Monday, September 18, 2017

W6/CC-046 Loma Prieta

Loma Prieta is the highest mountain in the Santa Cruz Mountains, that run from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. Because it is so high and prominent, it is easy to get close to the peak in a car. However, the roads near the top are narrow and windy. Not a good place to bring your giant car or trailer. After spending Sunday morning orienteering at Big Basin, I drove up to activate Loma Prieta. There is a large area you can park at approximately 21922 Loma Prieta Ave, and this is where I started my hike from.
Loma Prieta. It looks like the fire line went over the summit.
From here, head up Loma Prieta Road. This is mostly dirt, with a few sections of beat up pavement. A fire burned through here recently, and the trees have not recovered yet, but the undergrowth is looking healthy. It was also easy to see where the firefighters had built the fire lines. There are great views along the road on the way. I saw a total of three other cars while I was out, two on the way up, one while coming down. At the next intersection, continue on Loma Prieta Road. This dirt road obviously heads up towards the summit. Near the top there are a few other roads that branch off, but its not hard to get to the high point.
Mt Um in the center. It was opening weekend for the peak.
There are a lot of towers on top, but I found an old concrete slab to set up on. It was almost as good as having a picnic table at the top. I started on 30 meters after sending out a spot, and got three contacts. I called for a while on 20 and 17, but didn't have any luck. My HT was able to deal with all the RF on the summit, at least on 2 meters, and I made a few more contacts there. I called a bit on 7-ssb, and did get one contact eventually.
Looking west from the summit.
I had had enough radio at this point, so I packed up and headed down, back the way I came. Others had reported rangers giving them a hard time, but I didn't see any officials while I was out.

Trailhead: Large pullout near 21922 Loma Prieta Ave. Could also park at intersection of Loma Prieta and Loma Chiquita.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Take the road to the summit. It was obvious which road to take.
Red Tape: Signed that its open to residents only. (Residents of where?)
El Toro through the haze. Twin Peaks out of the frame to the right.

W6/NC-376 El Toro

El Toro is a distinctive peak towering over Morgan Hill. The east side of the mountain is on public land, but the actual summit seems to be just outside this. After spending the morning climbing West Twin Peaks I came over for an easier summit. I parked at the bottom of the West Hills Community Church driveway. The gate was open, but I didn't want to get stuck on the wrong side if it was closed while I was hiking. In the corner of the parking lot at the top there is a trail that heads uphill. This leads to the summit.
Gate, small parking area on the right.
The first part of the trail switchbacks up the side of the hill on a fire road, until it reaches the crest of the ridge. Here it follows the ridge up to the summit. The final steep section has a rope that can be used to assist in ascent and descent. Its probably not necessary, but it made me feel better to use it.
El Toro summit.
The top is covered in dense brush, and the only place to set up was on the trail. As I was coming around the final bend at the top, I heard what sounded like CW coming from the bushes. Oleh, KD7WPJ, was setup and operating! This was the second time that we had met on a summit, the first was on Kratke Ridge, down in the San Gabriel's. He was on 20, so I setup my loop and got on 30 meters. I had good luck, and quickly made five contacts. We then switched, but there was a lot of noise on 20, so I went up to 17. The first station to answer my CQ was ZL1BYZ in New Zealand, with a very strong signal. After having such good luck on 17, I decided to try 15 as well, but didn't get any DX.
Operating among the poison oak.
 Oleh was getting ready to go down, so we checked to see if we could make a contact on 2 meters after he left the AZ. Tuned to the calling frequency, we heard AA0BV calling from Santa Rosalia Mountain, a few miles away. Oleh tried to answer, but AA0BV wasn't getting any audio, so I tried to make a contact. He could hear me, but my HT couldn't hear him well. In the end, it took two radios, one for transmit and one for receive for both of us to get a summit to summit.
Looking towards Loma Prieta and Mt Um.
After he left, I tried 20-ssb, then 5-cw, and made one contact each, including another summit to summit on 60. I was getting tired and hungry, so I packed up and headed back down the mountain. The descent down the rope was not difficult, and I was soon back at my car.

Trailhead: West Hills Community Church. Park below the gate unless you're sure it will be open when you return.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: From the back corner of the parking lot, follow the fire road uphill to the summit.
Red Tape: None.

W6/NC-356 West Twin Peaks

West Twin Peaks is a mountain at the south end of the Santa Cruz Mountain range, west of Morgan Hill. Most of the mountain is private property, but the face above Uvas Reservoir is public, and this is the side I climbed up. I parked in a large pullout across the street from the dam, then walked across it. It is possible to go around the fences at the spillway if the water is low enough. If there is high water, it would be dangerous or impossible to get across the spillway.
Dam, with ridge I climbed on the left.
Once on the other side, I started uphill. There were some old animal paths that I was able to follow, which made it much easier to push through the brush. The sections of trees were a nice break from pushing through the brush. Partway up I found and old road bed that is not on any of the maps. This appeared to contour around the hill, and rejoin the ridge on the other side of the sub-peak. I started to take it. However, a short distance down it, I came around a bend to find a skunk with its tail up, standing in the middle of the path. I quickly backed up, and gave it a few minutes to clear out of the area.
This is as close as I was willing to get to the skunk with my camera.
I then cautiously started up the old road again, only to find the skunk still standing in the middle. Not willing to risk being sprayed, I decided to follow the crest of the ridge, which had been my original plan. I made it past the sub-peak, marked 1257 on the USGS quad, and started the final push up to the summit.
This sort of brush is not fun to push through.
The summit cone was covered in a taller, denser brush, and it was slow going if I didn't have a herd path to follow. I would recommend wearing long sleeves and gloves if you come up this route, my arms got cut up. Eventually I made it to the summit. There was a small clear area, with views to the north and east where I set up to operate. I made eight contacts on 30, 20, and 17 meters. My calls on VHF were fruitless. I had a good 4G signal at the top.
El Toro, my next SOTA peak for the day.
 After I had finished operating, I packed up for the slog back down. I think it took the same amount of time to get back down as it did to get up, the brush was so dense. It was a relief to break out of the brush at the bottom and walk across the dam. I then drove over to El Toro, for a second SOTA activation. I had been worried that it would be too steep to get up or down, but the grades were reasonable the entire way. There were a few cliffs and other really steep sections, so some planning is required to avoid these areas.
Partway down, looking back at the summit.

Trailhead: Pullout across the street from Uvas Reservoir Dam.
Website: SOTA SiteCounty Park site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes mapCounty park map. Shows public land boundaries.
Route: Cross the dam. Bushwhack up your selected ridge to the summit.
Red Tape: None. May be impossible to cross spillway during high water.
Dam and spillway.

Monday, September 11, 2017

W6/NS-395

This unnamed peak is just north of the Sierra Buttes, north of Sierra City. I climbed it after stopping by a small peak above Downieville. The best trailhead is at Packer Lake Saddle, at the top of county road 621. The road is paved to this point, and although steep and narrow, easily accessible in a normal sedan. There is a small dirt lot at the top with room for a half dozen cars. This was full when I arrived, so I parked in a small area on the other side of the street.
Parking area and trailhead (PCT).
 As I was repacking my stuff and getting ready to leave, a man who was obviously a thru-hiker emerged from the woods. I started talking to Wookie, and gave him some water and a bag of chips, and he told me about his hike so far. It was a great way to start the hike. The hike simply follows the PCT north until you turn off the trail for the final climb up to the summit.

Sierra Buttes, to the south.
The trail is well worn and well graded, and it was an easy hike. It is an open forest near the peak, so the off trail section was easy. I could even watch the hikers below as I operated. The summit is a very narrow section of rock, so I setup on a flat spot on the west side of the crest. I quickly got my antennas up and got on the air.
2m/70cm yagis, doublet at the top of the pole.
Despite the contest going on, I had trouble making contacts. I thought that my height would give me a great advantage, and there would be a steady stream. I got a bunch of stations in the Sierra and Central Valley, and a few on some of the hills in the Bay Area. I discovered that the Powerpoles I had put on the cable for my new 70cm transverter had fallen off. I was able to shove them back in well enough to make a few contacts on the band.
Deer Lake, looking north.
After so many SSB contacts, I went down to 30 meters to see if I could scare up some CW contacts. I got one, and had a nice conversation with a fellow down near Nevada City. A few times some clouds passed overhead, and I was worried it might rain, but all they did was block the sun and keep me cool. It was getting late, and I didn't want to have to hike down in the dark, so I packed up and headed back the way I came.
Looking south east from the summit.
As I drove down and through the mountains to my campsite, I enjoyed the Sierra sunset and beauty. I had been concerned that there would be smoke and haze from nearby fires, but it was crystal clear in this area.
Switchback on the way down.
Trailhead: Packer Lake Saddle.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Pacific Crest Trail north. When the trail starts going downhill near the summit, turn off the trail and bushwhack up to the top.
Red Tape: None.
At the operating position. True summit behind me.

W6/NS-337

This unnamed peak is a small hill above Downieville that is an easy hike. I parked at what Google calls the "Downieville Public Utilites." There was a small pullout with room for a few cars, but it was full, so I parked on the side of the road behind another car.
Trailhead to the right, behind the building.
Behind the building is a dirt trail, apparently popular with mountain bikers. There is a sign at the trailhead. I took this up the hill to where it turns sharply to parallel the river. Here I turned and climbed up the spine of the ridge. This area appears to be popular with the locals, I passed many old fire pits and sawed off trees.
Typical scene on the hike.
After the initial climb, it levels out and climbs at a moderate grade. There are some rocky sections, but I didn't have trouble getting over them. Make sure you don't stop at the false summit on the way up. There are plenty of trees in the activation zone, so no need to bring an antenna support. I did not have any cell service, in town or at the top, so no easy way to spot. I had set an alert, and after a few CQs the RBN and SotaHole spotted me. I quickly worked seven people on 30 meters, all usual chasers. I had been reading reports of solar activity that would kill the bands, but 30 seemed to be as open as it usually is in the morning.
Somewhere along the ridge.
I didn't spend much time on the summit since I wanted to climb a second, higher peak and participate in the VHF contest that was about to start. The climb down was quick, though the leaves on the ground were slippery in places. I made it back to the car for the drive over to Peak 7569.

Trailhead: Behind Downieville Public Utilites. If no parking available here, park downtown and hike up Main Street.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Take First Divide Trail, then turn and hike up the hill. Ridge is very easy to follow.
Red Tape: None.