Monday, June 26, 2017

W6/NC-350 Loma Alta

I got to the trailhead around noon after activating Barnabe Mountain, and was quickly ready to start hiking. From the parking turnout on the south side of the road, you walk uphill along the road to the path. Here it heads down, under the road bridge to the Loma Alta Open Space Preserve on the other side. This narrow path meets the Old Railroad Grade fire road. Continue straight, then head uphill and to the left onto the Sunrise Fire Road.
Parking area, looking in the direction to hike.
The Sunrise fire road climbs up to the ridge. The first half is steeper, the second has a number of switchbacks. On top of the ridge, go through the gate, and go up the hill to the summit.
I also hope you're not food.
There is a fence at the top to lash your pole to, and excellent views of the northern Bay Area. I had just received a Baofeng UV-5R in the mail, so I was eager to try it out. It seemed to be able to receive everything my TH-F6A did, but I didn't do extensive comparisons. I did, however, work two aeronautical mobile stations, one on 70cm and one on 2 meters. There were a few field day stations on VHF/UHF. I worked the strong ones, and listened to half of some contacts. Loma Alta might not be a good mountain for VHF contests.
I then went down to HF where I worked some field day on both CW and SSB. It was difficult to get through most of the pileups, but a KH6 station worked me after my first call. One very loud station in the SJV section told me that I was the first he had worked from the SF section. Is field day not popular along the north coast?
KB1KXL field day.
Field day: 1B SF. Mt Tam just to the right of the picture.
When I was done operating, I packed up and headed down. On the way down I missed a turn, and took a more circuitous route back to the car. There was a woman walking her dogs, and one tried to bite me. I should have gotten her name so I could report it. I would have expected dog owners to keep their dogs on a leash if they were liable to attack. It was a much more interesting hike down.
Heading down.

Trailhead: Just East of height of land of Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: Open Space Map. KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Old Railroad Grade to Sunrise Fire Road. This is the route the Bay Area Ridge Trail takes, so you can just follow those markers.
Red Tape: None. Watch for mountain bikers.
Looking back to Barnabe Mountain.

W6/CC-070 Barnabe Mountain

The trailhead for Barnabe Mountain is a pullout across the street from Devils Gulch, in Samuel Taylor State Park. This park is near the west end of Francis Drake Blvd. I parked here, then crossed the street and headed up the paved trail.
Start of the hike.
A short distance up, a path leaves on the right side. Take this trail to the bridge, and cross over the creek. The Bill's Trail was closed for reconstruction and repair, so I had to go right and take Gravestone Road trail to the Barnabe Road trail. Gravestone Road climbs through the forest to its intersection with Barnabe Road. Here the trail leaves the woods and climbs through open grassland. It was still overcast as I made my way up, and there was a pleasant breeze to keep things cool.
Summit, still in the clouds.
About halfway up you get the first glimpses of the summit. I was nearly to the top when the sun came out for good, and there were excellent views of Marin County from the summit. There is a fire tower and a number of communication towers on top, but none interfered with my radio. The highest point is on the other side of a fence that is clearly marked no trespassing, so I followed the public side to a flat area. I lashed my pole to the fence and set up the doublet. It was about 30 minutes before field day started, so I send a spot out and got on the bands. There were plenty of chasers, and I was able to work a S2S in Utah.
The southern end of Tomales Bay.
I enjoyed the view to the west, looking at Mt Tam and Tomales Bay. When 11:00 rolled around the bands got very busy, and as a low power SOTA station I had trouble competing with the noise from the contesters, so I packed up and headed down the way I came, and drove over to climb Loma Alta.
Salmon themed bridge.

Trailhead: Devils Gulch, Samuel Taylor SP.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: Park Map. KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Devils Gulch Road to Gravestone Road to Barnabe Road.
Red Tape: None.

W6/NC-226 Kickham Peak

Kickham Peak is near Henry Coe SP, east of the border, inside the Canada de los Osos Ecological Reserve. I climbed it in a loop from Bills Hill, but the routes I took could be used in either direction. From the height of land on Hunting Hollow Road, go left up the hill into the reserve. I did not see any trail names or signs inside the reserve, so bring a map.
Small pond.
After climbing the hill, the road descends to a flat area with a small pond and lots of birds. The flat section was a pleasant change from the climbing in the hot morning sun. After this respite, the trail continues up to the summit. You have to leave the trail to get to the highest point, where there are some old pieces of wood.
Kickham Peak summit. That's Loma Prieta and Mt Um in the distance.
The views from the top were good, looking into the southern part of Santa Clara county and points south and east. It was very hot in the sun, so I setup in a small wooded area between the summit and the trail. I spent about 1.5 hours on top, working stations on 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, and 2 meters. There was a very strong 4G signal (Verizon) on top, so I was able to self-spot when I changed bands.
My operating position, in the shade. The mag loop barely fit under the branches.
After packing up, I retraced my steps to the pond. Here I decided to go cross country along the ridge to take the Wagon Road trail back down to Hunting Hollow. This was easy, the ridge is very wide and flat in this section. As I was descending on the Wagon Road, two vehicles passed me, one sheriff jeep and one with park rangers. I figured they were out checking for people unprepared for the heat, as the first one stopped to see if I was OK. Later, near the parking lot, I talked to a volunteer on a bike who said that they had been out to rescue some people who were illegally driving on some of the old ranch roads and had got stuck. He said he couldn't give details, but they had been arrested. Makes me think that they were doing more than just driving around.
A shady section of Hunting Hollow.

Trailhead: Hunting Hollow Entrance.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Hunting Hollow Road to Wagon Road. Follow the ridge south until you get to the road in the preserve. Follow preserve road to the summit. Alternatively, take Hunting Hollow Road to the Height of land, turn left and follow the road to the summit. See the kb1kxl caltopo map.
Red Tape: None.

W6/NC-277 Bills Hill

The forecast was for a very hot day, so I got up early to get on the trail before it got too hot. I left the trailhead at Hunting Hollow at 6:30 and made my way to the Bills Hill Trail. The Bills Hill Trail is not maintained, and the start is marked by a cairn. The cairn was so small I didn't see it in the grass, even though I was looking for it.
Would you have seen the cairn an flagging tape marking the trailhead?
Luckily there is a junction 0.1 miles past the turnoff, so I was able to turn around and find the correct place. The trail is very overgrown with lots of poison oak. I also got a number of ticks on me as I climbed. Not the most pleasant ascent I've done. Someone had left green flagging tape marking the route on some of the harder to follow sections.
Lots of poison oak.
Parts of the trail are along an abandoned road, farther up the hill. At the ridge there is a barbed wire fence. Turn left, and follow the fence uphill to the summit. The summit is on the other side of the fence, so cross it when you find a good spot. There is an old road near the summit which I followed for the last quarter mile or so. At the top there are views to the south and west, and a few trees in the activation zone.
The valleys were still filled with fog.
I set up my mag loop and KX3 and got on 20 meters. I had some trouble tuning the antenna for a low SWR, but eventually I got it under 3:1. There was good service at the top, and I was able to self spot with no trouble. I made a few contacts on 20, then moved up to 17 where I made one. A few calls on VHF/UHF resulting in a short conversation with a mobile on 2 meters. By this point it had been about 30 minutes, and I wanted to get over to Kickham Peak before it got too hot, so I packed up and headed out. To get tho Kickham, I continued along the ridge, and followed it down to the saddle where it meets the Hunting Hollow Road again. This was much more pleasant than the route up, less poison oak, fewer ticks, easier to follow. I would recommend using this route to go up and down. There was even a gap in the fence in the saddle where I rejoined the trail!
Early morning on the way up.

Trailhead: Hunting Hollow Entrance.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map. The Pine Ridge Association sells maps of the park.
Route: I took Hunting Hollow Road to Bills Hill Trail. A better way would be to take Hunting Hollow Road to the height of land, then turn right and follow the ridge up to the summit. Some sections have herd paths, but the ridge/vegetation boundary was easy to follow.
Red Tape: None. I would recommend being comfortable with off-trail hiking.

Monday, June 19, 2017

W6/NC-398

The forecast was for a very hot weekend (the forecast was right), so I picked a SOTA mountain with shade to operate from and hike in. This unnamed peak on EBMUD land was a pleasant choice. I parked at Rancho Laguna Park, near the end of Camino Pablo.
Start of the trek.
Cross the field, on the right side, and go through the gate to the EBMUD land. A permit is needed, and there is a sign in sheet at the gate. Climb up the hill, and turn right. Follow the Kings Canyon Loop Trail to the end, going through two gates. The trail is reasonably well signed with small arrows on wood posts, like in the picture below.
On the way. Trail is on the right.
Follow the signs and make a U-turn through a shady field to the dirt road, and go through the gate on the other side. Follow the trail to the right. There was a big washout to the left when I was there. The trail is flat until it crosses a small seasonal stream. Here it begins to climb. At the top of the spur it turns sharply left and joins a fire road. This is the area where I saw some coyotes when I activated last December. Continue up to the junction and take the left branch that goes uphill. I could tell that no one had been up this way an a while because there were some very large spider webs across the trail. After walking face first into the first one, I was much more careful to knock them down before passing.
Looking back to Rocky Ridge (NC-268)
At the top turn left and follow the road up to the high point. There is a worn use path that leads to a USGS Marker. There are lots of trees and shade at the top. There are four metal posts surrounding the survey marker, one of which I used to support my pole.
Antenna up among the trees.
HF setup is QRV.
I got setup, and got on the 30 meter band. There were a lot of flies flying around my head, but they didn't do anything else, so I ignored them. I quickly got 6 contacts, including two summit to summit contacts. The second was difficult, as he was in the noise, and there were some other chasers that started calling over him. I then went up to 20, and had a nice conversation with W7GA who answered my CQ. After finishing my QSO with him I worked two more chasers on 20. I got one contact on 40. I still had some time before I needed to head down, so I got out the HT for some VHF. Calling on 2 meters and 70 cm did not get any results, but after a few calls on 223.5 I got a reply. I was surprised that the popular bands didn't get any responses.
Marker at the summit.
I packed up and headed down in the heat. It felt a lot hotter now than an hour ago when I was heading up. I drank over a liter of water, quite a bit for a hike only 1.5 miles long. It was a quick hike back to the car for the drive home. Overall, this is a nice little summits on the air peak.

Trailhead: Rancho Laguna Park
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: Map from EBMUD.  KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Take Kings Canyon Loop Trail and fire road.
Red Tape: Permit required. I bought a 12 month permit.

Panorama on the way down, looking generally East.

Monday, June 12, 2017

W6/NC-371 Briones Hills

I climbed this peak on the Saturday of the June VHF contest to have some fun. My girlfriend Jessica came too and painted until she got bored and took over the microphone.
On the Valley Trail.
There are a number of trailheads for the park, but I like the Bear Creek Staging Area. From here it is an easy 2.5 miles to the summit. The first part of the hike along Briones Road and the Valley Trail is flat, with views up to the hills. This section is very pretty in the green season, winter and spring. The top of the Valley Trail climbs to the Briones Crest Trail, which leads to the summit. There is a herd path on the west side of the summit that leads to it.
At the top there is a fence and a bench, the perfect combination for a long SOTA activation. There is a gap in the fence where it enters the trees, so no climbing necessary. I set up my pole with the doublet to use on 6 meters, then assembled my Arrow yagi. I attached it to the pole, and was ready to go with my KX3 and TH-F6A.
QRV on 6, 2, 220,  and 440.
 I started on 50-CW, and made one contact before switching to 50-SSB. Here I made a dozen QSOs before switching back to 50-CW. I made a few more contacts. Later when I tried CW again I didn't have any luck. Voice seems to be more popular for VHF contests. I then spent a while switching between 2 meters and 440. After each band switch I had to get up and rotate the antenna so the elements would be the correct polarity. To rotate, I simply twisted the pole the yagi was attached to. I don't have a directional antenna for 220 MHz, and there was a lot of interference, so I only made 2 contacts on that band. Later I went back and made some more SSB contacts on 50 and 144.
Afterwards I realized that I had picked a good peak for VHF because it is near the corner of CM87. In fact, it looks like the closest SOTA peak to the NE corner of the square. My farthest contact was on 6 meters to CN90, where the other op really had to work to pull me out of the noise.
Trail from the summit. Looking west (I think).
After making a few paintings and using up her phone battery, Jessica came over and had a turn on the microphone. She did well, getting a few dozen contacts. By this point it was getting late and cool with the constant wind, so we packed up and retraced our steps to the car. At home I checked the log and calculated a claimed score of 945. Not sure how good this is compared to everyone else, but a good effort for four hours of QRP operating.
Next time I go up for a VHF activation I'll need to get a directional antenna for 6, probably a moxon. I also need a better way of attaching the yagi to the mast, and an antenna for 220. Maybe I'll build a log periodic for 144-220-440 that can be taken hiking. I'm not sure how much SSB and CW there was on 220 and 440, and if its worth getting transverters for those bands. And if I get really ambitious I could get setups for 900 MHz and 1.2 GHz. I also need a bigger battery for the KX3, so I can operate at more than 2-3 watts for an extended period of time.

Trailhead: Bear Creek Staging Area.
Website: SOTA SiteBriones Park
Maps: KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Take Briones Road to the Valley Trail. Turn left on the Briones Crest Trail and follow it to the summit.
Red Tape: None.

W6/CC-055 Fremont Peak

Fremont Peak is a historic peak located in a very small state park. This peak is where John Fremont first raised the American Flag in California. The park seems like a good place for car camping with radio, or doing a VHF contest.
From the parking lot it is about a half mile walk to the summit. It took me about 20 minutes to get to the top from the car. As others have noted, the final section is exposed rock, but it is not as steep as they make it sound. There are plenty of steeper and rockier trails in the mountains of Maine and New Hampshire.
The peak, behind the trees.
There is a flagpole at the top, but the rope is secured so it can't be used to hoist an antenna. It was windy and in and out of the clouds when I was there, so I set up on the lee side. I didn't see anyone else while I was on the summit. The views were nice, when I could catch them through breaks in the clouds.
One side of my doublet.
 I had OK cell service, enough to send spots. This netted me three contacts on 30 and 20 each. I called on 40, but some interference started and raised the noise floor a lot, so I didn't spend much time on the band. There are communication towers on top, so it is a good spot for VHF, but I only got one contact on 2 meters. I thought I might get more since it was rush hour and hams would be driving home.
The parking lot, from the summit.
It was getting late and I was getting hungry, so I packed up and headed down for the long drive back to the Bay Area. Luckily the Friday afternoon traffic jams were all on the other side of the freeway or it would have been a miserable drive.

Trailhead: Highest parking lot in the park. Just keep driving uphill until you get to the end of the road.
Website: SOTA SiteFremont Peak SP
Maps: KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map.
Route: From the gated tower access road, follow the trail that leaves on the right. It goes around to the other side of the peak, then switchbacks up to the summit.
Red Tape: None. Stay on the trails to protect the area.

W6/SC-262

This unnamed peak is on the East side of Pinnacles National Park, and is the high point on a long north-south ridge. I had an off Friday, so I decided to get in some activations. It was overcast as I left home and headed south on 101. There were a few sprinkles in the Bay Area, and on 25, south of Hollister, it actually rained. The rain stopped by the time I got to the park. I parked in the day use lot behind the visitor center/store and set out.
Hiking through the overcast campground.
The first part of the trail follows the road through the campground until it turns to dirt and becomes the Bench trail. After about a quarter mile, the trail approaches the road. On the other side there is the end of an embankment. Here I saw a rabbit run across the road and into the bushes on the other side! Cross the fences on each side of the road and begin to climb. There are some herd paths that I followed up until I reached the fence corner.

At the beginning of the fence.
This fence is very well maintained, and extremely easy to follow. There were no good places to cross, so I stayed on the West side of the fence the entire time. Take this clearing to the top. At the top of one of the bumps was a locked metal box. Not sure what it is for. There is one peak that looks like the summit (about 3.3 miles in), but the high point is a bit further on. There are two peaks that are about the same height, and both are in the activation zone. I chose to stop at the first one because the trail heading over to the other one looked very rough.
The map says that that peak is a few feet higher, but the peak I'm on is still in the activation zone.
There are great views of the High Peaks region from this ridge. I also had some views of North and South Chalone Peaks once the clouds lifted. The Balconies area was also easy to pick out.
From right, Balconies, High Peaks, North Chalone, South Chalone.
I attached my pole to the fence and set up my doublet. There are no trees here, so bring your own antenna support. I had enough cell service to send a spot, and with that I was on the air. There weren't very many chasers, I only got two contacts on 30, 20, and 40. I have not had good luck with VHF from Pinnacles, so I didn't try.
The hike back was easy, retracing my steps. As I was walking through the campground I saw a deer. There was still plenty of daylight left when I reached the car, so I decided to head over to Fremont Peak for an easy two-pointer.


Trailhead: Pinnacles National Park Visitors Center. East side of the park. Park at the visitors center, not at one of the trailheads farther up the road.
Website: SOTA SitePinnacles NP site.
Maps: KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map. I like the Tom Harrison Maps.
Route: Walk through the campground to the Bench Trail. Where the trail gets close to the road, cross the road and head uphill. Follows the very well maintained fence to the highest point.
Red Tape: None. Check park website to make sure there are no closures (unlikely in this area).
Was there a slide here a long time ago?

Thursday, June 1, 2017