Monday, November 20, 2017

W6/NC-477 Nesbit Ridge

Nesbit Ridge is a peak on the west edge of Henry Coe State Park, above Coyote Lake. The easiest access is from the Coyote Lake Dam in Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch County Park, probably the park with the longest name. As I was driving into the park I passed a group of wild hogs near the park headquarters. This was the first time I had seen wild pigs. I paid the entrance fee, then drove along the lake to the dam. There is a large parking area here.
Trailhead. Gate is near the porta-potty. Sections of the road were visible too.
The USGS Quad shows a ranch road runs from the dam to very near the summit, and satellite views show that it still exists. The start of the road was behind a locked vehicle gate with a sign saying that fishing was not allowed. Since I wasn't going fishing, I climbed over the gate and headed down the road. The road drops down along and follows the stream until it turns and crosses. On the other side is an open meadow. On my way down I saw a bunch of deer in the meadow.
Deer in the meadow.
 There is an obvious road that continues downhill, along the stream, but the road to the summit goes across the meadow then starts climbing. From the stream crossing, the road climbs over 2100 feet over 4.5 miles, at a constant grade. The hike up was more pleasant than most ranch roads in Henry Coe which don't use switchbacks. After climbing about 200 feet, the lake comes into view again.
First view of the lake.
The road is obviously not used much, I didn't see any tire tracks. There are also some blow downs, washouts, and such that would make wheeled travel very hard. In a few places I thought I saw some fresh human footprints. At home, I discovered that Marcus Sierra had come up the day before to bag the peak. Higher up, in the grassy areas, there were some cows grazing, but they were skiddish and ran away from me as I approached.
Fremont Peak, to the south.
Near the top I left the road to walk up the last spur to the top. There are herd paths that lead to the top. There are some trees on top, much like Wilson Peak or Wasno Ridge, so a pole is not necessary. I had mine, so I setup in an open area with great views. The hardest part was finding an area large enough to sit in that wasn't covered in cow dung. I was not in a hurry, so I started operating on 15 meters and worked my way down to 40, getting contacts on each band.
Loma Prieta, Mt Um, West Twin Peaks, 1509, El Toro, and more were easy to see.
I then went to VHF. I got a few contacts on 2 meters, and one each on 440 and 222 MHz. I was surprised to find someone monitoring 222, but happy to make the contact. The breeze had started to pick up and the sun set, so I packed up and headed down. I cut some switchbacks in the grassy upper section to speed up my descent. It took me just under two hours to hike up, but only 1.25 to get back to the car.
View from the bridge. Would not be passable with high water.
Trailhead: Dam at the north end of Coyote Lake
Website: SOTA SitePark Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Follow the old ranch road down along the stream, across it, then up to the summit.
Red Tape: None. Note that the map on the park website says the land to the north of the dam is private, but the map I was given when I paid the entrance fee shows it as public land.

W6/CC-021 San Benito Mountain

San Benito Mountain is a high point, of both the Diablo range and San Benito County. It also has over 3000 feet of prominence. Overall, a nice mountain. With an off-road vehicle and some permits, access is very easy. San Benito was the third peak of the day I did with Rex, KE6MT. After leaving Santa Rita peak in a hurry, we drove over. A main road goes to within 200 feet of the summit. From here it is less than half a mile up to the top. The road, for tower access and closed to public vehicles, goes up the south east spur to the summit.
Late afternoon view near the top.
It was a quick walk up to the high point, which is near the lower towers. We looked for a register, but didn't see one. We scrambled up the highest rock, and took turns being the highest person in the county. The summit area is fairly flat, so there is a large activation zone. There is a metal fence on the west side which I used to support my pole and antenna. KE6MT and I decided which bands we would each use to avoid interference, and had our HTs if we needed to coordinate.
That is a very large and well-built tower for only one antenna. Crazy motorcycle man claimed that it was the transmitter for a Sacramento area FM station.
I started on 17, but didn't get anyone after a few minutes of calling. I then went down to 30 where I got the usual pileup. Since it was late in the day, I thought that 60 might provide some contacts, but I only got W7RV there. Because the sun was going down and we wanted to go back to Santa Rita, we didn't spend a lot of time working all the bands.
Setup to watch the sun set.
Trailhead: Jeep trail that leaves to the right, a short distance below the summit.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes mapOverview Map.
Route: Walk up the road to the top.
Red Tape: Inside the Serpentine ACEC of the Clear Creek Management Unit. There are old asbestos mines in the area. The permit allows you to spend one day in the ACEC. The permit is free, but there is a $10 online reservation fee. I would recommend going after a rain, so there is less asbestos dust in the air. A vehicle permit is also required, but can be purchased on the way in to avoid the $10 online fee. If you want to drive up, call the BLM office to get gate codes, etc.
Back to the car. Santa Rita in the distance.

W6/CC-022 Santa Rita Peak

Santa Rita Peak wast the second of three peaks I did with Rex, KE6MT. After fighting our way up Peak 4850, Santa Rita was a nice, easy drive-up. At the height of land on the road, there is a turn off to the summit. A sign said the road was closed to vehicles, so we parked and walked up to the summit.
Summit of Santa Rita.
The road goes around the west side of the summit to the communication towers, then south up to the summit. The high point requires a small scramble to reach. We both tagged the high point, then set up farther away from each other. Rex was worried that it would be hard to coordinate band changes, but I pointed out that we both had HTs.
Selfie at the summit.
Rex set up on the summit, and I setup at the base of the rocks. Right as we were getting on the air, a man rode up on a dirt bike. He stopped, looked at me, and took off his helmet. "What are you doing on my mountain?" he asked. I thought he was joking and laughed it off, but he seriously thought that the summit area was his private property. He told us to leave, and since we weren't 100% sure that we were still on BLM land, we packed up. We also weren't sure how crazy he was, or if he had a gun. On the walk back to the car we each managed one contact with a guy near Fresno on 70cm.
Sunset from Santa Rita.
We drove over to San Benito Mountain to activate it, and got enough cell service to download the map that the BLM people had sent when we got the gate code. It clearly showed that Santa Rita was on public land. So, after we finished on San Benito we drove back to finish our activation. In the rapidly falling light and temperature we setup my rig, and started calling CQ on 40. After 10 minutes with no reply, we started calling on VHF as well. Tuning around 40 I could hear some European stations booming in, much louder than I would have expected.
KE6MT calling CQ.
Eventually we each got three more contacts and both were able to claim points for the peak. We quickly packed up the station and walked back to the car. With the heater on, we quickly warmed up and had an adventurous drive down the dirt roads in the dark, then back to the bay area.
California has the best sunsets.
Trailhead: Jeep trail that leaves to the left, a short distance below Santa Rita Peak.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes mapOverview Map.
Route: Walk up the road to the towers, then follow the trail to the base of the rocks. Scramble up to the summit. Easy class 3.
Red Tape: Inside the Serpentine ACEC of the Clear Creek Management Unit. There are old asbestos mines in the area. The permit allows you to spend one day in the ACEC. The permit is free, but there is a $10 online reservation fee. I would recommend going after a rain, so there is less asbestos dust in the air. A vehicle permit is also required, but can be purchased on the way in to avoid the $10 online fee. If you want to drive up, call the BLM office to get gate codes, etc.
San Benito Mountain to the right of center.

W6/SC-047 Peak 4850

Rex, KE6MT, and I had been trying to do a joint activation for a while. Eventually we decided to go to the San Benito high peaks region after he volunteer the use of his SUV. We met up before sunrise for the long drive down. There are some rough roads in the area, much more than a regular car could do. Armed with some maps and the combination for the gate, we set out.
Driving in.
This unnamed peak is a few miles north of Santa Rita Peak in the high peaks region of San Benito County. There is a narrow road that leaves the main road a short distance below Santa Rita Peak. The original plan was to drive the road, but it was too narrow for the SUV, so we walked it. It was a nice walk, about two and a quarter miles to the ridge that the peak was on. Here the road turned to the east, and we left it for a bushwhack to the summit.
View of 4850 from the parking spot.
This started out fine. There were some herd paths that we could connect easily, and we made good progress down to the col. Here the brush became nearly impassable. We spent quite a bit of time fighting through it. Having a machete or clippers would have made this section much easier.
Rex got a photo of me. I think this picture sums up the bushwhack experience. 
Eventually we made it to the sub-peak. This had a clear area, and was high enough to be in the activation zone, so we decided to stop and do the activation from here. We might still be bushwhacking out there if we hadn't stopped.
Rex fighting his way up.
We set up our antennas, and got on the air. We quickly discovered that they were way to close to each other, and whenever one of us transmitted it would be too much for the other rig. We eventually found a pair of bands we could work simultaneously with an acceptable amount of interference. I worked stations on 40, 17, and 2 meters while Rex did 30. Having both activated the peak, we packed up for the journey back.
Santa Rita Peak, our next destination.
Going downhill though thick brush is always easier, and this was no exception. Eventually we made it back to the "trails"we had taken earlier, and then to the road. This is a hike with a "V" profile, so it was down then up to get back to the car. At the car we had a snack, then drove up to Santa Rita Peak.

Trailhead: Jeep trail that leaves to the left, a short distance below Santa Rita Peak.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map. Overview Map. I printed out the USGS Quad, which was good enough.
Route: Walk down the road, then up to the ridge. Where the trail turns to the east, bushwhack west to the summit. Very, very dense brush.
Red Tape: Inside the Serpentine ACEC of the Clear Creek Management Unit. There are old asbestos mines in the area. The permit allows you to spend one day in the ACEC. The permit is free, but there is a $10 online reservation fee. I would recommend going after a rain, so there is less asbestos dust in the air. A vehicle permit is also required, but can be purchased on the way in to avoid the $10 online fee. If you want to drive up, call the BLM office to get gate codes, etc.
A very old Pepsi can we found.

W6/SC-149 North Chalone Peak

North Chalone Peak is the high point of Pinnacles National Park, and a great summit. It is easy to pair it with South Chalone, and get both in one outing. From the Bear Gulch day use area, hike up to the Bear Gulch Reservoir, walk across the dam, then take the Chalone Peaks Trail up to the summit. There is a fence crossing at the ridge, an another at the junction with the South Chalone Trail.
View of the High Peaks region on the way up. Hawkins Peak in the highest point.
North Chalone is easy to pick out because of the old lookout tower on top. There is also a pit toilet, but this is camouflaged and hard to see. There are no good supports for an HF antenna, so bring a pole. There are, however, a few posts that you can strap your pole to, making setup easy. There was a bit of a breeze, so I set up so I could sit on the sunny side of the tower and out of the wind.
Setup at the tower.
 I got contacts on 30, 20, and 40 meters, but none on VHF. There is line of sight from here to Salinas and Santa Cruz, so it is reasonable to try the higher bands. The best part of the activation came as I was taking down my antenna and packing up.
Pinnacles NP is one of the locations that California Condors are released into the wild after being raised in captivity, so it is common to see them in the park. As I was taking down my antenna, two condors flew directly over my head, low enough that I could hear the wind moving through their feathers. They then circled around and landed on a rock a few meters away.

Two condors on the rock. Their tags were numbers 69 and 89. South Chalone in the background.
We watched each other for a few minutes, then the condors went about their business. I watched them, then took down my antenna, then watched them some more. Eventually they jumped down to the roof of the bathroom below the rock.
The feathers around their necks makes it look like they're wearing a fur coat.


89 was slightly bigger.

One of the more picturesque latrines I've been to.


Me with the condors.
Eventually I got bored watching them, so I headed down the mountain. The hike down was uneventful, and my car was still waiting for me in the parking lot.

Trailhead: Bear Gulch day use area, east side of the park.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map. I took my Tom Harrison Map.
Route: Hike up to the Bear Gulch Reservoir. Walk across the dam and take the Chalone Peaks trail up to the top.
Red Tape: None. Pinnacles is very busy in the spring, so parking and waiting for shuttles can be an issue then.
Great scenery to watch on the way down. Hawkins Peak in the center. Harris Benchmark may be visible.

W6/SC-153 South Chalone Peak

North and South Chalone Peaks are the highest peaks in Pinnacles National Park. They are also the last two peak I needed to climb in order to activate all the peaks in Pinnacles this year. I started in the Bear Gulch area, then hiked up through the caves to the reservoir. This section of the trail climbs up a narrow canyon, with some nice views.
Climbing up to the Bear Gulch Reservoir.
The trail then goes across the dam and climbs with many switchbacks three miles up the Chalone Peaks Trail to a fire road. There is a fence at the top with an easy to climb stile, then the trail continues along the ridge-top road. The views open up on this section of the trail. Just after a gate and fence, near the summit of North Chalone, the trail to South Chalone leaves to the right.
Fence at the top of the trail.
The trail goes down the ridge to the col between the peaks, then starts climbing up the east side of South Chalone. When it reaches the ridge, a short distance below the summit, the trail ends. This area is in the activation zone, and where I activated from last year. This time, however, I wanted to get to the true summit. From the ridge, I saw an area without much brush that looked like I could use it to get close to the summit, so I hiked back along the trail a short distance.
Open area I took to get to the summit.
This turned out to be an easy bushwhack. There was enough grass on the slope to hold the rocks, and it wasn't as steep as I feared. There were some openings at the top, and they led right to the summit. There is a small cairn with a red can that has a register on top, which I signed before setting up. Sticking my pole in a bush, I was soon on the air.
Summit of South Chalone Peak.
There was enough service to send out spots, and I worked the pileup on 30 before trying 20 and 40. I tried calling on two meters and 70 cm, but didn't get any takers. Having successfully activated the peak, I packed up and headed back down and over to North Chalone, retracing my steps.
In the col, with North Chalone behind me.
Trailhead: Bear Gulch day use area, east side of the park.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map. I took my Tom Harrison Map.
Route: Hike up to the Bear Gulch Reservoir. Walk across the dam and take the Chalone Peaks trail up to the top. Just after a gate near the summit of North Chalone, go right and follow the trail to South Chalone. Shortly before reaching the ridge, there is an open area on the right that can be followed up to the summit.
Red Tape: None. Pinnacles is very busy in the spring, so parking and waiting for shuttles can be an issue then.
Looking up at the peaks for the day.

Monday, November 13, 2017

W6/NC-029 Copernicus Peak

Copernicus Peak is the highest peak of Mt Hamilton, and the high point of Santa Clara County. I drove up after activating nearby Mt Isabel. There are a few peaks on the summit ridge, all named after famous astronomers. I drove past the observatory, and parked  at the base of the access road that leads up to the summit. If you have received permission, you can go around the gate and walk up the road. The road ends at a building, but a trail with switchbacks leads up to the tower on top.
Summit trail to the left, outside of picture.
I tagged the high point, then set up my antenna in a flat area below the peak on the other side. I spent some time on the HF and VHF bands, and made a few contacts on each. When I was done, I went back up to the tower and took some more pictures, since the sun had come out again. When I was done, I walked back to the car, and drove over to the observatory.
Looking back at the telescopes. Loma Prieta and Mt Um were hidden in some low clouds.

View to the north. I could see Mt Allison and Sunol Ridge. With binoculars, more peaks would have been visible.

Operating area, down in the flat section.
The telescopes and visitors center were still open, so I spent some time looking around. I'll have to come back some time and get a tour.
What's inside the white domes.

From the visitors center, looking back to Copernicus Peak.
Trailhead: Pullout at the base of access road.
Website: SOTA SiteObservatory page
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Walk up the road and trail to the summit. There are a few reasonable areas to setup in.
Red Tape: Ask for permission at the observatory before heading up.
Mt Isabel to the south.

W6/NC-035 Mt Isabel

Mt Isabel is the second highest peak in Santa Clara County, and is just south of the high point, Copernicus Peak. The whole area used to be on private ranches, but the county recently purchased the Nolan Ranch, which includes the summit and west face of the mountain. This makes summit access much easier. There are no roads or trails marked on the USGS quad, so I was worried that there would be some difficult navigation. It turns out I was worried for no reason. I started my hike at the Smith Creek fire station. Back in the horse-powered days, there was a stable and other buildings here to support travel up to the observatory on Mt Hamilton.
Mist rising in the early morning.
I put on my backpack, which was very light since I brought my MTR instead of the KX3. The lack of weight made the hike much more pleasant. There is a dirt road between the fire station and creek that leads to the trails in Joe Grant Park. Take this road and follow it into the trees and along the creek. After crossing a gate, the road crosses the creek and become more overgrown. The water was still low enough I could get across without getting my feet wet. In the end, it didn't make a difference, however, because the grass was so wet. The trail continues, crossing a seasonal stream at a metal pipe, then comes to a fence and gate. This is the border of the Nolan Ranch land. Cross the gate and stream, then follow the old ranch road uphill.
Pleasant hike along the creek.
Until I got onto the shoulder of the ridge, the ranch road was very faint, and extremely hard to follow in a few sections. Bits of it are visible on Google maps, if you look carefully. I marked my route as closely as I could on the caltopo map linked below. The road switchbacked up the side of the hill, with occasional views down to the stream I had been following. It goes generally south until you reach a large re-entrant, with cliffs on the downhill side. Here the road turned and climbed up the re-entrant to the ridge.
The road is faintly visible in front of me.
At the top of this feature, the road becomes much more defined. It climbs up the north side of the ridge, in the open forest, with great views up to Mt Hamilton. Near the spot marked 3312 it crosses to the other side of the ridge, and goes across the large bowl. It rejoins the ridge and continues climbing. There are some picnic tables part way up, in a shady area. Around here, a barbed wire fence starts parallel to the trail, on the right.
First view of the summit.
I stayed on the same side of the fence, and the trail wound through the trees and brush. Eventually I reached a point where the trail through the brush seemed to end. However, there was an opening between the bottom strands of the fence at this point that was extremely easy to get through. I crossed the fence, and followed the old ranch road up the ridge. Just below the summit another ranch road comes in from the south.
Setup at the summit.
I walked up to the high point, and looked for a register, but didn't see one. I then set up my gear in the clearing. I started on 30, as I usually do, and quickly got 10 contacts. I then went up to 20 and then to 40. I figured I'd try 440 first on my HT since it had worked well the day before on Mt Umunhum, and I wasn't disappointed. The first person to answer my CQ was driving up Bald Mountain near Shaver lake, in the southern Sierra. I then got a bunch of contacts in the Bay Area, and then a Summit to Summit with KD7WPJ who was also in the Sierra. I also got a few contacts on 2 meters.
Mt Hamilton
The hike down was easy, simply retracing my steps. Back at the car I then drove the rest of the way up the road to the summit of Mt Hamilton to check out the observatory and activate the peak.

Trailhead: Smith Creek Fire Station
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Follow the road/trail along the creek. Cross the creek, then follow the faint ranch road up the ridge. Where the trail seems to end, cross the barbed wire fence and follow the road on the other side up to the summit.
Red Tape: None.
Picnic tables on the way up.