Thursday, March 30, 2017

Emigrant Wilderness, July 2016

I had a long weekend in July, so I decided to head out for some backpacking. I did not spend much time planning, so I didn't have a permit for the wilderness areas in the southern Sierra Nevada, so I headed back to the Emigrant Wilderness. This year I made a different loop and saw some new areas, while revisiting some of the nicer areas from last year.


I left from the Crabtree trailhead again, but this time headed for Camp Lake. At the lake I took the spur trail to Bear Lake. My goal for the day was the Y Meadow Reservoir. There is no trail between the lake and the reservoir, so I bushwhacked, following the stream up the hill. This was difficult to follow at times, and some sections were very steep. At some point during this leg the rope and stakes got snagged out of my pack and were lost. Very sad :(. This also meant I had no easy way to set up my tarp. I was planning to cowboy camp, and the weather was good, so this turned out not to be an issue. I got to the reservoir and found a flat area on one side to set up for the evening. A group of people came by a while later and camped nearby. It was a very clear night, and the moon didn't rise until later, so I spent some time in my bag watching the stars.
Off trail, looking back at Bear Lake.

Y Meado Dam.

Y Meadow Lake. My campsite was on the flat part on the left side.


I left, following the reservoir to the north end where there was supposed to be a trail, but it was extremely hard to find. Eventually I picked it up and was on my way. I was planning to camp at one of the Wire Lakes. On the way I made a detour through the Upper Relief Valley. This was a very pretty meadow, but there were a lot of mosquitoes, so I enjoyed it without stopping walking. I reached the first of the Wire Lakes around noon, found a nice spot, and spent the afternoon reading and relaxing. My campsite was obscure enough I didn't see all the other people at the lake until the next morning on my way out.
One of the meadows.

Upper Relief Valley, looking North.

Spent the afternoon lounging around here.

The Wire Lakes were very pretty


Today I hiked to Grouse Lake, taking a very roundabout route, see the map at the bottom. I took the trail down to Deer Lake, the East to Buck Lake. I then came around to Wood Lake, and hiked down the canyon to the West. I then hiked up to Gem Lake, where I stopped and had lunch. I continued on to Piute Lake, where I sat and read and enjoyed the area. There was a Boy Scout troop heading this way that kept catching up to me as I took long breaks. I headed down the hill from Piute Lake, the crossed back to the lower trail. This descended through a canyon with very steep walls and a nicely graded set of stone steps. It was mid-afternoon at this point, and it was very hot in this area. At the bottom it leveled out near Grouse Lake. I spent some time looking around for a nice campsite, then setup and got some water. A few different trains of pack animals went by.
I hiked past a lot of lakes, don't remember which one this is.

It was nice in the shade.

Piute Lake, I think.

This canyon was hot but really beautiful.

Campsite for the night.


This was a short hike back to the car. I woke up shortly after sunrise, ate, packed up, and headed out. The only hard section was a short but steep switchback section up to the main trail to the Crabtree parking lot. Again, I passed a few people riding horses and mules. I returned to my car, and headed back to the Bay Area. There was no traffic until I-580, where I caught the end of the Monday commute headed into the area.
On the way out.

Monday, March 27, 2017

W6/NC-516 Maguire Peaks

It was a beautiful spring afternoon as I set out to climb Maguire Peaks in the Sunol Regional Wilderness. The sun was out and the wildflowers were starting to bloom. 
There were a few poppies blooming.
I started from the trailhead on Welch Creek Road. This is a very narrow road, so drive carefully. The trail quickly climbs up into the open grassland that dominates the area. There had been some rain the previous week, so some sections were muddy, but overall it was much dryer than the activations in January and February. I took the Maguire Peaks Trail, then turned left onto the Maguire Peaks Loop. At the ridge on the West side of the mountain is a well worn herd path that leads to the summit. Some maps also show a trail heading up from a bench on the north side, but I have not looked for it. 
The peak on the left.
Mt Allison (W6/NC180) and Mission Peak.
At the summit there are some low trees, but you will probably want to bring a pole to hold up your antenna. I set up and got on 20 meters. Once again, there were not many contacts to be had here. It was late afternoon, around 3:30 local, so 20 might have been closed to the east, where all the chasers are. 30 meters once again provided the majority of the contacts, 10/13. I did manage one on 40 as well. 
Operating position and antenna pole.
I spotted myself on VHF, but did not get any contacts here. I was surprised, there were line of sight views north to Pleasanton/Livermore, and over to the Peninsula. I guess this means its time to make a roll up j-pole. Overall I made only 13 contacts, many with the usual chasers. I need to learn their names so I can thank them better on the air.
Calling CQ.
I packed up and headed back the way I came. The sun was low in the sky, softening the light and making for a very pretty descent. I passed through a herd of cows that weren't there on the way up, and I didn't remember seeing any, so I'm not sure where they came from. Sunol is one of my favorite parks in the Bay Area, and spring is the best time to come. This makes this peak one of the best in the area, I think.
The herd path follows this ridge down to the trail.

Trailhead: Small pullout on Welch Creek Road. Point 6 on the park map.
Trailhead. With careful parking you
could probably fit 3 cars here.
Maps:, map at the bottom. Also KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map
Route: From the trailhead (6), head uphill, staying on the Maguire Peaks Trail. At the intersection with the Maguire Peaks Loop (8), go left (clockwise). At the prominent ridge on the west side of the mountain, find the herd path, or bushwhack to the top. There are cliffs on the south side, so approaches from the south probably won't work.
Red Tape: Ask for a Welch Creek Road permit at the main entrance station. You still have to pay the $5 park entrance fee, but the special permit is free. This also requires some backtracking, but is better than getting a big fine.
One happy hiker.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Vasquez Rocks

I had some time to kill on my way back to the airport, so I stopped by Vasquez Rocks. This park is in Agua Dulce, about an hour from LA. The rock formation is famously used in Hollywood movies, especially westerns. According to the exhibit, it is named after Tiburcio Vasquez, a bandit, who used the area as a hideout. The park claims they are the only one named after an executed criminal. 

There are not many trails in the park, so you could see the entire park in a few hours. The PCT runs through here just after crossing route 14, so I was able to walk a short section.

Monday, March 20, 2017

W6/NC-191 El Sereno

This is a fairly easy peak near route 17, south of Los Gatos. The drive to the trailhead is long and winding up Montevina Road. It was not busy on Sunday morning when I went, so I didn't have to share the 1.5 lane road with many others. Just before the gate at the end there is a pull-out opposite the last driveway. Park here and head up the hill. There is a junction a quarter mile down the road, but continue straight on the Montevina Ridge Trail. When you get to the top, the trail flattens out. It is densely forested, so you probably won't find the actual highest point. Find a spot on the side of the road to set up. This open space preserve is popular with mountain bikers, so make sure you don't get run over while operating.
Looking down the road from my operating position.
There are lots of trees, but they are all short, so I found it was easier to just use my pole to hold up the antenna. Like my activations yesterday on San Bruno Mountain and Mt Davidson, the bulk of the chasers were on 30 meters. I had a long QSO with W6JL, who answered my first CQ. He then claimed the frequency right after our 73's, so I had to move and re-spot. Sorry to any chasers who saw my first spot. When I switched to 20 meters, I heard a Mexican station call CQ right before I was about to, so I tried to work him, but he didn't hear me, then a number of loud stations moved it, so I moved on.

I had some success on 2 meters, working three people, and none on the higher VHF/UHF bands. This was the first summit in a long while where I've not gotten colder sitting on top. I think this means the cold and rain are nearly done for the season. In all I made 17 contacts. It seems that I always get fewer than 20 contacts. Maybe next time I'll try for more than 20.
View on the way back. 

Trailhead: Top of Montevina Road. There is a pullout on the right side with space for a few cars.
Website: SOTA Site
Maps: SOTA Hikes map
Route: Stay on the Montevina Ridge Trail until you reach the highest area. This mountain has a broad, flat summit, without an easy to find high point. I believe it is also possible to hike up from downtown Los Gatos. This is popular mountain bike route, I believe.
Red Tape: None.

W6/NC-423 Mt Davidson

This was my second summit, after San Bruno Mountain in the morning. I drove up the steep and narrow San Francisco streets to the park entrance. There was plenty of street parking nearby. There is also a bus stop at the trailhead for those without a car. It is a short walk (caltopo says 0.5km) up the wide dirt trail to the top, where there is a big, concrete cross and a plaque remembering the Armenian Genocide.

There are a few benches on the East side of the peak, looking out over the Bay, which one could operate from. I decided to continue to the backside of the peak and set up in the forested area, throwing my antenna over a tree. There was a pause in people coming through when I was throwing the weight, making it easier for me to not worry about hitting someone.

There is a flat area visible from the cross, down the hill, which is where I set up. There were lots of people walking through the park, but no one stopped to ask what I was doing.
Operating location, looking back at the cross.
I started on VHF, but didn't get any takers. I was probably very weak, on the backside of the mountain from the rest of the Bay Area. I set up my HF station, and got on 30 meters. I made 8 contacts here, then 1 on 40 meters. I was expecting to make more, since I made so many on San Bruno Mountain, but conditions must have gotten worse. On my way back to the car I stopped to take some pictures from the viewpoint.
Mt Diablo. Oakland is the city across the bay on the left edge.

Trailhead: Corner of Dalewood Way, Lansdale Ave, and Myra Way in San Francisco. There is a bus stop here as well.
Website: SOTA Site
Maps: KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map
Route: Follow the trail to the vista point, then continue to the giant cross. I operated from a flat area behind and below the cross.
Red Tape: None.

W6/CC-072 San Bruno Mountain

Last weekend I sprained my ankle while orienteering and I wanted to get out and do some activations, so I needed to find some easy peaks that had limited amounts of walking. San Bruno Mountain and Mt Davidson fit the bill nicely, so I headed out Saturday morning. I left early enough that the drive up 101 to San Bruno was traffic free, and the park entrance was easy to find off of Guadalupe Canyon Parkway. Normally I would park at the bottom and hike up, but with a bad ankle I drove to the summit. The drive up was short, and there was still plenty of space in the lot at the top. I got my gear out of the trunk, then started looking around for a place to set up. I followed the fence uphill, and on the far side found an open area that was fairly flat. I lashed my pole to a corner and set up the doublet.
From this angle it looks like I have a hundred foot fishing pole.
It was overcast and windy on top, and it got cold towards the end of the activation. I started on 40, and after a few contacts moved to 30, where I made the majority of QSOs. 20 meters also netted a few, as well as 2m FM. I watched the planes takeoff and land at SFO, and was treated to a red tailed hawk and a turkey vulture soaring around below me. It is always a treat to watch birds, especially raptors, from above.
Looking South, down the peninsula.
After I had worked all of the chasers, I packed up and headed back to the car to defrost and drive over to Mt Davidson. In total, I worked 18 people, mostly on HF.

I think the peak in the center is Mt Diablo.

Trailhead: Parking lot at the base off of Guadalupe Canyon Parkway, or drive to the top and park there.
Website: SOTA Site
Maps: SOTA Hikes map
Route: Hiking route is described by others on the SOTA site. KE6MT has a good description. I drove to the top, then found a space at a fence corner near the parking lot to set up.
Red Tape: None.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Death Valley, part 2

I had more time off, and my week-long pass hadn't expired, so I headed back to Death Valley NP for another day. This time I visited Zabriskie Point, 20 Mule Team Canyon, Dante's View, and the Salt Creek.
I started the day by stopping at Harmony Borax Works to see the ruins. They also had an old wagon that was used to haul the refined borax to the nearest railroad, hundreds of miles away. Because of the long distance and high cost of transport, the borax had to be refined on site, even though it was a very water intensive process. Work also had to stop in the summer because it was too hot for the borax to crystallize after being refined. 
The visitor center is just down the road, so I stopped by to see if they had anything interesting. There is a nice little museum inside, and a video about the history of the area. Next I went to Zabriskie point.
This is an area of badlands with views of Death Valley. The park service says it is very popular at sunrise and sunset, and I can see why.
20-Mule Team Canyon is a few miles up the road. It was closed to cars, so I parked on the side and went for a walk. This is also badlands, and felt remote without the cars driving through it. I had fun exploring around the canyons. There are no trails, besides the road, so I could go wherever looked interesting.

Next up was Dante's View. This is up at around 5000 feet, and looks over Badwater and the rest of the valley. It was much cooler up here, and definitely worth the trip.
Badwater is just to the left of the picture. The boardwalk was visible from the viewing area.

Finally I went to Salt Creek. This is a creek fed by springs. In the summer, it evaporates faster than the springs replenish the water, so it becomes dry. It is also home to pupfish, a rare species that lives in a few isolated salt creeks in the area. Since the creeks don't connect, each population is independent. It was breeding season, so there were a lot of fish swimming around. As the creek dries in the summer, most of the fish will die, and the species will be carried on by the few that survive in pools near the springs.
The fish are the small black dots in the water.

By this time is was getting late and I was getting tired, so I started the drive back. I stopped a few times to take pictures of the mountains and sunset. As barren as it might seem, the desert is very beautiful and has a lot of interesting things in it.

The road over the Panamint Range into the park.

Next time I go back, I'd like to be more prepared to hike farther into the backcountry and explore some areas off the beaten path. There are also some areas in the Northern part of the park I didn't have time to go to.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Trona Pinnacles

The Trona Pinnacles are a set of tufa that formed when this area was covered by a big lake. Calcium rich spring water bubbled up into carbonate rich lake water and reacted, making the formations. This is the same process that made the tufa at Mono Lake. These pinnacles are used in movies when an exotic landscape is needed, such as Planet of the Apes and Star Trek. Because they are on BLM land, there are fewer restrictions on what can be done here, and the area is littered with trash and vehicle tracks.

There are a lot of minerals in the area, and the tracks lead to a processing facility to extract the valuable ones. The first to be mined here, and in Death Valley, was borax.