Monday, July 17, 2017

W6/NC-496 Burra Burra Peak

Burra Burra Peak was the second SOTA summit I activated this day, after the unnamed Point 1679. I had been cooling off in the visitors center, talking to the ranger. She said there was an old copper mine near the summit, and the entrance was still visible. She also told me how the peak got its name.
Back during the Civil War, the South controlled most of the copper mines, so the price for copper in the Union went way up. This meant that a lot of prospectors headed out to try and find more copper. After some prospectors found copper on the peak, the called the mine the New Burra Burra Mine, after the Burra Burra copper mine in Tennessee. After the war ended and copper prices went down, the mine was abandoned, but the name lives on.
Burra Burra Peak.
From the Dowdy Ranch visitors center, take the trail next to the center up to Kaiser Aetna Road. Cross the road and continue up the trail to the summit. This is a fairly short hike, about one mile. The summit is covered with shrubs, but there are some open areas to set up in. I lashed my pole to a shrub, and sat on a convenient rock. There was good cell service on the peak. I spotted myself and made a number of contacts on 30 and 20 meters. I had no luck on 40, and didn't even get any RBN spots. I managed to make one contact on 146 and 446 each. The CQ VHF contest was going on, but I didn't realize until afterwards that the rules forbid making contacts on 146.52.
View to the west.
On the way down I continued around and made a loop. I stopped by the old copper mine, which was easy to find. It had started to get cloudy, and some rain would have been nice, but none came.
Old copper mine entrance.
The entrance had collapsed, and is fenced off.
The mine entrance is under the tree.
There was a second entrance to the mine, but I did not find it. I got back to the parking lot at 4, just as the ranger was leaving. Since I was the only one there, she waited for me to leave so that she could lock the gates behind me, rather than having to come back this evening at the published closing time. The drive back down Kaiser Aetna Road was uneventful, and I made it back to CA 152 for the drive home.

Trailhead: Dowdy Ranch, Henry Coe SP.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Seven Oaks Trail to the Burra Burra Trail.
Red Tape: None. Dowdy Ranch is only open weekends during the dry season. Check the Henry Coe Website or call to make sure entrance is open.
One hot hiker.


This unnamed peak is one of two SOTA peaks near the Dowdy Ranch entrance of Henry Coe State Park, along with Burra Burra Peak. Kaiser Aetna Road, which leads to the trailhead, is gated and only open weekends in the summer. I arrived at the gate around 8:15, and it was open. The dirt road was well graded and my car had no problem driving to the ranch. I did see a coyote while driving in which was neat. At the visitors center I paid for parking, then set off. It was warmer than I would have preferred, but not too hot yet. Dowdy Ranch is at the same elevation as Peak 1679, so I had to go down about 950 feet, then climb back up. I took the Mack's Corral Trail to the bottom.
The peak, from just below the trailhead.
It took about 20 minutes to get to the dry stream bed at the bottom. Here I left the trail and began bushwhacking up the slope. There is an area of open forest that was easy to follow up to an old ranch road. The road then led up most of the way to the top. About a quarter mile from the top the road turns and goes down hill. Here, cross the old fence and bushwhack through the thick scrub to the top. There are some areas in this last section that look like there might have been a trail here, but overall it was very dense.
One of the denser sections near the summit.
I made it to the top and got set up. There are a few trees at the top and in the activation zone, but I just set up my pole and doublet. There was great cell service, so spotting was not an issue. I got on 30 meters and quickly made eight contacts. 20 and 40 meters were less productive, but I made a few more. I didn't expect much for VHF, but I tried calling anyways. No voice contacts from this peak, CW only. By this time it was getting hot in the shade, so I packed up and headed down the hill.
Antenna setup. Burra Burra Peak on the left. Dowdy Ranch was visible too.
It was a quick hike back to the river and Mack's Corral, but it was very hot for the climb up to the visitors center. I had brought two liters of water with me, and finished them both by the time I got back to the parking lot. I didn't have a thermometer, but it was probably at least 100 degrees. I had to stop a few times on the way up because I was getting so hot. At the top I stopped in the visitors center to cool off and have some lunch. I ended up taking a long lunch and talking with the ranger. Apparently there is an old mining claim on the mountain that can be seen if you know where to look.

Trailhead: Dowdy Ranch, Henry Coe SP.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Mack's Corral Trail to the bottom. Cross the stream and climb through the open forest to the old ranch roads. Follow roads up ridge to barbed wire fence. Cross fence and bushwhack up ridge to summit. Note that the ranch roads are not marked on most maps, but are easily visible on aerial imagery.
Red Tape: None. Dowdy Ranch is only open weekends during the dry season. Check the Henry Coe Website or call to make sure entrance is open.
The poison oak was the greenest thing around.

Monday, July 10, 2017

W6/NC-435 Tiburon Peninsula

This was the final peak of the day, after Pine Mountain and Bald Hill. The peak is in a residential neighborhood, and the summit is in someone's backyard. At the corner of Sugarloaf Drive and Place Moulin there is a small traffic island with a bench that you can operate from.
Operating position. The mag loop is on the right side of the bench.
Drive up to the top, and park on the side of the road. Others have recommended parking by the water tanks, but Street View shows the area closed by a fence. I parked in front of a hedge. There is not a lot of horizontal space, so bring a compact antenna if you're going to operate HF. I brought my mag loop. I set up on 30 meters and made three contacts. The fourth proved elusive though. I didn't get any RBN spots on 40 after calling for a while, so I switched to VHF and quickly got the final contact. I didn't bring my jacket, since it had been so hot on Pine Mountain and Bald Hill, so I was getting cold.
Traffic island from my car.
I packed up quickly and headed for home after three successful activations. This peak is not very interesting, and I would not recommend it except for completeness or an extra SOTA point. The view towards SF was good, but it is very narrow.

Trailhead: Corner of Sugarloaf Dr and Place Moulin.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: It should be obvious.
Red Tape: None. Lots of people walking around, but none talked to me.

W6/NC-400 Bald Hill

Bald Hill was the second peak on my SOTA Sunday in Marin, after Pine Mountain. I hiked in from the north side, starting at the Deer Park Parking Area and Trailhead. Park, then walk south around the Fairfax-San Anselmo Children's Center. There were signs indicating this area might be closed during school hours. On the other side, turn left at the football field. On the left side there is a trail that climbs up to the ridge. I didn't have a map, so I went straight here and climbed up a ways before I realized my mistake, and had to turn around.
Main trail on the right. Turn left here, and on the left side of the field is the trail up.
This trail, the Deer Park Trail, is closed to bikes and gently climbs to the ridge via a series of switchbacks. Just up from the intersection with the fire road is another junction. If you take the path to the right you can avoid some extra climbing that the fire road does. On the other end of the trail, take the road to the summit. Maps label it as the Worn Spring Road. Like the name implies, the summit is bald. There are no antenna supports, so I set up my pole and doublet and got on 30 meters. After a few CQs I quickly got four stations. I went up to 20, but there seemed to be a lot of activity, so I called on 40 meters instead. I quickly found that any metal left in the sun got very hot. I had to keep my paddles in my shadow so they'd stay cool enough to use. I also put my water in the shade of the small bush so it wouldn't get so hot.
Mt Tam behind my station. Maps claim the peak on the right is the highest by a few feet.
After a few contacts I went to VHF. KI6JJW across the Bay answered my CQ, and we had a long QSO after switching up to 220 then 440. With his beam I was able to run on the lowest power setting, about 0.5 watts on 440. After talking with him, I think there's something up with my radio on 220. He said 220 is usually quiet, but my Kenwood is usually noisy on the band.
On the way down.
I was getting hot, so after we said 73 I packed up and headed back to the car. There was still plenty of light, so I headed over to the Tiburon Peninsula to activate that peak.

Trailhead: Deer Park Parking Area, Fairfax-San Anselmo Children's Center.
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: AA6XA SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Deer Park Fire Road. At the field, left to Deer Park Trail. At the ridge, right on Buckeye Trail and Worn Spring Road to the summit.
Red Tape: None. Parking area may be closed during school hours, when the kids are around. If this is the case, it looks like there is also access from the south.

W6/NC-331 Pine Mountain

It was a beautiful day, and was forecasted to be cooler, so I headed up to Marin County to activate a few more SOTA peaks. On the schedule for today was Pine Mountain, Bald Hill, and Tiburon Peninsula. The first trailhead, for Pine Mountain, is at the height of land on Bolinas-Fairfax Road, at the Azalea Trailhead. This is a fairly large lot. The road seems to be popular with bikers, so watch for them on the drive up and back.
Parking lot, looking across the road to the trail.
I crossed the road, and headed up the Pine Mountain Fire Road. The junctions are all well signed, and it was easy to follow the road to the top. The road seemed rougher than other fire roads I've hiked in the Bay Area. The fire road does not go over the summit, but it does enter the activation zone. The summit is covered in knee-high scrub, but there are some thinner areas if you want to get to the high point. The high point is a rock with a metal pole sticking out of it. It took me about an hour to get to the summit.
At the summit.
At the top there is a flat rock, perfect for sitting and operating on. There were no trees nearby, so bring an antenna support. I set up my doublet, and was on the air. There was decent service, so I was able to self-spot band changes. I quickly made seven contacts on 30 meters, then went up and made two on 20. I called on 220 and 440, but didn't get any responses. I was able to get four contacts on 2 meters. It was getting hot, so I packed up and headed back the way I came. There were a lot more people on the trail heading up than an hour earlier. I drank a bunch of water at the car, then headed down to the Bald Hill trailhead.

Trailhead: Azalea Hill Trailhead, Bolinas-Fairfax Road..
Website: SOTA Site.
Maps: KB1KXL SOTA Hikes map.
Route: Pine Mountain Fire Road.
Red Tape: None. Watch for mountain bikers.
Mt Tam on the right, Mt Diablo in the center-left distance