the fireroad leaves from the left.

The summit offers a terrific view of Mt. Josephine, Strawberry Peak and Mt. Lawlor along with Mt. Lukens. You can see Hines Peak and Santa Paula Peak way off in the west. Downtown Los Angeles, Palos Verdes and Catalina are also very visible on a clear day.

Josephine, Strawberry and Lawlor behind me

I made 16 contacts on 2m FM – one with Cam WA6VVC in Rosamond out in the Antelope Valley using his remote base WA6CAM in Tehachapi – not a legal contact, but fun anyway. Brian WA6JFK sounded like he was standing right next to me from his home in Glassell Park.

Downtown Los Angeles, Palos Verdes and Santa Catalina Island.
There is a nice stand of pine on the steep north side of Hoyt Mountain. Santa Paula Peak and Hines Peak in Ventura County are upper left
Powerlines and the Edison Road that is the route I took

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Sunset Peak

24 OCTOBER 2020 W6/CT-022

Last weekend my friend Brian (WA6JFK) hiked up this mountain while I did Timber Mountain. I decided to follow his activation with my own. My last trip up Sunset Peak was 26 years ago and it looked much the same. The old fire lookout was originally built in 1915 for a complete cost of $2,500. It was struck by lightning in October of 1928 while occupied by Mr. & Mrs. Charles E. Horn. They decided to leave and it was subsequently struck again and completely destroyed. Their decision to leave could well have saved their lives. As mountaineer Norman Clyde used to say “The mountains will be here tomorrow. I reckon to be able to say the same about myself.”

The tower was rebuilt and served until 1974 when it was dismantled due to the air pollution in the Los Angeles basin hampering the effectiveness of fire lookouts.

The Sunset Peak fire lookout in July 1940

Today all that remains is the ruins of the corrugated iron rain catcher and cistern tank.

More about the history of Sunset Peak’s fire lookout.

There are two major routes up the mountain: a fireroad and a firebreak. The road is a very gentle – the grade perhaps too gentle – is 3.7 miles long. The firebreak is only about 1.25 miles long and somewhat steep in places. Nothing too tough for an experienced mountaineer – and much shorter. The elevation gain is about 1,300 feet. I opted to go up the fireroad because it was dark all the way up except the last switchback, on which I scrambled up the firebreak. That saved .3 miles. I descended the firebreak because it wasn’t hard in the daylight and the fire road was getting quite a few maskless hikers in these days of the pandemic. The fire road is well shaded with fine canopy tall pines and oaks.

Here is the Hundred Peaks Section climbing guide.

The summit affords great UHF/VHF coverage of southern California and cell service is available. I made 26 contacts – 24 on 2m and 2 on 70cm. That included 3 summit-to-summit contacts with Cuyamaca Peak and 2 on Jamul Mountains.

The coastal plains were covered with a think deck of marine stratus
Santiago Peak floats above the stratus at dawn
Just before sunrise
Descending along the firebreak
The start of the fireroad from Cow Canyon Saddle.
View west back toward the front range – Mt Wilson, San Gabriel Peak, Strawberry and Lawlor and Twin Peak.

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2,450′ – Bodle Peak

22 OCTOBER 2020 W6/SC-237

Westlake Reservoir from Bodle Peak

A little history about this summit – in 1930 a fire lookout tower was moved from Blue Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains to this location. County forester Spence D. Turner said the move was intended to protect “…a highly hazardous mountain area where there are many summer homes and valuable properties” as was reported in The Forrest Worker in September 1932.

The lookout only lasted 4 years before it was dismantled and moved to Triunfo Peak a few miles west. The foundations for this lookout remain today. Those “summer homes” today are now mega-mansion, wineries, equestrian centers and gentleman farms. The Woolsey fire burned the area on November 8th, 2018.

The hike is pretty easy: only .8 miles and 675′ of elevation gain. The beginning is actually the very rough driveway of 32701 Mulholland Highway. As of this writing there were no “Private Property” or “No Trespassing” signs posted. The driveway ends at a level spot on the ridge where a trailer and a truck are parked. I skirted around them to the right before sunrise and saw no one around. A short way above the trailer the track joins the old Bodle Peak Motorway. This is the long disused access to the fire lookout. It is obviously very seldom traveled. I wore shorts, but anymore brush and I would’ve wanted long pants.

The summit is a nice mountain top with good cell phone coverage and great 2 meter range. I made 2 meter contacts in Yucaipa (Riverside County), San Marcos (San Diego County) and Temecula for a total of 16 contacts, all on 2 meters in the dawn hours. Perhaps the best QSO of all was the last one. I worked Gary, KN6LIY in Thousand Oaks. This was Gary’s first contact on amateur radio as he had just achieved his Technician license 9 days ago! As is would happen I also worked Brian, WA6JFK who was MY first amateur radio contact back in 2002! I just love the symmetry of that.

Not sure why my iPhone took such a weird shot, but it is my only selfie

While I was working the radio, an owl kept flying overhead, lower and lower until I finally had to shine my flashlight at her just to let her know I wasn’t a kangaroo mouse.

Home brew roll-up J-pole
Using an rock climber’s trick of looping protruding rock to save on hardware

The rock formations in the area are all composed of igneous rock – breccia mostly – or rock and gravel that has been cemented together by molten rock.

Saddle Rock in the distance

This was only the third activation of this summit. It is a very nice peak, I’m somewhat surprised. Perhaps people have been scared of by the private property post on the SOTA database.

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1,470′ Calabasas

20 OCTOBER 2020 W6/SC-347

Start of the Phantom Trail off Mulholland Highway at Malibu Creek State Park

Early on Tuesday morning I made my way through a dense marine layer to Malibu Canyon. The drizzle was enough to need the windshield wipers. There was nobody at the Cistern/Phantom trail head a few miles west of Las Virigines/Malibu Canyon road on Mulholland Highway.

The hike is short and easy – about .9 miles and 600′ of elevation gain. The summit is the second bump passed the benchmark. A small rock cairn marks the actual summit

This summit does not have good UHF/VHF coverage into the more populated areas of Los Angeles. I had trouble scaring up 5 contacts on 2 meters early on a Tuesday morning. I probably should’ve waited until I can manage to by some HF gear before attempting this one. I heard several stations that could not hear me. One highlight was working my friend Steve WA6FGW who was mobile on Pacific Coast Highway. We barely eked out a QSO, but that was pretty amazing clear over the Santa Monica Mountains like that. Brian WA6JFK said my signal was “horrible” in Glassell Park. I did work three 59 signals: WB2WIK Steve in Winnetka, WA9STI Scott in Granada Hills and WB6MIO Charles in Simi Valley.

Deep drizzle and fog on the summit
This benchmark is two bumps short of the summit

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Timber Mountain

17 OCTOBER 2020 W6/CT-052

You can see why they call it Timber Mountain. About a quarter mile from the summit

Brian (WA6JFK) and I were planning another pair of tandem activations. Sunset Peak was a good choice for a moderate hike, but what other juicy peak was nearby? I had climbed Timber Mountain twice before – once in 1981 and once in the winter of 1999. At 10 miles round trip and over 3,300′ of elevation gain, it poses a challenge to my current level of conditioning. I decided that’s a good thing!

Here is the Hundred Peaks climbing guide.

Since I haven’t been up Icehouse Canyon this century, I was shocked to find a packed roadhead parking lot at 5am with many groups getting ready to hike. This is a heavily traveled area. Starting up the trail in the dark, a flashlight is absolutely essential. The trail is very rocky and, in places, narrow with steep drop-offs. I managed to pass a few slow parties and be passed by some faster ones. I only needed to don the Covid 19 mask at these few times on the way up. This is good because the trail climbs steeply in the thin air and the mask is uncomfortable.

Getting close

On the summit there were three guys who spent the night. They had the banda music playing merrily away while I got set up. This is not a wilderness experience. Soon several other large parties joined us. When I say “parties” I mean that more ways than one. Soon “Happy Birthday” banners were hung and tequila shots were poured. I explained to the revelers what Summits on the Air was all about and got several “cool!”s out of it. One guy said he was studying for the Technician license.

Just before the crowds arrived

The activation was a success with 18 contacts all on 2m, including 3 summit to summit contacts with Brian (WA6JFK) over on Sunset Peak, W5EAL at The Pinnacles over in the San Bernardino Mountains and with W6MDE who was acting as fire lookout on Morton Peak.

Home brew roll-up J-pole on a 20′ carbon fiber fishing pole

The hike down was actually harder with many rock and wood stairs to step down. I have to work the muscles hard to protect my 65 year old knees. I had to wear the mask almost all the way down as numerous groups where ascending the trail. I got back to the car exactly at noon.

The water that comes out of the springs in Icehouse Canyon has percolated through thousands of feet of granite. It is so clear the sun seems to shine directly on the rock and sand
This Incense Cedar has seen over a hundred years of fire, rain and snow
A surprising amount of water in Icehouse Canyon for October

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Simi Peak

13 OCTOBER 2020. W6/CT-207

Venus and the waning crescent Moon before dawn on Simi Peak with the San Gabriel Mountains.

Once again my friend Brian (WA6JFK) and I were scheming about doing tandem activations early Tuesday morning to beat the heat that was forecast to be near triple digits. I picked Simi Peak and Brian decided to try Kagel Mountain over in the San Gabriels. I started hiking about 5:30 AM from the top of King James Place in Oak Park. The trail follows an old fire road that is deeply eroded. Waking in the ambient light is usually no problem, but the uneven footing made a flashlight necessary. Along the trail I saw dozens of Kangaroo Mice scurrying around feeding in the cool, pre-dawn air. The winter stars glittered overhead, Orion, Canis Major, Taurus. In the west, Mars shone brightly as it is at opposition to Earth and very close. In the east Venus and the waning crescent Moon dominated the sunrise. As I made the ridge, I even spotted Canopus – the second brightest star in the sky. Canopus is normally a Southern Hemisphere star. It can only be seen in these northern latitudes for a few hours a night in the fall and winter very low in the southern sky.

The hike is 5 miles round trip with 1,250′ of elevation gain. There is 250′ of gain on the return. The trail is heavily traveled most days and while I saw no one going up or on the summit at dawn, there were quite a few people starting out as I descended

Unlike the part of the Santa Monica Mountains just to the south, Simi Peak is all sedimentary rock. The trail takes the hiker through China Flat – a lovely live oak grove set in meadows behind the steep south scarp. This is where Little House on the Prairie was filmed.

Looking east before sunrise

I made 9 contacts on 2m. Brian made it up to Kagel Mountain about 7AM and we got our summit-to-summit in. We also made contact with our friend Steve (WA6FGW) who was on his way to work in Santa Monica. I first heard him as he came out of the MacClure Tunnel over the crest of the Santa Monica Mountain. By the time he got to Cloverfield he was 59. I also heard from faithful chasers Derek (KM6UHU) in Altadena, Steve (WB2WIK) in Winnetka, Ira (KI6TPX) in Glendale among others.

Sunrise over the San Gabriel Mountains
Looking northwest past Moorpark up to Hines Peak in the Sespe/Topotopo wilderness
The trail through China Flat
China Flat – where they filmed LIttle House on the Prairie and others
Deeply eroded trail up. Saddle Peak in the background.

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