Tuesday, February 20, 2018

W6/NC-265 Table Mountain

This was my second visit to the mountain. My first visit was last May. I hiked up after playing the organ at a service in the morning. The hike from Mountain Winery was as short and easy as I remembered it.
View across San Jose to Mt Hamilton and Mt Isabel.
The highlight was seeing a bobcat on my way up. Near the top I looked up and saw the cat walking up the trail. It heard me, and we looked at each other for a minute before it ran off into the woods.
As I was setting up, I kept hearing rustling in the bushes, and wondered if the bobcat was still watching me, like one did Joe, AA0BV.
The bobcat.
On top, I set up in the same open area as I did last year, just below the summit. It was quite windy and cold when the sun was behind a cloud. There was cell service the entire time, so I spotted myself and worked the pileups on 30 and 20 meters. Despite calling for a while on 40 I only got one contact. I was cold, but decided to try VHF. I got one contact on 220 and 440. As I was packing up, it rained on me briefly.
Mt Umunhum was a short distance away.
Just before I turned off my HT I heard KK6YYD call CQ SOTA from Mt Davidson. I tried calling him, but he couldn't hear me. Paul, K6WIS alerted him to my calls, but he still didn't hear me. I tried a few more times on my way down, but didn't have any luck.

Trailhead: Highest parking lot at Mountain Winery, Saratoga. This lot is gravel, not paved.
Website: SOTA SiteMountain Winery Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Take the dirt road to the summit. At junctions, go uphill.
Red Tape: Winery must be open to access trailhead. Parking fee (and probably very limited parking) if there is a concert or event that day.
The actual summit has no views.

Monday, February 19, 2018

W6/SC-078 Anderson Peak

Anderson Peak is another peak in Big Sur with excellent views. Access is somewhat difficult, because there are no short routes to the summit. I drove down on my off Friday, and reached the trailhead around 7:30. There was enough space on the side of the road for a few cars. I crossed the road, and immediately started climbing up the trail.
Trailhead. Plenty of space to walk around the gate.
There are two parts to the hike. First, a steep climb up from the road to Timber Top with a gain of about 2500 feet, then a six mile walk along the Coast Ridge Road to the summit. While the initial climb is steep, it does have the benefit of quickly getting good views.
A look to the south along the coast.
The sun had not risen above the hills, so I had the shade to climb in. This would be a terrible climb in the hot sun. The trail is an old road. It is overgrown, and obviously doesn't see any vehicle traffic anymore.
Getting closer to Timber Top.
The steepest sections have switchbacks, but it is a healthy climb. At the top there are some corrals and grills. The forest service map says that there is a campsite here, and it seems like a decent place to camp. I had trouble finding the connection to the Coast Ridge Road, so eventually I just walked down through the open forest to it. It appears that the Soberanes fire burned up to the road but not down the other side.
A small herd of horses on Timber Top.
From the road, there are great views into the Ventana Wilderness. Unlike the hike up to Cabezo Prieto, the road is easy to walk on and follow, so you can spend all your time looking at the views. 
Looking north towards Ventana Double Cone.
If there hadn't been the views, this would have been a long slog of a hike. The road is very well maintained, and I even passed a road crew on my way down. It would also be a good place for trail runners and mountain bikers.
Junipero Serro is the peak in the center, I believe.
 At points the road crossed back to the ocean side of the ridge, and there were views up and down the coast. Eventually the road comes around a bend and you get your first view of the peak. There is FAA equipment on top, and the summit has been leveled.
First view of the summit.
There is a trail that leaves to the left and looks like it goes to the summit, but there is a locked gate. Instead, continue on the Coast Ridge Road to the next intersection, where there was a sign indicating which way to go to the summit. The spur ends in a tall, locked gate with a sign warning you not to interfere with the FAA business going on.
Retaining wall.
To get to the summit, take the first left from the spur, a very sharp angle, and walk along the base of a concrete retaining wall. The road ends at another gate which has what looks like a telescope behind it. You can scramble up the slope between the wall and gate, through some manzanita, and up more slope to the open area on top.
Not sure what this is, but its on the summit. Cone peak on the right, JSP on the left.
Surprisingly, there is no fence or signs preventing access to the top. I walked around a bit, then saw a nice clearing on the north-east side, just below the summit. I walked down and set up my antenna here. There was even a rock that was the perfect size to use as a seat.
Enjoying the sun on Anderson Peak.
I had marginal cell service (Verizon), so I send out an SMS spot and started on 30 meters. Thirty and 20 quickly brought in a lot of contacts, and I managed to make a few on 40 as well. I thought about trying VHF, but the area is very remote and I wasn't hopeful. I didn't spend much time lounging around on top since I still had a long walk back.
Someone stacked some rocks along one section of the road.
The hike back was long. I passed a road crew that was installing drains on the side of the road. I stopped at a bench overlooking the ocean for a break. By the time I got back to Timber Top, my legs were tired, but I still had a long descent ahead of me. 
Giant squirrell guading an intersection.
After finding a way back to the Boronda Trail I started the descent. I passed two parties of backpackers making their way up in the afternoon heat. There were nice views up the coast, and I saw my first poppies of the season. 
Small cove. Hard to believe I'm still hundreds of feet above sea level.
Eventually I made it back to the car for the long drive home.

Trailhead: CA 1.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes mapBig Sur Trail Conditions
Route: Take the Boronda Trail. At Timber Top, find a way through the woods to the Coast Ridge Road. Follow to the summit.
Red Tape: None.
Panorama, looking north into the Ventana Wilderness.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Conditions these days are bad, and I find that I can hear stations that can't hear me. This indicates that my antenna is doing alright and more power is needed so the station on the other end can hear me better. I think that more power will also improve my chances of having a local ragchew, because the other ham won't have to struggle to hear me. There seem to be a few options to increase power, buying an amplifier, buying a kit, or designing and building my own from scratch.
My original thought was to get a kit and build it, but one evening while browsing eBay I stumbled across a KXPA100 for sale, at a good price. A few days later, I somehow won the auction. Fast forward a week, and there is a new amplifier sitting on my desk. Connecting it to the KX3 was simple, a matter of plugging the cables into the appropriate jacks. A quick trip to the store to get a UHF to BNC adaptor, and I was on the air.
40 (yellow) and 80 (green) meter spots with the amplifier.
It was evening, so I tuned around 40 meters. Not hearing any CQs I found a clear frequency and started calling myself. With only 10 watts I'm lucky to get a half dozen spots on RBN, and most of them will have SNRs less than 5. With the amp on at 60 watts I quickly got over a dozen spots, many with high SNR. And even better, after only a few calls I got a reply from W4HG in North Carolina. We had a short QSO, but there was some slow, deep fading which cut it short. I then went down to 80 meters to see if the conditions were any better, but didn't get any responses to my CQs. Maybe it was just too late.
The amplifier, hooked up and ready to go.
After a few days of playing with it, I've had some nice conversations with stations, mostly on 80 meters. By the time I get home and have time to play radio, 40 meters has usually got very long, and it is too late for the people on the east coast. 80 is still short enough to reach the people who are still awake. My guess is that it is the lowest band for many people, since 160 requires such large antennas.

What's next? I should improve my antenna, and try to get it higher. I also want to change the inital run of feedline from twin lead to coax. I'm debating whether I should make a balun or just solder the two feedlines together. I also have some ideas kicking around to make a higher power radio for SOTA.

Monday, February 12, 2018

W6/NC-220 Cedar Roughs

Cedar Roughs is the peak the dominates the west side of Lake Berryessa. It is the high point of the Cedar Roughs Wilderness. There are no trails to the summit, so bushwhacking is necessary. I've been trying to do more joint activations, and I found a weekend that Tom, AI6CU, and I were both free. We met up in Berkeley and carpooled up to the Smittle Creek Day Use Area, our trailhead for the day. We parked in the lot, then walked back up the road to the start of the trail.
A meadow on the way up.
The first three miles are on ranch roads, that appear to get some use. There were tire tracks in the mud, and lots of deer prints. The trail climbs over a low ridge, then up a second ridge. Once we had gained a little elevation we started to get great views of the lake. Berryessa Peak and Mt Vaca were very easy to see from all the viewpoints.
View to the north. Berryessa Peak on the right edge. We could see up to Mt Konocti in Lake County.
At the top of the second ridge we turned and followed a new road along the crest of the ridge. This continues down to two rock pinnacles, where the trail ends and the bushwhacking starts.
Looking back at the pinnacles from the other side.
The best route according to previous hikers seems to be to go through the pinnacles, then follow herd paths down to the stream. On the other side, the embankments seemed lower and less steep farther upstream. We followed the route described by others from Peakbagger, with some minor variations. We found a clearing on the north side of the seasonal stream, but at the top was a wall of impenetrable brush. Others had described crossing the stream around this point, so we followed suite.
Open forest on the south side of the seasonal stream.
The going on the south side was much better. We headed uphill through the open forest, not sticking close to the stream. We found a grassy area that was steep but easy to climb. At the top we pushed through a few dense areas and got back to the stream bed which we then followed to where it ends on the map. There were a number of tracks that ran along the stream. My guess is that they are from the deer and other animals, since I don't think there are enough hikers to make herd paths in the area. From the top of the stream it was an easy walk in the woods, with no difficult dense areas.
Summit with cairn.
We eventually made it to the top, and found the cairn and register. We were the first climbers this year, and the first since last June. After signing the log, we found some clear areas to set up in. I worked the 30, 40, and 20 meter bands. Twenty meters seemed dead, as I got no RBN spots even after 10 minutes of calling. After both working everyone, we packed up.
AI6CU working the pileup.
The descent to the stream was quick, more or less retracing our steps. The climb up past the pinnacles was easier than I feared. Back on the trail, we had a pleasant walk back to the car, and not much traffic on the drive home. Overall it was a great hike, one that I wouldn't mind doing again.
No view at the summit, but good views from the trail.

Trailhead: Smittle Creek Day Use Area, Lake Berryessa.
Website: SOTA Site
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map
Route: Take ranch roads up to the top of the ridge, then down to the two rock pinnacles. Go down the slope between them, cross the stream and climb up the other side. Follow the seasonal stream, then go uphill to the summit.
Me stepping off the trail. Photo by AI6CU.

Monday, February 5, 2018

W6/NC-090 San Felipe Hills

The San Felipe Hills are a series of hills on the west side of Mt Hamilton and the Diablo Range. The best access to the highest one, and the only that is a SOTA summit is from the Smith Creek Fire Station, the same place to start the hike to Mt Isabel. I parked in the same pullout, crossed the bridge, and entered Joe Grant Park. This time I took the Manzanita Trail. The trail climbs up into the hills and heads in a southerly direction.
Typical terrain on the hike.
After crossing a fence I decided to make the hike more interesting and go cross-country up to the summit. It turns out that there were a number of ranch roads that were hard to see on the USGS quad without zooming in, so it was easier than I thought. The roads climb over and around a few small hills before getting to the main hill. There were a few sections with a very steep grade, but overall a nice walk.
Looking west to Loma Prieta, Mt Um, and Mt Misery.
 The western side of the summit is open and exposed, while the steep eastern slope is forested. It was quite warm out, so I set up in the shade. In theory this helped the antenna take-off angle too, but Mt Isabel might have blocked those signals.
View to the south. High peaks of Merced County.
 I had carried up my KX3 and big battery, so I had lots of bands available. There was no service where I was sitting, but I did have a good signal on the other side of the peak. I was feeling lazy, so I just called CQ and let RBNHole do the spotting for me. I jumped around the bands, making contacts on all bands 40-15. Once again John, ZL1BYZ, was the best DX on both 17 and 15.
Mt Isabel towering over the hill. Mt Hamilton just out of frame on the left.
 I thought about trying sideband, but I was still feeling lazy, so I didn't. I packed up and headed back. Near the summit is a marker memorializing the original ranchers of the area.
I believe Poverty Ridge on the left, Day Mtn and/or Black Mtn on the right.
The hike back was uneventful, retracing my route. I thought about driving up to Mt Hamilton, since I was halfway there, but there was not much gas left in my car and I didn't want to run out on one of these narrow, windy roads.

Trailhead: Smith Creek Fire Station, CA 130. Or somewhere in Joe Grant Park.
Website: SOTA Site
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map
Route: Take the Manzanita Trail and cross country.
Still not quite as green as it could be. We need some more rain.