Monday, April 24, 2017

W6/NC-180 Mt Allison

Saturday was a busy day in the QRP/SOTA world. There was the JA/NA summit to summit event and the QRP to the field event. To take advantage of all of the exciting things going on I decided to climb Mt Allison and spend some time at the summit. I hiked up from the Stanford Ave trailhead. There is not enough parking here so you have to park way down the road, which adds up to a mile to the hike. I took the less popular Peak Meadow Trail and Horse Heaven Trail. These trails have some sections which are very steep. Not too bad going up, but the downhill can be unpleasant.
The more popular trail up.
Once I got up to the ridge it was a pleasant walk over to the summit. There is a bench at the highest point, past the towers, where I set up. There is also a benchmark behind the bench. The ground near the bench is very hard packed, so I attached the pole to the bench, and ran my dipole legs parallel to the ridge.
Antenna ready to go.
The cell service on top is spotty and very unreliable, so I hoped that RBNHole would spot me. I started on 20 meters, but only got a response from ae9f in San Francisco. I then moved down to 40 meters where I got enough QSOs to make it a successful activation. After no one had answered my CQs for a while, I got out my HT and tried 2m. There were a lot of stations on 2, including 3 S2S contacts, one of them in the Sierra. At one point there were chasers in the Bay Area calling me, but people in the Central Valley were talking, so I wasn't able to respond immediately. A good problem to have.
Looking East.
I brought my KX3 up, so I decided to try some SSB. I got three contacts, including 2 S2S. I then went up to 17 and 15 meters, and got one or two contacts on each band. Calling CQ in SSB resulted in no further contacts on any bands. By this point the clouds had come in and the wind picked up and I was getting chilly, so I packed up and headed down.



Trailhead: Top of Stanford Avenue in Fremont. Also can start at Ohlone College.
Website: SOTA Site
Maps: http://www.ebparks.org/parks/mission KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map
Route: Take the Peak Meadow Trail (right at the fork) and Horse Heaven Trail to the ridge, then follow the fire road (Bay Area Ridge Trail) to the Access Road to the summit. Continue past the towers and structures, and there is a bench looking west.
Red Tape: Parking is limited at the Stanford Ave trailhead - read about it here.

Monday, April 17, 2017

W6/NC-432 Chabot 2 Benchmark

Chabot 2 Benchmark is an easy peak near the junction of 580 and 238 in San Leandro. This area is popular with dog walkers, and dogs are explicitly allowed off-leash. From the Fairmont Ridge Staging area, go up the paved trail. There are views to the East as you walk up.
Lake Chabot.
When you reach the gate at the line of trees, don't go through the gate. Follow the trail down, then up to near the summit. The true summit is fenced off, so find somewhere in the trees to set up. Through the trees you can see SF and the Oakland airport.
Don't go through the gate!
There were a bunch of cows near the place I decided to set up initially. After my antenna was mostly up, the cows started coming over, and seemed threatening to me, so I took down the antenna and moved away from the cows. I made 9 contacts, including a 2m summit to summit with K6ZHS on Discovery Peak. We tried to get a S2S on the 70cm band, but had no luck.

Trailhead: Fairmont Ridge Staging Area on Fairmont Drive.
Website: SOTA Site
Maps: Not really needed. KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map
Route: Follow the paved road to the fence. Leave the road, staying on the right side of the fence. There are a few areas one could set up in.
Red Tape: None.

W6/NC-268 Rocky Ridge

Rocky Ridge is a peak on the border of some EBMUD land and Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, that offers great views of the East Bay, especially Mt Diablo. This is also a great summits on the air peak for VHF to the Bay Area. The trailhead is in the regional wilderness, at the end of Bollinger Canyon Road. If the lot is full, there is plenty of space to park along the road. There are some picnic tables and a pit toilet.
Trailhead area.
The most direct way to the summit is to go up the paved access road. This is steep in places, but the asphalt leads to great footing. This is one of those hikes where the destination is in view the entire time, much like Mission Peak.
The summit, from the trailhead.
Because of all the rains this winter, a short section of the road had washed out. This would prevent a vehicle from passing, but bikes and hikers can cross it no problem. There is a gate part way up that marks the end of the EB Parks land and the beginning of the EBMUD land. You need a permit to pass through, but it looks like there are other areas in the activation zone that are still in Las Trampas if you are too cheap to buy a permit.
Washout.
At the top, continue past the towers and fenced in area. There is a flat, grassy area between a trail and a barbed wire fence that makes a good operating position. I find that these fences are super convenient for putting up my antenna. Once set up I made 11 contacts, mostly on 30 meters.
Antenna with Mt Diablo.
The trip back to the car was much faster than the way up, and short enough that my legs and knees didn't get too tired. Once back I headed over to the Chabot 2 BM in San Leandro.

Trailhead: End of Bollinger Canyon Road. Small lot, or park along the road.
Website: SOTA Site, EB Parks Site
Maps: Available at the Trailhead, or from the parks site above. KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map
Route: Follow the paved road to the top. Walk past the enclosed towers, and there is a flat area with a barbed wire fence for easy setup. Long route possible from Rancho Laguna Park in Moraga.
Red Tape: Permit needed to use EBMUD land.

Bollinger Canyon, Mt Diablo.


W6/NC-182 Wilson Peak

Wilson Peak is an easy to reach peak in the southern part of Henry Coe State Park. On my two trips there I have taken two different routes, both of which I'll describe here. The first time I activated was over my Thanksgiving break in 2016. I started from the Hunting Hollow entrance, and took the Jim Donnelly Trail to the ridge, where I followed Steer Ridge Road to the top. Jim Donnelly is a fairly new trail, and is well constructed with many switchbacks. This makes the hike up and down much easier, and I would recommend it over a shorter route.
My antenna is up there somewhere.
There are a few knobs that all look about the same height, but they are all in the activation zone, so pick one to operate from. At the true summit there is a USGS marker. I made 10 contacts this first trip. It was also colder than I had expected with a strong wind, so I tried to huddle behind the tree my antenna was in.
The second time, in 2017, I came over from Wasno Ridge. The Wilson Peak Trail was less steep than I feared it would be, but still was a healthy climb. It was also April, so the wildflowers were in full bloom.
Wilson Peak Summit.
It was much warmer this time around, and I made 17 contacts, HF only. There was a cell signal, so I had no problem self-spotting. Everyone in the pileup on 30 meters seems to have zero beat-ed me, and I had trouble picking out the first few calls. I have much more respect for the DX stations that have much bigger pileups to sort through. Since I was parked at the end of Gilroy Hot Springs Road, I took the Spike Jones Trail back to my car.
I think that is Mt Robison in the center.

View on the hike down. Copernicus Peak (center), Mt Isabel (in front of Copernicus), Mt Sizer (ridge on right), and Coe Ranch (on the left ridge) are all visible.
Poppies.


Trailhead: Hunting Hollow Parking Lot. This lot is very large. $6 parking fee.
Website: SOTA Site
Maps: Purchase from the visitor center or the Pine Ridge Association. I've not found a good free map online. KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map
Route: Many choices. I took Jim Donnelly Trail and Steer Ridge Trail. Coming up or down via Wilson Camp is also nice (e.g. the Bowl Trail).
Red Tape: None for hikers. Trails closed to biking after rain.

Interesting colors.

W6/NC-174 Wasno Ridge

Spring is the best time for hiking in the Bay Area, especially after a wet winter. It was my off Friday, so I headed down to Henry Coe SP to do some activations and see the flowers in bloom. My goal was to do a loop and get Wasno Ridge and Wilson Peak, two of the seven SOTA peaks in the park. I got up early so that I could get a spot at the end of the road, where there is limited parking. To get up Wasno Ridge I decided to take a slightly longer route that was less steep, via the Anza and Jackson Trails. I started out along Coit Road, moving quickly to stay warm in the cool morning.
Looking back along the Coyote Creek valley.
There had been a little rain this week, but the trails were fairly dry. My feet got more wet from the dew on the grass than any puddles or mud. I reached the junction with the Anza Trail and started to head uphill in earnest. The trails I took have many switchbacks, sometimes to the point where it seems like there are too many, but I won't complain.
Through a meadow on the way up.
The Jackson Trail climbs up the west side of Wasno Ridge, and there are nice views once you get above most of the trees. At the next intersection there is a large open area, with a spur down to a spring. From here it is a short distance to the high point of the ridge. From this area there were also views to the north. Hamilton Observatory was easy to see, as well as Coe Ranch and a few other SOTA peaks.
Green grass and flowers near the top.
The activation zone is fairly large, and there are a few sub-peaks that are still in the zone. I found a tree on the highest one, and got my doublet up about 25 feet. Coe Park is popular with mountain bikers, and one passed me as I was setting up. He asked if I needed any help, which was nice of him. There is no Verizon service on top, so I had to rely on RBNHole to spot me, which it did. The first person to answer my CQ was not a chaser, and I had a short qso with them. I then quickly worked the pileup on 30 meters, getting 7 stations, then went up to 20 where I only got one. No one answered on 40. I didn't bring my HT, since this area is fairly remote for VHF.
Beautiful place to operate from.
Once I had had enough of calling CQ, I packed up and headed over to Wilson Peak. To get there I continued along Jackson Road, then took the Dexter Trail to the Grizzly Gulch Trail, then up the Wilson Peak Trail. Up on the ridge I passed a number of other hikers, most of whom looked like they were heading out for the weekend, but down in Grizzly Gulch I had the place to myself.
Pretty view.
Down in Grizzly Gulch. Plenty of water in the stream.


Trailhead: End of Gilroy Hot Springs Road, at the bridge. There is only space for 3-4 cars here, so come early or you'll need to park 2 miles down the road at the very large Hunting Hollow entrance.
Website: SOTA Site
Maps: Purchase from the visitor center or the Pine Ridge Association. I've not found a good free map online. KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map
Route: Many choices. I took Coit Road, Anza Trail, Jackson Trail and Jackson Road. A shorter but steeper route would be Grizzly Gulch trail to Rock Tower Trail. Longer routes and loops are also possible.
Red Tape: None for hikers. Trails closed to biking after rain. I did not have cell service on top.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Its All In Your Head

Learning to "head copy" CW.

Since getting back on the air last year I have discovered that the most fun mode is CW. As I relearned code this time around, I learned it at about 15 wpm using a combination of the Farnsworth and Koch methods. This is a reasonable speed for rag chewing and general operating. As I operate more, I find that I can now copy up to around 20 wpm, and even faster in contests and DX pileups. However, I still need to write down everything as it comes by. This is not a problem at home with a computer, but in the field my hand has trouble keeping up. It also means I have to carry more paper if I want to have some longer QSOs. The solution to this problem is to learn to "head copy" cw, or understand what is being sent without needing to write anything.

This may sound easy, but how much would you understand if someone read a book to you saying each letter. You'd have to remember the letters, then assemble them into words, then assemble the words into sentences. Its harder than it sounds.

Listening to live conversations on the air is a good way to practice, but you then also have to listen to the noise of the bands and the fading. There must be a better way. Somewhere I stumbled across some very helpful sites which contained audio files of books in Morse code. I downloaded them, and have started listening to A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This one is nice because it starts out at a slower speed, and every few chapters the speed increases. Once I get through this one, there are a number of others available as audio files. A second option is to use ebook2cw, a program you can download that will convert text to cw audio files. It takes a large number of input parameters, allowing you to finely control the cw.

Progress so far

I've been listening to Burroughs' book and talking on the air, and I can now head copy slower speeds, up to about 15 wpm. On a recent SOTA outing I had a long QSO with W6JL who really encouraged me to put down the pen once I mentioned I was trying to learn to head copy. As we were chatting, he started sending every word twice. This was helpful for head copy, but hearing easy common words and abbreviations twice was tedious. Since then, all of my QRS contacts have been head copy, only writing down the important items. Operating SOTA I sometimes only have a small pad, so not doing head copy is impossible. This really makes me work at understanding what is being sent. I continue to practice to get my speed up, but life tends to get in the way, slowing down the practice.


Links

SKCC Learning Center - A number of files of different lengths and speeds.
A Princess of Mars - Audio book
ebook2cw - Converter.
HamRadioQrp - Well written blog, this page about head copy.

My bug (in a very messy shack).

Monday, April 10, 2017

W6/CT-029 Mt Emma

I was in the area, and I had an afternoon, so I decided to get a new peak in Southern California. After a bit of research, Mt Emma looked to be a good choice, so I headed out. Mt Emma is on the northern edge of the Transverse Ranges, north of L.A., and is a pleasant hike. The parking lot is a pull-out at the height of land on Mt Emma Road. Across the street is the trailhead, marked by a sign.
Start here. Trail marked with metal sign.
The trail wastes no time in starting the climb to the summit, and is well worn. It looked like some bikers had been up recently. To me, it seems to steep to bike, but maybe I'm not adventurous enough. Follow the trail to the top, and there is a large, relatively flat area to set up on. No tall trees, so bring an antenna support. I signed the summit log in the canister, then set up my new W4OP loop antenna from LNR Precision. The tripod I bought to use with the loop was too weak, and the swivel bit at the top broke after a strong gust of wind. I moved the antenna to the ground, and was able to continue.
Nice views.
With my KX3 I started on 20 CW and got 6 contacts in the log, then tried 20 SSB, but didn't get any takers. Probably because I was only using 3 watts. I moved down to 30, and got a few more contacts. I then called on 17 meters for a while, but got no response. At home I checked the Reverse Beacon Network, and there was only a single spot on 30m, so my signal must have been very weak. I still had some battery left at this point, so I went up to 15 meters, where a ZL answered my CQ! He was strong (579), but gave me a weak report (119). The propagation gods must have been smiling down on me. In total I made 11 contacts.
Operating position.
After calling a few more times on 15, I packed up and headed back to the car. The trip down was much quicker than the way up, and the sand was less slippery than I feared.
Overall, the loop antenna performed well, but I had trouble tuning it after QSY. I think that practice will make this quicker. I only had the internal NiMH batteries in the KX3, and they were sufficient for at least one hour of operating at the summit. (I don't remember what mAh rating they have.) Next time I want to try a sideband activation, I'll bring an external battery so I can transmit at more than 3 watts. This will probably improve my success with this mode. I also need to find a better tripod mounting solution, or bring the stabilizing feet for the loop. Since this trip was somewhat last minute, I didn't have time to make a length of feed line from my roll of RG-174, so I had to carry my 50 foot roll of RG-58. This was heavier than I'd like, and I don't think there will be significantly more losses in a short length of -174 than the long length of -58.
The sun came out after I made it to the top.

Trailhead: Small lot at the height of land of Mt Emma Road.
Looking back at the trail head.
Website: SOTA Site
Maps: I didn't take one, but one could be printed from caltopo. A map would have been helpful to identify the other peaks. KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map
Route: Cross the road, and head up the marked trail. The trail goes up a side ridge, between two small canyons, then turns left and follows a main ridge to the summit
Red Tape: None.

Rainbow in the clouds.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Timberline Lodge, Oregon

Timberline Lodge, made famous by "The Shining", is a hotel and ski area high on Mt Hood, in Oregon. It is a nice drive up from Portland, through evergreen forests. We visited on a beautiful clear day at the beginning of August. Even this late in the summer there were still a few skiers on the slope. 
Looking out over the Cascades.
We went on a short hike along the PCT, a few miles to a beautiful gorge. There were a number of thru hikers passing through, so we were able to talk to them about their hike. One guy was on his third hike of the PCT. I was a bit jealous of the thru hikers, but someday I'll join them on the PCT.
Very beautiful area.

Mt Hood summit.
A fearless squirrel.
Inside the lodge it was very ornate, and there was a wedding going on. The hotel/lodge was built during the Depression with a lot of help from the CCC. Many of the railings were carved with figures, and many of the iron fixtures were made by hand when the hotel was built. Inside had a very cozy feel, totally different than in The Shining.

Some of the original hand-wrought iron fixtures.

Monday, April 3, 2017

W6/SC-213 Hawkins Peak

Hawkins Peak is the highest point in the High Peaks region of Pinnacles Nation Park. This area is worth coming to just to see the interesting formations and Condors. A few years ago I came with a group of friends as I describe here.
Tunnel on the way up.
On this trip I hiked up from the west side. From the parking lot take the Juniper Canyon Trail to the Tunnel Trail. Both of these trails have many switchbacks as they head up the steep canyon. If you're in shape, you can easily pass all of the out of shape hikers. If not, this will be a long climb. Head north a short distance from the top of the tunnel trail, then follow one of the paths the climbers have made to the highest area. This path leaves where the trail makes a sharp turn. Satellite views of the area show the herd path. The actual summit requires technical climbing, but my phone GPS showed that there were a number of areas in the activation zone that don't require technical skills to reach.
I operated from between the two rocks.
Once at the top I set up and got on HF. A small tree was kind enough to let me attach the pole to. I made only 10 contacts on the MTR bands (20/30/40). It was late enough that 20 meters had closed to the east coast, so no contacts there. I tried VHF, but had no success. There are a few trees, but you'll probably want to carry an antenna support. Last time I was here I saw many condors, but this time I saw none. This was disappointing, but there were a number of other birds to watch as I operated, including many turkey vultures.
Juniper Canyon.
If you have the time, hiking the High Peaks Trail is well worth the effort before heading down the mountain. My other post has lots of pictures, and a description of the route I took, starting from the east side of the park.
The tunnel goes through the base of the prominent rock.

Trailhead: West entrance of Pinnacles NP. Drive to the end of the road, and park. CA-146 is a narrow and windy road, not good for big vehicles. Also a number of routes starting from the East side of the park.
Website: SOTA Site
Maps: I like the Tom Harrison maps. You can get a low quality (not good enough for off-trail travel) map for free at the entrance. KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map
Route: From West side: Juniper Canyon Trail, Tunnel Trail, then follow climbers' paths. From the East side: consult a map. Many choices, including loops.
Red Tape: The area can be closed to protect nesting raptors.

W6/SC-423

Since the rains stopped, it has been a beautiful spring in the area. I decided to take advantage of the weather and go to Pinnacles Nation Park and do some activations. My first stop was the never before activated peak W6/SC-423. The actual peak is outside of the park, but there is a sub-peak that is in the park and still within the activation zone.
I got to the entrance a few minutes early, and had to wait for them to open so I could buy a 12-month pass to the park. My goal is to activate all the peaks in the park this year. This unnamed peak is on the western edge of the park, so I used the trailhead on the west side of the park. I arrived early enough that I could park in the main lot instead of the overflow lot. Pinnacles is very popular in the spring, so get here early if you want a good parking spot. The North Wilderness trail leaves from the north end of the picnic area.
Trailhead to the left of the bathroom, with flush toilets.
The wildflowers were blooming, and the hike was very pretty, especially the grassy areas. The North Wilderness Trail follows a seasonal stream into the northern part of the park. As I was hiking, a coyote ran out onto the trail, but ran away before I could get a picture. After a while, the trail turns away from the stream, and climbs over some hills to a col where it makes a sharp turn.
Very green and pretty.
At this col I left the trail to bushwhack to the summit. There are a series of old trails, roads, and fence lines that make the trip easier. Most of the shrubs along the route are short, about human height, and sharp. They can be painful to push through, so finding old trails makes the hike much more pleasant and faster. My route generally followed the ridge, climbing over all the bumps along the way. There is one very well maintained fence along the old park border that needs to be crossed, however there is an easy to climb gate where the "trail" crosses it.
That roll of barbed wire was not attached. I could have taken it.
After about an hour of off trail hiking I made it to the summit. I looked around, and didn't find any boundary markers, so one could probably go to the true summit, but trespassing is not allowed in SOTA. There was a small clearing where I set up. I had 3G service, so I was able to spot myself. Both 20 and 30 meters were open, and I made a number of contacts to east coast stations, including NH and NC. I made 16 contacts total on the breezy summit. I didn't try VHF, as I haven't had much luck with it lately.
QRV. It was windy, but the pole didn't fall over.
The way back was easier, but I still missed some turns that were obscured by brush which slowed me down. There are also great views of the high peaks area, and North and South Chalone Peaks. North Chalone in particular stands out with a fire tower on top (and its the highest point in the park). When I got back to where I had left the trail I decided to take a different, off-trail, route back. This followed the stream more closely, and went through some very beautiful meadows.
Off trail and loving it.

Purple flowers in this meadow.
When I got back to the trailhead, there was a large group getting a talk from a ranger. They were all wearing matching shirts. I wonder what group they were part of. I did not see any other people once I got away from the trailhead area. This gave the hike a more remote feel.
These yellow flowers grew along long sections of trail.

Trailhead: West entrance of Pinnacles NP. Drive to the end of the road, and park. CA-146 is a narrow and windy road, not good for big vehicles.
Website: SOTA Site
Maps: I like the Tom Harrison maps. You can get a low quality (not good enough for off-trail travel) map for free at the entrance. caltopo.com also has a number of different layers of maps, useful for route planning. KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map
Route: Take the North Wilderness Trail, then bushwhack.
Red Tape: Probably none. Make sure there are no closures, etc. to protect the animals.

A nice looking tree along the route.