Alamo Mountain

The summit block on Alamo Mountain with Frazier Peak in the background

21 AUGUST 2021 W6/CC-008

On September 28, 1997 I drove my old Volvo sedan up the Alamo Mountain road to the south side of the mountain. I remember the road as being a pretty good road and the hike being an easy stroll though the pine trees to the summit, so it seemed like a perfect fit for my brother. He is down for a week or so visiting from his home in Alaska.

The road is in considerably worse shape than it was 24 years ago and we only managed to make it half way up the mountain with my old Audi A4. Given that the summit has only been activated 4 times previously – and the last time was in 2014 – I should’ve guessed that the road was in bad shape. It is still not difficult for a high clearance, 4 wheel drive vehicle.

Because of the limitations of the Audi – and we probably drove it further than we should’ve – the easy half mile jaunt of a couple hundred feet became a four and a half mile hike up 2,200 feet of elevation gain!

To top it off, my brother’s hiking boot failed and we had to tie it together with some paracord. To shorten the trip to the summit I did a steep cross-country section from the road junction on the north side of the mountain. This proved to be too much for Mark and he waited there for me to ascend and activate the summit.

I made 10 quick QSOs on 2 meters and descended to rejoin my brother. I didn’t bother with HF, the KX2, the table and chair, just lofting the carbon fiber fishing pole with the roll-up slimjim. I used the cool summit block as table and chair. Just 5 watts with my aging Kenwood TH-F6A.

I didn’t actually use the phone, but I believe cell coverage by Verizon is good up the mountain.

Mark on the long hike up with Frazier Mountain and the Tehacapi Range behind him.
My brother’s fancy footware.

Castro Peak

Sunrise over the San Gabriel Mountains an a monsoon sky. The bright spot below is Malibu Lake.

11 AUGUST 2021 W6/CC-057

After being discouraged by all the threatening private property signs last year, I decided to call the number listed on the signs and ask permission to activate the summit. After explaining the SOTA program, permission was readily granted.

I first ascended Castro Peak May 27, 1973, when I was 17 years old. It was a charming summit with a stand of pine trees and an abandoned fire lookout tower. I did this hike a dozen or so times back in the ’70’s and watched as the summit was slowly developed into the massive communications site it is today. Now there is quite a bit of trash and other detritus from the various fires that have swept over the summit. Most notably the Dayton Canyon Fire in 1982 and, more recently, the Woolsey Fire in 2018. Now the summit is rather unlovely. A lot of fences, cameras and razor wire.

Although I could’ve driven to the summit, I decided to park my car at the lower gate and hike up in the spirit of SOTA and for the exercise. From the lower gate the hike is less than a mile with about 600′ of gain.

Band conditions weren’t great – my furthest contact was Gary W0MNA in Kansas. I did manage a summit-to-summit with Hal N6JZT and Dan NA6MG over on Mount Islip.

Cell coverage by Verizon is excellent.

Buzzard’s Roost (W6/SC-229) center with the trees on top above Newton Canyon. Sandstone Peak (W6/CC-056) peeking out on the right.
The San Gabriel Mountains left with Saddle Peak (W6/CT-274) center and the Santa Monica Bay behind the microwave and radio towers.
Sandstone Peak and points west near Santa Barbara and Ventura. Conejo Mountain (W6/SC-318) in the sun next to Sandstone.

Lookout Mountain

The Sierra Crest from Lookout Mountain

31 JULY 2021 W6/ND-037

It was kind of a last minute thing, this activation. I realized a had a leisurely day driving from the El Rancho Motel in Bishop to Tuolumme Meadows campground. So I looked around and, sure enough, there was an easy one just off of Highway 395 around Deadman Summit. The only hitch was that other activators warned of volcanic glass — obsidian — on the dirt road up to the summit. My poor, battered Audi had suffered a great deal on the rough road to Lake Edison on the first segment of the John Muir Trail, but I decided to go for it. With only one of those goofy, undersized spare tires in the trunk, I slowly made my way up the dirt road.

As advertised there was obsidian everywhere and some pretty deep ruts and rocks. I drove pretty slowly and tried to stay in the tracks where others had gone before and the glass was well crushed. The approach road takes off of 395 opposite the Mammoth Scenic Route road. The drive is about 3 miles and goes up 800 feet.

I walked a few hundred feet to an old concrete foundation presumably from the former lookout that gives this mountain its name. This made a nice place to set up the station. Cumulus clouds were starting to build over the Sierra Crest in typical summer monsoon fashion.

I made 22 contacts including 2 summit-to-summit contacts with KF6HP and K7ZZQ on Yellowstone Mesa in Arizona. Thanks guys! Little did I realize at the time but Lookout Mountain is considered a desert summit and, as such, awarded me summer desert bonus points. Easiest bonus points yet.

Cell coverage by Verizon is excellent.

I also discovered later that two other activations of this summit occurred later on the same day. Apparently all three of us were unaware of the others!

Close up of the station
Poor Pfeffernusse the Audi suffered the sharp obsidian road.
The Station with Mammoth Mountain in the background
Looking north

Mount Lukens

The Verdugo Mountains with Saddle Peak at the extreme right.

24 JULY 2021 W6/CT-030

In preparation for our second leg of the John Muir Trail next week I decided to push myself a little by attempting the Stone Canyon Trail up Mount Lukens. I left the Wildwood Picnic area up Big Tujunga Canyon a little after 5 AM, just as it was starting to get light. This trail is relentlessly uphill. Some of the steepest parts are just before the top with a lot of loose rock “ball bearings” to slip on. In places the trail is very narrow with steep drop-offs below. This isn’t a trail for everyone. At the base there is a sign that warns there is little shade, no water and no cell coverage. Only in the city of Los Angeles County are you warned of a dangerous lack of cell coverage. 😉 Mount Lukens is the highest point in the City of Los Angeles.

As I started up the trail I noticed a light bouncing along way up the trail. This was strange because there were no cars parked at the trailhead. The mystery was solved when I came across a guy about a third of the way up as he was coming down. “Mr. Lukens” I dubbed him because it turns out he was just fetching some trail-building tools. He told me he had climbed Mount Lukens 1,074 times! The trail was in great shape (short of one washout under repair) and it is obvious that this steep, brushy trail needs a LOT of maintenance.

Another word of warning: while the trail was well maintained, there was quite a bit of poison oak on either side of the trail. Some care needs to be taken to avoid it – especially near some tempting rocks to sit on and rest on the way up. Remember: “Leaves of three, let it be.”

Thank you “Mr. Lukens”! Turns out he had parked his car at the end of Upper Stoneyvale Road that is accessible via Vogel Flats Road. This might be a better, safer roadhead.

The hike took me three hours and is 4 miles long with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain. This distance is made little longer to the nice activation area on the east side of the summit, away from all the communications installations and under a shady grove of pine trees that survived the Station Fire. The Sierra Club usually has a register around here, but I didn’t find it on this trip.

Cell service from Verizon was non-existent, as warned, on the way up. I did get one text out on the summit but nothing else. Could not access SOTAGoat so all spots were via Iridium Satellite.

This was my third trip to Mount Lukens. Both of the previous trips were done from Highway 2. The first on February 3, 1996, the second on a mountain bike in 2000.

I brought 3 liters of water and drank all of it on this trip. It wasn’t especially hot – mid 80s – but I still required a lot of water. This peak is best done in the winter.

I made 20 contacts on 40m, 20m and 2m. Most of my usual chasers checked in. Thank you everybody. The furthest contact was with Gary K3TCU in Pennsylvania. I had two summit-to-summit contacts with K6EL and KN6FNY.

Here’s the station at the eastern edge of the activation zone. Pines provided some much needed shade.
Sunrise between Fox on the left and Josephine on the right.
All the big Santa Monica Mountains. From the left, Saddle Peak, Castro Peak and Sandstone Peak. Oat Mountain on the far right.

Mount Gleason and Summit 6,020′

Looking south from Mount Gleason Strawberry Peak and San Gabriel Peak are almost perfectly in line. Some large Jeffrey pines on the summit of Mount Gleason survived the Station Fire to provide shade for hot SOTA operators.

17 JULY 2021 W6/CT-017 and W6/CT-087

I felt like doing a couple of easy activations after spending a week in the High Sierra Nevada. Mount Gleason and Summit 6,020′ have been long walks or mountain bike rides from Mill Creek Summit, where the gate has been locked for years. Chatter on the SoCalSOTA i/o group alerted me to the fact that the gate was now open this summer, so I gave these two summits a whirl.

Part of me wanted to make up for the 10 points I didn’t get on Mount Hooper because I only had one legitimate contact. Enough to activate the summit, but no points

The “hike” to Gleason is about a half mile from the locked gate across mostly level ground. I found I could not post my spot to SOTA Goat even though I had some cell service from Verizon. This was true of both summits. For these activations I used the Garmin InReach Mini largely because I wanted to test that method out for the first time. It worked flawlessly.

Here’s the station on Mount Gleason. Nice to see the pines recovering from the Station Fire

Between both peaks I had 33 contacts, including 3 different summit-to-summit contacts with KN6FNY. Kevin did 5 mountains this day. I had 6 total S2S contacts including two with N6AN on “David’s Summit” (formerly Flint Peak). My furthest contact was Chris F4WBN in France.

Looking west over the ominously-named Lightning Point to Sandstone Peak and the Santa Monica Mountain and the Sespe/Topotopo area.
Some Jeffrey Pines survived the Station Fire
Trusty Pfeffernusse at the gate to Mount Gleason with Josephine Hoyt and Lukins in the background
Summit 6,020′ has no shade and was quite hot by midday. That’s Pacifico Peak to the right.

Mount Hooper

The impressive summit block of Mount Hooper

11 JULY 2021 W6/SS-140

In the midst of the pandemic, my old friend and climbing buddy Bill Smith hatched this crazy scheme of doing the entire John Muir Trail. We’d all done segments, but Bill envisioned doing the whole thing, albeit out of order, as the permits and schedules allowed. As the plan took shape, the segment from Edison Lake to Florence Lake became our first leg. Short enough and easy enough to see if Bill’s idea was just an insane, cabin-fever dream for us sixty-somethings or not.

In addition to Bill and me, our party was joined by our old friend, Steve Tennent, a retired fireman and EMT. Steve is the fastest of the group – a trait that has earned him the nickname “Smokin’ Joe” — because he burns up the trail. Next, in terms of speed, is Greg Jones. Greg and I did Mount San Antonio the week before to get in shape and he left me in his wake the entire trip. Another old-time Palisadian, Bill Neilsen joined us traveling down from his current home near Portland, Oregon. This group has been doing mountain trips together since at least high school 40 years ago and it is such a treat to get the gang back together for a new epic adventure. Lastly we were joined by a newcomer and welcome addition, Big Al from Sonoma.

Getting to Marie Lake was fraught with all kinds of obstacles and peril that I will recount in the John Muir Trail story elsewhere. For now I’ll just say it took two days to get to Marie Lake where I started off solo at first light on July 11, 2021.

Marie Lake and Seven Gables the evening before my climb up Mount Hooper.

I hiked in the predawn light up to Selden Pass (10,840′). This was further than I needed to go and actually had to hike back down a way as I contoured around the ridge.

Marie Lake at sunrise over Seven Gables on the way up Mount Hooper

If I did it again I’d follow the descent track to about the halfway point and pick up the ascent track from there. Traveling alone, I was very cautious. There is a lot of loose rock and tricky boulders. While there are a lot of people on the John Muir Trail, not many venture this way.

The previous register entry was from June 2020 – over a year ago!

The hike up took me 4 hours. It is 2.5 miles with about 1,800′ of gain. The air gets noticeably thin. The summit block is magnificent and apparently not difficult to climb around the left (west) side. I was happy to stay at the register and avoid the exposure as I’d encountered some really big, loose rock. That summit block sits atop two very steep faces of 1000′ or more like on the prow of a ship.

Little did I know that my struggle had just begun.

I set up the KX2 and the Packtenna Mini Endfed. Soon I discovered that I had left my carbon fiber fishing pole back at camp so I pressed my trekking pole into service. Although my phone showed 4 bars at times, there was no service. No 3G or even 1x connection listed from Verizon. I attempted to post a spot via my Garmin InReach Mini, but I had messed up the protocol somehow and it soon became obvious I was going to have to make my contacts honestly.

After an hour of fruitlessly calling CQ, I tried to answer some POTA calls with a “Park to Park.” Mount Hooper is in the Sierra National Forest (K-44660). This approach came tantalizingly close a few times with ops getting my prefix or suffix before giving up and telling me I was just too weak.

Finally after almost two hours I knew I would need to descend. The thundershowers had been building each afternoon and I did not want to be on the summit when the lightning started flying.

Then I heard some really loud stations on 40 meters. This was obviously a big net that was concluding and several stations were getting ready to sign off. I politely asked for a break and Stu W7FE in Las Vegas came back to me! My heart leapt! However, my hopes were soon dashed when Stu said that he could not hear me at home but rather on the Northern Utah WebSDR. My heart sank. Not a valid contact. Ken W6BQZ in Carlsbad also reported the same. However, then John K6IR near Seattle, Washington came on and said he could hear me! Eureka! I didn’t care about the 10 points anymore — I just wanted to activate Mount Hooper for the first time.

Thank you Stu, Ken and John. You are all a credit to the hobby!

The pared-down station for an extended backpack
Marie Lake and Seven Gables from the summit of Mount Hooper
Looking off the northwest scarp to Hooper and Crazy Lakes. You can just see the Packtenna antenna wire.
Back down in Selden Pass with the thundershowers beginning over Marie Lake

After returning home I contacted Andy MM0FMF and he has been very gracious and extremely generous with his time helping me sort out my syntax for the Garmin InReach Mini. This will be invaluable for my next activation on the John Muir Trail. Thank you Andy!

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.