Sunday, December 24, 2017

W3/PH-003 Topton Mountain North

Topton Mountain is an easy hike. The parking area is a small pullout along Woodside Ave, south of Topton. From here there is only one trail that leads into the woods. Take it. After about a quarter mile it turns and starts to head uphill.
On the way up.
Since this is watershed land, there are some small structures that cover wells and other infrastructure. The wide road will end, but there is a faint trail that climbs up the hill to the horse pasture. I had no trouble following it, but I am used to following very faint trails. At the fence on top, turn left and walk around the pasture. On the top side there is a foot trail that follows the power lines up the hill some more.
Power lines. Horse pasture behind me, summit to the right.
Since all the leaves were off the trees, it looked like it would be easy to bushwhack up to the summit. So, at the first pylon I turned and entered the woods. The forest was open, and it was easy to walk up towards the summit. I did find a road running through the woods along the crest of the ridge, which I followed for a short distance. Glenn, AB3TQ had said in his report that there were signs saying not to get close to the towers, so I stopped a short distance away. I turned around, and found some rocks to set up on.
Me, with my operating rock after packing up.
Compared to the summits I had done earlier, Broad Mountain and Smiths Gap Mountain, it felt warm. I started calling CQ on 17 meters, and got four contacts. A few minutes of calling on 30 got four more. Finally I got a summit-to-summit with another W3 station on 60 meters. It seemed like the sun was setting, and it was getting colder, so I packed up and retraced my steps to the car, and drove down to my family's house near Philadelphia.
Well cover.

Trailhead: Woodside Road, south of Topton. See AB3TQ's trip report for coordinates.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Take the roads and trails up to the power line clearing and horse pasture. Turn left, and go up the hill. Find a good place, and bushwhack the rest of the way to the summit.
Red Tape: None. The top might be private property, but I didn't see any signs on the route I took.

W3/PO-029 Smiths Gap Mountain

This mountain is the high point of a long, wooded ridge. The easiest access is from the top of Smith Gap Road, where it crosses the Appalachian Trail. There is space for a few cars here, and it is where I parked. The coordinates given on the SOTA page are wrong, and inspection of the USGS quad shows that there is a higher point a short distance east of the official point. Both of these points, as well as a few miles of the ridge, are in the activation zone.
I find such a comfort following white blazes.
I set off southbound on the AT. After about half a mile of rocky, Pennsylvania trail, the trail goes past the high point. Somewhere in the woods to the south of the trail is the high point. The relief is so low, I wandered around a bit, but couldn't find any place that was definitely the highest point. I returned to the trail and walked back towards the car until I found a good place to set up. There was a nice rock to sit on and keep the loop a little bit off the damp ground.
Somewhere in there is the high point.
It had warmed up a bit since I was on Broad Mountain, so I spent a bit more time on the summit. I made five contacts on 30, then called for a while on 17 but didn't get any takers. There was intermittent 3G (Verizon) on the summit, enough for text spots. It was still cold out, though, so once I was done on 17 I packed up and headed back. As I was about to leave, a backpacker came down the trail, so I stopped and talked with him for a few minutes. He was hoping to finish the PA section of the trail this year, and only had to get north to the Delaware Water Gap, and easy day or two of walking.
More white blazes on the way back.
Back at the car I drove over to Topton Mountain for the final summit of the day. Back in 2013 when I thru-hiked the AT I passed through this area. As can be seen from my journal of the day, this section of trail did not make an impression, at least compared to nearby areas.

Trailhead: Top of Smith Gap Road, where it crosses the AT.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Follow the AT southbound until you get to the high point. A GPS is handy to determine this. The activation zone is a few miles long, and includes the road, so this could be done as a drive-up.
Red Tape: None. Watch out for hunters. Be friendly to the thru-hikers, and share your food with them.

W3/PO-023 Broad Mountain

Broad Mountain is an easy mountain in State Game Lands 141, north of Nesquehoning, PA. I was in the area to visit family for Christmas, and I managed to get a day for myself to get in some SOTA. From the Philadelphia airport, I got a car then headed up 476. Closer to the summit I took a number of smaller state roads, following my GPS. I had no trouble finding the trailhead. There is a very large parking area on the east side of the road.
Parking area just through the trees.
I crossed the road, then followed the dirt fire road into the woods. It is very flat for most of the distance, and the hardest part was walking through the icy sections. Luckily they were short enough that it was not hard to get across them. After about a half mile of flat, there is a little bit of a hill. At the top there is a turn towards the towers and the trues summit. Just below the summit is a memorial to a soldier who died in World War 2, with a few benches. This would probably make a decent operating area. The communication tower and lookout tower were both fenced off, so no views from the top.
Freezing at the summit.
I setup on some rocks in the woods just below the summit. This was sort of out of the wind, but it was still cold, especially for someone used to California weather. I got on the air a quickly as I could, and sent out a spot. There was good cell coverage the entire time. After getting six contacts on 30 meters I called it quits, because of the wind and cold.
Setup in the woods.
I'm glad I brought my mag loop, it would have been difficult to deal with a wire antenna amongst all the trees. The hike back to the car was quick, and I enjoyed breaking the icy crust of some puddles as I walked. I then drove over to Smiths Gap Mountain for another activation.

Trailhead: Height of land, PA 93
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Cross the road, then follow the jeep trail into the woods. At the high point, turn left and follow the road to the towers and memorial at the top.
Red Tape: None. Watch out for hunters.
Not the most exciting trail.

Monday, December 18, 2017

W6/NC-410 San Pedro Mountain

San Pedro Mountain is a low mountain without any views in Marin. I took the standard route up, starting at the top of Knight Drive. There is enough space for a few cars in front of the fence, otherwise you'll have to park farther down the hill.
End of Knight Drive.
There is a short spur trail that climbs up to the trail system in the park. From this intersection I took the old fire road, which is overgrown to the point of being a single-track trail. This climbs up the ridge, and goes over a few small bumps. It then joins an actual fire road, which climbs up to the paved summit road. A short distance up the road is the summit, off on the right side.
A redwood grove on the way up.
There is a large open area at the summit, and what looks like an unused tower. I setup on the far side of the clearing, away from the building and tower. I strapped my pole to a tree, and got on the air. The majority of my contacts were on 30 meters, with two on 20 and none on 40. I only was able to get one person on VHF, despite calling for a while.
Summit clearing where I set up.
I had misjudged the amount of food I needed, so I was getting hungry. I decided to pack up and head down to find a snack in town. There were some viewpoints on the way down, but they were disappointing after the views from Big Rock Ridge earlier.
Richmond Bridge, San Francisco, and southern Marin.
Trailhead: Top of Knight Drive.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Hike up the trail. At the intersection, go hard left, up the trail. Follow the fire roads to the paved road, then to the summit.
Red Tape: None.
Panorama to the east.

W6/NC-304 Big Rock Ridge

Big Rock Ridge is one of the nicest mountains in Marin. I think that the views from the top are better than those from Mt Tam, and it is definitively worth the hike up. I started at the Big Rock trailhead, marked by a big rock at the height of land on Lucas Valley Road. There is a pedestrian tunnel under the road, but I didn't see it so I just crossed the road. It wasn't busy at 8 AM on a Sunday morning. The trail then climbs up to the ridge at a very pleasant grade.
Big Rock. Parking here is very limited.
It was early enough that I had the trail to myself on the way up. I climbed at a leisurely pace, enjoying the hike. The trail is mostly in the open, but there are a few sections that go through oak forests. Because it was almost the shortest day of the year, the sun never got very high in the sky. This made for more dramatic landscapes, in my opinion.
Loma Alta in front of Mt Tamalpais.
 Along the top of the ridge the trail becomes a fire road, and there is a mixture of public open spaces and easements that the trails follow. The views from the summit ridge were even better than on the way up. I had great views of everything from Mt St Helena in the north to Loma Prieta in the south. It was too hazy to see the Sierra, but on a clearer day they would have been visible.
Looking South. Loma Prieta is hidden in the glare. I could see short, pointy El Toro too. Mt Tam on the right.
Other activators had complained about too much RF at the summit, so I found a flat area a short distance away from the towers to set up in. The activation zone is quite large, so there are many places to choose from. This was a good choice, as the HF bands were quiet, and only occasional interference on VHF.
Setup, looking north to the towers.
I started on 30 meters, and had a large pileup. 20 and 40 got me a few more contacts on each. I called for a while on VHF, but only got one contact on 2 meters, difficult to complete through the interference.
Looking West, views of Barnabe Mountain and peaks on Point Reyes.
There were a lot of people going up as I hiked down. I passed a Marin County Parks ranger heading up, then a short distance later, a Marin sheriff. I'm curious what they were doing hiking up the hill. Back at the car I drove over to San Pedro Mountain, for the second peak of the day.

Trailhead: Big Rock Trailhead, Lucas Valley Road.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Take the Big Rock Trail to the Big Rock Ridge Fire Road.
Red Tape: None.
Early morning hike up.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

W6/NC-499 Windy Point

I picked an appropriate day to hike up to Windy Point. There were high wind advisories for the North Bay and the East Bay hills. Hiking in I could see why. It was one of the windiest days I've been out in in California.
I drove up the South Gate Road, paid my entrance fee, then parked at Curry Point. There is a small lot here, enough for a dozen or so cars. The trail is initially flat, then drops down into a small col.
Sheltered section of the trail.
After this drop, it is flat or uphill all the way to the summit. The wind was really blowing, and it was nice to get into the sheltered sections out of the wind. I lucked out and managed not to get any dust in my eyes as I was hiking. There are a few junctions, but they are all well signed.
Mt Diablo and North Peak.
The trail I took cuts across some land owned by the Save Mount Diablo conservation group. It contours around a large bowl, the Curry Canyon Ranch. On the other side it comes out of the woods and walks along a ridge in the open for the last mile or so. There were a lot of cows here, and they stared at me as I passed, but didn't bother me. Just before the summit the road re-enters the state park. The true summit is just above the boundary. I dropped my pack at the fence and walked up to tag the high point, then returned to set up. I managed to find a spot that was somewhat sheltered from the wind, and in the sun.
Setup at the park boundary. There was a big, black raptor in the dead tree when I arrived.
I strapped my pole to the fence, and got on the air. I started on 60 meters and worked my way up. I worked all the usual suspects on 60, 40, 30, and 20, including John, ZL1BYZ, who was the last contact on 20. When I moved up to 17, John was the first to call me again. I made a few other contacts, then moved to 15 and spotted myself. Again, ZL1BYZ got into the log. For fun, I tried calling on 12 meters to see if it was open to New Zealand, and it was.
Decent view to the south. It was very clear, and I could see Loma Prieta in a gap between the hills, as well as Sunol Ridge and Wiedemann Hill, and many more.
After all this excitement I took a break to have a snack, then started calling on some VHF bands. I managed only one contact on 70cm and 6 meters each. I then went back to HF to try some voice, but I wasn't able to get a signal to spot myself, so I packed up. I had been worried that I would get cold in the wind, but I was sheltered enough that it wasn't an issue.
The trail crosses the Mt Diablo Meridian, which was used to survey northern California and Nevada back in the day. There is also a baseline that runs through the summit.
The hike back was uneventful. I managed not to get trampled by any cows, or blown away by the wind, so it was a success. This was also the last peak in Contra Costa County that I hadn't activated.

Trailhead: Curry Point, Mt Diablo State Park. On the South Gate Road.
Website: SOTA SiteSave Mt Diablo Site
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Hike the Knobcone Point Road to the Curry Cave Road to the summit. There also appears to be a route that comes up from Morgan Territory Road.
Red Tape: None. Watch out for bikers on the drive up the hill.
Marsh Benchmark on the left. Livermore was easy to see in the valley.

Friday, December 15, 2017

W6/NC-318 Walpert Ridge

This peak is the high point above Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park. I parked at the Dry Creek Staging Area, and set off up the trail. The trailhead is up the road past the parking lot. After going through a gate, take the trail to the right, the High Peaks Loop Trail. This trail goes along the valley with a creek, which was flowing this time of the year.
Early morning in the valley.
The trail goes past a corral, where there were a bunch of cows gathered. There are two trails that climb up to the top of Tolman Peak, and I took the Tolman Peak Trail. This climb was the steepest part of the hike, but it was not bad. Tolman Peak is not really a peak, more of a bump along the ridge. I walked over the summit on my way down, and was not impressed. Past the peak there was another short and steep section, then the trail opened up. This section was very scenic, and one of the nicest areas I've hiked in in the Bay Area.
A rocky area on the way up.
The actual summit is not visible until you are almost there, as there is a ridge that is only a bit lower that blocks it. There were a series of old ranch roads that I took to the top. See the map linked at the bottom. There were some cows grazing, but they all ran when I got closer. I also saw a number of black tailed deer and various raptors. After crossing the last fence, the trail makes a u-turn and goes along the ridge just below the summit. At another gate, turn and follow the fence up to the high point.
My setup with Sunol Ridge on the left. Summit behind me.
There were views on top, but not nearly as good as from nearby peaks like Sunol Ridge. There is a fence below the summit which I used to set up my antenna. I recently got a new pole that is shorter when collapsed, and it was the first outing with the new pole. It worked well.
Mt Allison, Mt Hamilton, and other peaks in the area.
I was set up on the back side of the ridge, and I only had intermittent cell service. I did have enough signal to use SMS spotting, though. I started calling CQ on 30 meters, and quickly got a giant pileup. When everyone was worked, I had worked 15 stations in 10 minutes, probably the biggest pileup I've had. It would be nice if everyone wasn't so good at zero-beating me, I would be able to pick out calls easier.
Loma Prieta and Mt Umunhum, somewhat visible through the haze. On a clear day you might be able to see down to Fremont Peak.
I then went up to 15 meters, and made four contacts. I tried 20 sideband, but only got one contact. VHF was a bust as well, with only one on 2 meters. I called for a while on 10, not expecting anything. I checked at home, and I didn't even get any RBN spots on 10. Finally I called on 60 meters, and got two more contacts in California. By this point I got tired, so decided to pack up and head down.
The view from Tolman "Peak". Tolman Peak Trail on the right.
On the way down I saw a lot of raptors, including some I don't think I've seen before. I need to get better at identifying birds, so I can name everything I see. The hike down was uneventful, and I made it back to the car for the quick drive home. I wish all the SOTA peaks were this close to my house.

Trailhead: Dry Creek Staging Area, Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Park.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Take the May Trail and High Ridge Loop Trail to the Tolman Peak Trail. At the top of the trail, take unnamed ranch roads to the summit.
Red Tape: None. If the parking lot is full, there doesn't seem to be any street parking nearby.
Trail to the left. To the right is some sort of public garden.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

W6/SC-328 Basalt Hill

Basalt Hill is a peak on the south side of San Luis Reservoir. The top is covered in communication towers, and an old lookout tower. I hiked up after getting Sharp Benchmark, as it is only a short distance away. There was no one in the entrance kiosk, but it didn't matter since I had already paid to get into Los Banos Reservoir, which is part of the same park. I drove along the road and parked at Willow Point, which had a large, empty parking lot.
Parking lot. Trailhead behind me. 
Across the street there is an old road. This road is unusual in that it is very wide, and looks like it was paved. I took this a short distance until I found a use trail that went up the hill to the left. I followed this trail, which didn't climb straight up the hill. It crosses a barbed wire fence at a point where the fence is in bad repair, making crossing easy.
Looking back at the reservoir. Red Hill and Peak 1331 were visible the entire way up.
I then continued to the flat area, marked 1035 on the USGS quad. From here it was another 700 foot climb up along the ridge to the summit. Near the top the ground got rocky, with some areas of treacherous footing. There are some oddly shaped contours near the summit, and these are from a long cliff that runs out from the summit. I walked along the base, crossing the fence, to get up to the high point. The views from the actual summit are blocked by the towers, but from just below there were great views.
Almost at the top.
I used the fence near the cliff to hold my antenna, and quickly filled the log once I got everything set up properly. I didn't get any contacts on 40 meters, which surprised me. I got one contact on 2 and 70 each. I had thought that I would have more luck on VHF because I had line of sight to a large area. I had a strong 4G signal at the summit, so spotting was no issue. After packing up, I took the same route back down to the car. It took me about 45 minutes to hike up, and about 30 to get back down.


Trailhead:
 Willow Point in San Luis Reservoir State Park.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes mapPark Site.
Route: Cross the road, then follow the old road up a short ways. Go cross-country up the ridge to the summit.
Red Tape: None.
Second summit. It looked like it was about the same height as the one with all the towers. Pacheco peak in the distance on the right.

W6/SC-363 Sharp Benchmark

Sharp Benchmark is a low peak near the west end of the Los Banos Reservoir. I had the day off work so I decided to head south and do some peaks in Merced county. I drove down over Pacheco Pass, then down to the park entrance. I paid my entrance fee, then drove back up the hill and parked at the boundary gate. This was farther away than I wanted to park, but it was the only place the ranger said I could. I put on my bag and set off down the trail.
Start of the trail.
The trail is a ranch road that runs along the south rim of the reservoir. There were good views down into the canyon, and I could see some sierra summits above the haze. The trail is flat, and a quick walk. I passed through this section quickly because I was cold and needed to keep walking to  stay warm. After about two miles the trail turns and goes out to a point. Around here, cross the fence and go down the short and steep hill. By the time I got to this point, it had warmed up enough that I could take off my jacket. There is an old, unmaintained trail that continues along the rim for about another half mile.
Up the hill, along one of the ridges.
The trail ends at a gate, which you cross and continue along the road. The road heads towards the power lines, under which it intersects with another trail. The trail to the top heads up the valley near the intersection. The trail climbs up the valley to a small pass, where it turns right and continues up the hill. If you are used to seeing 40 foot contours, this part looks really steep, but it is very well graded. Upon reaching the crest of the ridge, the trail follows it around to the summit.
On the canyon rim.
I looked around on the summit for a benchmark, but I couldn't find one. I could see the high peaks of Merced county, and my next destination, Basalt Hill. After taking a look around, I setup my antenna and got on the air. I had an intermittent 3G signal, but it was enough to spot myself. There were not a lot of chasers out today, but I made some contacts on all of the MTR bands. On VHF/UHF I made two contacts on 70 with people near Fresno, but none on 2 meters, which surprised me.
Some of the high peaks of Merced County.
After packing up, I retraced my steps to get back to the car for the drive over to San Luis Reservoir and Basalt Hill.

Trailhead: Los Banos Reservoir, as close to the top of the dam as you can. The ranger indicated it might be possible to drive along the south rim for a ways.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes mapPark Site.
Route: Take the road/trail along the south rim. Go down the hill, then across the plane to the base of the hills. Follow the old ranch roads up to the summit.
Red Tape: None.

Monday, November 27, 2017

W6/NC-531 Peak 1190

This unnamed peak in southern Morgan Hill is in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It is a short and easy hike up to the summit. It was black Friday, and since I'm not a shopper I decided to go do something outside. I parked in the large pullout at the intersection of Watsonville Road and Uvas Road, near the Oak Dell RV Park.
Looking back at the road. 
The initial climb up to the trees is quite steep, but once you get into the trees the grade mellows out, and the footing gets better. There are no trails on the mountain, but it was easy to follow the ridge line up to the summit. There had been enough rain recently that the grass had started to turn green again. The top of the summit has a lot of low scrub, but by staying to the left I easily walked up the grass/brush boundary to the summit. The north side of the summit is grassy, and there was plenty of space to set up my antenna.
Looking north (I think).
My phone camera has been acting up, with only the selfie camera working properly. This made it difficult to get good pictures. I sat near the brush, which acted as a nice windbreak. I operated on the usual HF bands, 30, 20, and 40, and got contacts on each. I then tried calling on VHF, but didn't get any responses on the bands I tried. I was surprised that there was no one out there. I then packed up for the quick hike back to the car, and the drive home. I was glad I had gotten down there early, because there were traffic jams on 101 south as I was heading north.

Trailhead: Intersection of Uvas and Watsonville Roads.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Walk up the hill, following the crest of the ridge.
Red Tape: None.
Looking up to the summit.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

W6/NC-197 Mt Misery

I didn't have any plans for Thanksgiving, so I decided to go do an activation. The peak I chose was Mt Misery, a peak on the west side of the Diablo Range, near San Jose. The trailhead I used is in The Villages, a 55+ community in the south of San Jose. There is a manned gate at the entrance along The Villages Parkway. I stopped, and told the attendant that I was here to see my grandparents. He asked their names, looked a a computer, then let me in. I don't know if my grandparents have common names, or he was just expecting a lot of visitors since it was Thanksgiving.
Parking area by the stables. Pool visible below.
I drove through the community to Fruit Barn Lane, where there is a small parking lot by a pool. Just up the hill are the stables, and there are some parking spots there as well. I parked, and started walking up the hill. There is an unlocked gate past the stables, with a sign outlining the rules for hiking in the hills. The Rawhide Trail, which I took up to the ridge, follows the stream bed up to the top. It was in the trees the entire time, and would be nicely shaded during the warmer months.
Somewhere along the Rawhide Trail.
There were a few trail junctions, but they were all signed. The trail I took is not marked on the USGS quad. At the top I crossed over a fence and walked along the ridge to the summit. The ridge walk was relatively flat, and the biggest drop was avoided by following a herd path around the top of the bowl. The summit was bare, with quite a few cow patties. I set up my antenna and got on the air.
Antenna QRV.
There were great views into the Bay Area, and south down into northern San Benito County. Mt Umunhum and Loma Prieta were prominent across the valley, and Mt Hamilton and Mt Isabel on the other side. I started on 15 meters, and worked my way down to 40. I made contacts on each band, with the majority on 30. Something about 30 seems to work well for SOTA. After working the HF bands I got out the HT to try VHF/UHF. Calls on 2 meters and 70 cms didn't get any responses, but after a few calls on 220, KD6SOK came back.
Looking to the south. Fremont Peak, El Toro, West Twin Peaks, 1509, Nesbit Ridge, and many more were visible. 
Fred wanted to try all the VHF bands, so we made contact on 50, 144, 223, and 440, all the VHF+ bands I had available. After having a nice conversation with him, I went back to the 10 meter band, where I made one more contact. By this point I had been on the summit for two hours, and the wind was picking up, so I packed up. I retraced my steps on the way back. The downhill sections seemed steeper than on the way up, and my legs were glad when I got to the level section at the very beginning.
I think there's a ham shack by the stables. 
Trailhead: Pool parking lot on Fruit Barn Lane, The Villages, San Jose.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Walk up the hill past the stables. Take the Rawhide trail up to the ridge. Follow the ridge to the right (South) until you get to the summit.
Red Tape: None, if you can get past the entrance.
On the summit with Mt Hamilton and Mt Isabel.